Wednesday, August 21, 2013

3 Ways to Persuade an Atheist to Become a Christian? Oh boy - Part III - TIPS

I stumbled across this article, entitled "How to Persuade an Atheist to Become Christian".

Here's Part I and Part II. Let's continue looking through this handy dandy guide.

Tips Section

You know, just in case the fairy dust doesn't work, here's some more things Christians can do to avoid having to actually put the work into providing sufficient scientific evidence.

Pray to God in private. Most atheists have been prayed at by many people. They tend to find it extremely annoying and presumptuous. In fact, ending a failed attempt at conversion by saying "I will pray for you" is often seen as an ugly attempt to get a last dig in. That only hurts your goal. Christians believe that it is up to God, ultimately, to convince people to follow him (John 6:44, 16:13). The Bible also says that a Christian is supposed to "pray in the closet" (Matthew 6:5-6). This means that you're not supposed to pray in public to impress someone. If God is going to answer your prayer and convince the atheist, then he would do so whether the atheist hears it or not.

Yep, this guide certainly is geared towards the Christian audience. If it was addressing a crowd of people who thought Harry Potter was real, it'd be advising them to polish their wands with invisible dragon breath.

A question I'd ask the author here is, if God is going to answer the prayer and convince the atheist, or not, do you think he really needs you to give him a heads-up in the first place? Doesn't he already know? Or does he not care until you care? Is it a democratic process where God has finite resources and it's up to the believers to tell God what to spend them on? Isn't my destiny already part of God's plan, and you're interfering by trying to change God's mind? Or is it that it's part of God's plan that you should try to change his mind on something that was part of God's plan?

Prayer makes no sense to me.

Have a blast. Talk to your imaginary best friend on my behalf. Every second you spend wasting your time on prayer is another second you aren't doing anything potentially effective.

Use examples of other people who were atheists or who needed proof about Christianity like these:
Aru -- someone who needed proof about Christianity [2] and
Rita -- someone who was an atheist and became a Christian.[3]
Do you really think that I need to hear just one more "I used to be an atheist" story? I think I'd rather address Pascal's Wager another 20 times consecutively. I have to wonder what the authors are thinking here, because, no, actually that'd be yet another cue to me that you don't have a clue how to demonstrate anything.

Simply put, (and I know the authors would agree with me), not all atheists are rational, critical and skeptical thinkers (Gasp!). The only requirement to being a "true atheist" is that one doesn't believe in any gods. How one arrives at that position is completely up in the air.

Some of us arrived at that position through a careful analysis of available evidence, and application of critical thinking and epistemology. 

Some of us, on the other hand, may have become atheists because our parents were, never really gave it much thought, and have no critical thinking or epistemological skills... and are thus a lot more gullible and persuadable by otherwise poor "evidence".

I'll probably address these two cited examples next time, but I can venture a guess right now. They will cite personal experiences that no one else can confirm, attempt poor arguments, and otherwise just be brimming with logical fallacies.

... I've yet to hear an atheist-to-theist conversion story that wasn't.

Ultimately, these people are dismissed because they're using the same fatally flawed "reasoning" that we get from evangelicals and apologists.

My question to any Appeal to Authority, like "Einstein believed in God (which is incorrect, incidentally). Do you think you're smarter than Einstein?", is to question, "okay, so where's the scientific evidence that convinced you?" The strength and power of a scientist is to discover and understand new things, and provide sufficient evidence to bring everyone else on-board. I'm not going to believe him merely because he says so.

Likewise, my first question to any of these "I used to be an atheist" people would be, "What's your evidence?" If they have nothing... dismissed.

Why do evangelicals think these stories would be convincing? Is it that they think that the former-atheist would know how to explain things to convince other atheists? Maybe they think the former-atheist will have more intrinsic credibility?

Would Christians lend me more credibility if I said to them, "I used to be a Christian?" What if I used to be a Christian, who used to be a Muslim, who used to be a Hindu, who used to be Jewish, who used to be a Scientologist, who used to be a Mormon, who used to be a Christian again, who used to be a Jain, who used to be a Sihk? Would that instantly make me one of the most credible people on the planet, in regards to religion/theology?

If you have the evidence, who it comes from doesn't matter. It shouldn't matter. Proper evidence is objective and independent of the personal history of who derives it. Thus, if they have sufficient scientific evidence, the atheist-convert stories are superfluous. If they don't, then their claims are rejected anyway.

This is why this particular "tip" rivals the earlier argument for title of "worst advice ever".

It is possible your role in their eventual conversion is simply to serve as a counter-example to their incredulity/disbelief.
... how? Are you God? I don't believe in your god... how would you serve as a counter-example?

Or do you mean this idea that "The Holy Spirit changed my life"? If you understood why we don't believe your claims, you'd know why this tip is silly.

Let's say you make this claim - the Holy Spirit improved your life. My first question is, "How have you ruled out the placebo effect and confirmation bias?".

Humans are prone to a plethora of psychological and reasoning errors. When you start talking about personal experiences and personal testimony, I'm also identifying potential errors as you're spouting it off. For you to simply insist that it's not, does nothing towards ruling out that possibility... a possibility, as it happens, which is astronomically more likely than invisible universe-creating entities manipulating reality around you (hint: one phenomenon is well studied and prevalent, and the other is completely unsubstantiated by any evidence).

That's why I don't believe you. You've taken an experience that could easily be a combination of standard, common and well-studied psychological phenomenon, sailed over all reasonable possibilities a priori, and decided to make a bee-line to the single most ludicrous explanation available.

Your simply "continuing to serve as a counter example" does not address this root problem... and thus, cannot ever succeed at converting the atheist. We'll readily acknowledge that good things have happened to you, and your life has turned around. Great! Your attribution of these events to this invisible universe-creating sky wizard, on the other hand, is unsupported and apparently unambiguously purely delusional.

What we often see are people working hard to improve their lives, and then attributing the success to something else. It'd be like if I worked really hard at winning at my school's science fair, then prayed that I'd win... then I won, and attributed my success to the prayer.

No wait, I did that.. back in 8th grade. Now I realize how idiotic that was.

As an aside, I always marvel at how often we get assaulted by the believer's personal experiences, but apparently my own are irrelevant - my entire life experiences of never encountering anything supernatural, ever, and it always boils down to common psychological, perceptual and reasoning errors, don't matter.

Don't recite memorized arguments. Conversion-by-pamphlet won't work on those who have heard the same lines before.
Yeppers. It's almost like they need to heed this advice while writing this article. They may not be memorizing exact arguments, exactly, but rather are memorizing types of conversion that are always rejected because they're complete epistemological failures.

Do not assume that your friend actually believes in God deep inside. You have probably been told that atheists are angry at God or do not believe in him because they are disgusted by the things that are done in His name. This is not usually true. Atheists are people who have concluded that God probably does not exist. Assuming you know what, why or how they think or believe may insult your friend.
To a degree, it's insulting, because it's essentially accusing me of lying to you. I'll tell you exactly what I think, as honestly as I can. 

I call these people "telepaths", because they play this game of pretending to be able to read my mind... or they know a guy who can. I'm constantly warning them against playing that game, because as soon as one makes these accusations, I'm going to search in my mind to verify, find that it's unambiguously patently false, and the evangelical will have instantaneously lost all credibility. They just nuked the entire galactic cluster their credibility was in, from orbit... around the galactic cluster.

To help convert someone, ask him or her to consider accepting absolutes like "good" and "evil." Your friend will have disbelief, doubts and questions, and so it may take months or years of kindness to reach them.
Why would it take years to convince someone that these absolutes exist? Is your peer-reviewed scientific publication a million pages long?

I don't understand this tip. It may as well say, "To help convert someone, ask him or her to consider accepting that God exists". It makes about as much sense, but their version is much more insidious.

It's basically a form of presuppositionalism. More specifically, a transcendental argument for God, on the topic of morality. The problem is that it's all smoke and mirrors... just yet another attempt to "prove God" using only logic, with no empirical confirmation... and is usually are teeming with logical fallacies.

Try such arguments at your own peril... and pray that your atheist victim isn't well versed in such intellectual gobbledygook to be able to defend a position.

This is the closest the guide gets to useful advice on how to convert an atheist... but only due to rhetorical argumentation, not because it's valid reasoning. Unfortunately, some atheists may, and do, fall for this.

One way to encourage someone to believe in God is to spend a lot of time in nature and appreciate the beauty of it. For example, go outside in night and see the stars and moon. It's hard to see such a majestic sight and not think who/what was the cause and made it all. Remember that athetists probably accept their cause without allowing for a Holy Spirit/God as "cause". If "Everything that begins to exist has a cause. The universe began to exist. Therefore, the universe has a cause." -- then anything without a beginning or end can be described as causal.

Gah.

Okay, author, do you remember how you said not to memorize arguments that the atheist has probably heard a thousand times? Well, the Kalam Cosmological Argument is one of them. Try that one at your own risk.

Seriously, we get this one constantly, and its not more convincing when I've heard it for the 207th time, than the 206th.

What does beauty even have to do with a god? Additionally, "It's hard to see such a majestic sight and not think who/what was the cause and made it all. " is a straight-up point-blank Argument from Personal Incredulity. Try it if you want to annihilate your credibility. We'll see right through it, and understand your complete ineptitude at rationally assessing reality around you.

The fact that you will come to supernatural conclusions doesn't mean we will. I find nature beautiful. I was at the ocean last weekend. God never entered my mind. Why should it? If anything, you'll find that atheists/scientists are more interested in nature, on average, than their theistic counterparts.

Does adding fairies to a garden make it more beautiful, or is it beautiful on its own?
Remember that some atheists may have been raised in the Christian faith, but later chose not to remain Christian. Therefore, do not assume that the atheist does not understand or know anything about Christianity. You may be interested in knowing that there is also a category:Atheism at wikiHow.
This is certainly true... which makes the street-prowling evangelicals particularly demented when they say, "Have you heard the good news?", as though we've lived in a mostly-Christian society and we've managed to never hear about their theology before.
If you live in a particularly Christian country, then you are almost certainly not the first Christian to try to convert any atheist you meet. Most attempts before you were likely pushy and/or formulaic. Learn to "be Christian" rather than "talk Christian."
... or learn how to "speak science."
In 1 John 1:5, it says, "God is light, and in him is no darkness at all". We know that darkness is the absence of light. Light often represents understanding, and darkness is lack of it. Light also is and transmits energy. God is all and in all, including in knowledge and energy, as well as any existential reality.
Uh... okay.

I have no idea what their point with this quote-from-a-random-unsupported-dusty-old-bronze-aged-book is supposed to be.
Do not just bring in the subject of the Ten Commandments and list them off one by one. If you wish to talk about morality with an atheist, be prepared to give real, non-religious reasons for why you think something is right or wrong.
Please do bring in the subject of the Ten Commandments. You can do that right after you dawn a meat-suit and dive into a pond of piranha.

What is the point of talking about secular reasons for morality, in terms of converting an atheist to Christianity? Isn't that just supporting the case that morality doesn't require a god?

Let me jot this one down into my notes for an article on "How to deconvert a Christian."

Did an atheist stealthily slip this "tip" into the article?
Research the Kalam Cosmological Argument. It is used by the Islamic religion to argue that there is a God. Even if you are not Muslim, it can still benefit you because some believe that it provides an argument about why there needs to be a God. Wikipedia has an excellent article on this subject.
It's good to see that they're recycling bad advice to pad their "tips" section.

Feel free to look up rebuttals while you're at it. It's one of the single most tired, exhausted and stale arguments in the apologetic arsenal.

This argument was given in about 42 calls between 2004 and 2012 (link), on The Atheist Experience.

Yes. Please. Bring it up just one more time!
Listen carefully to the concerns and reservations of the unbeliever. Try to understand his or her stated reasons for not believing, then address each of those concerns directly. Emphasize verifiable truth over unverifiable dogma, and work together to discover what is actually true, with honesty and integrity. If you show an openness to understanding your friend's beliefs and opinions, you'll earn respect.
Yeah, how about you do that? I'm still waiting to see it ever happen.. but yeah!

Is "this is too beautiful to not have had a god behind it" one of their examples of "verifiable truth"?
Persistently demonstrate a loving and Christlike example within your own life. Some atheists are atheists because of their (many times justified) perception that Christians are hypocritical or evil. Remember that examples of hypocritical Christians can be found by the dozen, starting with Ted Haggard and ending with Catholic pedophiles. Explain that the reprobate Christian is not like all other Christians, but do know that there are counterarguments. Simultaneously, realize that there are many, many moral people who are agnostics and atheists - one does not need religion to have "decent" behavior.
These would be what I'd call "irrational atheists". The Problem of Evil, or religious hypocrisy, doesn't establish whether the god exists or not.. but yes, these atheists do exist, at least as a minority.

It's a common observation that people who become atheists for bad reasons, stop being atheists for bad reasons.

... so the authors are really talking about picking off the stragglers... the weak-minded ones.

I think they may be confusing one aspect, though... there's a difference between a "catalyst for deconversion" - that thing that initially causes the believer to question his/her beliefs... versus the ultimate rational basis for one's atheism.

What you'd actually find is that this topic isn't much more than a red herring. It may be brought up as a counter example to the "God exists because that's where morality comes from" arguments.

Show the practicality of Christianity community through your own successes and friendships with Christians the community. If your friend truly sees that being a part of a church community is like gaining dozens of new family members who demonstrate love and admiration toward others, then your friend will know where to turn in hard times. However, note that atheists also tend to have families, friends and colleagues.
Fixed that for you.

We actually get it. We get it more accurately than you.
These things take time and patience. Don't try and rush your friend, no matter how much you want to.
Avoid using the Brainwashing Chair of Conversion. It's tempting, we know!
Never trick someone. Never lie. When inviting an atheist to a Christian function, make sure they know exactly how overtly religious the event is. Is it just a social function, a church service, or is it a Bible reading?
... this entire guide has been about tricking the atheist. Everything from the Kalam Cosmological Argument, the Absolute Morality arguments, to trying to earn the trust of the person, to trying to lure them into a community long enough to like the people there.

The non-trick way of converting an atheist is to provide actual scientific evidence... not trotting out tired old arguments they've probably refuted a billion times.
Learn about geology and evolution and do not try to argue that observable physical reality is wrong. Most Christians accept that evolution is proven to be scientific fact, and realize that it does not conflict with faith.
Great advice.

Actually, I'd go a step further. If you acknowledge that atheism is not contingent on evolution/abiogenesis/Big Bang, and you acknowledge that these concepts are not necessarily incompatible with a more generic god thing, and that many other religious people have no problems with these branches of science...

... don't bother. It's all a red herring.

I think many evangelicals believe that our acceptance of these scientific theories is essentially "blocking" our ability to accept the "Truth of the Bible", or that we're using them as excuses from having to believe in God... and so that's why they go after those topics.

... and it's no wonder why their efforts are so ineffectual.
Do not avoid books written by atheists. They are not biased against God, but instead try simply to present factual accounts.
Likewise, I try not to avoid pro-theistic books. I try to understand what they're saying and why. That's healthy. Isolating one's self from other world views brews extremism.

... it's just that whenever I try to read one, I end up spending two months shredding every single consecutive sentence, because they're so exasperatingly wrong on every conceivable level.

What'd I think of the Guide?

.. and that's the end. There's a "Warnings" section, but meh.

Originally, I asked the question as to whether they'd suggest providing sufficient scientific evidence. Did they?

... kinda. Not really. It was mostly dodging that burden of proof. The suggestion made a guest appearance, without any specifics as to what that evidence may be.

Here, let me write my own version of this "How to Persuade an Atheist to Become a Christian":

----------------------
  1. Define the God you're trying to demonstrate
  2. Provide sufficient scientific evidence, that passes peer review.
End of document.

-----------------------

The guide was just another typical example Complete Epistemological Incompetence... a bunch of people who, themselves, may have been atheists for irrational reasons, and couldn't think their way out of a paper bag. The suggestions were a mixture of suggesting against some tired old tactics, while suggesting for other tired old tactics.

There was nothing, at all, compelling, within their tips or suggestions... and just demonstrates that they have no new ideas, and, as usual, will resort to the same old stale tactics, many of which have pre-dated modern civilization.



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