There’s a question that I’ve seen both skeptics and Christians alike struggle to answer. “What would it take to convince you you’re wrong?” It’s a simple question, but the more I think about it the more I understand why this is one of the most difficult questions for us to answer as Christians. Can we answer this in an honest and satisfactory way?
I will mostly be considering the Christian side of this question, but I have seen just as much uncertainty, and borderline dishonesty, from the atheists. Sometimes you get a response that appeals to evidence. “I’m a reasonable guy, if there was evidence for God, of course I’d believe it and convert.” But as they say this, they are usually coming out of a debate filled with evidences for God that they deem either not evidence, or insufficient. Or you get a response like, “If God wrote a message in the sky to me that he’s real, I’d believe it.” Though sometimes they think a little further and add, “Though honestly I’d probably check in with a psychiatrist first to see if I was going crazy.” In a way that last comment is nice, because it’s probably more honest than we often are in our responses. But how should we answer this question?
Asking the Right Question
I recall this question being raised during a debate that William Lane Craig was in, and his response has stuck with me. Paraphrasing, he said that this is the wrong question. What would convince someone is subjective and can be based on an emotional reaction. I might be convinced by a tragedy or dramatic experience, but that would say more about my own faith than whether Christianity is actually true. No, the right question is what should convince you Christianity is not true?
Ultimately, I can’t predict the future, and don’t know what it would actually take to bring me away from Christianity. But we can have a much more interesting conversation about what kind of evidence should get me to change my views. If I were asked the question, this distinction is the first thing I would want to make clear.
The Common Response: Show me the Body!
The most common response to the question I’ve heard is,“If you could show me the body of Jesus I’d change my view.”This was my first instinct as well, because this is perhaps the most definitive proof possible. As Paul wrote, “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” (1 Corinthians 15:14) If it could be shown, beyond any doubt, that we had found the body of Jesus, we would need to rethink our lives.
But is that really a fair response? How could this ever be definitively shown, even if Jesus did die and leave a body? You could make the argument that if there was a body it would have been released 2000 years ago, but trying to demand it now feels a bit disingenuous to me. Much like the atheist wanting to get their head checked out first, I think we would all be more likely to question and doubt the authenticity of the evidence rather than change our minds. While the body of Jesus is an interesting hypothetical scenario, I don’t think it realistically should be our answer to this question.
Tearing Down the Cumulative Case
The thing about the Christian worldview is that it’s not all hanging on one piece of evidence. There are discoveries that could be made that might counter a specific part of Christianity, but none that would topple the whole thing. Maybe you could prove that the universe had no beginning and has always existed, meaning there never was a time when it was created. Perhaps we find archaeological evidence that shows the Bible to be unreliable. Maybe we find better evidence for Darwinian evolution and abiogenesis that causes us to rethink the origin of life and humans. Or even larger, more metaphysical aspects, if say consciousness is found to be an illusion, or miracles are truly impossible because there is nothing but matter.
Some of those, like the body of Jesus, I don’t think are reasonable to ask for. But they illustrate that you can’t just take out one thing to bring the whole house down. You would need to address the larger cumulative case that Christianity sits on to topple it. Even some of the more out-there theories like simulation theory, where we’re all part of some computer simulation made by more intelligent beings, or that we’re all descended from aliens from another world, etc. They would all raise questions, but not single-handedly make me say, “Okay, we’re done. Christianity is false. Time to pack it up.”
How Should We Respond?
I understand now why so many Christians struggle to answer the question. We like to think we’ll be rational about how we get our views, but that’s clearly not always the case. We need to be honest and humble, acknowledging that we don’t know the future and can’t predict what would change our minds, if anything. But what should change our minds is a question that leads to great conversations, and showcases just how sturdy the Christian worldview is.
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