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6 (Unlikely) Developments That Could Convince This Atheist To Believe in God

Atheists often point out that religious faith is closed off to evidence that contradicts it. What evidence would persuade atheists that their atheism was mistaken?

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The One Successful Religion

What would convince me: If the believers in one particular religion had noticeably better lives than the believers in any other religion -- in ways that couldn't be accounted for by social or economic or other natural factors -- I would be convinced that this religion was true. If believers in, say, the Mormon faith, or the Baha'i faith, or the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, were found to be far healthier, wealthier, and happier than believers in other faiths, if their prayers came true significantly more often, if they had far fewer accidents and birth defects and genetic diseases and pediatric cancer -- and this difference was statistically significant, much greater than could be accounted for by higher wealth or social status or something -- I would be persuaded that God existed, and that this faith was the correct one, and that God was rewarding these believers for the correctness of their faith.

And if one religion consistently won all its holy wars with all other religions -- again, in ways that couldn't be explained by better military technology or a larger population or other social/ economic/ natural factors -- that would get me believing in a heartbeat.

I might not be persuaded to worship this God, or to believe that he was good. I'd be more than a little baffled as to why he hadn't made his message of Mormonism or Baha'i-ism or Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synodism clearer to everyone. I'd actually think he was kind of a dick. But I'd sure be persuaded that he existed.

What would not convince me: I would not, however, be persuaded by one religion doing better than another for obvious social or economic or other natural reasons. Yes, Episcopalians tend to be wealthier than, say, Baptists. There are lots of obvious, entirely natural explanations for this. None of them have to do with Episcopalians being God's chosen people.

And I would definitely not be persuaded by believers parading all the times that their prayers came true... and then, when all the times that their prayers weren't answered got pointed out, responding with something like, "God moves in mysterious ways," or, "God answers all prayers, but sometimes the answer is No." Sorry, but you can't have it both ways. You don't get to count the hits and ignore or rationalize the misses. That's what we call confirmation bias. And it's definitely cheating.

Inexplicably Accurate Information Gained During Near-Death or Other Supposedly Psychic Experiences

What would convince me: This is a slightly different category -- it's more about evidence for an immaterial soul than evidence for God -- but I'm going to bring it up anyway. If a person who was near death, or who was having some other sort of supposed psychic experience, were to gather information that could not possibly have been gathered in any physical way -- and this was rigorously tested under careful conditions designed to screen out confirmation bias and cold readings and the unconscious sending of messages and other cognitive or experimental errors (not to mention outright fraud), and the experience could be consistently replicated under similarly rigorous testing conditions -- I would be persuaded that human consciousness was not simply a product of the human brain, and that it had a non-physical component that could hypothetically survive death. If someone near death or in a trance or whatever could reliably, testably report on the contents of a locked safe... that would persuade me of the existence of the soul.

What would not convince me: I would not, however, be persuaded by anecdotal reports of these experiences. Casual observers are too -- is there a nice word for "gullible"? I suppose there isn't -- too unfamiliar with natural explanations for supposedly supernatural events, too unaware of the kinds of experimental errors that can make these experiences seem real, too subject to confirmation bias, too incomplete in their understanding of probability, and far, far too eager to believe that the soul is real and they aren't going to die. So these experiences would need to be rigorously tested and replicated, by people with experience in the kinds of cognitive and experimental errors that supposed psychic experiences are consistently subject to. (The reality is that whenever these types of experiences have been subjected to careful testing under good, scientific conditions, they never, ever, ever pan out. Ever.)

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