If archeologists discovered the actual bones of Jesus, I would stop believing on the spot, since that would disprove the Easter story and render Christianity at heart a fraudulent religion. Sure, there are sophisticated liberal protestants who say the resurrection was not really real, but rather a warm fuzzy in the hearts of the apostles who reflected on what a swell guy Jesus was and then went out and preached the Jesus-hippie message, thereby metaphorically “resurrecting” Jesus. These are the same people who say Jesus talked everyone into sharing their already brought fish and loaves lunch, or that Jesus didn’t really walk on water because the water was shallow. It’s their faith that’s shallow, not the water. No, you don’t have to be a fundamentalist and take the whole Bible literally. A Christian need not (and ought not) believe in a literal Garden of Eden or a 6000 year old earth, especially with the incontrovertable scientific evidence for evolution. But one thing science hasn’t (and can’t) disprove is the miraculous. The entire point of Christianity is God’s love is stronger than death; if Christ’s resurrection is only a metaphor, then death is the end and faith is pointless. But I digress. Why do I bring this up? I’ve just shared what kind of evidence might cause me to lose my faith. I want to know what kind of evidence might bring a non-believer to actually believe in God, although I suspect the answer is none.
I’ve heard atheists say if God came down from the sky and spoke on CNN, they’d believe. The implication is that they, unlike believers, are too rational for blind faith and thus must put everything to the test of reason, science, and evidence before giving assent or dismissal. This elides the fact that everyone from Buddhist to Muslim to agnostic and liberal to moderate to conservative uses reason and skepticism and the scientific method every single day, whether it’s checking the temperature of cooked chicken to see if it’s ready or doing mental math at the grocery store to see if there’s enough money in the wallet for eggs and milk. Believers and non-believers alike also, get this, follow emotion, impulse, and gut feelings when they take, yes, leaps of faith and choose to date this person and not that person or decide to attend this university and not that one. Sure, we use reason and any evidence that can be gathered when making important emotional choices like who to befriend and who to marry, but these types of choices are emotional, from the heart, and ultimately a matter of trust and faith. Atheists, like everyone else, form friendships and pick spouses without knowing for certain if it will work out, yet, when it comes to God and eternal life, they are like Thomas; they want absolute scientific certainty and won’t settle for anything less than touching the stigmatic hands of the resurrected Christ.
But even a miracle or divinely inspired CNN guest appearance would not convert a convinced skeptic. It’s not “seeing is believing.” It is and always has been, “believing is seeing.” Before the mind can work, before the mind can use the scientific method and the powers of reason, it must have a belief system from which to see and interpret the world. There is no such thing as evidence in the abstract. All evidence is evidence as interpreted by some sort of pre-set framework or belief system, a belief system that itself can only be put to the test if it is set aside and interpreted according to another (adopted) belief system. Belief comes first. Reason cannot be put to the test of reason (that would be circular); reason must be believed in or you cannot get started interpreting the world according to its tenets. Because faith comes first, no evidence would be sufficient for an atheist because his belief isn’t based on reason but is, like all beliefs, a pre-rational belief rationalized outward. Dostoevsky says it beautifully in his wonderful novel The Brothers Karamazov:
“The genuine realist, if he is an unbeliever, will always find strength and ability to disbelieve in the miraculous, and if he is confronted with a miracle as an irrefutable fact he would rather disbelieve his own senses than admit the fact. Even if he admits it, he admits it as a fact of nature till then unrecognized by him.”
Why does St. Paul convert on the road to Damascus? Why does C.S. Lewis convert on, yes, a random motorcycle ride? Why do some hearts remain hardened, like Pharaoh’s after the ten plagues or Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor after the appearance of Christ? God only knows.