No matter how well you present the evidence for God, or how swiftly you can answer the skeptic’s objections, you’ll still find that many people resist the evidence. Human beings are complex, and it’s important to recognize that a failure to persuade someone does not mean that the arguments and evidence presented were poor. A good argument should not be judged by the number of people it persuades, but rather by how it accords with objective standards of reason and evidence.
Do not lose heart when atheists and skeptics walk away unconvinced. Sometimes, evangelization is more like a marathon than a sprint, and God can use a series of small conversations to slowly move someone to the truth of his existence in particular or Catholicism in general.
Now, since you are reading this book, you are probably interested in dialoguing with atheists and skeptics. So it’s important to be aware of several reasons why people might be resistant to following the evidence where it leads. In what follows, I provide six reasons why some people may resist the evidence for God, and give suggestions for how to overcome that resistance.
For each reason, I give one suggestion for breaking through some of the resistance. These may help, but there are no money-back guarantees! Above all, make sure to pray that your atheist discussion partners can find what they need to have an abiding relationship with God.
Reason 1: They find religious belief irrelevant. Perhaps your dialogue partner is simply indifferent toward religion. He does not think it is relevant to his life. He may not have any friends who take religion seriously. Cultural pressures no longer work in favor of Christianity in the United States and Europe (and perhaps other places as well). So if someone never encounters religious peers, it has become easier to go through life without confronting deep questions of religion. On top of that, the age of screens and social media provides a wealth of distraction for those who are indifferent about matters of faith.
One suggestion for responding to such apathy about religion is to ask some questions about deep topics. At first, these will likely feel uncomfortable. But after that initial discomfort, the person may show more interest in opening up to a deeper conversation. Ask, “Hey, I’m just curious, if God really does exist, wouldn’t you want to have a relationship with him?” Or even something like this: “Hey, I’m just curious, what do you think happens after you die?”
These questions may lead the person to question his apathy and reconsider fundamental questions about the meaning of life.
Reason 2: They view religious believers as judgmental, arrogant, hypocritical, or some other negative label, so they do not want to associate with religion. If the very sounds and smells of Christians turns someone off, he is not in a position to examine evidence fairly. Also, if we’re honest, we can all think of religious folks (even ourselves!) who have not always acted well toward others. Of course, the fact that some Christians do not practice Christian ideals is no reason to dismiss Christianity. But it can be a substantial obstacle to people who do not want to be caught dead living and acting like those arrogant, judgmental Christians. Now, the skeptic might be completely off-base in his characterization of Christians, but that’s not the point at the moment. If we want to reach him, we should acknowledge his concerns as far as possible.
One suggestion for responding to a person with such an obstacle is to offer sympathy. And, especially if it was the behavior of Catholics that bothers him, you could apologize on behalf of the Catholic Church for any maltreatment he received. Additionally, you could remind him that Catholics aim to follow Christ, who humbly dined with tax collectors and prostitutes. As we want to be “conformed to the image of [Jesus]” (Rom. 8:29), Catholics should strive to live holy lives of virtue and cast aside arrogance and hypocrisy. If we want people facing this obstacle to reconsider the Faith, we should start by humbling ourselves, offering sympathy, and, if appropriate, apologizing.
Reason 3: They have unrealistic expectations about how the evidence for God is supposed to work, or they have a deficient epistemology that blocks the evidence.
Some people approach an argument for the existence of God with an all-or-nothing, unrealistic attitude. That is, unless the argument persuades them that there must be a God in two minutes or less, it must not be a good argument. But such arguments are typically unavailable in most, if not all, disciplines. Imagine if someone held scientific arguments to that standard—as if to say, unless you can completely convince me in a few minutes that evolution or general relativity are true, then the arguments for them must not be any good. Anyone’s failure to meet this standard would show precisely nothing. Sound arguments might take time, reflection, and philosophical training before their full import can be grasped. But it does not follow from that that they are not good arguments.
For example, it took the Catholic philosopher Edward Feser several years of teaching and investigating theistic arguments before he finally came to see their force. Since then, he has come to be known as one of the sharpest thinkers in the domain of natural theology in our time. One suggestion for combating this unrealistic expectation about arguments is to ask your discussion partner if he would apply that standard to evolution or general relativity.
Another way an atheist can resist the evidence is by discounting all evidence that is not scientific. This view, known as scientism, is addressed earlier in chapter three. The fatal flaw of scientism is that it cannot meet its own test: the position that science is the only way of knowing is not something known through the scientific method. Since scientism is self-defeating, it cannot be consistently deployed as a way of dismissing evidence for God. Instead, people should be open to all possible evidence for a particular view, not only scientific but also philosophical and historical.
One suggestion for breaking through this resistance is to ask, “Suppose there’s no direct, scientific evidence for God, but there’s good evidence for God that comes to us in other ways. Would you be open to examining that?” Of course, your dialogue partner can just say no and stick to his scientism. But since scientism is self-defeating, we would hope he’d be open to relinquishing such a position.
If you want to find out more, order your copy of One Less God Than You today!