I think anyone who truly values knowing the truth will routinely critique their current beliefs. It is important to me to continually refine my beliefs, picking out the weak spots and making them stronger, or changing them if necessary.
In the process of self-examination, a question that often is brought up is: what if I’m wrong? What if Christianity is false? What if God does not exist?
As I’ve said before, I want Christianity to be true and I’ve studied enough to know that it is highly unlikely that I will change my mind on the matter. However, it is possible and I find the hypothetical scenario interesting to explore.
What if Christianity is False?
Basically, to arrive at the conclusion that Christianity is false, one would have to be convinced that Jesus did not rise from the dead. The Resurrection is the central claim of Christianity. Without it, as Paul says, the whole cathedral of belief falls apart.
In my experience with skeptics and atheists, many that I meet (I live in the U.S.) are former Christians. When they tell me their de-conversion stories, something always strikes me as odd. They seemed to have gone straight from Christian to Atheist.
How is this logical though? If Jesus did not rise from the dead, that doesn’t mean God doesn’t exist. After all, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and plenty others believe in God(s). Not to mention, one could opt for deism, or some sort of theism.
In fact, if I came to the conclusion that Jesus did not rise from the dead, I would not move an inch on my belief in a theistic God. Presumably, I would still not believe in Islam or some other religion either, in this thought experiment. For that reason, I would probably be some sort of theist if I came to the conclusion that Jesus did not rise from the dead.
What if God does not exist?
This scenario is even harder to imagine because I am all but certain that God exists. I really don’t think anything could convince me otherwise, though of course I have to leave open the possibility.
If God did not exist, I would have to find a way to be an atheist without affirming materialism, or physicalism: all that exists is material. I don’t know how I could ever affirm materialism, given the impossibility of rationality and reason on such a worldview.
If God did not exist, I would not become suddenly immoral to a high degree. Of course, I already sin and do things that are not moral. What I mean is that my morals would not change much.
I am not a theological voluntarist, that is someone who believes morality is grounded upon God’s commands. This is the assumption behind “Without God, you would have no grounds for morality.” I do not believe that.
Morality describes human action. An action is good if it leads to the flourishing of our human nature, and bad if it does not. I already believe this as a Christian and I could affirm it as an atheist.
The trouble would be with “Where did human nature come from?” Evolution is going to cause problems with rationality and therefore morality. For example, objections like Alvin Plantinga’s Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism.
One final thing on what if God does not exist. If God did not exist, I would completely lose interest in the subject. I would not be someone that tries to debate or cause doubt in believers. Why would I?
One question that atheists often get asked is “Without God, what objective purpose in life is there?” The most common response is that the purpose is whatever you make it.
It would seem to follow that if someone wants to make up a god and make this god the purpose of their life, even if this god does not exist, they would be doing the exact same thing that the rest of us would be doing.
“Well, the problem is when they try to present their god as true and push it on others.” This is no objection at all. We just decided that the purpose of life is whatever you make it. If I want to make the purpose of my life to “present my god as true and push it on others” then I am doing nothing different than you are. There is no objective standard here, all is subjective, and therefore it cannot follow that you should feel compelled to tear down someone else’s belief.
There is nothing to gain or lose by believing in a false purpose. We are all just living lives according to a subjective purpose that we ourselves have assigned. There is no “wasting our lives.” On this paradigm, whether Christian or atheist, no one’s life has any objective purpose, and no one’s life was “wasted” either. There is no meaning either way, we just sort of exist and that’s it.
So these atheists who say there is no objective purpose in life and we just assign a subjective purpose to our own lives, undermine themselves by critiquing religious believers. Religious believers, on the atheist paradigm, are just assigning a subjective purpose to their lives like everyone else. Whether it is true or not, is wholly irrelevant.
If Christianity were not true, I would not become an atheist. If God did not exist, I would not become a hedonist, nor an evangelistic atheist. That so many people who have left Christianity immediately became atheists astonishes me. The conclusion “Jesus did not rise from the dead” has absolutely no bearing whatsoever on the proposition “God exists.”
At any rate, I always like to run my mind through scenarios like this and self-critique.
Whether you are Christian, atheist, or other, how would you change if you came to see your current worldview as false?