At the moment my daughter and wife are busy playing the new Wii (our token indulgence in crass western materialism; in case you’re wondering, as per German tradition we open presents Christmas eve) when I received the following query from Jerry:
Just curious, Randal. Of the atheists you’re aware of, which one do you think would have the best chance of converting you? And which theist (Christian or otherwise) do you think would have the best chance of converting an atheist?
That’s an interesting, and very difficult question. It’s like asking “Which car do you think is likely to be the average automotive journalist’s favorite?” I mean, come on, preferences and circumstances my good man. There are rational factors and objective criteria involved in choosing which car is preeminent over all others, but there is also an enormously expansive x factor that encompasses personal history, preferences, whim, circumstances of the day one is asked, and many other factors besides. The reasons that one chooses one car as preeminent are enormously complex. (Don’t tell that to the devoted Motor Trend reader who considers the latest selection for car of the year with religious devotion.) Need it be said that the grounds for shifting one’s worldview are that much more complex? William Lane Craig may seem persuasive to some folk, but reading C.S. Lewis will be much more persuasive to others, while reading a Flannery O’Conner novel will seal the deal for others (and listening to Bach’s “Magnificat” would seal the deal for others). So are we in the business of saying that people ought to become Christian theists through listening to a Craig debate, or reading a Lewis or O’Conner book, or listening to a piece of Bach’s music? It seems to me that any such attempt to delimit the necessary and sufficient conditions of a proper conversion would be a bit, well, foolish.
But still, perhaps I digress. Which atheists are, at the end of the day, most threatening? Here I answer with what I hope is a sufficient degree of humility mixed in with a dose of reality. I have been underwhelmed by the likes of Dawkins, Hitchens, Ditchkens, Russell, Parsons, Loftus, Lactantius, et al. But which of this motley crew might be most persuasive? I suppose it depends on what time of the week you would ask me.