What Would Convince Us Christianity is True?

We atheists are asked to imagine what would convince us that Christianity is true. The short answer is this: We need sufficient objective evidence that can transform the negligible amount of human testimony found in the Bible into verified eyewitness testimony. But it does not exist. Given the extraordinary nature of the miracle tales in the Bible, this requirement means the past has to be changed and that can’t be done. Let's explore this.

Consider the Christian belief in the virgin-birthed deity. Just ask for the objective evidence. There is no objective evidence to corroborate the Virgin Mary’s story. We hear nothing about her wearing a misogynistic chastity belt to prove her virginity. No one checked for an intact hymen before she gave birth, either. After Jesus was born, Maury Povich wasn’t there with a DNA test to verify Joseph was not the baby daddy. We don’t even have first-hand testimonial evidence for it since the story is related to us by others, not by Mary or Joseph. At best, all we have is second-hand testimony by one person, Mary, as reported in two later anonymous gospels, or two people if we include Joseph, who was incredulously convinced Mary was a virgin because of a dream--yes, a dream (see Matthew 1:19-24).[1] We never get to independently cross-examine Mary and Joseph, or the people who knew them, which we would need to do since they may have a very good reason for lying (pregnancy out of wedlock, anyone?).

Now one might simply trust the anonymous Gospel writers who wrote down this miraculous tale, but why? How is it possible they could find out that a virgin named Mary gave birth to a deity? Think about how they would go about researching that. No reasonable investigation could take Mary's word for it, or Joseph’s word. With regard to Joseph’s dream, Thomas Hobbes tells us, “For a man to say God hath spoken to him in a Dream, is no more than to say he dreamed that God spake to him; which is not of force to win belief from any man” (Leviathan, chap. 32.6). So the testimonial evidence is down to one person, Mary, which is still second-hand testimony at best. Why should we believe that testimony?

Christian believers accept ancient 2nd 3rd 4th 5th handed-down testimony to the virgin birth of Jesus, but they would never believe two people who claimed to see a virgin give birth to an incarnate god in today's world!

On this fact, Christian believers are faced with a serious dilemma. If this is the kind of research that went into writing the Gospel of Matthew--by taking Mary’s word and Joseph’s dream as evidence--then we shouldn’t believe anything else we find in that Gospel without corroborating objective evidence. The lack of evidence for Mary’s story speaks directly to the credibility of the Gospel narrative as a whole. There’s no good reason to believe the virgin birth myth, so there’s no good reason to believe the resurrection myth either, since the claim of Jesus’ bodily resurrection is first told in that Gospel.[2]

In a recent online discussion fundamentalist apologist Lydia McGrew suggested I got it wrong. Her knee jerk reaction to me was that the author of Matthew's gospel merely reported that Joseph's dream convinced him Mary's tale was true, and nothing more. But if so, why is Joseph's dream included in Matthew's gospel at all? It doesn't do anything to lead reasonable people to accept Mary's story, as her testimony would still stand alone without any support. It would be tantamount to showing that Joseph was incredulously convinced by less than what a reasonable person should accept. So what? It would also encourage readers to consider their own dreams as convincing on other issues.

So let us imagine what could have been...

If an overwhelming number of Jews in first-century Palestine had become Christians that would’ve helped. They believed in their God. They believed their God did miracles. They knew their Old Testament prophecies. They hoped for a Messiah/King based on these prophecies.[3] We’re even told they were beloved by their God! Yet the overwhelming majority of those first-century Jews did not believe Jesus was raised from the dead.[4] They were there and they didn’t believe. So why should we?

If I could go back in time to watch Jesus coming out of a tomb that would work. But I can’t travel back in time. If someone recently found some convincing objective evidence dating to the days of Jesus, that would work. But I can’t imagine what kind of evidence that could be. As I’ve argued, uncorroborated testimonial evidence alone wouldn’t work, so an authenticated handwritten letter from the mother of Jesus would be insufficient. If a cell phone was discovered and dated to the time of Jesus containing videos of him doing miracles, that would work. But this is just as unlikely as his resurrection. If Jesus, God, or Mary were to appear to me, that would work. But that has never happened even in my believing days, and there’s nothing I can do to make it happen either. Several atheists have suggested other scenarios that would work, but none of them have panned out.[5]

Believers will cry foul, complaining that the kind of objective evidence needed to believe cannot be found, as if we concocted this need precisely to deny miracles. But this is simply what reasonable people need. If that’s the case, then that’s the case. Bite the bullet. It's not our fault it doesn't exist. Once honest inquirers admit the objective evidence doesn’t exist, they should stop complaining and be honest about its absence. It’s that simple. Since reasonable people need this evidence, God is to be blamed for not providing it. Why would a God create us as reasonable people and then not provide what reasonable people need? Reasonable people should always think about these matters in accordance to the probabilities based on the strength of the objective evidence.

Believers will object that I haven’t stated any criteria for identifying what qualifies as extraordinary evidence for an extraordinary miraculous claim. But I know what does not count. Second-, third-, or fourth-hand hearsay testimony doesn’t count. Nor does circumstantial evidence. Nor does anecdotal evidence as reported in documents that are centuries later than the supposed events, which were copied by scribes and theologians who had no qualms about including forgeries. I also know that subjective feelings, private experiences, or inner voices don’t count as extraordinary evidence. Neither do claims that one’s writings are inspired, divinely communicated through dreams, or were seen in visions. That should be good enough. Chasing the definitional demand for specific criteria sidetracks us away from that which matters. Concrete suggestions matter. But if Christians want more they should learn to examine the miracle claims in the Bible from the perspective of a historian.[6]

If nothing else, a God who desired our belief could have waited until our present technological age to perform miracles, because people in this scientific age of ours need to see the evidence. If a God can send the savior Jesus in the first century, whose death supposedly atoned for our sins and atoned for all the sins of the people in the past, prior to his day, then that same God could have waited to send Jesus to die in the year 2023. Doing so would bring salvation to every person born before this year, too, which just adds twenty centuries of people to save.

In today’s world it would be easy to provide objective evidence of the Gospel miracles. Magicians and mentalists would watch Jesus to see if he could fool them, like what Penn & Teller do on their show. There would be thousands of cell phones that could document his birth, life, death, and resurrection. The raising of Lazarus out of his tomb would go viral. We could set up a watch party as Jesus was being put into his grave to document everything all weekend, especially his resurrection. We could ask the resurrected Jesus to tell us things that only the real Jesus could have known or said before he died. Photos could be compared. DNA tests could be conducted on the resurrected body of Jesus, which could prove his resurrection, if we first snatched the foreskin of the baby Jesus long before his death. Plus, everyone in the world could watch as his body ascended back into the heavenly sky above, from where it was believed he came down to earth.

Christian believers say their God wouldn’t make his existence that obvious. But if their God had wanted to save more people, as we read he did (2 Peter 3:9), then it’s obvious he should’ve waited until our modern era to do so. For the evidence could be massive. If nothing else, their God had all of this evidence available to him, but chose not to use any of it, even though with the addition of each unit of evidence, more people would be saved.

It’s equally obvious that if a perfectly good, omnipotent God wanted to be hidden, for some hidden reason, we should see some evidence of this. But outside the apologetical need to explain away the lack of objective evidence for faith, we don’t find it. For there are a number of events taking place daily in which such a God could alleviate horrendous suffering without being detected. God could’ve stopped the underwater earthquake that caused the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami before it happened, thus saving a quarter of a million lives. Then, with a perpetual miracle God could’ve kept it from ever happening in the future. If God did this, none of us would ever know that he did. Yet he didn’t do it. Since there are millions of clear instances like this one, where a theistic God didn’t alleviate horrendous suffering even though he could do so without being detected, we can reasonably conclude that a God who hides himself doesn’t exist. If nothing else, a God who doesn’t do anything about the most horrendous cases of suffering doesn’t do anything about the lesser cases of suffering either, or involve himself in our lives.[7]

In any case, imagining some nonexistent evidence that could convince us Mary gave birth to a divine son sired by a male god in the ancient superstitious world is a futile exercise, since we already know there’s no objective evidence for it. One might as well imagine what would convince us that Marshall Applewhite, of the Heaven’s Gate suicide cult, was telling the truth in 1997 that an extraterrestrial spacecraft following the comet Hale-Bopp was going to beam their souls up to it, if they would commit suicide with him. One might even go further to imagine what would convince us that he and his followers are flying around the universe today! Such an exercise would be utter tomfoolery, because faith is tomfoolery.

Anthropology professor James T. Houk has said, “Virtually anything and everything, no matter how absurd, inane, or ridiculous, has been believed or claimed to be true at one time or another by somebody, somewhere in the name of faith.”[8] This is exactly what we find when Christians believe on less than sufficient objective evidence.


[1] Joseph’s dream is used in the Gospel of Matthew’s narrative to help explain why Mary was not put to death for dishonoring him because of adultery. There are five other dreams in this gospel account which were all intended to save someone’s life. So, Joseph’s dream was probably meant to save Mary’s life too (Matthew 1:19-23; 2:12; 2:19-23; & 27:19). Matthew J. Marohl shows in Joseph’s Dilemma: “Honor Killing” in the Birth Narrative of Matthew (Wipf & Stock Publisher, 2008), that “Joseph’s dilemma involves the possibility of an honor killing. If Joseph reveals that Mary is pregnant, she will be killed. If Joseph conceals Mary’s pregnancy, he will be opposing the law of the Lord. What is a ‘righteous’ man to do?” Marohl: “Early Christ-followers understood Joseph’s dilemma to involve an assumption of adultery and the subsequent possibility of the killing of Mary.” This was part of their culture. Honor killings were justified in both the Old and New Testaments. Jesus even agreed with the Mosaic Law (Exodus 21:17; Leviticus 20:9) against his opponents on behalf of honor killings of children who dishonored their parents (Mark 7:8-13). The tale of the woman caught in adultery, where Jesus exposes the hypocrisy of her accusers, doesn’t change what Jesus thinks of the law either (John 8; Matthew 5:18).

Don’t be surprised by the possibility of honor killings. Jesus affirmed their legitimacy. The Pharisees accused Jesus of being too lenient in his observance of the law. So Jesus counterpunches them in Mark 7:9-12: “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and, ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is Corban (that is, devoted to God) then you no longer let them do anything for their father or mother.” (NIV) Corban is an Aramaic word that refers to a sacrifice, oath, or gift to God. The Pharisees allowed for this loophole so someone could make an oath to offer a gift to the temple, like one would set up a trust fund, in order to avoid giving it for the care of one’s aging parents.

Jesus’ first scriptural quote to “Honor your father and mother” is one of the Ten Commandments. Jesus’ second scriptural quote that “Anyone who curses (literally dishonors) their father or mother is to be put to death”, is found in Ex. 21:17 and Lev. 20:9. Jesus says the Corban loophole sets aside these two commands of God. For such a son would be disobeying a direct command of God by dishonoring his parents, while the Pharisees would be disobeying God’s command by not putting him to death. Deuteronomy 21:18-21 elaborates (i.e., the second law): “If someone has a stubborn and rebellious son who does not obey his father and mother and will not listen to them when they discipline him, his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him to the elders at the gate of his town. They shall say to the elders, 'This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a glutton and a drunkard.' Then all the men of his town are to stone him to death.”

In this Jesus is affirming the Old Testament law of honor killings by stoning, for only if both of the laws Jesus cites are to be obeyed can his analogy succeed, that the Pharisees have set aside the laws of God in order to observe their traditions. For more on the harms of Christianity see my anthology, Christianity is not Great (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2014).

[2] On the resurrection, see Loftus, The Case against Miracles (United Kingdom: Hypatia Press, 2019), chapter 17.

[3] To see how early Christian’s misused Old Testament prophecy, see Robert J. Miller’s excellent book, Helping Jesus Fulfill Prophecy (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2015).

[4] The most plausible estimate of the first-century Jewish population comes from a census of the Roman Empire during the reign of Claudius (48 CE) that counted nearly 7 million Jews. See the entry “Population” in Encyclopedia Judaica, vol. 13. In Palestine there may have been as many as 2.5 million Jews. See Magen Broshi, “Estimating the Population of Ancient Jerusalem.” Biblical Archaeological Review Vol. 4, No. 2 (June 1978): 10-15. Despite these numbers, Catholic New Testament scholar David C. Sim shows that “Throughout the first century the total number of Jews in the Christian movement probably never exceeded 1,000.” See How Many Jews Became Christians in the First Century: The Failure of the Christian Mission to the Jews. Hervormde Teologiese Studies Vol. 61, No. 1/2 (2005): 417-440.

[5] Loftus, What Would Convince Atheists To Become Christians? The Definitive Answers! (April 4, 2017).

[6] See Bart D. Ehrman on the Historian and the Resurrection of Jesus.

[7] See my anthology, God and Horrendous Suffering for more.

[8] James T. Houk, The Illusion of Certainty (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2017), p. 16.


John W. Loftus is a philosopher and counter-apologist credited with 12 critically acclaimed books, including The Case against Miracles, God and Horrendous Suffering, and Varieties of Jesus Mythicism. Please support DC by sharing our posts, or by subscribing, donating, or buying our books at Amazon. As an Amazon Associate John earns a small amount of money from any purchases made there. Buying anything through them helps fund the work here, and is greatly appreciated!