What If There Is No God?

I think many people toy with some form of atheism at some point in their lives.  They wonder if all they were taught growing up is really true.  They don’t see God, they don’t hear from him, and they don’t touch him or smell him, so maybe he doesn’t really exist.

Wondering whether God exists, it seems to me, is perfectly rational and reasonable.  Most of us struggle with doubts, but we learn how to deal with those doubts, maybe by finding good answers to our questions, or even having an experience with God that reassures us.

Some of us, though, willingly turn those doubts into a strong and hardened form of atheism.  Granted, hardened atheists are a tiny percentage of the population (most surveys I’ve seen say it’s less than 5%), but there is still a larger percentage who are toying with the idea of no God.  It is to those people who are toying with atheism that I would like to speak. 

What if there really is no God?  What does that really mean?  I’m betting that many of us haven’t thought this through.  If there is no God, then there are real consequences for that viewpoint, and many hardened atheists who have rigorously examined their convictions would agree with me.  Here goes.

First, free will does not exist.  You are the consequence of random, natural processes, and therefore everything you say and do is determined at the atomic level.  You are not free to do anything.  Once science gets there, we will be able to predict everything you will say and do just by understanding the chemicals that make up your body and the surrounding environment.

Second, there is no absolute right and wrong.  Morality is a human invention which changes with time, place, and people.  What’s wrong today may be right tomorrow.  Transcendent moral laws are illusory because right and wrong are constantly changing.  We, as individuals, and as groups of individuals, decide what we call right and wrong.  When we die, our children will decide, and so on.  Slavery used to be right, but now it’s wrong.  Who knows, maybe it’ll go back to being right again some day, if there is no God.  

Third, there is no ultimate justice.  Those who commit heinous crimes in this life are never punished for those crimes in the next life, because there is no next life!  This is it.  Not to mention the fact that without a foundation for moral law, as seen above, how can anything be declared unjust? You have to know what is just before you can know what is unjust, but what is just is constantly changing.  If there is no God, then there is no ultimate justice for Hitler, Stalin, or Mao.  Maybe they were just doing the best they could given the time and place they lived.  Who is to say?

Fourth, as already mentioned, there is no life after death.  You will never see your deceased loved ones again.  Once you die, you will decompose into a pile of inanimate chemicals and never be conscious again.  As they say in the world of sports, it’s one and done.

Fifth, there is no ultimate meaning to life.  Your life has no cosmic purpose.  You aren’t here to fulfill any kind of mission.  The only meaning you can have in your life is the meaning you subjectively give yourself.  That meaning, however, is just a psychological comfort, a pleasant illusion to keep you going.  It really doesn’t matter if you live or die.  Everything you accomplish in this life will eventually be destroyed and forgotten. 

Sixth, there is no purpose to human history.  All of the things that we as humans have achieved will eventually be lost when our species dies out.  History is not headed in any particular direction.  There is no plan for the human race.  Eventually, we will wipe ourselves out or some comet will smash into the earth.  Either way, human history is a dead end.

Still toying with atheism?

  • rykemasters

    I fail to see where you’re going with this, to be honest. The wording is somewhat biased against atheism, but not horribly so. Take that out, maybe add some minor precisions, and you have a list of consequences I can perfectly agree with, as an atheist, and not a very long-time one.

    But that changes what? The question is not whether it’s emotionally preferable, it’s whether it’s true and how we live with it. That’s one of the things I’d change in your entry; is a subjective meaning to life as bad as you make it sound? Not really. Because there’s no one up there to care means that the best we can do is care about our existence ourselves. We have no meaning on a cosmic scale, but we don’t live on a cosmic scale. We try to see things on that scale when we seek some kind of ultimate truth about the Universe, such as our objective meaning in this Universe, or lack thereof, but even scientists do not live their daily lives wholly immersed in this world of objectivity; we are creatures of pure logic insofar as we seek complete, objective truth, which isn’t always the case. Certainly is the case with the existence of God, however. And when we look on that scale, we see… nothing very telling at all about a God.

    That morality has fluctuated through time is undeniable from a historical, sociological and anthropological perspective. The Bible is a great example; there’s an undeniable schism between modern moderate Christians (and even a number of fundamentalists) and the contents of the Bible. Much of the book is ignored or glossed over because it simply clashes with modern societal values to much too large a degree. I would go so far as to say that the Jesus commonly worshipped, usually a pretty cool guy, has little in common with the Jesus of the book besides the broadest themes. Common Christianity has been modernised by keeping the good bits and leaving out as much of the bad stuff as could be taken out losing the idea to a point that would hurt credibility badly.

    I would argue that no objective truth should have a need for much of what Christianity, and religion in general, has: An institution devoted to its defence, preaching to people who already believe and against those who don’t. Dogma which must be followed, and has changed at various points in history. And apologetics, its very own branch of science (I wouldn’t call it pseudoscience, but it is a science that presupposes its correctness and then sets out for the facts, in many cases) dedicated to reconciling it with reality. In fact, this is the kind of thing that people who seek truth try to avoid. Dogma is a huge problem because it closes avenues uselessly. From a secular perspective (not strictly atheistic), if data is found that contradicts dogma, dogma’s wrong, unless there’s good reason to think the data could be mistaken. From a purely religious perspective, if data contradicts dogma, data’s wrong. From an apologetic perspective, if data contradicts dogma, well, you’ve read something wrong. It might be the data, might be the dogma, but you read something wrong.

    Oh, and I do have a bit of a problem with the whole justice thing. There’s no *supernatural* justice. Only justice there is is the one down here. Hitler killed himself, his main collaborators were judged and mostly hung. The Vatican helped a couple, actually, but Mossad got most of them, and I imagine Mossad aren’t all lollipops and rainbows with Holocaust perpetrators. Most people who do horrible things are hated and do get punished. Not always fairly, not always as much as people would like, and sometimes not at all. It’s not fair, but we have no reason to suspect that there’s anything more to it, and, to be honest, eternal suffering is unfair. Every crime is finite. We don’t have a punishment for every crime, though, and sometimes, the best we can do is the end of their existence. Dead people do no wrong. That they don’t suffer is a nonissue. There’s nothing left to suffer.

    But again, the emotional appeal, the desire of people for the punishment of others which is not always carried out in their lifetime, has nothing to do with the truth of the proposition. I personally do not like the idea of the Abrahamic God as described in the Bible. Yet, I’m open to the idea that he might exist, and if it were manifest that he did, I’d have no choice but to recognize his existence. I’m not sure I’d worship the Biblical God, but I would no longer be an atheist; I’d believe in his existence.

  • rykemasters

    I’d like to add, though, that all in all, that’s a much, much better entry than many apologists would make, to be honest. I may not agree with the spin you give the words, and I may not think you fleshed it out nearly enough, but that’s not a bad entry at all.

  • rykemasters

    Oh, one other thing I’d add. That “hardened atheists willingly make those doubts a certainty” is, well, frankly, it’s bollocks. It’s not really a decision so much as it’s a realisation, usually, but more importantly, it’s not a certainty. You’ll find that most atheists would never say they’re certain that there is no God. At best, many atheists are certain that there is no reason to believe in a factual, existing god at the moment. Most atheists would not consider turning this conviction (by which I mean we’re convinced, not certain) into a certainty, as that would be about as dogmatic as the very religious thought they criticize. The worldviews associated with atheism (as there is no single worldview attached, though several tend to go quite well with atheism, I mean those that, by my reckoning, you’re most likely to run across) are, above all, based on the observation of reality. And our perception of reality changes as we acquire new knowledge. If we acquire knowledge that shows there is a God, and find that it cannot reasonably be found erroneous, then you’d see a lot of atheists convert. Most, even. Perhaps not all would choose to worship, but we’d have to agree that a god exists.

  • dsfincannon

    The following post was written in response to “What If There Is No God?”

    http://holyerthanthou.wordpress.com/2008/12/27/toying-with-atheism/

    If you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact us. Thanks 🙂

  • I’m an atheist, and — ignoring the details of your article — I have no problem with the larger points you mentioned. I’d have phrased the free will one differently, but I agree with what you mean to say. I don’t believe in absolute right and wrong, or ultimate justice, or an afterlife, or an inherent meaning to life, or some sort of great purpose to humanity.

    I’m just here; for a little while, anyway. I find my own meaning in life, or not. Doesn’t really matter either way. Nothing really matters. I can accept reality for what it is, rather than what I want it to be.

    If you want to learn more about atheism, or just tax your brain cells a bit, go to your local library and pick up a copy of The Stranger by Albert Camus.

  • Bill Pratt

    probabilityzero,
    Thank you for your comments. The great atheist writers that I’ve read (e.g., Nietszche and Sartre) saw the ultimate consequences of their beliefs. These consequences, however, greatly saddened many of them (especially Sartre). Even though he knew that the non-existence of God entailed these things, he didn’t like that kind of a world. Nietszche predicted that the 20th century would be the bloodiest yet because he saw that non-belief in God would finally allow mankind to unleash its desires without fear of cosmic justice.

    I believe that a world without God is unliveable. Although there are some atheists that are good and decent people, I truly believe that without God the world would fall into moral anarchy, as evidenced by the 20th century’s misadventures with totalitarian and atheistic regimes.

    Nevertheless, if it is true that God doesn’t exist, so be it.

  • Bill Pratt

    rykemasters,
    I appreciate your comments and kind words. I agree with you that a more important point is whether it is true that God exists. If it is not true, then we may as well accept the consequences.

    The reason I wrote this post, though, is that I find that many people who are “toying” with atheism (those who aren’t committed to it, but are just poking around to see what it’s about) are not particularly moved by objective evidence. I can list all sorts of arguments and evidences for God’s existence, and I have in the past and will continue to do so. There are good arguments and great intellects on all sides. But, often when I do so, I get nowhere in the conversation. Their guard is up, and they don’t want to hear a thing I’m saying.

    However, when we talk about the consequences to their lives if God does not exist, all the sudden many people start listening. The human mind is not purely rational, and, in fact, often makes decisions based upon experiential data. I would love to just stick to the facts and arguments, and I want to know the truth as much as anybody, but many other people don’t operate that way.

    Having said that, what about you? You said that you are willing to go where the evidence leads. What evidence would it take to convince you that God exists? If that evidence was presented to you, would you believe?

    Many hardened atheists honestly answer that it wouldn’t matter what evidence they’re shown. They will not believe. Period.

  • rykemasters

    “Many hardened atheists honestly answer that it wouldn’t matter what evidence they’re shown. They will not believe. Period.”

    All I can answer to that is, nope, not the ones I know. Most people who’ve really thought about this would say that they won’t believe short of something important happening.

    On the contrary, I’ve been told by Christians, once or twice, that they would not change their beliefs even if they were conclusively proved wrong, which seems pretty ridiculous to me. In both cases they were pretty reasonable people, and to be honest, that bothers me.

    I agree that people don’t make entirely rational decisions, and in fact I did say that even scientists don’t base their every decision on rational thought and evidence; for many things, it’s much quicker and more pleasant to make largely emotional decisions. In fact, a society is made up of human beings who aren’t entirely rational, so it is quite necessary to have emotion. When asking important questions about the objective nature of the Universe and existence itself, though, I think we should make, as much as possible, purely rational decisions, as it involves a Universe that does appear to be entirely rational (in fact, our idea of rational thought is based on the way the Universe works, that is, at a very basic level, on cause and effect) and that we should encourage others to do so. If it were that many people could be swayed to atheism through emotional arguments, (some definitely can be, but not too many) I’d say that we should discourage them from that, and I know of many people who agree.

    As for what it would take me to believe, well, to be honest, the Biblical God is pretty much out of the question by now. He’d virtually have to manifest directly and clearly to me. For something as broad as a creator, though, well, it would still take quite a lot for me to find that the most likely proposition, but there’s a lot of simple things that could push me that way. If the idea of abiogenesis was found to be virtually impossible (for example, if further study of amino acids showed that they purely and simply can not eventually form life beyond simple replicators, which are arguably not life at all) or other discoveries made a view of a Universe without a creator considerably more unlikely, I would definitely consider it, well, more likely. So much doesn’t match between religious gospels and reality, though, that I’d be hard-pressed to find those to be likely at all, short of a supreme being coming up to me and telling me that the books are true. I’d appreciate if he explained why deeper observations of history and, more generally, facts, tend to drive us away from a need for his existence.

  • Bill Pratt

    Rykemasters,

    I would like to push a little now, so please understand I’m not trying to be rude or attack you. I just want to you to consider some things.

    Abiogenesis, or the origination of life from non-life has already been found to be “virtually impossible.” 50-plus years after Miller-Urey, there is no known mechanism for non-living chemicals generating living organisms. Every theory that has been proposed has significant weaknesses. Just read the wikipedia article on abiogenesis to see the huge number of theories that are floating around, which indicates that the field is extremely immature (after 50-plus years !!!). If even one of these theories were compelling, it would have gained traction by now.

    Many scientists and philosophers have long since concluded that there needs to be a source of complex and specified information in order to properly arrange the basic chemical structures in even the simplest living organisms. Complex, specified information only originates in minds.

    Francis Crick (DNA discoverer) was so disillusioned with origin-of-life research that he proposed the idea that life came from outer space. Unfortunately that only backs the problem up. Where did life in outer space come from?

    Are you familiar with philosopher and former atheist, Dr. Antony Flew? As a life-long atheist, he determined, in 2004, that the evidence for an intelligent creator had become overwhelming in science, and he abandoned atheism. When asked why, he responded that he was just following the evidence.

    One last thing. If God came and spoke to you, wouldn’t the best explanation be that you were hallucinating or suffering from a mental illness? Why would such a visit convince you God exists?

    He has already spoken to many people throughout the history of the world, and those people actually wrote down what he said (in the Bible).

    But I’m guessing you think those people were mentally unstable, or deceptive, or gullible, so why would a visit from God today be any different?

  • rykemasters

    “One last thing. If God came and spoke to you, wouldn’t the best explanation be that you were hallucinating or suffering from a mental illness? Why would such a visit convince you God exists?

    He has already spoken to many people throughout the history of the world, and those people actually wrote down what he said (in the Bible).

    But I’m guessing you think those people were mentally unstable, or deceptive, or gullible, so why would a visit from God today be any different?”

    Addressing that part first, because it’s the simplest. People in the Bible have not written about God talking to them, they have written about people who had been in the presence of people to whom God supposedly spoke, the whole thing rendered into written form some time after the fact, at a time when people knew little about the world. Had I been born then, I’d almost certainly have believed. This was a time when few could write or read, and relying on authority was simply the only reliable way to survive.

    To put it simply, I don’t believe they were any more deluded or insane than the Greeks who believed that Poseidon hindered Jason and the Argonauts, or that Theseus slew the Minotaur, or than the Norsemen who believed Beowulf had saved a kingdom from the monstrous Grendel and his (apparently more monstrous) mother. I believe the accounts have been fictionalized. Certainly such things have been written, but does Homer’s epic convince you that there were Cyclopses and that the Golden Fleece existed? In the same way, I don’t think there was a God. I know that people have written about it and believed it, but I fail to see how it’s superior to the stories of the Greeks or Norse, or the epics of King Arthur, or what have you. All of them mention historical places, times and occasionally events, and all of them claim to be factual accounts. Note also that there are points in the Bible at which no one should have been present to hear and recount what was being said or done… and yet it’s narrated.

    Perhaps some who “heard God” were insane. It seems obvious to me that some people who said they did “hear God” and went on to do horrors in His name were simply lying. (or perhaps didn’t notice that the little voice in their head said whatever they wanted it to say…) Ultimately, though, if I heard God, I wouldn’t conclude I was insane, I would conclude that I could be. If it were a clear message (and not some kind of inane order) and I appeared not to have any problems according to a specialist, then no, I wouldn’t think it’s likely that I’m insane. However, I would expect a God to be honest and relatively clear. In any case, I don’t see that as a genuine possibility. In the event that it happened, though, I’d definitely have to look into it.

    As for abiogenesis, you’re not being very reasonable. That “no known means exists” isn’t particularly telling. The same was the case with virtually everything for thousands of years, and fifty years (!!!!!!) isn’t much. The atomic models, the Big Bang idea and the particulars of electricity all took considerably longer to reach their current form, to name a few. The number of theories isn’t impressive if you consider the way science works and the sheer number of possibilities involved in the beginning of life. The Big Bang theory is not actually a theory, but a cosmological model representing many possibilities all derived from a common basic set of generally recognized observations. There are also several theories on the specifics of the Big Bang, the smallest particles making up atoms, the nature of gravity, and so forth. That is where the debate is. Science must look at every plausible possibility. Because there are many and we don’t immediately have the means to narrow it down doesn’t mean we have to discount them all, let alone surrended to a particular hypothesis.

    Along that line of thought, why Christian creationism? Your intelligent design pretty clearly involves a creator based on the gospels. What drives you to believe that those accounts are true, and why, if I am to disagree with mainstream science, should I pick that particular possibility?

    “If even one theory were compelling, it would have gained traction by now.” A couple of them have much more “traction” than the rest, and suffer from little (none, as far as I can tell, but I won’t pretend I’ve searched in depth just for this comment) to no contrary evidence. Do read the Wikipedia article you pointed me to.

    “Complex, specified information only originates in minds.”

    Quite contrary, it appears to be necessary for the formation of a mind. I am to assume I’m not the first to ask, if a mind is necessary for the creation of other living minds, where did the first one come from? The bits and pieces, the component parts of this complex information does exist in nature. In order to form life, it had to align properly. That’s oversimplifying, but essentially that’s it. Am I to assume that an uncreated “first mind”, that makes no sense a priori, must exist because I have trouble finding out how these bits aligned? It’s plausible that they naturally did. In fact, several of the different theories of abiogenesis rest on the different ways those bits could have come together right.

    Flew is very explicitly a deist and absolutely not a Christian, and his position can hardly be refuted because it rests essentially on things we don’t know, as opposed to things we know. He’s a very smart man, definitely, and he might just be right. And?

    You might need to define exactly how many scientists is “many” scientists, and what era you’re talking about, here, though. Certainly a number of them believe in a first cause, but “many”? Very certainly not most. I would almost dare say nowhere near most.

  • Some Atheist ask for proof that God exist. They require physical evidence that can be examined and tested. Others simply don’t care to acknowledge the possibility of a God. Many Atheist look to science as their source of truth. However, science is a process through which man describes and explains the physical world. If you look beyond the physical objects that we can confirm through direct observation, you begin to reach the limits of science. What created the matter and energy needed to allow a big bang. How did nothing more than a soup of chemicals suddenly become life. There are no simple answers to these questions. However, I would argue that these questions are not relevant. Even if we had plausible theories that purported to answer these questions, it would not provide meaning or purpose to our lives. There are thousands of belief systems that try to fill that gap of meaning and purpose for our individual lives. Atheist argue that blind obedience to a God is absurd and provides no meaning or purpose. Why do God’s believers argue the need for everyone to believe in God? Cynical minds ask, what is in it for the believers? Why do they care about non-believers? I petition the Atheist to read the bible, so that when they reject God, it is through direct knowledge of the word of God that they reject Him, and not through ignorance. God tells us to embrace good and reject evil. Is that message not worthy of further investigation?

  • Bill Pratt

    “Addressing that part first, because it’s the simplest. People in the Bible have not written about God talking to them, they have written about people who had been in the presence of people to whom God supposedly spoke, the whole thing rendered into written form some time after the fact, at a time when people knew little about the world. Had I been born then, I’d almost certainly have believed. This was a time when few could write or read, and relying on authority was simply the only reliable way to survive.”

    I’m afraid these statements are factually incorrect, which leads me, with all due respect, to wonder if you have ever read the Bible or are familiar with higher criticism. Virtually every scholar on the planet admits that the apostle Paul wrote several of the books that claim him as author. He was an eyewitness and he wrote shortly after the events allegedly occurred. Again, there is just little debate about this. Paul several times claims that he was instructed by the Spirit of God. Luke also wrote about Paul’s vision of Christ on the road to Damascus. Again, virtually every scholar admits that Paul really thought he saw this vision. Likewise, Peter and John also claimed that God spoke to them, and very few doubt their authorship of their respective NT books.

    In the Old Testament, virtually every single book is full of accounts of God speaking to people. Again, the most critical scholars admit several of these books (not all) were written by the prophets themselves. You have person after person after person in the Bible claiming God spoke to them, and even the most critical scholars admit some of these accounts were written by the prophets themselves.

    Your assertion that reading and writing was rare is also not true. Compared to today’s literacy rates, yes, but we have examples of extensive writing going all the way back to 3000 BC. Archaeology completely refutes the idea that people of the ancient world were all illiterate. They were not. You should pick up some books about ancient Assyria, Babylon, Egypt, Greece, and Rome. You’ll be amazed at how prolifically they wrote! Plato wrote a lot of stuff and he lived between 428 and 348 BC. The biblical texts were written from about 1400 BC to AD 100. And even if many people were illiterate, it doesn’t matter because historians have shown that their oral traditions were very strong and they were able to accurately transmit oral histories for hundreds of years with little modification.

    Additionally, your comparison of the Bible to other mythical stories is unfair. There are large sections of the Bible that are clearly intended to be true and accurate historical narrative. The authors go out of their way to claim they are writing history. Witness John in 1 John:

    “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. 2 The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. 3 We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us.”
    1 Jn 1:1-3.

    Does it sound like he’s confused about real history and myths?

    Archaeology has confirmed much of what they wrote about. Historical facts recorded in Luke, Acts, and John, to name a few, have been confirmed and found to be accurate. For example, read C. J. Hemer, The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History, C. H. Gempf, ed.; and A. N. Sherwin-White, Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament.

    Another example of NT writing will illustrate the point further. Does this passage below sound like Luke is writing mythology? If so, he was a dope because anyone could have checked out the numerous historical facts he listed (and they have been checked out and found to be accurate):

    “In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene— 2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the desert.”
    Lk 3:1-2.

    Your argument that the books of the Bible are all third-hand accounts written a long time after the alleged events, and are thus all fictional, just does not stand up at all. I think you are going to have to bite the bullet and say that all of the biblical writers were out and out liars or were totally deceived. That’s quite a bit different from your present position, which is basically “they were all ignorant primitives who didn’t know the difference between myths and reality.” I just don’t think it works.

    With regard to abiogenesis, the trends are what I’m referring to. They’ve moved from great confidence in the 1950’s (read all the press releases proclaiming a solution to the origin of life!) to no confidence in 2008. The situation keeps getting worse for them, and not better. I wish them the best of luck. I really do, but I think their approaches to the problem are fatally flawed. Let’s just say that if you understand the current situation in this research field, it takes a lot of faith to believe they’re going to crack this puzzle with their current approaches.

    “Along that line of thought, why Christian creationism? Your intelligent design pretty clearly involves a creator based on the gospels. What drives you to believe that those accounts are true, and why, if I am to disagree with mainstream science, should I pick that particular possibility?”

    I am not arguing for the creator being the Christian God at this point. Science, by itself, can never lead specifically to the Christian God, but it can lead in the direction of a Creator, and that’s progress!

    “It’s plausible that they naturally did. In fact, several of the different theories of abiogenesis rest on the different ways those bits could have come together right.”

    Fine, show me how. It’s easy to explain how MacBeth was the result of an intelligent mind, namely that of Shakespeare. So tell me how something orders of magnitude more complex and more specified, such as a simple amoeba, was the result of random natural processes. If materialists could just answer this question, the intelligent design folks would close up shop and go home.

    Good night for now! Thanks for your patience and your attempt to understand my arguments. You have clearly thought a lot about these issues, and that is a great thing.

  • dsfincannon

    I do apologize. That is the wrong link (although a thoughtful one, worth reading.)

    I meant to send THIS, as many ID people like to spout things like the flagellum as irreducibly complex.

    Once again, apologies for the confusion.

    http://www.millerandlevine.com/km/evol/design2/article.html

  • rykemasters

    I’ll admit to never having fully read the Bible, and getting a lot of stuff wrong in that comment. My argument wasn’t totally out of the blue, though, so I’ll be off looking for sources and reading and be back with that.

    I did screw up my literacy rates there. I know education was relatively widespread in the great civilisations of Biblical times. Somehow I got messed up and was thinking of the Dark Ages, when the literacy was widespread only among the clergy, and Christianity eventually took lasting hold. That was long after the NT and much longer after the OT, though. My bad.

    Oh, and I can’t deny that the Bible goes to greater lengths than many writings of the time to be historically accurate, (though the Old Testament claims entirely ludicrous ages for many people) my argument wasn’t that they’d been caught in by some kind of complete fabrication, but that they were accounts of events which had happened, for the most part, a decade or more before the writing (I do mean a decade, not much longer than that. I do think I’ve seen a case made for one of the Gospels having been written fifty or so years after the events it relates), and which may have been, intentionally or not, embellished in the style of the fiction of the era. I’m not saying the Bible has no historical validity, but that the supernatural aspects aren’t more believable than those of any other legends. Roman emperors were often rendered as quasi-divine by historians, for that matter, and one (I should remember his name, but I forget) was claimed by a historian to have performed miracles, and this was an official record. My point is, though people of the time may have been rigorous (and as I said, some OT dates are, to say the least, very questionable), they weren’t nearly as sceptical about as we are about the supernatural. To the people of the era, lightning, rain, earthquakes and droughts were largely supernatural, and wise men of the time were no exception to that lack of modern knowledge.

    But yes, I’ll be looking things up for my next comment.

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  • Andrew Ryan

    “Once science gets there, we will be able to predict everything you will say and do just by understanding the chemicals that make up your body and the surrounding environment.”

    But you believe that God knows everything will do – why is that any less of a problem for free will?

  • Scott

    There’s a difference between knowing the outcome and dictating it. God knowing you’ll do something doesn’t have any bearing on your choice to do it. However, if you are a product of chemicals and your surroundings, you’re “dancing to your DNA” as RIchard Dawkins put it. The difference is, you never had a choice to begin with, just the illusion of one.

  • Andrew Ryan

    If God knows you’re going to choose A over B, then from the minute you were born, there was never any chance that you’d choose B. You couldn’t have chosen B. How then did you have the free will to choose B?

    “However, if you are a product of chemicals and your surroundings”

    What extra factor do you propose, such that free will is allowed a way in?

    Where’s the free will for the Pharaoh whose heart God hardened in Exodus 9:12?

  • sean

    “If God knows you’re going to choose A over B, then from the minute you
    were born, there was never any chance that you’d choose B. You couldn’t
    have chosen B. How then did you have the free will to choose B?”

    I’m not sure that this specific way of attacking the claim suffices. It’s quite possible for me to know the outcome beforehand without having a hand in it. I can measure the variables and compute the output without setting the variables. The problem is specifically that god also set the variables. He made the universe knowing it would come out like this.

  • Andrew Ryan

    Then we make the choices we make cos of how he ‘set the variables’ – this is no less of a problem for free will than naturalism.

  • The answer lies in the rest of the Book of Exodus. Nine times the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart is ascribed to God (4:21; 7:3; 9:12; 10:1, 20, 27; 11:10; 14:4, 8). Another nine times the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart is blamed on Pharaoh himself (7:13-14, 22; 8:15, 19, 32; 9:7, 34-35). In addition, Pharaoh alone hardens his heart during the first five plagues, and it is not until the sixth plague that God confirms Pharaoh’s choice to be stubborn.

    The Bible, therefore, teaches that Pharaoh is responsible for hardening his own heart and that God is only confirming what Pharaoh wants to do. It is not the case that God is forcing Pharaoh to be stubborn when Pharaoh really wants to be agreeable and compliant with Moses’s demands. There is no evidence for this in the text.

  • sean

    “In addition, Pharaoh alone hardens his heart during the first five
    plagues, and it is not until the sixth plague that God confirms
    Pharaoh’s choice to be stubborn.”

    If I do something wrong, and do it five times, how does it make it morally right for you to encourage me to do it the 6th time? Moreover, isn’t the point of your religion trying to better ones self, no matter how long it takes? It’s a lifelong process that will fail, right? What we have here is God saying, well you’ve screwed up 5 times, and this is the necessary number of times before I take away your right to decide to do the right thing. That’s not the character of what you claim is your god’s character. Besides, I still don’t see how is that acceptable, that’s still taking away his free will. Why would God be hardening his heart exactly if his heart was already sufficiently hardened to that choice?

  • sean

    Exactly how do you read Exodus 9:12 in a way that means God is not the reason Pharaoh is non-compliant? It’s just not there.

  • sean

    Oh I agree, and you’ll never get an answer that is logically sound and valid that retains both of these concepts. The invocation comes down to faith and god’s a mystery, but he told us he wouldn’t lie and he said these two logically contradictory things so it must be right that they don’t contradict even though they do.

  • sean

    So counting… you’ve proved 9 and 7, not 9 and 9. Just so you know. That there are two places where Pharaoh’s hard heart is talked about in two verses back to back doesn’t count as two. They are clearly referring to the same moment, and same hardened heart, where as the other times are temporally distinct, the back to back mentions are not, and so you’ve provided 9 and 7… Just to clarify.

  • Andrew Ryan

    “I still don’t see how is that acceptable, that’s still taking away his free will.”

    Yup, it’s still taking away his free will.

  • God is confirming Pharaoh’s choice. Pharaoh already badly wants to be stubborn, and God simply gives him the fortitude to carry through with his wishes.

    If you think that Christians believe that God never interacts with human beings at all, then you are simply mistaken.

    We don’t believe in a God who simply put the world into an initial state, set up some physical laws, and then hit the road. God is constantly interacting with human beings, but never in a coercive way. In other words, God interacts with humans through our free will, not opposed to our free will.

    God will confirm our choices. God will convict us psychologically of our sins. God will persuade us to love him. God will call us to him. God does all of these things, so if your definition of free will excludes all of this interaction, then you need to re-think your definition because it’s ridiculously restrictive.

    In fact, by your definition, you don’t have free will because I am currently trying to persuade you of something, thus impacting your ability to freely choose.

  • sean

    I’m one of those ‘crazy’ people who doesn’t believe in free will at all. So yeah, my definition of free will is rather restrictive, but I’m trying to level with it and come to understand it on your terms.

    If God is giving Pharaoh the strength to carry through with his convictions, isn’t God, in a way, fighting Moses, and since he’s helping Moses too, isn’t God fighting himself, in a way?

  • Sean,
    You are acting like a hyper-skeptic again. Stop.

  • Sean,
    God works through the free will of the creatures he created. If God had wanted a world where he didn’t have to work through any free creatures to accomplish his will, he could have created a world full of sub-human animals, or inanimate objects, or mindless robots.

    Instead, he desired to create a world where humans could freely interact with him. When he gave humans the power of free will, then obviously all sorts of circumstances could be actualized, where two humans are opposing each other, and possibly even opposing God.

    Because he is omniscient, omnipotent, and eternal, however, this is not a problem for God. He can still accomplish his will with free creatures running around.

  • If you don’t believe in free will, then is that an idea you freely believe, or an idea that you are are forced to believe? If you are forced to believe it, then what is forcing you?

    Why is that same force forcing me to believe the opposite? How can we trust any of our thoughts if we have external forces forcing us to believe contradictory things?

  • sean

    Because I’m pointing out where you were in error? This was a peripheral issue that has nothing to do with the substance of the argument, and I didn’t claim that it did. I just wanted to clarify something I think is wrong. This doesn’t even have anything to do with skepticism, this is about pointing out what the source material says. It’s not about a method of approaching answers, it’s about what the facts are.

  • sean

    It is an idea that I came to inevitably hold based on physics, or biology, however you want to say it. I don’t know why you are believing the opposite Bill. In general, I’d say you believe it because you were taught it, and you’ve rationalized it but I obviously don’t know your life story and I’m sure there are other factors. As for why, it’s not a purpose with intentionality, that’s just the way it happened. To some extent we cannot trust our thoughts. I don’t know that reality is real. But assuming that logic works and that reality exists, we can see that there are ways in which we can evaluate the state of reality.

  • sean

    Okay, so he’s not hardening Pharaoh’s heart then? I’m confused by your argument Bill. The idea that he can ‘work through free will’ makes no sense to me. Either it was our choice, or it was God’s choice. I don’t see how it can both be God’s choice yet our own and that we are the only party in that system subject to blame for our actions. I tried to think of an analogy, but I can’t. It’s just too out there for me. Do you perhaps have an analogy to help me understand it?

  • Philosophers differentiate between primary efficient causes and secondary efficient causes. God is the primary efficient cause of my free choices and I am the secondary efficient cause of my free choices.

    God gave me the power of free will. I exercise that power.

    Since all of my choices and all of my thoughts pre-existed in God’s mind before I was ever born (God is timeless), then He knows exactly what I will think and choose. But I am the proximate cause of this thinking and choosing.

    So, I can blame God for giving me the power of free choice, but I cannot blame God for the all of the individual decisions I make because I am the proximate (or secondary) cause of those actions.

    As long as God does not coercively override the free will of a human being, then he is not violating the power of free will that he gave that person. In the case of Pharaoh, he is not overriding his free will through coercion. He is working with Pharaoh’s free will to give him the strength to follow through with his free choices.

    He is not forcing Pharaoh, against his will, to decide something he would not otherwise decide.

    God will persuade us, but he will never coerce us. Think of the difference between a lover and a rapist. The lover will attempt to persuade, to woo, the person whose attention he craves. The rapist will simply overpower his target. God is a lover, not a rapist.

  • So physics and biology forced you to believe that free will does not exist. But physics and biology are forcing me to believe that free will does exist.

    If that is the case, then why are you trying to convince me that you are right and I am wrong, that I should freely change my mind and agree with you?

    Would you argue with a book that is sitting on a table that it should sit there because of gravity?

  • It’s nitpicking and does nothing to contribute to our conversation except to irritate me. It is counter-productive to the dialogue you claim you want to have.

  • sean

    I see where you are coming from in this analogy, and I can see where it applies in may situations. But lets remove ourselves from rape to a metaphor that doesn’t make me sound horrible if I try and defend this other side that I think is still equally applicable to this situation, if not better applicable. Lets say that god’s forcible actions are saving many people, which in the case of the Jews as slaves they are. I’d put it this way. On the one hand, yes it would be best if we could convince someone thinking of suicide or murder to not do it, but if they don’t listen then as the cop with the gun (or God with the power) do step in with force and shoot the murderer before he hurts people. You don’t walk up and help him squeeze the trigger so you can convict him of the murder he was going to commit anyways. And if you are god squeezing the trigger, I agree that you’re only affirming the shooter’s actions, but wouldn’t that person still be culpable for murder too in a court of law? I mean, we need to consider that the byproduct of this conflict god and Pharaoh have is lots of people external to the Pharaoh’s choice being punished for his choice too, Jews and the Egyptians alike.

  • sean

    I think forced has a false sense of intentionality. I prefer a less direct way of putting it, that they caused it. But in its essence yes. But it’s not like it’s as simple as the book example. And no, I don’t think you’ll freely change your mind. I think that if you do change your mind, evidence and your other beliefs will have forced you to change your mind on this issue.

    The idea of should goes back to intentionality. Should it, well maybe, but the important thing is that it does, and it’s not going to ever not do it on its own so long as the rules of the universe don’t change tomorrow. It’s more that it does sit there because of gravity.

  • sean

    Fair enough. I apologize for being rude in this way. But I do think it’s important that what I’ve done be framed more in this light, as opposed to hyper-skepticism. It gives the impression that you are want to use this word as a blanket derogatory statement more so than an actual word with the definite meaning that you gave it in your post to describe a specific mindset.

  • The process of evidence changing my mind implies that I am free to consider the evidence and free to draw conclusions from the evidence and free to state these conclusions.

    You have built freedom into every step of the process, but yet you deny there is any such thing!

    If there is no free will, then it is entirely incoherent to talk about people changing their minds because of evidence. Evidence only works if there is a rational process at work, and rationality entails free will. If there is no free will, then I am forced (caused) to believe what I believe purely because of chemical interactions in my brain.

    You need to offer an explanation of how chemicals interacting in your brain equates with the rational process of considering evidence, drawing conclusions from that evidence, and then stating that your beliefs have changed because of the outcome of the process.

  • sean

    Sure, logic and rational consideration of evidence is a process and a tool. People on their own are not guaranteed to think properly. It’s the reason people create religions even you’d probably admit, though yours is a different story. We teach them about logic because it works. Do we assume the basis of logic axiomatically, yes. Does that matter, no. They are axioms for a reason. If you can prove an axiom, by what right is it an axiom? I think that while I wouldn’t consider it free, doing our best to use this tool, and ignore our irrational cognitive biases and heuristics is the best way to the truth on a subject. And I think that evidence forces opinions. Evidence doesn’t allow the beliefs, it forces them. I do not believe I am free to believe whatever I want on a base level, and I don’t think you are either. But that doesn’t mean the system is wrong. I don’t see that rationality involves free will. I will admit that it’s difficult to discuss choice without speaking as though there is free will, and so for ease, considering us agents seems a good choice. But even today we consider people insane. We find people whose brain has developed cancer behave differently than without it and once removed they return to their normal selves. The evidence suggests that our brains are comprised of, and affected by, the physical world entirely, and that we are powerless to avoid this. But that doesn’t mean that we cannot know 1 + 1 = 2. And it is by similar process that we can deduce other things about the world logically. How good logic is as a tool has nothing to do with how screwed up people are. The process exists and can be used independent of the fact that we are rote and merely mechanistic at bottom. If we programmed a computer to use logic, it could determine things logically like us. So long as we can know logic, we can use it, but we cannot know it absolutely. This is a point I will concede. But I don’t know what point there is to working without the axioms. We all need to assume them. Using them, we divorce ourselves from fallacy.

  • I asked you to “offer an explanation of how chemicals interacting in your brain equates
    with the rational process of considering evidence, drawing conclusions from that evidence, and then stating that your beliefs have changed because of the outcome of the process.”

    As far as I can tell, you offered this explanation. Rational processes are axiomatic. They just exist out there somewhere as an independent entity. You admit that you have no explanation for how rationality and brain chemistry can be equated, but you just assert that it must be so!

    The way a computer processes inputs and gives outputs is completely different from how human beings use the rational process. Humans are self-reflective, thinking, emotional, volitional agents. Computers don’t reflect on themselves, don’t think, aren’t emotional, and don’t want to do anything. They are fancy machines, nothing more.

    But why, without the existence of God, would the physical universe have produced this very odd entity known as rationality? Is rationality a Platonic Form?

    At least with my metaphysics, I can offer a Mind that created the physical universe and built rationality into it. You are content to say, “Everything in reality operates by physical laws, and oh, we have this other strange thing called rationality that also exists, but we have no idea how this can come from physical laws, but it just does. Some day we’ll figure it out. Trust me.”

    Why should we trust you? Why should we believe that physical laws will one day be discovered to produce rationality when rationality seems to completely transcend physical laws and operate beyond them?

  • sean

    Well I think it’s like numbers. We can use the tool of math, which is an existent standard irrespective of our ability to use it right?

    Computers are silicon machines that can do math. We are meat machines that can do rational thinking. But it’s mechanistic and doesn’t involve free will.

    I’m not sure what you mean by equated. Are you asking how they can interact, how we can be mechanistic and use them? I’d say in the same way that computers can be mechanistic, yet do math. It’s just using an algorithmic process to get the answer, like solving for x in an equation. And just like we can recognize that using a math where 1 + 1 = 2 is more useful than math that makes results that are not guaranteed to be true in reality, we can use this form of logic and reasoning we see because it is demonstrably a better way to get to the truth, and to ascertain what you can actually know and what you can’t justify.

    It isn’t that rationality comes from physical laws any more than math comes from the physical universe. But we can discover it and know it once discovered in the same way that we can talk about math as a Platonic Form that can be discovered and known.

  • bowie1

    Some atheists are willing to accept not living forever, at least that’s what they say.