Answers to Matt Slick’s ‘Questions for Atheists’ – Part 3

This is the third part of my responses to Matt Slick’s Questions for Atheists list from the CARM website. Part 1 is here and Part 2 is here.

22. Do you believe there is such a thing as evil? If so, what is it?

I believe that extreme badness exists in the world. I don’t believe in an external source of evil (i.e. a ‘devil tempts us’ type of philosophy).

23. If you believe that the God of the Old Testament is morally bad, by what standard do you judge that He is bad?

It’s a long time since I actually read the OT in detail, but, as best as I can remember, I didn’t at the time judge God to be bad. Jealous to a petty degree, yes. Worryingly homophobic, yes. Holding some very concerning ideas about women and sexual consent, yes. But, you know, not really bad at heart or anything.

(With hindsight, I have the feeling that I may have been rather too ready to overlook some very egregious behaviour, including the odd hideous massacre along the way. What can I say? I was naive, not very good at being skeptical, and somewhat primed by society to believe that God was supremely wonderful and so if God said it it must be Right.)

The God of the New Testament, on the other hand – that was a God who truly horrified me. Bad stuff on earth I could go a fair way to gloss over, but a God who would choose to condemn humans to an eternity of torture, purely for believing in the wrong religion, was a God that even my naive childhood/teen/twentysomething self couldn’t come to terms with.

In anticipation of your follow-up question: I judge that God to be bad by the same standard I’d judge anyone else to be bad. Namely, the standard that says that torturing people for eternity is wrong. (As, for that matter, are homophobia, jealousy, rape laws based on the principle that the only important issue in rape is the prospect of a husband or future husband being bothered about trespass within the vagina that’s supposed to be his sole property, and the ordering of massacres.)

24. What would it take for you to believe in God?

25. What would constitute sufficient evidence for God’s existence?

26. Must this evidence be rationally based, archaeological, testable in a lab, etc., or what?

(Again, I’ve grouped these three together as they seemed to be effectively three parts of the same question.)

What it would take is implied in this post; I would need the same sort of level of evidence that exists for the people and things that I experience each day. I don’t need laboratory or archaeological evidence for the coffee table next to me or my husband and children or Matt Slick; I have the evidence of my senses. If God communicated with us in some way that we could unequivocally, objectively sense in the same way as we see or hear or touch the things in the world around us (1), and that everyone else experienced similarly (2), then I wouldn’t have a problem in believing (3).

(1) Which wouldn’t have to be via our existing senses, necessarily; no reason why we couldn’t have another sense or senses solely for the purpose of experiencing God. But it would have to be something that carried that same quality of transmitting external data, data that feels qualitatively, noticeably different from the inner workings of our minds.

(2) ‘Almost everyone else’ would still be good enough. After all, in the world currently there are people who have problems with their existing senses and can’t see or hear properly, or people who, for various reasons, hallucinate things that aren’t there but seem real to them; and these blips in the universality of sensory experiences don’t interfere in practice with our ability to discern that the people and things we encounter actually exist.

(3) Well, I wouldn’t have had a problem in believing if things had been that way from the start. I think that if a god suddenly started doing this now, it would be natural to wonder why on earth he or she hadn’t been doing this throughout the history of humanity and to want some answers, and I for one would wonder whether these communications might in fact be due to something like aliens trying to influence the human race (which may of course simply mean I’ve spent too much time watching Doctor Who) and would still be skeptical for a while before believing. Still, if a being started communicating with us in this sort of universal unequivocal way and consistently continued doing so over time, I’d find that to be sufficient evidence.

27. Do you think that a society that is run by Christians or atheists would be safer? Why?

I don’t think it would be very safe to base the choosing of our leaders on their personal beliefs about religion, regardless of what those beliefs might be.

If I absolutely had to choose I’d say atheists, as they’re less likely to base general bans on personal beliefs. (Not saying this couldn’t happen, just that it’s a lot less likely with people not driven by a belief system telling them that the Divine Being In Charge Of The Universe requires society to be run a particular way.) But I’d much rather have a society in which the personal beliefs of the people in charge are irrelevant and what matters is how well the person is actually doing at running things.

28. Do you believe in free will? (free will being the ability to make choices without coersion [sic]).

Yes.

29. If you believe in free will, do you see any problem with defending the idea that the physical brain, which is limited and subject to the neuro-chemical laws of the brain, can still produce free will choices?

No, and this objection always puzzles me – this idea that the fact that your choices come from a brain with particular abilities and limitations is somehow an infringement on free will. Surely, for free will to mean anything, there has to be a self, a ‘me’, that makes the choices? Whether you continue that self to consist of a complex web of interconnected neurones or a God-given soul, surely it has to consist of something that differentiates the free-will choices of that individual self from the free-will choices of any other individual self? Otherwise, surely you don’t have an individual making meaningful choices, but more of a random number generator?

30. If you affirm evolution and that the universe will continue to expand forever, then do you think it is probable that given enough time, brains would evolve to the point of exceeding mere physical limitations and become free of the physical and temporal, and thereby become “deity” and not be restricted by space and time? If not, why not?

I think it’s unlikely. Firstly, I don’t even know if teleportation/time travel (which seems to be what Slick is talking about here) are even theoretically possible. Secondly, even if these abilities are theoretically possible, then there’s the question of how they could develop via evolution. For that to happen, there would have to be intermediate stages of development of those abilities that provided some sort of survival or reproductive advantage, and it’s hard to see how that would be the case. However, it certainly can’t be ruled out.

31. If you answered the previous question in the affirmative, then aren’t you saying that it is probable that some sort of God exists?

I didn’t, so this is a N/A. But this also makes me think I misunderstood the last one; this sounds as though Slick was actually talking not about teleportation/time travel, but about minds becoming free of the confines of the physical brain altogether; which strikes me as even less likely to happen.

I’m curious, though, as to why Slick would find it important if we did believe this? After all, even if human beings did develop these god-like attributes, while that would mean they could be described as gods in some sense they certainly wouldn’t be the God that Slick believes in, so I’m not sure how this is relevant to anything he’s arguing.

 

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About Dr Sarah

I'm a GP with a husband and two young children.
This entry was posted in Answers to questions, Atheism and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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