September 2007

Hi again, thanks for your earlier reply, I’ll try to take things gradually.

On the bright side, college has been really great, I’ve told several people here, including my CA, who is a very devout Catholic, that I’m an atheist, and it doesn’t seem to bother them that much at all.

I did get into a bit of an argument about theology with one guy though. We were talking about how evil can exist if god is, in fact, benevolent. He gave me the standard. “god gave humans free will, and we chose evil” response, and I said that if god really created humanity, then he has some responsibility to take care of us. You don’t leave your toddler sitting around near an electrical socket, give him a fork, and then when he gets zapped, blame it on “free will”.

Then he said that god had given us a set of moral commandments (I’m guessing he meant the 10 commandments) to guide us, and I said that the 10 commandments were flawed and couldn’t possibly apply to every situation…

So on and so forth.

Anyway, I was wondering what your opinion about the whole free will / omnipotent god thing is.

Good questions! Before I get into it, I’d like to make one comment about your theology argument. It might just be a vocabulary thing, but I find that it helps if you focus on these kinds of philosophical exchanges being “discussions” as opposed to “arguments.” Don’t think about trying to win — think about trying to understand the other person’s point of view. It can make a big difference (and please pardon the lecture if you already do this).

Now, on to the real question: God and evil.

So long as we are talking about “evil” in the sense of bad human behavior, I think that theists can make a consistent argument. They say that God gives us free will which means giving us the ability to do evil, and that is consistent. You are right about parental responsibility, but a good theistic response would be that God both laid out rules in the Bible and, more importantly, gave people access to an innate moral sense (which they may or may not obey — free will and all that).

Although this works so far as it goes, it leaves a number of points unanswered from the atheist perspective. These are things you might want to discuss with your friend. For example:

1) Can God ever interfere in human affairs? If so, couldn’t he limit the effectiveness of those who choose to do evil by (to use everyone’s favorite example) dropping a rock on Hitler’s head or helping an attempt to assassinate him succeed? What about just helping good people live longer?

2) Why is the human moral sense apparently so weak? Many people do things that, upon reflection, are morally or ethically wrong. Shouldn’t they have to more actively choose to do wrong?

3) If there is an innate moral sense, why do people disagree about what is moral? And what about people who do not seem to have this moral sense (sociopaths)?

4) If we ignore human evil, then what about natural evil (babies dying, disease, natural disasters, and the like)? The standard answer is that these are part of the punishment for the sins of Adam and Eve, but isn’t that pretty extreme? The response generally is that these are “natural” consequences of such an enormous sin, but since God set up the rules of nature in the first place, this does not allow him to escape responsibility unless you can prove that the consequences are not just natural, but also logically required (and I don’t think that can be done).

I hope this helps!

Posted on September 19, 2007 at 6:31 pm by ideclare · Permalink
In: Dealing with religious folks, Defining god

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