Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Adventures at CARM - Questions for Atheists pt 3


Chipmunk
I've been digging through carm.org for curiosity's sake. So far, these are the episodes of my adventures:

I found a list of questions for atheists that the author is doing for "research", and I thought it'd be fun to go through them (I like itemized things).

Today I'm addressing questions 22 through 31.

Do you believe there is such a thing as evil?  If so, what is it?
I think we have a colloquial thing we label "evil", which I'd define as "malevolent harm" or "malevolent harming".  Being struck by a meteor isn't evil. It's just bad. Having an enemy nation intentionally hurl a meteor at us, that kills some of us, would be evil.

It doesn't require anything supernatural.

If you believe that the God of the Old Testament is morally bad, by what standard do you judge that he is bad?
He seems unambiguously evil. Purposely slaughtering everyone on the planet? Evil. Yes, even if those were bad people, it's still wrong to kill them (especially if you're God and you could come up with a non-violent solution with your "infinite wisdom").

It's just that sometimes, the situation is complex enough where we have to evaluate and summarize the sum total of harms and benefits from different sources, and come to a conclusion about what the best course of action is.

For instance, it was evil for us to kill many Germans during WWII, but we determined we had to do that in order to stop the bad things they were doing - so the net effect was good.

We do this type of assessment all the time.

Anyway, digressing again...

I judge God in the old testament based on an analysis of the harm and benefit of his actions. It's pretty straight forward. Hell, it starts right in the first book. He purposely creates a tree that he knows Adam/Eve will eat from that will cause him to kick them out of the Garden of Eden, and makes childbirth painful just in retribution?

We was a fucking ass right from the beginning.

For people like Slick to try to explain to me why all this was actually good is like being served a heaping dish of dung at a restaurant - which is very apparently a huge freaking pile of shit - is actually a delicious dinner, and the only reason why I don't think so is because I'm unable to understand how an unfathomably gargantuan steaming drizzling mountain of feces is the most delicious and delectable dinner I will have ever tasted.

I'm sorry, I'm not buying it. That's how extreme one has to go to try to explain away why the OT god is actually a good guy - the complete abandonment of reason and a deep plunging into solipsism.

What would it take for you to believe in God?
It depends on the god definition. The standard definitions usually involve universe-creation, life-starting, logical-absolutes creating, etc. He'd have to demonstrate those abilities, before he'd fit the definition.

Even if he was the member of a sufficiently technologically advanced species, if he could do those things, "God" might still be a fitting word.

What would constitute sufficient evidence for God’s existence?
Take the above response, and now scientifically verify it.

Must this evidence be rationally based, archaeological, testable in a lab, etc. or what?
Do you need an introduction to the scientific method?

It might not be a bad time to point out the difference between a piece of evidence that meets the standards of evidence, and building a case with sufficient amounts of evidence.

It's like putting together a 500-piece jigsaw puzzle.

The first step is to gather puzzle pieces - which have a particular set of standards to qualify as a puzzle piece. You can't grab a ball of lint and try to use that, for instance.

The second step, is to try to figure out what the image is by correctly arranging the puzzle pieces, as dictated by the puzzle pieces themselves. Even if there are a few pieces missing, if you've only assembled 90% of it, you can probably reasonably conclude it's a picture of a cat based on the amount of evidence gathered.

Instead of this process, we usually find apologists showing you a single grey puzzle piece, and declaring that they've proved the picture is a cat because it's consistent with a grey-furred cat - QED.

Or, they make up some kind of logical proof about why it has to be a cat because I haven't been able to demonstrate that the picture is a dog yet... or some other ludicrous "proof" like that.

It may be possible to have archaeological evidence for the existence of a god, but since the claim is so extraordinary, it's not going to carry the case very far.

So, I suppose my answer is, "all of the above" (or "most of the above").

Do you think that a society that is run by Christians or atheists would be safer?  Why?
It depends. Both "Christian" and "atheist" are loosely defined, and there's no guarantee that either would be rational or empathetic (we've seen both in either direction). I don't have enough specificity to answer the question.

This isn't that unlike my answer to whether atheism is a "world view" or not (#9). What would be safer would be rational, intelligent, skeptical, critically thinking, evidence-based emphatic people running society. It's just more likely they'd be atheists if they were.

A good example would be abstinence-only sex education versus contraceptives-included sex education. Atheists overwhelmingly support contraceptives-included sex education because the evidence and reasoning supports that it'll be more effective, and produce better results. The Christian dogmatic types who decide to go with abstinence-only sex education because their religion says its a sin to have premarital sex, regularly lead to explosions of STD transmissions, teen pregnancies, etc.

That's the difference between evidence-based cognitive tools versus dogma. The world would be better with the former.

Do you believe in free will?  (free will being the ability to make choices without coersion). 
Coercion? Wikipedia, the omniscient website, says "coercion is the practice of forcing another party to act in an involuntary manner".  So according to the author, free will is any decision where someone else isn't putting a gun to my head?

I take it he's not talking about "libertarian free will", where decisions are made from a complete vacuum with no deterministic inputs from my environment.

... so I'm not sure what he means exactly. The "coercion" bit throws me off, because under that definition, determinism would apply.

If my body runs out of doughnuts and I get hungry, and those cravings pressure me to eat something, is that a violation of my free will? Is that "coercion"?

I'm not sure what my stance is. I'm mostly deterministic, with the possibility of the quantum level that our brain operates on allowing some amount of randomness. For the most part, our decisions are deterministic, I think.

The determining factors can get complicated, so it can appear to be free will. For instance, if we go through layers of revealing the determinants:


  • I choose to eat a doughnut.
  • I'm hungry so I choose to eat a doughnut.
  • I'm hungry but I need to lose weight, so I choose to eat a bag of carrots.
  • I'm hungry but I need to lose weight, but I'm poor, so I'll eat hot quaker oats.
  • I'm hungry, but I need to lose weight, but I'm poor, but I'm stressed from work and I don't care, so choose to eat a doughnut.
We have many many determinants when making decisions, to the point where we're frequently not aware they exist.

So, to answer the question... uh... are you sure that's how you're defining it? I guess... "limited apparent free will"?

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?

Yeah, I have no problem with that, based on my above response. That's where my "does hunger violate your free will?" came from.

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'll caveat my answer by saying that there's lots of reality we don't know yet (duh), but given my understanding of evolution (which I "affirm")...

No, I don't think so. Evolution is an iteration of reproduction, genetic variation, and natural selection - from generation to generation. It's the modification of DNA over the generations. There's nothing in the DNA that could cause a biological organism, or a part of its biology, to transcend space and time.

Heck, we can't even do that with modern technology. It'd be like trying to write a computer program without a computer to run it on.

Based on our current understanding, the idea is incoherent.

As far as we can tell, when the universe heat-deaths, we're all doomed. The "expanding forever" is not necessarily a good thing, either.

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 take it you mean affirmative to the second part of the question. I didn't, but let's say I did.

Possible? Maybe. Probable? I have no idea. There's no guarantee that transcending space and time lets you actually do anything, like create universes. You might be stuck in a non-physical atemporal void. It could be that we transcend space and time and find that we're the only universe, and nothing else exists outside of it.

It's all speculation.


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Welp, that's it for questions. The last question isn't unusual. We get a lot of "but don't you think it's possible...?" questions from theists, who just want to have some slight possibility acknowledged so they have something to grasp onto.

Whereas, to me, most things are possible right from the get-go  and that's irrelevant. What would be important is establishing which are actually true.



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