Free Will to Believe in G_d
- The Question To Atheists
- Atheist Answer #1: Scientific Consensus
- Atheist Answer #2: An Infinite G_d Could Have Created a “Better” System
- Atheist Answer #3: If I Saw The Signs the Israelites Saw Coming out of Egypt
- Atheist Answer #4: As Long as I have Free Will, I Will Use It To Deny G_d’s Existence
- Atheist Answer #5: G_d Has An Obligation to Reveal Himself to Me, if He Exists
- Atheist Answer #6: I Know Morality Without G_d
- Please comment
Atheists fascinate me. In my most secular days, I was an agnostic because even if you are right that there is no Creator, you can’t know that. I recently found a group of atheists online that I have been debating out of fascination and hope that they at least will quit scoffing at people who believe in stuff. The problem is, we generally argue two different things – an atheist will argue “you can’t prove it to me by experimentation, so I don’t believe.” So I asked them to consider this question (among others):
Assuming with live in a world with free will, what amount of evidence would be enough for you to believe in G_d? Assuming free will again, wouldn’t the arguments against, or at least, the ways a person sees it, be equally attractive? So how can anyone who wants to say ‘there is no G_d’ ever be convinced of something they don’t want to see?
The question forces you to look at this world as created by G_d in a very rational manner – based on what we observe in this world. This is the basis of the school of ‘rationalism’. Free will allows you to see either G_d or no G_d, and in fact, there are smart people on either side. Not one proclaimed atheist could answer the question without first breaking it or attacking the very question itself. Is the axiom of free will and viewing the world we live in illogical? This is a much more logical way to approach the issue than demanding a world that isn’t ours, including the demand for concrete evidence which either break reality or would break your free will (again, see axiom and is it logical to start with a premise of free will or not? If not, then no one has control over anything, anyway.)
Here are the collected atheist answers, keeping the original words intact as best as possible.
For me, enough proof would be if the scientific consensus held it to be true based on the scientific method, and even then only those details that have been established by experiment. I.e. just proving that there’s a creator or a prophet 4000 years ago, doesn’t prove all the other details in a package.
This would still allow free will, because we see so many people today choose not to believe scientific claims, or act in ways that would put them in danger according to scientific claims.
Rebuttal: It is arbitrary to say that science has to prove G_d to believe. One could arbitrarily say science has to disprove G_d to disbelieve. Science and testing theories does not answer whether there is or isn’t a creator. The scientific method only answers what we observe, not how it was created. The hypothesis here would be “there is a Creator” or “there is not a Creator”. Either hypothesis is untestable so this is no basis for choosing non-belief, or for that matter, belief. The scientific method is irrelevant. Though arguably particle physics might be getting close, having faith in scientific experimentation to produce results that cannot be tested does not mean the hypothesis is not correct. This answer is based on a fallacy, and further, maybe scientific tests to show there is a Creator and people choose not to believe, but it certainly can’t show the opposite.
(This actually is the same person as #1, but I like his answers best so I’m putting them first.)
Let G_d make a world with free will where it’s also obvious to everyone that you exist. Can he do that? If he’s omnipotent and omniscient he can think of ways of doing that. If you just start thinking, even you can come up with ways too. For example, G_d could make a world where it’s obvious that he exists but there’s no punishment for people who sin or there’s no proof that punishment happens and a lot of people believe that it doesn’t, so people have the free will to decide if they want to please G_d. There are many such alternative ways it could work, and an omnipotent G_d can certainly make the world like that, so the argument of free will is not valid. It is a later invention because there was a time when most people were certain that there is a G_d.
Rebuttal: This answer sidesteps the entire question. Atheist answer #2 is saying, “In my point of view, an infinite Creator would not create the world that we have, so therefore, there is no G_d.” Really? Your infinite Creator would make a world how you see fit? You know better? That’s quite an audacious claim. Who are any of us to say we know how to create a better world than even a theoretical infinite Creator? The answer is pure arrogance, and for such a person, why would G_d want to interrupt your feelings of omnipotent rationality with a truth (if it is truth) that would be so painful to you? Atheist answer #2 basically posits, “in this world, nothing would ever convince me that there’s a Creator because I’m smarter and better than any such Creator of this world.”
Having stated the above, These are interesting thought experiments, but we need to work within our world, not a hypothetical world. We could spend pages and pages dissecting every different world and the pros and cons (not to mention, that such other versions of the world did or may yet exist, such as the era of Adam before the downfall of man and the era of the Moschiach). In the meanwhile, we have to make sense of our world and at least accept that there could be a Creator of this world, and that we don’t know more than the Creator, no matter how smart we are.
If I saw the 10 makkos and the sea split, that would be enough . . . all the firstborns dying, rivers turning to blood and frogs everywhere right after Moshe Rabbeinu predicted it all? Sounds pretty compelling to me.
Rebuttal: This violates the question. If there’s free will to believe or not believe, then even if you experience things that can only be from a Creator, you could still deny and try and find a godless explanation. In fact, using the example provided by atheist #3, Pharoah did exactly that, repeatedly! (A simple answer to the ‘hardening of the heart’ is that he chose to do so, and so G_d helped him in that direction, consistent with the free will positing, above.) It goes further – according to commonly quoted midrashim, this was not enough for 5/6 of the Jews. On the other side, according to the text of the written Torah itself, however, some Egyptians did leave with the Jews, seeing the signs as signs from a Creator. However, it didn’t take long for people to doubt, and Amalek attacked soon after as a result.
It is unclear that this would really be enough for Atheist #3 in the situation, but even if it was, what about if he didn’t witness the above but his father did and told him about it? What if his father told him he heard it first hand from his father? What if his father told him he heard it second hand from his father who heard it from his father? How far back until we say, “it’s not strong enough evidence anymore?” In history, the answer seems to be about 3,100 years until Jews largely stopped believing in the chain, largely due to purposeful government sponsored assimilation and persecution in German and Russia, and lack of education in the United States more than any theological difficulty. In the Torah, the chain is listed forward straight through from Adam to Avraham to Moses to Nachshon (first in the water) to Ruth to King David and his descendants, who are historically verifiable. My wife’s family tree goes back to King David through Germany, Spain, Iraq and more, and though admittedly sketchy for some time between there and King David, we do know the leaders of the generation and what they wrote straight through the times of the Mishnah, Talmud, Geonim, Rishonim, and so forth.
If someone could show me a strong otherwise non explainable correlation between people that keep the Torah and good thing happening to them or if some sort of entity appears to me claiming to be G_d and does enough miracles to have me convinced that he’s powerfully enough to do bad things to me if I sin. But frankly I don’t think anything can convince me in G_d who created the world. The only way I can really be convinced is if G_d actually changed the way I reason things in my mind.
Rebuttal: The question resulted in a very forthright answer – unless the correlation is obvious enough to suspend free will (we see the results of reward and punishment near-immediately and obviously), there can be no G_d. While an honest answer, it violates the question that posits free will to see and not see equally, and further, like the rebuttal to answer #2, posits that the world we live in would not one created by G_d and closes off ability to see if there is one in the world we are in. On a totally different level, this answer is somewhat the flip side of answer #2 in that this one is a negative answer about “do bad things to me if I sin” whereas answer #2 was about a more positive world with no punishment for sin, and only love. Suffice to say, I think the answers say much about the psyche and associations of each person.
In a world as confusing as ours, would a rational G-d who expected us to know of his existence not have an obligation to give us at least one objective piece of evidence proving he exists? Even a single revelation per generation like the one that supposedly happened at Mount Sinai would be enough.
Rebuttal: No, it would not be enough in a free will system where you could deny it or doubt it a moment after. This is now a combination of answer #1 and #3. The rebuttal includes both (see above) – 1) Why does G_d have to create things to how you think he should, and 3) You violate the question by demanding proof (which is removal of free will). (Side point: Both Moses and Iyov demand that G_d be revealed and get it.)
It is not rational to ask, “why isn’t the world different?” and to enter the realm of a hypothetical world. It is rational to examine the world for what it is and make our choices are a result. Smart people are theists, and smart people are atheists – yet lack of evidence is not evidence of lack. If you’re G_d, who says you need to have open revelation every 20 years? Why not a period of open revelation, and a period of hidden revelation? See what people do with it, and see if they continue to make the relationship even while you ‘pull away’ as a test. Maybe that’s better, ad maybe that is … what is?
Have you heard of global warming? Global cooling? If we have the minds to know right from wrong than it is our responsibility to act upon what we know is right- I don’t need a G_d to tell me something is wrong or right- I have instincts like all animals do. Why exploit oil, energy, animal life, entire rainforests, cause pollution and contaminate unnecessarily? Why not just use exactly what we need and stop being greedy? Why buy a brad new BMW if I live in a city like Manhattan or Tel Aviv where I can ride my bike? Why do people throw garbage out the window? Why do we hunt endangered species? Why don’t we find natural and environmentally friendly sources of energy instead? At the end of the day it is not us who will destroy the earth, but the earth itself will destroy us through natural disasters in order to prevent us from causing more damage.
Rebuttal: Yeah, that’s a real answer. It also included eating organic, free range chickens and stuff like that. This one doesn’t even attempt to answer the question before breaking it, but I include it because it’s still interesting. This goes to morality without an objective/cosmic system, for which I’ll go into extremely briefly: in a man-made morality, if we go by each person’s morality and what is good for them, it’s an argument for anarchy and I can kill you because I only know of my own pain, not yours, and this gives me pleasure that I choose. If we go for society-functioning morality (which I’m all for, verses the former) then forget John Locke. Ancient Egypt has little autonomy, individual rights, or freedom of … much, and it lasted about 3,000 years largely unchanged. That’s a much more successful track record for the good of society than any utilitarian model.
The problem is this: the person’s ideas do have their roots in a G_d-based system (okay, Judaism as I was dealing with Jewish atheists). We have kosher slaughter of animals to cause them no pain in a timeless manner which worked as well 3000 years ago as today, we do not kill more than we can eat, we do not waste, we do not buy excessive material goods unless for the purpose of beautifying a mitzvah, we do not even tear a leaf off a tree if we have no reason to do so, our cities are supposed to (and were, when Torah law was in place) be a certain size surrounded by fields, we do not cut down fruit trees, etc, etc, etc. The environmental list goes on and on. There’s nothing like Jews to go off on an extreme tangent after a few generations. Do we follow this to the logical conclusion and say kill all humans because we’re destroying the planet for the rest of the animals who are not? Do we follow one of my PETA-membered lab partners in college who said that if a dog and person were drowning, she’d save the dog first because it won’t kill people? Nothing stops people from using their own logic to do terrible things (which isn’t to say religious people are exempt, but this is a rational philosophical discussion, not a discussion of people acting irrationally).
Jews are at the forefront of the pro-choice and pro-life movements, democracy and communist movements, feminist and anti-feminist movements, and everything else. Apparently, without G_d telling you something is right or wrong, you can believe just about anything and argue that it’s right. Torah is the system that binds this together and says at the same time, don’t harm your fellow man, but here are the instances when he deserves death; even if he deserves death, here are the very limited circumstances where you can do it. So on and so forth. Torah following Jews are human and can mess this up too, but point is that you could be going down a very pleasant river of your own intellect and not see the waterfall ahead because you didn’t care to consult the guidebook because “I have instincts like all animals do”.
There are smart people on both sides who argue for either side. If we choose to see a Creator, it’s there everywhere we look. If not, then not. That’s our free will choice. I don’t expect the Creator to act how non-believers want the Creator to act in a fantasy world, but would rather start with the world I’m in. This world might be created by a Creator. Once we go there, then we can look at the evidence and see what makes the most sense.
Theists and atheists are generally speaking different languages, so the question is only which way of looking at it makes more sense, and the answer to G_d’s existence flows from there. If you look through a prism of atheism which says “prove it to me”, you are denying free will. You want something as clear as a Bitcoin hashtag level verification as proof? Well, even if you had that, then according to the theory of free will, the counter balance for not believing would still be equal, thus arguing with someone who does not want to believe is futile, but also, makes their arguments without merit in a world that has free will.
Up next in part II – an Atheist flips it around on me and says, “What evidence would it take for you NOT to believe in a Creator?“