In this installment of answering an apologist’s supposedly hard-hitting questions, the main focus is on topics related to morality. I’m not setting out to define and defend a comprehensive secular moral theory; rather, I just want to respond broadly to the questions to show they should not be considered worrisome. The real discussion needed for this would be pretty nuanced and the author of the questions hasn’t exactly demonstrated his appreciation for such things. The next installment will finish the series and will focus largely on the Bible and alleged prophecies.
1. Do you acknowledge the existence of evil (at least in your practice if not in your beliefs)?
I don’t believe in a cosmic evil. In practice, I do act in ways that encourage or discourage other behaviors. In casual terms, I would say these behaviors are right and wrong. However, that is a determination made within a context that does not require reference to any cosmic, mysterious force or platonic form called “evil.”
2. When you complain about the problem of evil, aren’t you presupposing God?
No. The problem of evil is an argument about internal consistency. The underlying argument goes like this: Under theism, we would expect X state of affairs. Instead, we see not-X. Therefore, theism is not true or is probably not true. Whether the argument talks about evil, suffering, etc. it should follow this structure.
3. If God does NOT exist, can ‘good’ and ‘evil’ exist? If yes, by whose ultimate authority and how is each empirically measured?
I don’t think any ultimate good or evil can exist, even if there is a God[i]. However, that’s not the same as saying we can’t use terms like right and wrong coherently. There are many, many secular approaches to ethics which establish a path to do this.
1. What is the basis for the common moral values Christians and non-Christians, as a whole, seem to share?
The basis is very obviously cultural. This does a much better job of explaining things than positing that God gave us a secret, unidentifiable morality detector built into our invisible soul.
2. Per the atheist worldview, is society ‘really’ evolving for the better? Why?
There is not a particular answer to this question implied by the atheist worldview.
3. Would you agree with this statement: “Child pornography is immoral even though morality cannot be proven scientifically in a laboratory experiment?” If so, what is the genetic source of morality if humans have descended from apes?
This question is a confusion of two concepts. First, can we say something is immoral if it cannot be shown in a laboratory? Yes. We have many and strong reasons to discourage child pornography. We can provide these reasons and make very successful arguments without ever venturing into a lab. Values are very different kinds of things than traditional measurable quantities, like mass or volume, with which labs generally concern themselves. But that doesn’t mean we have no way to discuss them within a secular framework.
Second, do we have the feelings of morality we do because we have evolved to have such feelings? For some feelings, yes. We have many of our feelings because we evolved with certain dispositions. Others were handed down culturally, rather than biologically. And still others are gained not across cultural time spans, but within our own lifetimes. All of these act together to form moral opinions.
4. HYPOTHETICAL SCENARIO: Immediately after marrying, you and your wife attempted pregnancy. You tried conceiving for two years with no success. Requiring surgery, your wife was put under anesthesia nine months before your first child was born. While unconscious, the doctor decided to have his way with your wife. His male staff assistant watched, waiting his turn. Each unleashed their gift of procreation in her prior to completing the minor surgical procedure. That night, the two of you took full advantage of the fact she was ovulating. Unbeknownst to either of you, the doctor’s sperm out swam yours. Your wife never knew she was raped while unconscious, nor did you, and no other human being ever found out – there were no consequences to this act except the celebrated arrival of a beautiful, baby boy named after his Father. QUESTION: Was it absolutely wrong for the doctor and his assistant to gang-rape your wife? Why?
Yes, we have many and strong reasons to be averse to rape. At least some of these should hopefully be obvious.
5. Where does the non-believer’s conscience get its authority from?
Feelings of right and wrong are either grounded in many and strong reasons or they are not. The more grounded these feelings are in many and strong reasons, the more justified they will be. Like any belief, there will be varying degrees of justification.
6. In an all-natural, all-material world, how did ‘oughts’ evolve from physical matter? When, and how do you know?
Oughts did not evolve from physical matter. That doesn’t make sense because they are not the same kind of thing. Physical matter is grounded in the physical world. Oughts are derived from reasons within contexts. The latter are conceptual matters.
1. If you ARE God’s creation, isn’t it true your present attitude is unfair to Him? Insulting, actually? And you thus have very good reason to deny His existence because you deserve punishment for your utter disregard?
No. I’ll borrow an argument my friend Abe made. Either I do have good reasons for thinking there is no God or I do not.
Let’s assume God exists and I do have good reasons for thinking that God does not exist. Then, God would recognize that there are good reasons to think like I do and judge me accordingly. If I do not have good reasons to think that God exists, then God has created me in such a way that I‘m too stupid to realize these are not good reasons, despite years of studying and examining both sides of the case. This would be an innate limitation, rather than a lack of effort on my part. Again, I would be faultless.
If God exists, I am either forming my beliefs on good reasons and am justified or I am too stupid to realize my mistakes.
2. Are you willing to follow the evidence where it leads, and consider the “cumulative case” for God’s existence? If not, why?
Yes. And I have considered many cumulative arguments for God’s existence and found them lacking.
3. Are you right about God? How do you know?
I think so. I don’t know with 100% certainty, which is a ridiculous goal to have, but I have good probabilistic justification for my belief. This same sort of question has been asked over and over again on this list.
4. If you are not right about God, do you know how to GET right with God?
It depends on which one.
DISBELIEF IN GOD
1. What do you consider to be the single most compelling reason to believe God does NOT exist? Why?
If we’re talking about the Christian God, I would probably say the dubious and unreliable origins. If we’re talking about a philosophical idea of God, I would say there is a strong probabilistic case in favor of naturalism. That is because there are many ways the world roughly matches expectations of naturalism and few ways in which the world roughly matches expectations of theism.
2. If God does exist, do you have a subjective desire that He not exist? Why?
I don’t believe so. In fact, I came from a situation where I desired that God did exist, but determined that desire was in vain.
3. Are there any practical benefits to atheism? If so, what are they and why?
I don’t know. Probably, for some people. Who cares?
4. What would it take for you to believe in God’s existence?
There was a time when it wouldn’t have taken that much because I already believed and was just looking for more support for that belief. At this point, though, it would take a lot. Probably some kind of direct experience.
5. If you found the Biblical God does indeed exist, would your life change for the better or worse? Why?
I think if you gain any new knowledge, there is some sense in which your life is improved. Or at least you have improved your ability to act in accordance with reality. That being said, I don’t see why this matters. This is another recurring theme in these questions: If we just go ahead and assume that God exists, then aren’t you wrong or bad for thinking God does not exist? You’re just assuming it!
[i] If God exists, then you merely have a subjective rendering of good and evil.