Have you ever heard Christians say that God refuses to make his existence obvious, because he doesn’t want to force you to believe? That he doesn’t want to override your free will?

Suppose you have two caramel apples that appear identical. You ask me which one I want, and since I can’t see any difference between the two, I arbitrarily choose the apple on the right because it’s slightly larger. I bite into it and—surprise!—it’s actually a caramel onion.

I can’t eat this. I look over at you, and see you are eating the other apple, which was really an apple, and it looks delicious. I say, “Hey, did you know this one was an onion?”

“Of course I knew. I made both of them,” you say.

“Well then why didn’t you tell me?”

“I didn’t want to override your free will. I knew if you truly understood the difference between the two, you wouldn’t have any real choice in the matter.”

Or suppose you have ingested poison by mistake, and you are about to die. You find two pills, and green one and a yellow one. One pill is an antidote which will save your life; the other is a placebo that will not stop the poison.

You gather your friends around you to solicit their advice. One says the green pill is the true antidote; the other says it’s the yellow one. They each give their reasons. Some arguments sound convincing, but some do not. They debate and debate, but you know you have to choose one other the other.

So you ask me, “Do you have anything more to add to this discussion?”

“Actually, I know which pill is the antidote, and I have conclusive proof that I am right,” I say.

“Tell me! What are you waiting for?”

“I can’t just tell you,” I say. “I don’t want to override your free will. I want you to be able to make the right decision on your own, based on faith and these other arguments you’ve heard, without having my overwhelming proof.”

If you lived through this, would you still consider me your friend?

Free will is not overridden by proof. Or rather, free will is irrelevant when we’re talking about matters that can be absolutely proven. Whether we like it or not, no one has the free will to accept or reject reality. We can choose how we react to reality—if God is real, I can choose to obey or to disobey him, for example—but we cannot choose our reality. I can’t make God real by choosing to believe in him, or make him not real by choosing to not believe in him, so that choice is meaningless.

Views: 227

Comment by Pope Beanie on February 21, 2014 at 6:55pm

I can't make myself invisible, but I can leave the room. I can't fly, but I can jump, or fly a plane. The acts I perform depend more on what acts are possible, plus how much I'm willing to try. Does this mean I'm limited by reality in what I am able to perform? Yes. Does this mean some other agent is running my mind? No. But an enemy could still will that I should fail, and so our wills may battle until one quits.

One feels free when in active, successful pursuit; one feels trapped when there's no solution. Should I go out for a walk during a lightening storm, and just pray the whole way? (Not me!)

Comment by Physeter on February 22, 2014 at 3:13pm

@bloody tentacled brain-slice clip: Eew!

@Gallup: What would it take to convince you that the Earth is flat? I imagine it would be quite an uphill battle, since one would have to prove why everybody else has been wrong for a thousand years. But, what do you suppose the world would look like if the Earth was flat? I imagine things would be quite different than they are now. Maybe things wouldn't disappear over the horizon, the masts of ships wouldn't appear first, we wouldn't have pictures of a round earth taken from spacecraft, etc.

It's easy to imagine changes in the world that would convince me of a God. It's harder to imagine what God could do in this world after everything else I've experienced, that would prove he exists in spite of all the counterexamples.

Comment by Simon Paynton on February 22, 2014 at 7:01pm

The thing is, even though the details don't make sense to us [atheists], that hasn't stopped Christianity from becoming a major world religion over the past 2000 years.  There's enormous power behind the ideas.  I know what that power is - it's the power of compassion.  Compassion is a bodily process as much as a moral one.  It goes deeper than our emotions and thoughts. 

Comment by Physeter on February 23, 2014 at 12:17am

@Gallup: I mean if the world was different. It's easy for me to imagine a different world in which I would be more easily convinced of God. Instead of saying what could God do NOW to indicate he is real, I'm saying what would Earth look like if God were real?

I can't imagine someone proving to me that this earth is flat, but I can imagine what it would look like to live on a flat earth. If there was a God, it seems like the world would be different. There wouldn't be rapist priests. There wouldn't have been a crusades. Christians wouldn't have killed each other over heresy. If people like the Westboro Baptist Church preached things in God's name which God didn't sanction, God himself would put a stop to it. The effectiveness of prayer would be indicated by studies. Christians would be demonstrably, objectively more moral and more happy. People like Mother Theresa would eventually get over their doubts, instead of living with doubt all their lives. If we lived in a world like that, I think God could easily convince me of his existence.

Comment by Pope Beanie on February 23, 2014 at 3:53pm

A good start might be if He were really a She, and She came down and announced that all of the scriptures written so far are fictions created by egotistical mortals trying to control humanity.


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