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Free Will and the Sonic Screwdriver

by Dave Silverman
Dr. Who's time machine!

"Maybe, just maybe, the Bible is a work of fiction like Dr. Who... and the free will argument works only when the Bible needs it to work."

If you read the title of this article and did not wonder "What's a Sonic Screwdriver" then you can skip the next two paragraphs. These paragraphs are just for those of you unfortunate enough not to know the fine intricacies of Dr. Who.

   Dr. Who was a campy TV show produced in England about an extraterrestrial good-guy (The Doctor) who flies around in time and space going on adventures. The special effects stunk, but the stories were pretty good. The series lasted about twenty years, and had seven stars playing the lead role.

   As an extraterrestrial, The Doctor had knowledge and tools far beyond current Earth technology, his most famous (next to his space ship) was his "sonic screwdriver." This useful tool was great for opening prison cells, boxes, and virtually anything else, as long as the plot allowed. You see, when it was inconvenient for the plot to allow the sonic screwdriver to work, there was a lame techno-babble reason it didn't (ionization in the atmosphere, etc). In the later seasons, the tool was destroyed, because it was so easy to use that they kept having to make up reasons why it didn't work.

monthly special    Now, let's talk about "free will".

   I love the "free will" argument. It's an imperfect tool to use against the perfect question: "Why does God let bad things happen?" You see, God gave us free will, say the theists, and by showing himself God would take away our free will and force himself upon us. If we lost our free will, they argue, it would be against all that the Bible and God stand for.

   Ok. So now we have a tool, the "free will" argument, which works great when asked some questions. Note that I said "some" questions, because this sonic screwdriver of an argument only works when the plot so allows.

   For instance, let's take the story of Jesus (you may have heard of this story). This man walks on water, cures illness, and changes water into wine in front of people. Surely these miracles would take away the free will of all those who saw them, right? Therefore, it is logical to assume that all the apostles had no free will, and were merely drones parroting what God wanted them to say.

   Moreover, we must assume, from this argument, that all other people who saw these miracles would also lose their free will, including those who continued to disbelieve Jesus' claims and crucified him. So, either they kept their free will and chose not to believe Jesus was divine (thereby proving the entire argument wrong), or they lost their free will and God made them crucify Jesus. Hmmm.

   Now let's do the Old Testament. This guy Moses leads thousands of his people into the sea, and God parts the sea for them to run through, thereby escaping their pursuers. So all these people lost their free will, right? God must have chosen to let them live without free will, rather than see them subjected to slavery. They were, after all, God's Chosen People. Of course, those who pursued the Jews, witnessed the event, and survived, somehow did not immediately convert to Judaism, thereby keeping their free will. Similarly, the Jews themselves, who had to have lost their free will because they saw a miracle, began to pray to idols. Hmmmm.

   Now, time warp to the 1940's, where six million of these same "chosen" people are being tortured and murdered. God must somehow have thought that the fate of the Jews in a concentration camp was far better than doing something - anything - to save them. I'm sure those people were happy that they died slow painful deaths the likes of which you and I could not imagine, but at least they had free will.

   Doesn't make all that much sense, does it? Free Will is apparently more important now than anything else on the planet, or else God would do something divine like ending disease, hunger, or natural disasters. However, in the Bible, miracles were commonplace, so I guess very few people had free will back then. Or perhaps humans lost the ability over time to view a miracle and keep free will. Or perhaps God took this ability away from us so he wouldn't have to perform any more miracles.

   Or maybe, just maybe, the bible is a work of fiction like Dr. Who, and the free will argument only works like a sonic screwdriver, when the plot of the Bible needs it to work. When it doesn't work, well, there must be some ionization in the atmosphere.

"NJ Dave" is a State Director for American Atheists. Those with the will may send him e-mail to the N.J. Office of American Atheists.

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