Questions from Joel Settecase – Part Three

On to the final ten of Joel Settecase’s 30 Questions for Non-Christians. (Supposedly for non-Christians, anyway; as I commented in my last post, they actually seem to be aimed specifically at atheists in particular.) I notice Joel Settecase has actually put up a follow-up post letting his readers know about my answers and asking them to come over here and have polite respectful discussions, which I thought was very nice of him. (Well, all right, I’m not naive – I know he’s hoping that the result will be that I convert to Christianity – but I still felt it was a nice thought.)

On with the questions:


21. If no God, why is there so much good in the world?

Same reason there’s so much bad in the world; things happen for hugely varied and complex reasons that have nothing to do with any gods, and we as humans have perceptions of these things as good, bad, or indifferent according to how they affect us or other beings with whom we emphasise. I’ll add here that I’ve never seen the ‘Why is there so much evil in the world?’ argument as being a valid argument against the existence of a god, but I do think in fairness that the flip side of that is that this hypothetical god shouldn’t automatically get credit for the good things either.

22. If no God, how did our DNA get programmed with such incredibly complex language and instructions?

‘Get programmed’, in this context, seems rather question-begging; after all, the point is that we don’t believe it ‘got programmed’ by anyone.

As to how it happened; well, bear in mind that, according to colossal amounts of evidence from radioactive dating, this planet has been around for well over four billion years. Obviously even the simplest DNA molecule took some time to develop and wasn’t there from the start, but that still leaves billions of years of evolution. Copying errors happen now and again; some of those are actively damaging and thus die out, but some of them lead to benefits for an organism that in turn lead to it producing more offspring and to more copies of that improved gene being passed on. On top of that, every so often an entire stretch of DNA gets erroneously duplicated in the copying, meaning that there’s some ‘spare DNA’ there which has greater scope for undergoing mutations without killing off the organism. All of this, remember, is going on over billions of years – that is a lot of time, and a lot of copying of DNA, and a lot of chance for change and development, during which the unhelpful mutations die out while the useful ones get copied more and more. A few billion years of this is enough to give us vast amounts of complexity and detail in the DNA.

23. Is everything in the universe really just matter and energy?

As a couple of your follow-up questions partly demonstrate, there are also concepts that could be described as the results of matter and energy, or as descriptions of how matter and/or energy work and interact, or as categorisations. Might be others I’m not thinking of.

24. If you just thought, “Yes,” was that thought made of matter and energy?

Technically N/A, but in terms of answering the more general question of what thoughts are made of, I think it makes more sense to say they’re produced by matter (brain cells, neurotransmitters) and energy (passage of electrical impulses along nerve axons triggering neurotransmitter release).

25. The Bible says every good and perfect gift is from the Father above (i.e. God). To whom are you grateful for the good things in your life?

First and foremost, my parents. (Goodness – this is going to end up sounding like one of these Academy Award speeches. Oh, well, you did ask.) They did an amazing job of giving me a happy, secure childhood and paying for me to have an excellent education that has been invaluable in me getting where I am in life. And, although my father sadly died many years back, my mother is still in there giving me help and support. When I need it, she has absolutely got my back. That is a gift beyond price.

On top of that… let’s see. There’s my sister, who stepped up when I needed support, who introduced me to the wonderful world of Kindle ownership, and who fulfilled my lifelong dream of being thanked in an author’s acknowledgements (not to mention being an all-around pretty cool and awesome sister). There are the practice managers and work colleagues I deal with, who have been incredibly helpful and supportive with the various changes (sometimes at very short notice) I’ve needed to my work pattern over the years of juggling work with parenthood, especially given some of my son’s difficulties. There’s Aneurin Bevan and colleagues, for setting up the system that means that I’ve always had confidence that if I needed health care, I’d be able to get it with no worries about how I would pay for it (and that when I treat sick people, I don’t have to worry about how they’re going to pay for it). There’s the lady at the local council who’s been dealing with the difficult problem of helping us find appropriate education for my son, who’s been exceedingly helpful with this fairly thorny task. There are the people on the medical forum to which I post who have offered helpful advice on issues medical and non-medical over the years, one of them recently saving me several weeks and over a hundred pounds by recommending a decorator when the one I’d originally booked with had a very long waiting list. There’s the taxi driver who, over half a century ago, said “Aren’t you even going to ask for her phone number?” to the young man in his taxi who’d spent a long journey chatting animatedly with the young woman who’d shared the taxi with him, and thus inadvertently ensured that my parents’ relationship didn’t end with one interesting conversation but moved on to what would ultimately be an incredibly happy thirty-four year marriage.

I’ve probably forgotten people, for which I apologise, but those are the main ones I can think of. On top of that, of course, there’s a lot of stuff that’s just plain good luck; I’ve had excellent health, fertility when I wanted it, I was born into a comfortably-off middle-class family, I’m not a member of various minority groups who face a lot of disadvantages that I don’t. I’m very happy about all this, but that’s not the same as gratitude.

26. Where do you think the laws of logic come from?

I think they’re descriptions, by human beings, of how some things in reality/thought processes work.

27. Are the laws of logic made of matter and energy?


28. What evidence would actually convince you that Jesus Christ is God, the Lord, and the only Savior?

Good question. First of all, ‘only Savior’ is kind of meaningless unless you know what he’s supposed to be a saviour from, and, as I understand it, the answer to that is ‘From the afterlife of eternal torment that was originally designed by the very God of which Jesus is meant to be a part’. Even if I believed that theology, proclaiming anyone as Saviour in that context feels kind of… Stockholm-syndromish.

Secondly, when I was investigating Christianity to make my decision about it, I ended up reading the OT prophets in their entirety to see what they actually said when they weren’t being cherry-picked, and I’d already read a good part of the other bits of the OT… and, to cut a long story short, established that the teachings of the Jewish scriptures were flat-out not compatible with Christian teachings. I could believe that the Jewish scriptures were a message from God (this was in my agnostic days) in which case Christianity wasn’t true, or I could believe that the Jewish scriptures were a bunch of legends and wishful thinking on the part of the Jewish leaders of a few millennia ago and not a divine message at all, in which case Christianity also wasn’t true, or I could believe that the Jewish scriptures were a deliberate attempt by a psychopathic God to trick the Jews into doing completely the wrong thing and ending up in hell, in which case Christianity might technically be true but this was a moot point as a God who would try to trick you like that clearly couldn’t be trusted anyway. But, given what I was reading in the OT, there wasn’t a logical way for Christianity to be a genuine teaching from a consistent, sane, and loving God.

So I suppose the answer to what evidence would convince me, would be that either Christianity would have to teach something completely and utterly different from what it in fact teaches, or Judaism would have to teach something completely and utterly different from what it in fact teaches. Which isn’t exactly helpful.

29. How much do you know about the heart of the Christian message, AKA the “Gospel” or good news?

Quite a lot, having spent years reading about it on and off.

30. Are you ready to learn more about Jesus?

If it’s actually something new and interesting – say, if something new comes to light about the culture of the time that sheds new light on something taught about Jesus – then sure. For example, I’ve loved Hyam Maccoby’s books because, despite their flaws, Maccoby looks at the Christian teachings from the viewpoint of a Jewish scholar who can pick up a lot of points that get missed by people without that background. If it’s just more Christian interpretations, then it isn’t anything I’d particularly trust, so no.


  1. Dr Sarah says

    I wish I’d had Bart Ehrman’s books to read when I was a teenager looking into this stuff.

  2. says

    Just went over to Settecase’s blog where he posted the questions. The first comment back were from fellow christians praising the list. I posted answers to his questions and there was two answers from him, telling me to basically read the gospel of John and be saved.

    Another atheist posted a very good set of answers and was told “Meantime, your equivocation between the God of Scripture and the Hindu deities exhibit a gross categorical blunder. Hindus don’t even believe Vishnu is the same kind of being as the Lord.” ( Note by Jeanette: Creator and protector of the universe, full set of scriptures, millions of followers. Looks the same to me.)

    Now another set of very well-reasoned answers has been posted, and Mr Settecase has gone silent, as has his christian followers of the blog. Mr Settecase may be regretting posting his list.

  3. says

    Just another quick thought. All four of the replies to his list has contained references to the biased language in the questions, more or less gentle. NO answer to that at all

  4. Owlmirror says

    I strongly suspect that there’s no point to responding to the questions, other than for one’s own edification and/or amusement.

    Note that the questions are posted with the header and footer of “This is apologetics”. Apologetics is the defense and promotion of doctrine. Settecase is not interested in a discussion or dialog or thinking about any potential problems with his own epistemology or with problems with the wording of the questions; his sole aim is to cause fear, uncertainty, and doubt in unbelievers so as to convince them to convert. He will ultimately not allow himself to acknowledge any fear, uncertainty, or doubt on his own part.

    Settecase is polite to acknowledge and link to the responses, but it’s all ultimately politeness as empty as someone saying “You raise some interesting points” when they have no intention of actually addressing the points.

  5. says

    Jeannette, I have gone many things, but silent is not one of them. I have, however, moved on to other matters—not because this conversation wasn’t important, but rather because I have been working on starting my new ministry. Feel free to check it out at

    Regarding the equivocation between the Hindu deities and the God of the Bible, I will agree that there are some superficial similarities. However, once you get past those, you find out that the Hindu concept of prime reality is very different from the biblical one. The Hindu deities are ultimately just manifestations of Brahman, the world soul, who is also identified with every living soul in the cosmos (you and me included). In Hinduism all distinction is an illusion, and a major step toward achieving self-actualization is the realization that “Atman” (the human soul) is Brahman. Not one with. Identical to.

    You don’t seem to know that about Hinduism. What else don’t you know? Do you know that, Christianity is the only religion in which the prime reality accounts for three elements we hold precious in our human experience, namely unity, diversity and personality? Did you know that the God who has revealed himself in Scripture is the only one that accounts for immaterial abstract objects like the laws of logic? Good luck accounting for logic, given atheism!

    You don’t seem to have given much thought to what Hindus and Christians actually believe. I say this with respect, not as an insult, because I believe you are clearly capable of more and seem to be a person who is not operating out of malice toward Christians: that is shallow thinking.

    It is shallow thinking on the part of skeptics that often makes it frustrating for believers to engage with you. You really need to do some more reading up on just what it is Christians and Hindus believe.

    My invitation to you to read the Gospel of John was (and remains) a suggestion that you get to know the God who is there, who has revealed himself to us in Scripture. Yes of course I want you to be saved. What kind of Christian would I be if I didn’t?

    I also tell you this because I don’t hate you. I don’t despise you. Not even a little bit. Instead I care deeply for the state of your soul, and for the destiny of your life. What would it profit a person to gain the whole world and lose his soul?

    Operating from within the biblical worldview, as I am, I hope you can see why I am so concerned that you know what the Bible actually teaches. It would not be wise of you to write off a straw man version of Christianity, only to find out on the last day that you should have looked harder before you leaped. If you are ever interested in learning more about the worldview from which I (and other believers) are operating, I’d be happy for you to check out a series I’ve written on the biblical worldview. You can find it at the same website I mentioned above.

    Peace to you,

    Joel Settecase

  6. Dr Sarah says

    Hi, Joel! Apologies for the delay in approving this; for some reason FTB no longer e-mails me when there’s a comment awaiting approval. (All our software is pretty creaky.) I deleted the duplicate; I assume that’s OK?

    Curious; why do you feel the Christian worldview accounts for unity, diversity and personality better than other worldviews (in particular, other monotheistic worldviews)?

    Anyway, good to see you again; stop by any time.

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