Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Questions for Atheists, Answered

Questions for Atheists...

Okay, I thought I'd compile a sort of FAQ file for all the people who ask the same questions about atheism all the time. I took the questions from a variety of Christians who posted their "questions for atheists" in various forums, blogs, and newsgroups.

  1. If you were in a hospital and knew you were going to die, would you consider asking Jesus to save you? Would you really have anything to lose?

    No. I would have nothing to lose, and nothing to gain, since I know from the best scientific research that the afterlife is a myth.

  2. What is the point of being moral if God does not exist?

    There is no point in being moral at all. There is a point in being ethical, however. Morality is not the same as ethics. Morality usually has religious overtones attached to it, where ethics are more secular and concern society and an individual's relationship with the rest of society. The point in being ethical is that everyone else in your society is watching you, and that if you behave in an ethical manner, people will trust you, and you will have friends. If you are unethical, it is more difficult for you to form relationships with people that last, because eventually, they will find out that you are not someone they can trust. essentially, it's in your best personal "selfish" interest to behave in an ethical manner, because friends are an advantage, and enemies are a risk. Essentially, your life, and indeed, your society, is a better place to live in when people are ethical.

  3. If there is no God, and no moral authority from him, Why not steal, kill, rape, do drugs, get rich, and have lots of sex?

    Because doing so would likely anger people in society, who would then come after you for revenge, and they would hurt you, or at least imprison you and make your life less enjoyable. Also, It seems that anyone who lives that kind of life will likely not have any friends, and not be very happy...except for the having lots of sex part...

  4. What truth does the atheist have that Christians don’t?

    All except "there is a God," I guess. See, if you believe in objective facts, objective truths, and objective reality, then the truth I have shoud be the same as yours. The only truths I do not hold are the speculative ones that are not reasonably proven. If we all agree that observing the world we live in gives most people the exact same truth -- that the sky is blue, that water is wet, that rocks are solid, that trees grow, and that getting cut hurts, the only truth that I would not have in common with you is the one about God.

  5. When you say, “I’m an atheist” what does that mean?

    I just means that I do not beleive in gods, or any of the stories and myths associated with them. I do not believe in gods, angels, devils, magic spells, love potions, curses, ghosts, or any of tens of thousands of other things associated with the religions of the world. It certainly appears that none of those things exist, and until someone provides irrefutable proof of any of them, I'll continue to not believe in them.

  6. Why are you an atheist?

    Because I have found nothing valid in any religions that merits belief in them.

  7. Why do you think a belief in deity has permeated almost every society and culture since the dawn of mankind?

    Because people are superstitious, and the less educated and experienced in the world a person is, the more superstitious they tend to be. People have a strong tendency to assign mythical supernatural powers to things that they do not understand. People worshipped mountains, the sun, the moon, the Sea, bears, elephants, lions, and other things, merely because those objects seemed to have power or strength beyond human comprehension. Now that we've conquered or learned about them, they are not frightening or mysterious to us any more. I believe that all of man's gods have their origin in the minds of men.

  8. Have you ever, even for a moment, believed in a God(s)?

    Yes. When I was young, I believed in God, and was given religious instruction. Now I am older and wiser, and I do not believe in gods.

  9. Why, if you are an atheist, do you spend so much time speaking about religion (especially the christian faith?)

    Probably because mentioning atheistic points of view in public attracts religious fundamentalists like flies to dogshit. Also, many times in my life, I've seen religious people attempt to pass legislation that infringes on religious liberties, such as blue-laws, laws that attempt to persecute gays, force kids to say Christian prayers and receive Christian indoctrination in public schools, or laws that attempt to shove religion into science classes. I feel compelled to speak out against these things not just because they are unethical, but because they are idiotic, as well.

  10. Am I correct in my assumption that Atheists believe that there is nothing other than the physical measurable realm?

    Well, no. That is materialism. Atheists can be materialists, but not all materialists are neccesarily atheists. I happen to be a materialist, however. I believe that everything in the universe is a property of matter or energy, or directly relates to them.

  11. If materialism is correct, how does an Atheist prove thinking? I mean, you can’t see it or touch it or measure it, so how do you know it exists?

    The only thinking we can examine is our own. However, consider the following facts:

    • Thinking is something that a brain does.
    • Brains are made of matter.
    • Brains need to be alive, have a blood supply, and nutrients, in order to think.
    • Thinking is a neurochemical process described by neurophysiology as communication between groups of neurons in the brain.
    • Neurons, and the chemicals that they use to communicate with, are all made of matter.
    • Neurophysiologists have mapped out most of the brain's specific parts which perform certain tasks in responding to stimuli and making logical decisions. All of these parts are physical.
    • Therefore, thought requires matter in order to exist.

    If you think I'm wrong, find one scientifically verified instance of thought existing without a brain to think it.

  12. Do atheists believe that all of life, mankind, animals, trees, etc, are purely accidents with no purpose to their existence?

    No. The idea that evolution is an accidental process is a completely wrong and bogus interpretation of the facts. Evolution is not random, but it is not guided by a mysterious being's invisible hand, either. Nothing in nature happens at random, or by accident. Everything is the result of cause and effect. This is the basic principle behind science. For someone to claim that evolution is random is to ignore one of the basic tenets of Science.

  13. How would you define “atheism”?

    Lack of belief in gods and/or the supernatural.

  14. How would you describe “Intelligent Design”, using only one word?

    Bullshit. Well, you did only ask for one word...

  15. What scientific endeavour really excites you?

    Space Exploration, Aerospace, Information Technology, Archaeology, subatomic particle research.

  16. If you could change one thing about the “atheist community”, what would it be and why??

    Have there be more atheists where I live, and have us be as organized as various political groups are.

  17. If your child came up to you and said “I’m joining the clergy”, what would be your first response?

    I'd ask them how they came to their decision.

  18. What’s your favorite theistic argument, and how do you usually refute it?

    I don't know if I have a favorite or not. There are "the most frequent", and for me, the most frequent is "how do you explain how everything in the universe got here?" I of course point out that saying "God Did it" is not an explanation, and is really just a cop-out answer. Then, I go on to point out what the world's physicists and cosmologists have said on the subject, and that essentially we still don't have enough information to anything about the origins of the universe with certainty. What we are certain about is the Big Bang, that matter and energy are interchangable, and that matter cannot move faster than light.

  19. What’s your most “controversial” (as far as general attitudes amongst other atheists goes) viewpoint?

    Well, it's not one that is uniquely mine, but I generally agree with Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens that Religions tend to cause more harm for mankind than good, and that they do so by fostering and promoting ancient superstitions, prejudices, anti-science, anti-intellectualism, and dogmatism. I also beleive that the US government should end tax examptions for religious organizations unless they can actually prove that they perform some sort of community service that helps people. I believe that churches should pay taxes on their property.

  20. Of the “Four Horsemen” (Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens and Harris) who is your favourite, and why?

    I like Dawkins because he performs well in discussions, and I thought he made an excellent host of the programs he's done for the BBC and ITV, such as this, that, and this.

  21. If you could convince just one theistic person to abandon their beliefs, who would it be?

    I would think that any of the extremely high-profile evangelical ministers, with megachurch and telecommunication empires, such as Pat Robertson, Billy or Frank Graham, Paul Crouch, or Don Wildmon. These high-profile people have a lot of influence, and if convinced that they were wrong, it would likely be sensationalistic, and they'd write books and do TV interviews detailing unpleasant things about their religious organization's past, and dirty secrets about their former colleagues in the evangelical megachurch/multimedia empire community. This would sour a lot of evangelicals and make them seek new churches or at least question their faith. Questioning one's own faith is simply introspection -- and introspection is good.

Well, that's all the questions I found today. The following links are where I got most of them. I eliminated duplicate questions from the lists on these pages when compiling, and re-worded some of the questions into better English.


John McDonald said...

Good answers, thanks

Pocket Nerd said...

I think there's something missing from your responses to questions 2 and 3. Specifically, I think "What is the point of being moral if God does not exist?" and 3 "If there is no God, and no moral authority from him, Why not steal, kill, rape, do drugs, get rich, and have lots of sex?" contain a hidden false premise: "Obeying God makes you moral." This is simply not true.

If you obey prohibitions against rape, murder, theft, or drug abuse simply because you fear punishment from God, you are not a moral person. You are an immoral person who simply fears punishment more than you desire the forbidden behavior. A man who wants to rape women, but does not only because he knows he'd go to jail, is not a nice man. A man who wants to steal the twenty on your kitchen counter, but does not only because he thinks he'd burn in Hell, is not a nice man either.

The questions also assume that empathy is an implicitly religious behavior. Ain't so, not by a long short. Many people, atheists included, refrain from murder, rape, theft, cannibalism, torture, and the like because we care about others. We can imagine ourselves in somebody else's shoes, and realize how terrible an action would be... so we don't do it. We do this even when we have no conceivable reward or penalty for the behavior: I could almost certainly get away with kicking any random dog, and animal cruelty laws are pathetically weak even if I'm caught-- and yet I don't go around kicking every puppy I see. I think it's safe to say that most people don't, regardless of religion. Obviously there's some uniting factor that has nothing to do with religion.

And I could get into that last bit, and the way ethics are always derived from the survival of the social group, and why doing harm to outsiders is almost never proscribed as wicked, but I won't. I could also get into the apparent under-representation of atheists in prison, and higher personal contributions to charity, but I won't. (Also, I've mostly stopped repeating those last two figures, since they seem to be in the category of things known by everybody but for which nobody can cite a recent and accurate survey or study. Don't mean I don't believe 'em, just that I'm not confident enough to use them as the lynchpin of an argument.)

And also... hey, what's wrong with having lots of sex?

I also disagree with your response to question 11. "If materialism is correct, how does an Atheist prove thinking? I mean, you can’t see it or touch it or measure it, so how do you know it exists?" I've also heard this phrased as "You can't see or touch love, so how can you know love exists?"

They are cunning questions, because "thought" and "love" are difficult terms to define; theists asking you these questions are leaving themselves lots of wiggle room, and I think a reasonably intelligent religionist would probably find a way to argue with the chain of logic you use. Although your answer to the question was well-reasoned and articulate, you're really entering into a game of Calvinball with a theist-- except he's the only one allowed to change the rules.

I think you'd be better off answering that you accept the existence of thought or love because even though the phenomenae themselves are not perfectly understood, they have reliable, predictable, understandable, observable effects on the world. "God" is also a difficult term to define, but unlike "thought" and "love," there are no really testable or observable predictions about God or God's actions. Anything can be post-shadowed as "God's will," but somehow nobody ever manages to provide before the fact predictions more reliably than we'd expect from common sense alone.

David W. Irish said...

Indeed, I could have added what you say but I was trying to keep the answers brief, because there were a lot of them to answer.

I agree that the typical Christian, who argues that "fear of god" is the only thing that makes them behave ethically or morally, is actually admitting what a crappy person they are. I've actually said it myself in various conversations with them.

People would argue "why no go around abusing animals and children for fun", and I'd say "what would be the point?" I mean, after you kick a dog or push a kid, you have to hear their screams, which can be really irritating :)

As for question 11, again, you may disagree, and I know that Christians tend to use the fact that concepts like thinking and love are not easily defined, but again, I was trying to give short, straightforward answers to a lot of questions.

David W. Irish said...

Also, I think that Gaming Asshole really was just a troll. He's disappeared. His Email address no longer works, and I haven't seen him in the usual spots he shows up in.

Pocket Nerd said...

Also, I think that Gaming Asshole really was just a troll. He's disappeared. His Email address no longer works, and I haven't seen him in the usual spots he shows up in.

Color me unsurprised.