31 Questions for Atheists

31 Questions for Atheists

There is a list of questions for atheists at CARM ; I saw them on Godless Mom and thought I’d write up my responses.

1. How would you define atheism?

I would use the dictionary, which says “disbelief in, or denial of, the existence of God”. So the term includes both strong atheists who assert that there is no God, and weak atheists who just don’t believe in any god, but do not make the positive assertion that none exists. For myself, I am a weak atheist on gods in general, since there’s no way to prove they don’t exist, but no reason to believe they do, either. On the Abrahamic God, I am happy to assert that he does not exist as described, based on his inherent contradictions and the obvious mythical nature of the Bible.

2. Do you act according to what you believe (there is no God) in or what you don’t believe in (lack belief in God)?

I find the question to be nonsensical. In general, I would say I act based on what I believe, but I don’t act according to the idea that there is no god. I don’t know how to do that.

3. Do you think it is inconsistent for someone who “lacks belief” in God to work against God’s existence by attempting to show that God doesn’t exist?

It is clearly not inconsistent. Whether any gods exist or not, it’s a fact that real people believe in them. If gods do not exist, and real people believe they do, and act on it, why would it be inconsistent to tell them?

4. How sure are you that your atheism properly represents reality?

This is an oddly worded question. I am 100% sure that atheism represents reality, because even if a god exists, the universe behaves as if one doesn’t.

5. How sure are you that your atheism is correct?

The question is basically the same as above; I will assume it means “how sure are you that there is no God?” I am as sure as I am of anything that the God of the Bible does not exist as described. Anyone who has critically read the whole Bible can see that. I cannot really assess the probability that a deist, non-interventionist god exists. It doesn’t seem likely, but if I found out that one did, it would not change how I live my life in any meaningful way.

6. How would you define what truth is?

The dictionary says “conformity with reality” and that aligns with how I use the word. Most people, theist and atheist, agree that some claims (ones that aren’t opinion) have truth value. The statement “God exists as described in the Bible” is either true or false, whether or not we are capable of determining the truth of it. People who reject all truth with relativism like “It’s true for me” aren’t capable of rational discussion.

7. Why do you believe your atheism is a justifiable position to hold?

Atheism is justified because there is no good evidence of any gods. Disbelief in anything that has no evidence for its existence is a logical default. If it’s good enough for leprechauns and fairies, it’s good enough for gods.

8. Are you a materialist or a physicalist or what?

I suppose I am a provisional materialist. I do not see any reason to think anything totally detached from the physical exists, but I am open to it, if it can be shown to exist.

9. Do you affirm or deny that atheism is a worldview? Why or why not?

I don’t see how atheism could be considered a worldview in and of itself. I don’t think it would make much sense to answer the question “How do you view the world?” with “I don’t believe in any gods.” It is one word that you could use to describe a worldview, so I don’t object to the phrase “atheistic worldview” per se, though it’s usually followed by a straw man.

10. Not all atheists are antagonistic to Christianity but for those of you who are, why the antagonism?

I object to many features of many religions, not just Christianity. Many Christians use their beliefs to treat homosexuals as second class citizens, to get privilege for their own beliefs, try to teach religion in science classes, etc.

Mostly I object to people claiming they have truth, when all they have is belief and conjecture. I think it’s morally wrong to claim things as truth that you don’t (and can’t) know to be true. It’s a form of lying.

11. If you were at one time a believer in the Christian God, what caused you to deny his existence?

I’ll ignore the “deny” baiting and answer. I did something few Christians do: I read the Bible cover to cover. I saw that it looks nothing like a book inspired by God as he is described to be. When I asked the hard questions, I was pushed aside, and told that smart people like C.S. Lewis had good answers. Then I read them, and saw that they didn’t have good answers, either.

12. Do you believe the world would be better off without religion?

Mostly. I think there would be a mix of results. For smart people, it would be much better. They would understand which morals to keep and which to dump and much of the justification for war and hatred would fall away.

I also recognize that the threat of eternal torture may be the only thing keeping certain people from killing me and taking my stuff.

13. Do you believe the world would be better off without Christianity?

Same answer as above. Christianity is better than some religions (like Islam) only because most people don’t take it so literally. The Bible has as much barbaric stuff in it as the Quran, but most Christians ignore it completely, or twist Jesus’ words to justify not following it.

14. Do you believe that faith in a God or gods is a mental disorder?

No. Faith is a failed epistemological process; a way of pretending that you know with certainty that your beliefs are true, even though you can’t support them rationally. It’s not a mental health problem, it’s a problem of education.

15. Must God be known through the scientific method?

If a god existed, I can’t see why he would not be scientifically verifiable. It’s one of the least believable claims of religion, that God hides from rational people, and rewards faith: belief without good evidence.

16. If you answered yes to the previous question, then how do you avoid a category mistake by requiring material evidence for an immaterial God?

There is no category mistake to avoid. If the claim were that God is immaterial and does not affect the material world at all, then it would not make sense to ask for material evidence. (Though it would make sense to ask the difference between that kind of existence and non-existence.)

Since God is claimed to affect the material world, it makes perfect sense to ask for material evidence of this.

17. Do we have any purpose as human beings?

I don’t see a purpose set by an outsider. We are evolved to reproduce, but I wouldn’t call that purpose. We can set our own purpose. I set my purpose as something like “Be a good father, husband, friend, worker, citizen. Learn as much as possible. Leave the world a little better than you found it.”

18. If we do have purpose, can you as an atheist please explain how that purpose is determined?

You have to set your own purpose. Everyone does, even religious people. They just set their purpose as “do what a preacher or an ancient book told me God wants me to do”.

19. Where does morality come from?

We are evolved to be social animals. Society doesn’t work without a code of behavior.

20. Are there moral absolutes?

No. This is intended to be a gotcha question for atheists. It attempts to create a false dilemma between “moral absolutes exist” and “morals are based only on your opinion”. This omits at least one more choice: morals are relative, but not just based on an individual person’s opinion. That happens to be the correct choice. Good morals are based on causing the least suffering/creating the greatest well-being for sentient beings. Of course people disagree on how to do that, so they disagree on morals.

21. If there are moral absolutes, could you list a few of them?

N/A

22. Do you believe there is such a thing as evil? If so, what is it?

It’s a word, it describes something people observe. I don’t think it’s a mystical thing. Some people are born without empathy, or abused or both, and they do horrible things to people. I might call Hitler evil, but I don’t mean possessed by some demon or something silly like that. For whatever reason (genetics, mental defect, upbringing) Hitler had a shocking disregard for causing suffering in certain groups, which made him a horrible person. Evil, if you like.

23. If you believe that the God of the Old Testament is morally bad, by what standard do you judge that he is bad?

Take your pick. You could judge the character God by my secular morals: if he would send a single person to infinite torture for finite crime, he clearly is not interested in minimizing suffering or maximizing well-being.

You could also judge God by his own morals as listed in the Bible, and he would be seen as immoral. Baby killing in 1 Samuel 15:3? Immoral by God’s or any other standard. Rationalizing that is usually done with “If God gave us life, doesn’t He have the right to take it away?” Unless you believe it’s moral to murder your children for disobedience, the answer is “No”.

24. What would it take for you to believe in God?

Evidence would be good. Personal experience is known to be unreliable, since it convinces people of Tarot, astrology, crystals, whatever. (Yeah, I know, those are all real; demons do that stuff to mislead. Whatever.)

25. What would constitute sufficient evidence for God’s existence?

I will steal this answer from Matt Dilahunty: I don’t know, but if God exists, he knows what would convince me.

26. Must this evidence be rationally based, archaeological, testable in a lab, etc., or what?

I don’t know what kind of useful evidence would fall outside those categories.

27. Do you think that a society that is run by Christians or atheists would be safer? Why?

Atheists. We only have the one life to live, so we don’t want to squander it. The Christians who want to speed Armageddon along are pretty terrifying.

28. Do you believe in free will? (free will being the ability to make choices without coercion).

No, I think free will is probably an illusion. In an alternate universe where all the circumstances, conditions, past history and everything were the same, I doubt that I could really choose differently than I do in this one. Quantum randomness may roll a die, but that isn’t choice.

Ironically, the God of the Bible doesn’t, either; he forces people to do evil so he can punish them.

29. If you believe in free will, do you see any problem with defending the idea that the physical brain, which is limited and subject to the neuro-chemical laws of the brain, can still produce free will choices?

N/A

30. If you affirm evolution and that the universe will continue to expand forever, then do you think it is probable that given enough time, brains would evolve to the point of exceeding mere physical limitations and become free of the physical and temporal and thereby become “deity” and not be restricted by space and time? If not, why not?

No, I don’t see any reason to believe evolution would move us away from the physical, or allow us to violate laws of physics. But any sufficiently advanced being might appear like a god to you, if you’re inclined to think that way.

31. If you answered the previous question in the affirmative, then aren’t you saying that it is probable that some sort of God exists?

N/A, but that would rule out Yahweh and leave many, many gods.

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2 Responses to 31 Questions for Atheists

  1. Godless Mom says:

    I love this! the answer to number 4 is perfect, I’m going to remember that. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  2. Pingback: God Does Not "Exist" — What Atheists And Christians Both Get Wrong About God – Huffington Post | Bankingre

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