Questions for atheists

I was browsing some atheism related blogs and found a link to a lengthy list of questions for atheists at the Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry and I figured I’d have a go at answering them. You’re actually supposed to send them in via email but what good is having a blog if you’re not going to write articles on it. Warning: some snarky answers may be ahead!

1. How would you define atheism?
Simply as a lack of belief in god or gods.

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)?
Yes, I do. For instance, I write about it here and I engage people in discussion at times. I also very actively fail to attend church on Sunday morning.

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?
I don’t work against the existence of god, because it is impossible to work against the existence of something that for all intents and purposes doesn’t exist. It’s not possible to disprove the existence of god so I don’t say that god doesn’t exist. All I am saying is that based on logic, reason and science, it is highly unlikely that the god of the bible (or any other god) exists. Proof of his existence doesn’t seem to be forthcoming either, by the way.
There seem to be a large number of people who are willing to believe in god based on little to no evidence and who try to dictate the actions of others based on that belief, arguing from some “higher authority”. That is something I think should not be tolerated.

4. How sure are you that your atheism properly represents reality?
Since I have never seen anything that would constitute even circumstantial evidence for it not representing reality, I’m fairly confident it does properly represent reality.

5. How sure are you that your atheism is correct?
On a scale of 0 – 100? I’d say 99.8.

6. How would you define what truth is?
It depends on what you mean by “truth”. If you are referring to an absolute reality, I don’t think that we can know it, only some version of it.

7. Why do you believe your atheism is a justifiable position to hold?
Absolutely! Why do you believe it isn’t? If there is no evidence for something, why should I believe in it? It makes no sense to believe something is real when all you have to go on is hearsay and nothing concrete.

8. Are you a materialist or a physicalist or what?
What is the difference? I don’t believe in anything supernatural or something beyond this universe (well, maybe more universes).

9. Do you affirm or deny that atheism is a worldview? Why or why not?
It is a position of non-belief. You can hardly base your view of the world on not believing in something.

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

When I hear from people that religion doesn't hurt...
When I hear from people that religion doesn’t hurt…

This sums it up fairly well. One of the quibbles that I have apart from the major objections above, is the fact that I don’t believe we should forego the use of our intelligence to understand our universe. There’s nothing wrong with saying that we don’t know something yet. That is much more honest than saying a supposed supernatural being did it.

11. If you were at one time a believer in the Christian God, what caused you to deny His existence?
Very long story, better check out this tag or this post if you want the summary. The brief, brief summary: having faith in god didn’t make the slightest bit of difference in my life.

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

13. Do you believe the world would be better off without Christianity?
Yes, see above.

14. Do you believe that faith in a God or gods is a mental disorder?
No, I wouldn’t call it a disorder. It’s probably a form of denial, of hiding from a harsh reality combined with some intellectual dishonesty or a failure to apply due scrutiny. Childhood indoctrination also plays an important part. It’s quite telling in this context that most children adhere to the religion of their parents.

15. Must God be known through the scientific method?
Not necessarily. However, the scientific method is the best way we have found so far of gaining real knowledge and understanding that explain the universe, so it would certainly help.

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?
How do you know god is immaterial? That’s just your belief, isn’t it? The one for which we have no reliable or testable evidence and which I therefore reject. I’d accept evidence for god, material or otherwise. It doesn’t seem to be forthcoming.
Regardless of that, the Christian claim is that their immaterial god has interacted and still interacts with this physical world. Even if god were immaterial, there should be evidence of this interaction. This could be examined using the scientific method to see if divine interaction is the best possible explanation for a certain event. For example: if an amputee regained an amputated limb without operations, only prayer and this was verified using the scientific method, that would be pretty convincing.

17. Do we have any purpose as human beings?
None other than we choose, or if you take the Darwinian approach: to pass on our traits and genes to a future generation.

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

19. Where does morality come from?
Morality comes from us humans. It’s not something that exists outside of us or was imposed on us. One need only read what kind of moral statements the bible makes, to see that our morality doesn’t come from there.

20. Are there moral absolutes?

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

22. Do you believe there is such a thing as evil? If so, what is it?
I believe there are evil actions but I don’t believe that evil is a thing itself. There is no reason to personify or objectify evil other than being able to blame someone else for the hideous things our primate species does.

23. If you believe that the God of the Old Testament is morally bad, by what standard do you judge that He is bad?
By my own moral standard, which appears to be shared by most of humanity. For instance, the god of the old testament condemns all of humanity, all future generations for the supposed transgression of Adam and Eve. This is disproportionate in the extreme. I know of no system of laws devised by a human society that condemns all future generations for the crimes of their parents. Most humans object to genocide as ordered by god against the Amalekites. More examples? Very well: Leviticus instructs me to stone my son if he persists in disobedience, something which is fortunately rejected by most humans today even if they’ve had religion inflicted upon them. God also has no problems with me selling my daughter into slavery, slavery having been forbidden in current civilised societies on humane grounds. It seems clear that most humans are more moral than the god of the old testament.

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

25. What would constitute sufficient evidence for God’s existence?
A bunch of proper miracles would be a good place to start. Something like amputees being restored after prayer where the only plausible explanation is divine intervention. Or authentic contemporary testimony of the life and work of Jesus, not coming from an early Christian source. The second coming. Things like that.

26. Must this evidence be rationally based, archaeological, testable in a lab, etc., or what?
It wouldn’t be evidence if it weren’t.

27. Do you think that a society that is run by Christians or atheists would be safer? Why?
I think this is a rather silly question, to be honest. Atheism isn’t a world-view of the sort that Christianity is. It is a position of disbelief. It’s not possible to base a society on the position that there are no gods. You would need to have something of a value system, which atheism does not provide. Also, you’d have to answer the question “safer for who?”
What matters is not so much the belief or disbelief of the people running the society. What matters is their moral foundation and their value system. A fully secular society that bases its values and morals on Nazism would probably be less safe in general than a society that bases its values and morals on current Christian morality. If they’d base their morality on orthodox or fundamental Christianity, the results would be pretty much the same. Most (but certainly not all) atheists lean towards humanism. In my opinion, a society based on humanistic principles would be safer and more tolerant than a society that bases its morality on Bronze Age religious doctrine.

28. Do you believe in free will? (free will being the ability to make choices without coersion [sic]).
This depends on how you define coercion. I am of the opinion that in theory, we have free will but in practice this is limited by factors like our biology, factors we are not necessarily aware of when we make a free will choice. This means that it is possible we are “coerced” without being aware of it. I am referring to “agents” like pheromones which we do not consciously perceive but have an effect on our behaviour. Hormones would also fall into this category.
However, if we are discussing things where we can consider something rationally, yes I think we can make free will choices. 

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?
Given that I have already added that caveat above, I can suffice by answering “yes” here.

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?
This question seems to rest on two fundamental errors, the first being the error that evolution implies improvement, the second being that our brain is somehow disconnected or can somehow exist apart of our physical body.
First, evolution doesn’t mean that organisms will continue to evolve into higher, superior organisms until the point where they will approach the supernatural. Evolution simply states that organisms change over time under the influence of certain factors, like predators, climate, etc. and random genetic mutations. Organisms adapt, they don’t continuously improve.
Second, our brains are a part of our physical body, just like our heart or our left kidney. There’s no reason to assume that our brain will evolve along such a path or that such a path is even possible. We would have to determine which pressures on our species would make it probable for our brain to change in such a way. It seems unlikely to me that such pressures exist in the natural world.

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?
Even if I would have answered yes to the above question, I’d still not say that the existence of some sort of god was probable. Possible maybe, probable no.

There you have it, the end of the list. As usual, when you read the questions, you can sort of see what kind of answers the author expects to get. You can also clearly see some of the presuppositions that have gone into the compilation of this list.
So how did I do? Do you have something to add or do you disagree with any of the above? Let me know in the comments below.

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