Questions! Questions for atheists!


Ahem. Sorry for the slight overexcitement. Another person has posted a list of respectfully-asked questions that at least seem to be aimed at a general discussion rather than just point-scoring, and this is catnip to me. You know, I should have thought of giving this as an answer last time a Facebook friend of mine asked for things that made us unreasonably happy; in my case, it’s questions from people who want respectful debate. All right! (rubs hands) Let’s get to it!

Is Your Atheism Based on Study or Experience?

Study. I spent a great deal of time looking at arguments for or against God’s existence, and eventually had to conclude that there just wasn’t any evidence for God that stood up to examination.

Do You Have Purpose and Destiny?

Second, would you say that even as an atheist, you still have a sense of purpose and destiny in your life, a feeling that you were put here for a reason and that you have a mission to accomplish?

I included part of the follow-up clarification because I wanted to comment on a bit of (most likely unintentional) question-begging; I don’t feel that I was ‘put here’, full stop, so asking whether I was put here for a reason is kind of a meaningless question. I was certainly conceived for a reason, the reason being that my parents wanted children, but I don’t think that’s what Michael Brown was getting at. In the same vein, I’m not sure that ‘destiny’ makes much sense here, since that kind of implies someone/something having some sort of destiny in mind for me, which I don’t think is the case (and, my goodness, it sounds rather grandiose!)

However, the answer to whether I have purpose is ‘Yes’. In general, I’m trying to live a good and useful life that gives back to the world. In terms of missions to accomplish, mine are to go on being a good doctor who helps patients, to be a support to my children and do what I can to raise them to have happy and hopefully fruitful lives, to speak up against dishonesty or injustice where I can, and to get all the damn excess clutter cleared out of my life. Works for me.

Does God Exist?

Well, by definition an atheist is obviously going to answer ‘No’, but from the follow-up clarification it seems that this wasn’t actually your question:

Third, would you say that you are 100% sure there is no such being as God — meaning, an eternal, all-powerful, all-knowing being? Or would you say that, for all practical purposes you have concluded that this God does not exist, although it is impossible to prove such a negative with absolute certainty?

The latter. Although, in this context, I think it’s worth pondering the question that made me realise I should be an atheist rather than an agnostic; why is it that the various versions of the above question only get asked about God, and not about beings such as fairies or ghosts that are believed in by some and disbelieved in by others?

Can Science Explain the Origin of Life?

Fourth, do you believe that science can provide answers for many of the remaining mysteries of the universe, including: how the universe began (including where matter came from and where the Big Bang derived its energy); the origin of life; and DNA coding?

Again, these questions are not intended to “stump you” or prove that science can’t answer everything. Instead, I’m genuinely wondering if you feel comfortable saying, “We may not be able to answer all these questions now, but over time, we’ll get the answers — and we won’t need a God to fill in the gaps.”

Since science has an excellent track record with answering questions that once seemed unanswerable, yes, I think it’s a very fair assumption that scientific investigation will provide us with more and more answers over time, just as it’s already provided at least partial answers for some of the above. But I also think it’s worth adding that, even if science doesn’t answer every question (and in fact I think it’s pretty fair to anticipate that it won’t), then that still won’t mean that the answer has to be ‘Because God’. It’s hardly uncommon for us not to know the precise cause of something that clearly wasn’t divinely committed – we don’t assume that every unsolved murder has to have been God smiting the victim – so unanswered questions aren’t a good reason to assume a divine being as the answer.

Have You Questioned Your Atheism?

Fifth, have you had any experiences in life that caused you to question your atheism?

Now you come to mention it… no. I’ve done plenty of questioning along the way, but by the time I started identifying as an atheist, I’d been actively looking at the whole question for something like fourteen years (during most of which time I’d considered myself an agnostic). So, by the time I reached the point of ‘OK, it makes more sense to be an atheist’, I’d spent a lot of time looking up and considering basic arguments and going through the questions, the what-ifs, the ‘is God trying to speak to me?‘, the ‘well, let’s give God the benefit of the doubt here and think about ways in which this particular issue could still be compatible with the existence of a divine being…’. I don’t want to say “I’d done the questioning” because that phrasing frames ‘the questioning’ as something that can be completely over and done with and relegated to the past, and I don’t think that should ever be the case. But in practice, since moving to “well, guess I’m an atheist” I just haven’t seen or thought of any pro-theism arguments that have not been at most a variation on a theme of ones I’ve already exhaustively seen, considered, and eventually concluded don’t hold up.

Are You Materialistic?

Sixth, are you completely materialistic in your mindset, meaning, human beings are entirely physical, human consciousness is an illusion, and there is no spiritual realm of any kind?

Whoa, I think that phrasing should be ‘are you a materialist?’. ‘Materialistic’ means someone who prioritises getting money and possessions! Anyway… I don’t think it makes much sense to say that consciousness is an illusion, and I think a more accurate phrasing of the materialist position on consciousness would be that it’s the product of material things/physical laws. (As are illusions, come to think of it.) But other than that, yes, this sounds correct.

Would You Be Willing to Follow God?

Seventh, if you were convinced that God truly existed — meaning the God of the Bible, who is perfect in every way, full of justice and mercy, our Creator and our Redeemer — would that be good news or bad news? And would you be willing to follow Him and honor Him if He were truly God?

Depends which part of the Bible you’re talking about when you say ‘God of the Bible’.

From reading the earlier part of the Old Testament, I remember a god riven with petty jealousy, orchestrating hideous mass deaths, with archaic views on rape and slavery and some strange gaps in his scientific knowledge. The existence of this god would be bad news.

In the later part of the Old Testament, I glimpsed a different and better kind of god; the god of Ezekiel 18 and similar passages, expecting us to take personal responsibility but also willing to see our virtues and our efforts and to judge us fairly. The existence of this god would be good news, and, yes, I would follow and honour him.

And in the New Testament, we get the most hideous god of all; the one who condemns all non-Christians to an eternity of torment, who blames the Jews for sticking to the laws that he himself strictly instructed them to keep to forever, who expects us to overlook the ways he acted back in the early books, and who tries to convince us that all these things are really signs of great love and concern on his part. The existence of this god would be terrible news. And, to answer your other question, I could never honour such a god, and while I suppose I’d follow him because ‘Or burn in hell’ isn’t really much of a choice, it would never be willingly.

Comments

  1. Jörg says

    I love your comment on the NT God, turning the Christian assumption of a more loving god on its head.

  2. Katydid says

    The questions all sounded like a more sophisticated version of the internet apologists who pop up every now and again and want to “discuss/debate” faith and atheism. Usually that boils down to, “The Bible says God’s real and there are no mistakes in the Bible/God”.

    The questioner in your case obviously is asking leading questions trying to trick the responder. Use of the word “materialistic” is one clue, another is making the assertion that it’s impossible to prove a negative and asking if there is any circumstance in which someone would say a god exists.

    BTW, the God of the Bible has done very little smiting in the past couple of years. Either everyone on Earth is always behaving the way the hyper-violent and cruel God of the Bible wants…or he’ asleep.

  3. says

    Can I play?
     

    Is Your Atheism Based on Study or Experience?

    Both. Nothing in my experience has even suggested that any sort of “god” exists, and everything I’ve learned about the god-concepts Believers try to sell me indicates that “god” is an incoherent notion. For my money, Believing in “god” is as senseless as Believing in zibbleblorf.
     
    “Wait. What’s ‘zibbleblorf’,” I hear you ask?
     
    Exactly.
     

    Do You Have Purpose and Destiny?

    I don’t believe “destiny” is a real thing. I do believe that “purpose” is a real thing; specifically, it’s a real thing which human beings assign to stuff.
     

    Does God Exist?

    Mu. I have seen no reason to think there is any such thing as “god”.
     

    Can Science Explain the Origin of Life?

    I see no reason why science is, or even should be, intrinsically incapable of explaining the origin of life. Now, at the same time, I readily agree that at this point, science has not yet explained the origin of life. I just don’t think that “has not yet” is synonymous with “will not ever, end of discussion, worlds without end, amen”.
     

    Have You Questioned Your Atheism?

    Every time I consider a Believer’s argument for their personal favorite god-concept of choice, I’m questioning my atheism.
     

    Are You Materialistic?

    As Dr. Sarah noted, “materialistic” was a poor choice of word for the intended question.
     
    I do not accept any claims of “supernatural” or “spiritual” or “mystical” anything. This is cuz nobody who makes such claims has ever yet managed to explain to me how the heck I can tell the difference between, one, something which is 100%, genuine, no-shit supernatural/spiritual/etc, and, two, something which is 100% natural, but we don’t understand it yet.
     

    Would You Be Willing to Follow God?

    Since you specified BibleGod in particular: No. Hell, no. Abso-fucking-lutely not. The god-concept portrayed in the Bible is a horrific, unmitigated monster; It’s jealous, homicidal, omnicidal, prone to blaming Its creations for behaving in strict accordance with how It made them. It knowingly created, and allowed to afflict Its creation, Evil. It knowingly created, and has industriously maintained for the past however-many gigayears, the literally infinite torture chamber known as Hell.
     
    As far as I’m concerned? If god exists, and if the Bible’s portrayal of god is anywhere within bazooka range of accurate, then it would be every sane, thinking, moral human being’s duty to try to murder the son of a bitch. It might seem impossible for us lowly humans to even be able to murder an omnipotent being… but since you specified BibleGod, I got two words for you: Iron chariots.

  4. Rob Grigjanis says

    And in the New Testament, we get the most hideous god of all; the one who condemns all non-Christians to an eternity of torment…

    That’s questionable. In the first few centuries of Christian history, I think that was a minority view, and arose from a mistranslation of the Greek aion, which refers to a finite period of time, into the Latin word for eternity.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_universalism#Eternal_Hell_in_Christian_history

    Unfortunately, Augustine’s view won out over other early theologians, like Origen.

  5. says

    I’ll give this Dr. Brown guy one thing: he actually provided a space on his own blog for people to post their answers to his questions. That’s more than most of the “I have questions for al you atheists!” crowd can say. Unfortunately, this guy still hasn’t shown any sign that he’s seen the answers, or that he’s even made any effort to do so — even after I flat-out asked him when, or if, he was ever going to address the answers he’d got. So much for sincere desire to know.

    BTW, the God of the Bible has done very little smiting in the past couple of years. Either everyone on Earth is always behaving the way the hyper-violent and cruel God of the Bible wants…or he’ asleep.

    Or he’s just quietly given up and admitted that all the smiting he’s done so far hasn’t done squat to make us any less sinful than he’d originally made us to be.

  6. StevoR says

    Okay, I’ll have a go at this.. Lessee :

    Is Your Atheism Based on Study or Experience?

    Both. Plenty of.

    Do You Have Purpose and Destiny? Second, would you say that even as an atheist, you still have a sense of purpose and destiny in your life, a feeling that you were put here for a reason and that you have a mission to accomplish?

    Purpose? Destiny? Not really and those terms need properly defining. “Put here” no I know how life works and no of us were deliberately “put here” or chose the circumstances we were born into. Theconcept of destiny seeems rather flawed and unfiar and we create our own purposes and can do so ethically eg. deciding that since life is already bad enough for too many it is a good idea to make it better for many people as possible and try to make the world better for our having been in it.

    Does God Exist?

    Probly not and whose god and which interpretation of it? There are a long list of various dieties and gods, goddesses and pantheons. The evidence seems insufficient to pove any of them are real. If there is convincing evidence then, let’s see it. The problem of evil going unanswered raises major objections toany benevolent diety existing. So, basically no, I don’t think so.

    Can Science Explain the Origin of Life?

    Yes. It does a far better job of explaining than origin of life than religion does and gives far more logical testable reasons to think so.

    Fourth, do you believe that science can provide answers for many of the remaining mysteries of the universe, including: how the universe began (including where matter came from and where the Big Bang derived its energy); the origin of life; and DNA coding?

    Again, yes, see above,

    , I’m genuinely wondering if you feel comfortable saying, “We may not be able to answer all these questions now, but over time, we’ll get the answers — and we won’t need a God to fill in the gaps.”

    Hmm.. subtle bait and switch there. Yes , over time our udnerstanding of allthes equestiosn willalways get betetr as new science is done and our comprehensionof various complexities keeps improving but whether “the” answer can ever be final, well, I don’t know. Science is always raising many more questions which get answered in turn and always subject to revision in light of new understandings and better theories and observations. We already don’t need a god of the gaps and those gaps are generally getting smaller. But to think we”ll ever get a final answer? I don’t know.

    Have You Questioned Your Atheism?
    Fifth, have you had any experiences in life that caused you to question your atheism?

    Yes and I still do and am willing to change my opinion based on new evidence and facts.

    Are You Materialistic?
    Sixth, are you completely materialistic in your mindset, meaning, human beings are entirely physical, human consciousness is an illusion, and there is no spiritual realm of any kind?

    This question seems to be conflating being physical with human consciousness being an “ïllusion” which isn’t the case. Yes, we’re physical beings but that does NOT mean that people’s consciousness is an illusion nor that there can’t be an internal spiritual sense that people experience. To say the “spiritual” exists ouside of people’s minds is a whole other question and I don’t know the answer to that. Of any kind? Maybe ones that we will one day measure and understand, maybe not.

    Would You Be Willing to Follow God?
    Seventh, if you were convinced that God truly existed — meaning the God of the Bible, who is perfect in every way, full of justice and mercy, our Creator and our Redeemer — would that be good news or bad news? And would you be willing to follow Him and honor Him if He were truly God?

    A lot of very big IFs there! The God of Bible is contradictory and genocidal and petty and jealous and more as well as supposedly forgiving and loving and merciful and the Bible contains many clashing accounts of what seems like a very imperfect and ugly diety in many places. See :

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RB3g6mXLEKk

    For a few examples.

    If the Christian God /Jesus / Holy Spirit exists and somehow proves itself real then which exact version and interpretation of it would it be? If god was truly real I’d have a lot more questions I’d need to know and would I follow that diety? Dunno. That would depend on the answers but it seems vanishingly unlikely a prospect. If I chose not to follow that diety do you think that true God should torture me for eternity or /and eradicate my existence and does that seem fair to you?

  7. KG says

    Whoa, I think that phrasing should be ‘are you a materialist?’. ‘Materialistic’ means someone who prioritises getting money and possessions!

    Many Christians elide the difference between the two, either believing or pretending that philosophical materialism logically implies or in practice leads to being materialistic.

  8. Pierce R. Butler says

    Brown: … 100% sure … absolute certainty…

    This line of questioning in particular reveals a lot about Brown’s own psychology: he needs absolutism, can’t tolerate ambiguity or ongoing doubt.

    I find it really pitiful that a presumed adult retains such childish clinging to rigid epistemologies and binary thinking. Dude needs a counselor to help him get through all his fears – likely a project of years even if he could work up the nerve and openness to try it.

  9. says

    Dr Sarah,

    I’m sure you’ll agree that the notion of a single “God of the New Testament” is something of an oversimplification. Obviously, there are certain matters arising from the differences, say, between Jesus’ references to God and those of Paul. While I share your concerns about the “New Testament” God offered by conventional Christianity, I think there are peculiarities about Jesus’ references to the deity that are of particular relevance to the religion-versus-atheism debate.

    The original questioner asks about “the God of the Bible” and “would you be willing to follow Him and honor Him if He were truly God?” Jesus—identified with the deity—has certain concerns about being “followed and honored,” as shown in Matthew 7: “Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then I will profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.”

    I contend that Jesus is in no manner lacking in the character of, as you say, “the god of Ezekiel 18 and similar passages, expecting us to take personal responsibility but also willing to see our virtues and our efforts and to judge us fairly.” The teachings of Jesus emphasize the character of God—and the responsibility of the person to imitate that character—not God’s particular identification. A person who attempts to follow the teachings of the God of Jesus might be guilty of conceit (as an atheist who attempts to practice Jesus’ ethic might possess a similar conceit) but it is the person who claims to offer sufficient worship (“Lord, Lord”) of God who is a liar, and who is guilty of unrepentant blasphemy.

    If there is something in the canonical gospels that necessitates belief that a truthful non-Christian is necessarily to be condemned, then I must admit that it has escaped me.

  10. beholder says

    Anyone getting a YEC, Jews for Jesus vibe from the questions? (God of the Bible? Was Hashem a “Redeemer”? Intelligent design? Really?)

    Doesn’t matter how much he front-loads it with assertions of good faith and open dialogue; he seems to want to limit the answers he gets. Nowhere is that more obvious than the ridiculous amount of qualifiers in question 7.

  11. says

    stephensherrier: The passages cited by txpippy clearly state that only those who believe in Jesus get to Heaven, and everyone else defaults to Hell. Then again, I’m sure you could also find other Bible passages that say something very different. The Bible is a lot like Mitt Romney that way…

  12. Rob Grigjanis says

    Raging Bee @15:

    The passages cited by txpippy clearly state…

    Yeah, in the KJV, which is a translation from Koine Greek. It was not so clear to the earliest Christian theologians, many of whom (like Origen) spoke the damn language. A lot of them (perhaps a majority) didn’t read “eternal”, but something more like “long-lasting”. They believed that salvation was possible even for people who died without accepting Jesus. Note that this neatly deals with the problem of people who, through no fault of their own, lived and died without even hearing of Jesus.

    Of course, the stricter Augustinian view (eternal damnation) gives the Church a great source of power, through fear. I suspect that’s why it won out over the Universalist view. And the Augustinian view is also handy for antitheists, for whom it gives great additional “evidence” for god as a cruel vicious bastard, on top of all the stuff in the OT.

  13. says

    Note that this neatly deals with the problem of people who, through no fault of their own, lived and died without even hearing of Jesus.

    Not to mention the (now much larger) number of people who heard about Jesus from bigots, loonies, demagogues or con-artists who so perverted and polluted his message as to make the whole business look like nothing more than a huge stinking pile of toxic raw sewage.

  14. KG says

    Rob Grigjanis@16,
    But didn’t you know? God speaks English, the KJV was dictated by him word for word, and it therefore supercedes all that Greek and Aramaic and Hebrew gobbledegook!

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