They’re enlightening, because they tell us just how screwed up his preconceptions are. His two questions are:
1. Do you hope you are right or wrong?
2. Do you ever doubt your atheism?
What’s most interesting is how Prager answers the questions, exposing his own assumptions. So in response to his first question, this is how he thinks atheists ought to answer.
I respect atheists who answer that they hope they are wrong. It tells me that they understand the terrible consequences of atheism: that all existence is random; that there is no ultimate meaning to life; that there is no objective morality — right and wrong are subjective personal or societal constructs; that when we die, there is nothing but eternal oblivion, meaning, among other things, that one is never reconnected with any loved ones; and there is no ultimate justice in the universe — murderers, torturers and their victims have identical fates: nothing.
I don’t think he understands atheism at all. It doesn’t mean that existence is random, since the universe actually has physical laws that allow some predictability; if I mix hydrogen and oxygen gas, and apply a spark, I’m going to get the release of a lot of energy fairly quickly, and water. I won’t get bunny rabbits, or marzipan, or a sheet of cellophane. That there is no ultimate meaning to life means I am free to set my own goals, and I don’t have to worry about, for instance, getting enslaved in a celestial choir after I die. We can establish an objective morality, based on human needs and desires, which is far superior to a morality built on the arbitrary caprice of an imaginary deity (or, more accurately, the self-serving demands of the imaginary deity’s priests). Death is just an end, and while endings are to be avoided, they are a part of our existence. That believers think they will be reunited with loved ones after death does not mean that they will. Finally, I’d rather see justice in this life, where it counts. I also do not consider the Abrahamic idea of justice at all just — murderers are to be tortured with endless misery for all of eternity? Really? You consider that justice?
As for how I’d answer it personally, I consider it a stupid question. I’m not hoping for one answer or another; my aspiration would be to understand reality accurately, and learning that there is a cosmic overlord deciding my fate is about as unpleasant as learning that oblivion follows death, but I don’t reject the idea because I don’t like it — after all, I accept my inevitable death despite not liking it one bit — but because the evidence for a deity is nonexistent, while the evidence for naturalism is overwhelming.
There’s also a bit of a scientific attitude behind that. If you go into an experiment hoping for a specific, desired result, you’re doing it wrong. Any hope you have should be for an unambiguous result, no matter whether it’s positive or negative.
His second question is just as bad: do you ever doubt your atheism? Again, he delivers what he thinks is the right answer, by telling us about a debate in which he asked the audience that question, and none of the atheists did.
As I explained at the debate, I never met a believer who hadn’t at some point had doubts about God. When experiencing, seeing or reading about terrible human suffering, all of us who believe in God have on occasion doubted our faith. So, I asked the atheists, how is it that when you see a baby born or a spectacular sunset, or hear a Mozart symphony, or read about the infinite complexity of the human brain — none of these has ever prompted you to wonder whether there really might be a God?
Oh, Dennis Prager…when you hear a Mozart symphony, do you ever stop and think, “Well, golly, maybe there really is a Flying Spaghetti Monster”? When you see human suffering, do you stop in awe and bow down before the glory of Cthulhu? Do sunsets inspire you to praise Huitzilopochtli? Then I guess you don’t ever truly doubt your faith.
The thing is, atheists know that there are all these phenomena that they don’t understand. I’m a developmental biologist, and when I see a baby, I know some of the processes that led to its assembly in utero, but I also know that there are million complexities I don’t understand, and that’s OK. Atheists don’t fill in the mysteries of life with “a god did it”. It’s an example of oblivious egotism to expect us to caulk up the unknowns of the universe with your peculiar, idiosyncratic, unbelievable god-stuff, and to dismiss atheists as unthinking because we don’t spontaneously assume a sky god named Jehovah hand-assembled our nervous systems.
As for his examples, sunsets aren’t magic. They’re a product of the filtering properties of an atmosphere illuminated obliquely, and by the scattering of light from particles of water and other substances in the air. They’re beautiful, but why think that some invisible magic man in the sky is rearranging photons to please us?
I don’t expect my answers to please Prager. He has intentionally composed a pair of questions for which he has his pat answers, and he’s not asking out of honest curiosity to find out how atheists think — he’s just looking for excuses to reject atheism. It’s as if he asked the question, “What is 1 + 1?”, so that he could sneer at all the ignorant materialists who answer “2”, by informing them that obviously the answer is “3”, gosh aren’t atheists dumb?
But then, this is the kind of thing I’ve come to expect of dishonest religious apologists.