While considering what to blog about next, I decided to google “hard questions for atheists”, inspired by a link I have in my bookmarks bar of Hard Questions for Theists. I discovered a list on carm by Matt Slick, and remembering that site in particular having been recommended by one of my readers, I elected to answer that list. The questions will maintain their original links to ensure we are operating under the same definitions, and will be in bold to help differentiate from my answers, which may also contain questions.
1. How would you define atheism?
I define atheism the same way as many of my peers; it is the null hypothesis that is the only reasonable conclusion given that no god hypothesis has ever been supported with sufficient evidence.
I’m honestly not sure if this question is meant to be a dichotomy, or simply inclusive of various definitions of atheism. I’m going to operate under the assumption that it is worded this way to be inclusive, and is asking if I act according to my atheism. According to my definition above, I do not because it’s impossible to act on a null hypothesis. However, I also wish to show that certain arguments are unreasonable, thereby demonstrating that specific god hypotheses do in fact lack evidence. In that sense, I do act according to my lack of belief. I suppose Matt Slick would have me say I act according to my disbelief, but I don’t disbelieve every god hypothesis; I simply don’t have positive belief in any of them. My lack of belief is not a lack of position on the issue.
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?
This question is malformed in that it presumes the existence of a god. I don’t see myself as working against god’s existence when I point out flaws in apologetics arguments; I see myself as working against bad logic and for critical thinking. Even if I did see myself as working against god’s existence, I could not reasonably consider myself an atheist, for in order for me to work against something, that something must be a part of reality as I see it, and atheism pretty clearly entails not believing god exists. In addition, if god is truly all-powerful, how could a mere human do anything to work against his existence?
So no, I don’t see myself or anyone else in my position as inconsistent for arguing against apologetics. I’m trying to spread rationality, which I hope we all agree is a worthy goal.
4. How sure are you that your atheism properly represents reality?
I’m sure enough that Christianity in particular is false to risk suffering horrible burning in a lake of fire for all eternity, not only for myself but for any hypothetical future children of mine and anyone else over whom I might gain influence. I’d say that is extremely confident.
5. How sure are you that your atheism is correct?
See above. Also, we have yet to find any reliable evidence for any being worthy of the title “god”, and until we do, atheism is the only reasonable conclusion; it’s the only thing anyone can reasonably be at all sure is correct. In the meantime, I am entirely willing to continue searching for that evidence, and completely open to anything anyone wants to present as evidence for their god.
6. How would you define what truth is?
Truth is the mind’s conformity with reality. “2+2=5” is not a true statement because when we count two apples and two other apples, we count four total apples, never five.
7. Why do you believe your atheism is a justifiable position to hold?
I don’t see any god hypotheses as justifiable; atheism is the only alternative.
By the given definitions, I don’t think I’m either a materialist or a physicalist. I don’t believe in the supernatural, but it might exist outside what we can observe. If we can’t observe it, though, it can’t affect our lives in a meaningful way.
9. Do you affirm or deny that atheism is a worldview? Why or why not?
Out of laziness, I will occasionally treat my atheism as a worldview because I don’t have a label that encompasses my worldview better, but the truth is that atheism is really only part of my worldview. Many of the other positions that make up my worldview often correspond to atheism, but do not necessarily follow simply from atheism.
10. Not all atheists are antagonistic to Christianity, but for those of you who are, why the antagonism?
Christianity causes harm. Look at the rate of homosexual teenage suicide. Look at those who suffered nightmares as children from fear of hell. Look at how many children are raped by their pastor or priest. Look at those children killed by curable diseases because their parents sought faith healing instead of medical care. I couldn’t consider myself a moral person if I wasn’t against something that consistently caused so much suffering.
11. If you were at one time a believer in the Christian God, what caused you to deny his existence?
Again, this question is phrased such that it assumes the Christian god exists. I stopped believing in Christianity because I had flaws in that worldview pointed out to me, and years of searching could not answer those flaws.
12. Do you believe the world would be better off without religion?
I don’t know. It is fairly clear that religion does have some benefits, but it also appears that those benefits come from community rather than the religion itself.
13. Do you believe the world would be better off without Christianity?
I’m not sure, but I do think so, provided Christianity is not replaced with a worse religion (Islam comes to mind). As I said above, Christianity does cause harm, and it is my analysis from what I have observed that it causes more harm than good.
14. Do you believe that faith in a God or gods is a mental disorder?
No, but fundamentalism can be mentally harmful.
15. Must God be known through the scientific method?
That link is broken, so I’m not sure what Slick means by the phrase “scientific method”. However, I will reiterate what I mentioned above. If god cannot affect the physical world, which would be analyzable with the scientific method at least to some extent, he (or she) cannot affect our lives. In that case, whether god exists would be an unknowable question.
I suppose my answer is that god must be known through empirical evidence of some form in order to be known at all.
I go into this a great deal in a recent post, but the point is essentially what I said above. If god can’t affect the material world, such as by miraculously healing the sick, it’s impossible to know whether he/she exists. Besides, what would immaterial evidence even look like? If it is a personal experience with god, how do you respond to people like myself who sought such an experience but could not receive it? Do similar experiences from other religions, such as Hinduism or Islam, prove the Hindu gods or Allah? How could we ever be sure such an experience was really from god and not our brains playing tricks?
17. Do we have any purpose as human beings?
I don’t think so. Why assume we do?
18. If we do have purpose, can you as an atheist please explain how that purpose is determined?
19. Where does morality come from?
Morality is the natural next step after empathy evolved. Empathy evolved because societies where individuals cared for other individuals survived better than societies where they didn’t.
20. Are there moral absolutes?
I’m not sure. I don’t know for certain what the question means.
21. If there are moral absolutes, could you list a few of them?
The only thing I might call a moral absolute offhand is child rape, because I don’t know of a situation wherein that would really be justifiable. My moral philosophy is that causing suffering is bad and preventing suffering is good.
22. Do you believe there is such a thing as evil? If so, what is it?
I don’t know, but if child rape isn’t evil, if giving children nightmares about eternal hellfire isn’t evil, I’m not sure anything really qualifies.
23. If you believe that the God of the Old Testament is morally bad, by what standard do you judge that he is bad?
I judge the genocides in the Old Testament morally bad by exactly the same standard that you judge the genocide of the Holocaust morally bad.
24. What would it take for you to believe in God?
I would need evidence, and the evidence would have to be only for that deity and not any other. In other words, miracles aren’t enough, because not only are they aren’t typically verifiable as genuinely supernatural in cause, but they also could just as easily be caused by a deity that is trying to make Christianity look real as by the Christian god.
25. What would constitute sufficient evidence for God’s existence?
If I could be introduced to a god, that should be enough to convince me that such a person at least exists.
26. Must this evidence be rationally based, archaeological, testable in a lab, etc. or what?
I’m mostly concerned with reliable repeat-ability. As in, if I could be introduced to a god, I should then be able to introduce that god to others.
27. Do you think that a society that is run by Christians or atheists would be safer? Why?
Safer in what way? There is 10 times more crime in America, which has a Christian majority among both voters and politicians, than in Sweden, which has a much larger atheist population. This would seem to indicate that a society run by atheists would be safer, but it seems reasonable to think that it would largely depend on the individual Christians or atheists in charge.
28. Do you believe in free will? (free will being the ability to make choices without coersion).
I at least believe in the illusion of free will. I’m not sure where I stand on whether there actually is free will.
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?
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?
Once again, this question is poorly worded. First, I don’t “affirm” evolution or any other scientific theory; I accept that they are the best explanations based on the available evidence. Second, brains are physical by definition; how could they possibly exceed physical limitations?
In order to answer this question, I assume it is asking whether a mind could evolve to the point where it no longer needed the brain. To that, given my knowledge of computer programming, which is analogous to how brains work, I can only say no. Software requires hardware to run. In other words, brains and minds evolving past physical limitations is impossible even in theory, although I am willing to hear any explanations or examples of minds working without brains.
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?