Saturday, May 7, 2011

Common Questions to Atheists

I found this list of questions on Lady Atheist's blog that atheists are often asked. While I don’t particularly have anything original to add, I think that it is worth answering as it will demonstrate my views on a wide variety of issues. 

Q:  Where do you go when you die?
A:  While I wouldn’t claim to know with certainty, my view is that, upon death, we will cease to exist. From the evidence I have come across, it appears the mind is a function of the brain; so without a working brain, you will have no mind and therefore cease to exist. 

Q:  Aren't you worried that you might be wrong and you might go to hell?
A:  Not at all. Hell was never something I believed in (even when I was a half-assed Christian). Do I think it is possible that I am wrong? Of course. I just don’t think the probability of me being wrong about the existence hell is high enough to worry about. Take for example the chance that I will be hit by a car tomorrow; this is a scenario which I view as quite likely to happen in comparison with Hell being real, yet I’m not worried about being hit by a car. 

Q:  How can you be moral without God?
A:  How can you be moral with God? That isn’t a snide reply, but a serious question. Are you moral with God because God has defined what is good or because God is intelligent and powerful enough to determine what is good? If it is the first one, I would argue that you aren’t moral in any meaningful sense of the word. If it is the second, then you have just answered the question yourself; we can also determine what is good. We may not be able to do it as well as God could (assuming he exists), but being he isn’t putting his two-cents in on relevant issues, we are left to do it ourselves. 

Q:  You're really just angry with God.
A:  Sometimes, but this is irrelevant to why I am an atheist. To be clear, it is possible to be angry at a being regardless of whether it exists or not. For example, I am often infuriated by the character of Nikki on Big Love, yet that doesn’t mean I think she really exists. I am angry at the portrayed actions of her character. This is similar to when I find aspect of God’s personality (as depicted by the Bible) to be immoral/anger-inducing. Again, this doesn’t mean I think God exists; just that I find the actions that are portrayed by his character to be immoral.

Q:  You're really just angry at the abuses of the Church.
A:  Again, while I may sometimes be angry at the actions of Christians, this is irrelevant to my atheism. It may inform the actions I choose to take (e.g. opposing the homophobia of Christians directly), but it isn’t why I don’t believe in god. 

Q:  The church has been responsible for great works of art.
A:  So? There is much art in other religions, so either their gods also exist or inspiration can come from any source, real or imaginary. 

Q:  How do you know the Bible isn't true?
A:  In the same way you know that the Koran, the Tao Te Ching or any other religious text isn’t true; lack of supporting evidence and logical inconsistencies. 

Q:  Isn't it arrogant to presume you're right and all those Christians are wrong?
A:  Why is it arrogant for me to presume I am right, yet it isn’t arrogant for Christians to presume they are right? But I fully admit I may be wrong, but I will only change my position when given a good argument and evidence that my position is wrong. 

Q:  You think you know everything, don't you?  (Also: You think you have all the answers!)
A:  No. Just no. 

Q:  Science can't answer everything.  What about love?
A:  I’m not advocating that it can. Though I do think science can explain love; interactions between memories, emotions and social situations that are governed by neurons and chemicals in our brains. 

Q:  How do you explain the human need to believe in God?  God made humans different from the animals.
A:  I think the ‘need’ (I use quotation marks because I don't think it is really a need) can be explained by a number of facts known about human psychology. Firstly, humans are pattern and agent seeking creatures; our minds are built for detecting patterns and, often, attributing those patterns to an animate agent. An example of this is the thought some people get that their computer intentionally crashes when they haven’t saved; they are detecting a pattern (computer crashing when they haven’t saved) and blaming their computer for it. Now, most of us would agree that this is both not a meaningful pattern (i.e. there isn’t actually a causative effect between the chance of your computer crashing and whether you have saved your work or not) or an intentional act on behalf of the computer. I think this is a similar phenomenon to how humans came to believe in god (mistakenly identifying patterns in nature and attributing them to an agent).
The second point I would bring up would be that this pattern seeking behaviour increases when we find ourselves in situations that are out of our control. There is a good, evolutionary reason for this; our ancestors found themselves frequently in situations that were out of their control such as attacks from predators. Now, increased pattern detection in such situations would aid in survival as these individuals could determine any activity they are engaged in that is affecting the attack rates of predators. For example, it could be noticed that if meat is left uncovered for too long, predators are more likely to attack. Thusly, this would lead to the covering of meat and decreased predator attacks as a consequence. This fact could also be used to explain another fact about our current world; the countries with the highest societal health (which is a good proxy for control over our situation) have the lowest levels of religious belief and vice versa. 

Q: What about the miracles of the Bible?
A: What about the miracles of the Koran? The Baghavada Gita? 

Q:  [insert seemingly miraculous prayer story here]. How do you explain that?
A:  I normal take a two pronged approach to such questions; firstly, unless it is an event that personally happened to individual telling me this story, the question of authenticity is one that is hard to answer. Secondly, I ask why there is the need to explain some fortunate event with references to the supernatural. An example I have had presented to me is one of a family had their unborn child diagnosed with a serious condition (unspecified as to which), the prayed and when the child was born, they had no problems whatsoever. The issue here is when you realise that most, if not all, medical tests have an error rate; that is, a percentage of test results are either false positives or false negatives. This is often quite small, but when applied to a large population size, is not an insignificant number. To demonstrate this, let’s say that the test in question had a .1% false positive rate; .1% of the time, the result indicated they had the condition tested for when they really didn’t. If this test is administered to all pregnant mothers (roughly 300,000 in 2010), then we can expect 300 false positives for 2010 alone. That is, 300 mothers will be told that their child has that condition, only to find at birth that they don’t. Not really miraculous at all. 

Q:  Christianity has been around for 2,000 years.  How could it survive if it were false?
A:  How has Hinduism survived for 4,000 years if it was false? 

Q:  There are millions of Christians.  They can't all be wrong.
A:  Yes, they can, just as the billions of Muslims and Hindus can be wrong.

Q:  Nothing can exist without a creator, so the fact that things exist proves there's a God.
A:  If nothing can exist without a creator, then neither can God. If things can exist without a creator, who is to say that the cosmos isn’t one of those things? 

Q:  You can't prove that God doesn't exist.
A:  And you can’t prove Santa Claus doesn’t exist too. I am not an atheist because I think God has been proven not to exist, but because there is no evidence to prove that he does. 

Q:  If you're an atheist doesn't that mean that you don't believe in anything?
A:  I believe in things that have evidence that prove that they exist. 

 Q:  If you don't believe in God, that means you want to be God.
A:  Depends what you mean by that statement; if you mean I want humans to fulfil all the functions that have normally been attributed to God (morality, purpose etc.), then yes. If you mean I want to be a dictator in the sky, then no. 

Q:  You just left the Church because you want to sin.
A:  I was never really in any church. 

Q:  So then your life has no meaning?
A:  Yes and no. I do not believe life has any inherit meaning. But that is different from saying it has no meaning. Life has the meaning that I (and all of us) choose to give it.

1 comment:

  1. Dylan NickelsonMay 8, 2011 at 4:35 PM

    Very good responses to some common questions.

    I find the answer to the question
    How can you be moral without God?
    to be most satisfying. The ol' Euthyphro dilemma.

    PS. Just a couple of typos [Feel free to delete this part of my comment]:

    Q: The church has been responsible for great works of art.

    ...either their god’s also exist

    Q: How do you explain the human need to believe in God? God made humans different from the animals.

    ...built for detect patterns...