Answering 36 Questions for Atheists
Every now and again, I stumble across a list of questions posed by a person on one side of an argument towards those on the other side. These questions are intended to be somewhat Socratic, leading a person towards an intended conclusion solely through his or her own answers; however, they very rarely actually have that effect.
I came upon just this sort of list from a blog called Adherent Apologetics. I’ve interacted with that blog’s author a few times before and found him very respectful and sincere; as such, I decided to take a few minutes to set my answers to his questions to page in the hope that we might begin to get a better understanding of one another.
Questions from Natural Philosophy
(1) Why is there something rather than nothing?
Because it is logically impossible for there to be nothing. In order for there to be nothing, there must exist a state of affairs in which nothing exists. However, if such a state of affairs exists then something exists, contradicting our initial premise. There must be something rather than nothing because it is absurd to propose that nothingness can be.
(2) Is there any evidence that suggests the universe is eternal?
This depends heavily upon what one means by “eternal.” If one means, “extending infinitely into the past,” then I will say that there is not currently sufficient evidence to warrant such a belief. However, if one instead means “not subject to temporal dynamism,” I will say there is absolutely evidence for this– and quite good evidence, at that.
Time is a part of the universe. Any discussion of the universe, as a whole, necessarily includes a discussion of Time, as a whole. It would be absurd to claim that Time is subject to temporal dynamism. Temporal dynamism describes a change in state with respect to Time. Time cannot possibly change with respect to Time.
(3) If not, why do Atheists hold onto the idea and say you have debunked the Kalam Cosmological Argument?
The Kalam is intended as a deductive syllogism. As such, if any of its premises are in doubt then the argument as a whole is unsound. When atheists dismiss the second premise (ie, “The universe began to exist”) due to the possibility that the universe may have been temporally past-infinite, they are not saying that it most certainly was past-infinite. Rather, they are saying that this is an open question in physics– a statement which is absolutely true. There is not yet sufficient evidence to warrant belief that the universe is temporally past-infinite, however there is sufficient evidence to doubt the claim that the universe is certainly past-finite.
For my part, I don’t believe the Kalam holds even in the case that the universe is temporally past-finite. I have expounded on this subject in great detail over the years, particularly in my post on the Kalam Cosmological Argument.
(4) If so, why do the vast majority of scientists reject this idea?
Firstly, “the vast majority of scientists” is a fairly over-broad category to cite. My wife is a principal scientist in the laboratories of one of the most prominent companies on the planet. She will be the first to tell you, however, that she has very little knowledge of astrophysics and barely a lay-person’s understanding of Big Bang cosmology. The simple fact that a person is a scientist does not qualify them to speak on the subject as it may still be well out of their field of knowledge.
That said, I will agree that the vast majority of cosmologists will rightly note that we do not have sufficient evidence to warrant belief in a temporally past-infinite universe. As noted above, I honestly don’t think this is all that important.
(5) Why is the universe so fine-tuned?
This question betrays the subtle difference between what physicists mean when they discuss the fine-tuning question and what apologists and religious philosophers mean by it. In physics, the fine-tuning question is, “Why do the physical constants of the universe have the values which they present as opposed to other values?” Quite notably, this question would be just as valid regardless of the particular values which the universe presents. It’s a wonderful question, an as-yet open question in physics, and one certainly deserving of investigation.
For religious philosophers, the fine-tuning question is very different: “Why is the universe so finely-tuned for life?” This ushers in some hidden premises which I wholly reject. Firstly, it suggests that there was some act of fine-tuning which must have occurred. Secondly, it presumes that this act of fine-tuning had a specific teleology, namely that the act of fine-tuning occurred with the explicit goal of fostering life. I see no reason to accept either of these premises.
(6) If your answer is the multiverse, why is there no evidence for that theory?
I see no need to invoke any multiverse theory in order to address the fine-tuning question.
(7) Is it possible that there is no natural explanation for the origin of life?
I have no idea what a non-natural explanation of anything even means. I would need a proper definition of what one means by ‘natural’ and ‘non-natural’ in order to address this question in any meaningful way.
(8) Where does consciousness come from?
In so far as I can tell, ‘consciousness’ is simply the label which we apply to particular processes associated with the brain.
(9) Do you lack a belief that God exists or would you say that God does not exist?
This depends entirely on what one means by ‘God.’ There are certainly definitions or conceptions of ‘God’ for which I would positively claim, “God (by that definition) does not exist.” For example, if someone were to say that they define ‘God’ as being “that which created the universe,” I would absolutely respond that I believe such a being does not exist as I believe it is logically impossible for the universe to have been created.
If, on the other hand, someone defined ‘God’ as meaning “a timeless, spaceless, personal being,” I would say that I simply do not believe the claim that such a thing exists, rather than claiming that it certainly does not exist.
(10) Do you lack a belief that Zeus exists or would you say that Zeus does not exist?
Though you likely intended this question to elicit a particular answer, mine honestly remains the same as in (9). I am familiar enough with both classical Greek thought and modern neopagan views to know that there have been wildly different conceptions of ‘Zeus’ for millennia. For some of these conceptions I would certainly say Zeus does not exist. Others of these conceptions I simply say that I do not believe the claims that Zeus exists.
(11) If you just lack a belief that Zeus exists, why are you centuries behind the rest of the world who say that Zeus doesn’t exist?
This is a bit of a loaded question– and, indeed, a false premise. As I implied in (10), there actually are modern neopagans who do believe that Zeus exists, even today. Furthermore, even ancient conceptions of Zeus were not as singular and universal as your question seems to think. The Zeus of Homer was very different than the Zeus of Plato which was in turn quite different than the Zeus of Ptolemy of Alexandria, et cetera, et cetera. As such, I will again defer to my answer in (10).
(12) Do you act according to what you believe or what you just lack a belief in?
Both, quite obviously. For example, I lack a belief that I will die before I am 65 years old. I don’t think that it is impossible for such a thing to happen. I simply see no reason, currently, to think that I will die before I am 65. As such, I have plans in place for a potential retirement after that age.
(13) What evidence is there that Atheism corresponds with reality?
Given that Atheism, as I and others use it, is a statement about personal beliefs and nothing more, the evidence is the same as for any other statement about one’s personal beliefs: the fact that he said it. When I say, “I do not believe claims that deity exists,” I am providing the only evidence possible to affirm that this statement is true.
If by “Atheism” you instead mean “the claim that God does not exist,” I’ll have to once again say that the evidence necessarily depends upon what is meant by ‘God’ in that context.
(14) Is Atheism a worldview?
No, but it is certainly a part of many worldviews.
(15) If not, what is your worldview?
It’s not the easiest thing to label, but I would tend to refer to myself as a rational skeptic.
(16) What would convince you that God exists?
A clear definition of what is meant by ‘God’ followed by a sound argument that belief in the existence of such a thing is warranted.
(17) Are you willing to follow the evidence, even if it leads to a different understanding of how the universe works?
Absolutely. That is the reason for which I left Christianity in the first place.
(18) If Jesus rose from the dead, would you become a Christian?
No, not on that knowledge alone. Even if it could somehow be shown that Jesus rose from the dead, that would not demonstrate that he had been raised from the dead by a deity, or that the message he preached was true, or that the doctrines and dogma of the Christians that followed after him are true.
(19) If you wouldn’t become a Christian, why would you ever accept that he rose from the dead?
I honestly don’t know. You proposed a situation in which it was somehow demonstrable that Jesus had actually risen from the dead. I accepted that hypothetical situation for the sake of argument. In actuality, I don’t know what evidence one could provide which would convince me such a thing actually happened.
(20) Why do Atheists keep insisting that faith is blind trust when that’s not what Christians or the Bible say?
For the same reason that Christians often insist that Atheism necessarily entails the claim that God does not exist when that’s not what atheists say. It is sorely tempting to strike down straw men rather than deal with actual positions.
I, personally, do not insist that ‘faith’ must mean ‘blind trust.’ That is not what I meant by the word when I was a Christian and that’s not what most Christians mean when they use it with me. Furthermore, I quite often upbraid other atheists who try to force the ‘blind trust’ definition upon others. It does no one any good.
(21) Why do you want material evidence for an immaterial God?
I don’t. I have never asked for material evidence for an immaterial God.
(22) Is there purpose to life?
Yes. In fact, there are myriads of purposes to life.
(23) If there is, by what standard do you determine life has purpose?
By whatever standard is proposed by the person ascribing a purpose. ‘Purpose’ is not some objective property of an entity. It can differ from person to person, and even a single person might ascribe multiple purposes to a single object. By analogy, one might ask, “What is the purpose of a sledgehammer?” One person might say, “To drive railroad spikes.” Another might respond, “To demolish walls and unwanted construction.” Still another might reply, “To exercise by pounding truck tires.” And yet one more person might answer, “To remember my father, who gave it to me.” Someone else might say that it has multiple or all or even none of the purposes listed above.
Does it make sense to even ask which of these people is the ‘correct’ one? Can they not all be correct? How could any of them be incorrect? Each person who ascribes purpose to a thing does so by his own standard.
(24) If not, what is the point of listening to this video?
I fail to see how the one has anything to do with the other.
(25) Where does morality come from?
From social rules and inferences regarding actions and behaviors.
(26) How do you determine right and wrong?
By considering the effects of an action or behavior in regards to a moral standard. That standard is usually generated by the desire to strive toward some particular goal or purpose. For example, if one considers general human well-being a goal towards which to strive, then there are actions which stand objectively in opposition to that goal (for an easy example, take wanton mass murder).
(27) When a lion kills a cub from another pride because that’s what natural selection has raised it to do, is that morally acceptable?
I don’t think you quite understand natural selection.
That said, ethicists will usually note that some capacity for understanding and judging one’s own actions is a necessary prerequisite to moral culpability. I personally believe that it is possible for some animals to possess these attributes to some degree. When my cats sneak up onto the table while I’m in another room, they know that they are doing something which they should not be doing. When I catch them in the act, they immediately run off and sulk just like little children do. This happens even if I do not yell or punish them in any way. They know that they have done something wrong and they act in such a way as to make that evident.
So, the only answer I can give regarding the lion scenario is, “I don’t know.” It is certainly possible that there may be some moral culpability in such a case. I am simply not familiar enough with lions or with their social structure to be able to speak on the matter.
(28) If evolution has put a sense of morality into us to help us survive, what makes our actions any better than any other animal’s actions?
Once again, I really don’t think you quite understand evolution.
That said, ‘better’ in what way? And why should they need to be?
(29) Is it morally acceptable for you to kill a toddler because you can no longer financially afford it?
(30) Is it morally acceptable to kill a fetus in the womb because you couldn’t financially support it?
(31) Is it morally acceptable to kill a baby after it has been born?
(32) How can you morally differentiate between a baby in the womb at six months and a baby born prematurely at six months?
(33) Who was Jesus?
Jesus of Nazareth was a Jewish preacher in 1st Century Roman Galilee who preached an apocalyptic message, gained a small but dedicated following, and was eventually crucified by Roman authorities for sedition against the state.
(34) Why did his disciples die saying that he rose from the dead?
I have no reason to think that they did any such thing.
However, I do believe that several followers of Jesus became sincerely convinced that he had been raised from the dead and that this was a miraculous sign confirming Jesus’ message and exalted place among humanity.
(35) Why does the Bible keep lining up with archaeology?
It is important to note that this is certainly not the case for every tale in the Bible. For example, there is absolutely no archaeological evidence for the Exodus, let alone for almost anything recounted in Genesis.
However, much of the Bible (though certainly not all of it) was written with the intent of conveying actual history. It is wholly unsurprising that we should find some significant corroboration in archaeological studies.
(36) Why do the three bloodiest regimes in history (Mao’s China, Nazi Germany, and Stalin’s Russia) come from Atheistic ideas?
Firstly, as has been noted many, many times, the German Nazi movement was in no way atheistic. The average German Nazi was a Christian, as were most Europeans of the time. In fact, 95% of Nazi German citizens identified as either Protestant or Catholic. Nazi soldiers wore belt buckles emblazoned with the phrase “Gott mit uns” (God with us). A great deal of the inspiration and justification for Nazi anti-semitism was drawn from the work of highly lauded Christian philosophers and theologians such as Martin Luther. The Nazi party actively shut down atheist organizations and emphatically rejected the notion of secular schooling. It is wholly erroneous and entirely preposterous to claim that Nazi Germany came from atheistic ideas.
As regards Mao’s China and Stalin’s Russia, atheism under these regimes acted as a means for ensuring that the state held the greatest authority over the hearts, minds, and bodies of its people by attempting to strip them of the state’s historic rival for that position– religion. The bloodshed of these regimes was not a consequence of atheist notions. It was the consequence of a desire for totalitarian control and atheism was employed as a means towards that totalitarian end.
While I am more than willing to continue to converse with Zac of Adherent Apologetics regarding any of the answers which I have here given, should he so desire, I thought it only fitting that I should end this response with a couple of quick questions for him. I touched on these somewhat in my answers, above; but as I consider them to be the most important foundational notions in this entire discussion, I figured I would isolate them here for particular emphasis.
- How do you define the term ‘God?’
- Why should I believe that such a thing exists?