FAQs for Atheists.
Questions an atheist gets asked often.
When in conversation with a believer an atheist will often be asked why we have decided to reject the proposition of the religious. Why would we we deny such a wholesome belief system that taught love and compassion? I do not claim to speak for all atheists and anti-theists — some of them would probably disagree with me — but I want to explain my reasoning for treating religion as the belief system of our species’ infancy. The long and short of my answer is this: because it is the belief system of our species’ infancy.
I, playing the role of an omnipotent being, will assume that we (myself and readers) are all aware that the Earth is not six-thousand years and that we are here as a result of evolution by natural selection. This does not include the misguided belief that evolution was guided by god. We are the result of billions of years of evolution that does not have foresight. We — at least semi-literate individuals — know this to be true but if you need convincing of that first, I recommend picking up Why Evolution is True by Jerry Coyne or The Greatest Show On Earth by Richard Dawkins.
This brings us back to a central question: why disbelieve in a magnificent being that guides us and protects us? Wouldn’t it be nicer if we had been under that divine dictatorship (although a believer would never refer to it as a dictatorship)? What about all the individuals that claim divine credence and talk of all the miracles done by god? What about all the individuals that claim to have been saved from cancer by god? What about x or y experience that someone has had?
These, among other questions, are often phrased in absolute vitriol and filled with fallacy. The questions I want to answer, besides the ones I just mentioned, are all taken from a post on Geeky Christian which has a list of questions someone would have for atheists, agnostics, Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists (which the authors seems to have a fetish with). By merely typing “questions atheists are asked” into a search engine, you will be met with a number of questions that are so unbelievably angry and stupid. I want to address some of those before getting into the mild ones.
If you do not want to see angry ranting at a man for asking stupid questions and making fallacious arguments, feel free to skip to the next section. As for those that are okay with me releasing a bit of my anger towards a mister William Lane Craig, read on. Admittedly, I am not familiar with Craig nor do I care to be. He may be a much nicer individual today for all I know, but a response he gave to an email from an atheist aggravates me to an excessive degree.
He responded to an individual named Luke. Luke tried to explain, as best he could, why he was an atheist. To quote his answer to the question What do you mean by (you don’t believe in God):
“I mean that I have a lack of belief the the existance of a deity, your christian God or any other.” [sic]
This is a reasonable response in its essence. He didn’t use any vitriolic words to answer the question and didn’t resort to ad hominem. Craig(-slist) does both of these things when addressing the point Luke was trying to make. Craig starts by relating Luke to a person who can’t sing but still tries for American Idol. This, in logical fallacies, is known as a weak/false analogy. When a person is trying out for a televised competition they are trying to prove themselves and their abilities to a panel of judges. They are trying to gain some sort of recognition for being ‘good’ at something even if they aren’t good at it. When attempting to ask a question to someone online you are not looking for approval; you are trying to figure out what another person is thinking and how they go about thinking.
Craig then goes on to claim that Luke said “there is no god” as an absolute assertion. As anyone will notice when reading the email, Luke had made no such claim. He posited that the creation myth is a myth, but that has no bearing on the claim of a god. Many modern religious people that accept evolution by natural selection enforce this as much as I’m about to (though for a different purpose). These are two separate entities — equally evil in nature and often hand-in-hand, but not inherent. When one states that there was never an original sin, one is not talking about the existence (or, more specifically, lack thereof) of an omnipotent being: they are talking about the nonexistence of original sin. Have I made myself clear? To quote Craig “You can’t sing! You’re making all sorts of mistakes and you don’t even know it.”
I am willing to level with Craig on one matter: the list of scholars (at least a majority, bar Darwin) that Luke mentioned were theists. Gregor Mendel was a monk when he did his pea plant experiments; Isaac Newton, a deranged lunatic who believed in alchemy (that Craig claims to admire not surprisingly), was theistic. When it comes to Darwin, you’ll note that, once he was met with the horrid treatment from theists against his magnificent theory, he eventually dropped religion. He began to adopt Aldous Huxley’s — one of his friends — term ‘agnostic’. A similar experience was to be had at the hands of the Catholic Church towards Galileo with predictable results. How dare a man say that the Earth is not the center of the universe?
It’s very clear when quickly glossing over Craig’s third section that he seems to assume that human life is easy to throw away. He believes that “God is under no obligation to prolong my or anybody else’s life for even another second.” If this is the humble nature Christians claim so often, humbleness is the wrong term. Servility and feelings of worthlessness are much more apt.
All of this is not even close to being as stupendously hideous as Craig’s final paragraph: “The rest of your letter is little more than sarcasm and incredulity and so requires little response.” To cop-out to criticism because it’s sarcasm is a sure sign of cowardice. In particular, the part of the e-mail Craig is referencing is this:
“. . . here is how morality plays out in the bible…; 1) God creates heaven and Earth and then he creates Humans; 2) God KNOWS that humans will sin; 3) God puts the tree of knowledge in the garden of Eden KNOWING it will drive Adam to sin; 4) God Determines that Adams sin is transmutable down to every single person that will ever exist. (Moral objection 1: The sins of the father are logically not related to the son in any way shape or form); 5) God decides that to punish people for this one sin they had nothing to do with or anything else he deams bad, they shall be sentenced to an eternity of burning hellfire. Infinite punishment for a finite crime? That sounds like Moral objection #2 to me; 6) When God sees that his creations have really gone bad, he drowns the world, killing millions of innocent people; 7) only 1600 years after the mass murder of his creations(following biblical chronology) they’ve already fallen back in to sin. So God, in his infinite wisdom, determines the best course of action, is to sacrafice his Son, who is part of himself, TO HIMSELF, to make up for the sins of the creations he made knowing they would sin! How in the world do you rectify this!?”
That is not sarcastic in the slightest. I can muster more sarcasm in a single grunt than Luke did in an entire list. What Luke brought to the table are legitimate criticisms and I can’t help but think it’s awfully telling how Craig avoided all of it. He ends his document by begging the question — using the same premise as his conclusion for a claim:
“Let me say merely that on the Christian view Jesus of Nazareth was truly God and truly man, so that by his death he might reconcile us to God. God knew from before the foundations of the world that He would do this to rectify man’s falling freely into sin. It is amazing, I agree, but God has given evidence for the efficacy of Christ’s atoning death by raising him from the dead, an event for which we have surprisingly good evidence.”
What evidence? You fail in presenting us with any and just tell us that there is evidence of some sort therefore we should convert to your cult. I’ve not seen any falsifiable evidence in support of such a claim and yet you still claim that there is. Where is it?
In response to the more calm questions I must try to be more level-headed. Here goes:
1. Are you absolutely sure there is no God? If not, then is it not possible that there is a God? And if it is possible that God exists, then can you think of any reason that would keep you from wanting to look at the evidence?
I had just posited that these questions are more mild and they will illicit a more mild response. In regards to the first question, I must first clarify (usually) which god the questioner is asking about. Is it Brahman? Buddha? Thor? Kim Jong Un? Is it not a theistic god at all, but a deistic one? Obviously, I needn’t ask this question for once because this list was found on a site with the word “Christian” in it. Am I absolutely certain there is no Christian god? Yes if only for the reason that the definition of the Christian god is self-contradictory. It’s a familiar point to be made about any theistic god: that omnipotence is unachievable and that omnibenevolence isn’t a term that could be used to describe a character that created this horrible world.
If you insist on being significantly more abstract with your definition I will concede that I cannot positively prove that a god (deistic god or any god that doesn’t claim omnipotence or omnibenevolence) does not exist. So In response to the second portion of this question, I suppose it would be possible. However, by the same token, everything that I even think remotely plausible has some positive claim to its validity. This is conspicuously absent when discussing the idea of a god. That being said, if there ever were any positive evidence for the existence of a god, I’d be sure to examine it and take it into account carefully. However, unlike the question implies, this does not exist.
4. Would you agree with me that just because we cannot see something with our eyes — such as our mind, gravity, magnetism, the wind — does not mean it doesn’t exist?
5. Would you also agree that just because we cannot see God with our eyes does not necessarily mean He doesn’t exist?
Considering the two previous questions posed by the author of this post, I think I would be the one making that claim and not them. We can’t see evolution with our eyes and yet we can observe the impact it has on us and other animals. When it comes to the mind, we actually can see it. When doing brain surgery for example, a doctor may need to have full access to the brain which the doctor grants themselves by cutting off the top part of the skull. And we needn’t actually cut off the scalp in order to see it: scans of the head provide us with clear detail what our brain looks like. When looking for a tumor, a scan can easily locate where it is and the doctor will provide instructions for where to head next.
When it comes to gravity, magnetism, and the wind, once again, we can see the effects of these things. We can detect roughly how black holes affect the space around them by drawing things closer to them or pulling things into orbit around them. We can roughly estimate the gravitational force of distant objects based on their size, what they are made of, among other factors. We can observe the magnetic influences of the polls of our planet when viewing the Borealis. We can observe a sheet of paper twirling through the air as the result of a gentle breeze. There are no such factors — and this is my answer to the fifth question — that are present when discussing a god.
10. Is there anything wrong anywhere? If so, how can we know unless there is a moral law?
In my opinion, there are several bad things that happen in the world. For example, the establishment of religious schools. However, as someone will be quick to notice, there are (however few) people that think the establishment of religious schools is a good thing. This is a central point to be made: morality is subjective. Do you think that abortion is wrong? That may differ from somebody else’s opinion. Do you think that the death penalty should ever be used? There is someone who disagrees with you. It is not that someone who disagrees is necessarily wrong on these types of matters, but that they just have different principles.
With that being said, just because I happen to think that something is wrong doesn’t mean that what I believe is some ‘moral law’. I am a mere mammal after all. You are too — you are in no position to define what a moral law is. What values this moral law would hold, you’d probably say if you’re a believer, belongs to the decision of (your) god. That would be fine and dandy if it weren’t for two glaring problems with this: all gods from all holy texts contradict what they think is moral several times and not all people worship the same deity.
When it comes to homosexuality for example there are prescriptions in the Bible and Koran that dictate the killing of all male homosexuals (female homosexuals are often not mentioned for some reason). There are many liberal clerics that assert that god doesn’t hate homosexuals because the god says to love all individuals as yourself. This is a contradiction that I don’t need to point out because the religious do it for me. With that being said, if we are to follow Craig’s example, we should treat ourselves like worthless play toys for a galactic dictator. For this reason, I’d hope that no Christian like Craig treats others like themselves.
When discussing religion, it will often be noted that there are thousands of religions that are practiced today. This figure (ranging from an estimated 2,500 to 4,200) doesn’t even take into account the hundreds of thousands of religions that have been made up by our species in the past. This includes Norse and Greek mythology, Tengrism, and countless others. These are just as likely to be real as Christianity and any other modern religion.
As such, there obviously must exist billions of people that do not subscribe to the Christian religion. Would any moral law have to affect them too, or just Christians? I am reminded of the Irish referendum of 1996 in which there was not even contemplation of Catholics not being allowed to divorce while allowing all other people to.
11. If every law needs a lawgiver, does it not makes sense to say a moral law needs a Moral Lawgiver?
Once again, there is no moral law.
I chose the questions I did from this list that were not about the origins of our cosmos so I can save those for another time. You can view the entire list of questions I pulled those from here.
There, as I mentioned, were other questions I felt like answering in this essay. (Though, I would be remiss to not mention, each are capable of being reserved to their own essay.)
1. Why disbelieve in a magnificent being that guides us and protects us? Wouldn’t it be nicer if we had been under that divine dictatorship (although a believer would never refer to it as a dictatorship)?
I’m not a fan of being treated like a child that needs cared for by an authoritarian Stalin or Yahweh. While these are two questions in their own right, I group them together for a reason that I hope is already clear.
Why do I disbelieve in it? Simple: there hasn’t been direct, falsifiable evidence for the existence of this “sky daddy”. Not to even mention that, if there were evidence, I wouldn’t drop on my knees in worship. First and foremost, I would like to be able to make my own decisions about what I can rather than having been walked on a leash by an “owner”. On the charge of protection, might I ask what I need protected from?
Certainly, we can establish that it isn’t from disease. Yahweh often uses this weapon once a biblical character makes a slight mistake. It isn’t from murder. If that were the case, I wonder what use Yahweh had in killing several of his worshipers through people during the Crusades. Or even if a person were a sincere believer in revelation, if caught in an alley only lit by shadows, one could only hope that a religious gang didn’t permanently cripple them. That’s a lie actually — they could also hope for their death.
One of the most sincere cop-outs modern religion has produced is the fear of the devil. Is god supposed to protect us from that? If that is the case, I must point out that he’s doing an awfully terrible job at it. The number of atheists, presumably all dictated by Satan, is growing at a tremendous rate. More than fifty percent of the world are not the subscribers of whatever religion you adhere to. This god, if they were to exist, must be incompetent.
2. What about all the individuals that claim divine credence and talk of all the miracles done by god?
Why should I believe that the popes, priests, imams, and mullahs are at all divine or more capable than I am of understanding “the word of god”? They are, as am I, mammals. What evidence is there? I presume that the only answer a pious person must be able to have is “it’s a matter of faith”. This, while an assumption, would only make it even more clear to me that it’s the popes, priests, imams, and mullahs that the pious worship, not god.
3. What about all the individuals that claim to have been saved from cancer by god?
This can take the form of “God cured me of my eczema” or “I was brought back to life by God.” Whatever form it takes, the argument is stupid. It inherently thanks the all powerful ruler for making them so that they are susceptible to the disease if not giving it to them himself. Why not thank, first and only, the individuals that helped fix god’s obvious mistake? I’m sure the doctors that shocked your heart back into beating are much more deserving of your gratitude.
4. What about x or y experience that someone has had?
Throughout the writing process of this missive I’ve come close to putting “I’m sorry (but) . . .” at the end or beginning of a sentence. Every single time I had to remind myself what I was meaning by each sentence. I am focusing all my criticism on the beliefs themselves, not the believers. Why would I ever apologize to the flat earth idea for criticizing it? Both propositions, mind you, are truth claims about the universe and assert that they have mounds of evidence behind them. All of the ideas held to be true without evidence or in contradiction to evidence can kiss my a priori.
When discussing personal experiences of temporary delusion with peers I will often reminisce on my experiences with “ghosts”. I always manage to find an explanation for x experience and y false belief. At one point I thought that my closet was haunted because my dog was barking into it. Only later did I find out the cause: the dog heard rats scurrying about behind the walls of the closet that I didn’t. (As it turns out, my closet was haunted: by sexual feelings towards other men.)
When my cousins and I thought that Bloody Mary hid within bathroom mirrors it was always interesting to note that — on the few occasions where we were brave enough to step into the restroom in the dark — she never came. And yet we were still terrified after years of attempts to call for her. And note something with this. If I were to add, after the fact, that Bloody Mary must then just affect adults it will appear that there is no reason to disbelieve in her after all. I can still claim, if I really want to prolong the myth based on Queen Mary I, that she can possibly still exist. What about all the people that claim to have had an experience with her?
If you claim that you have had an experience with z god I believe you. I believe that you have had an experience but I doubt that it was with any god. Abraham so famously heard god telling him to kill his child. If Abraham actually existed and this story isn’t just a fable, I believe that he believed he experienced something. It wasn’t god but something fairly close: psychosis. If someone claimed to hear the voice of god telling them how to kill their spouse in order to prove their faith, they’d be stuffed with other ill humans: behind cold, dark-iron bars. Why? Because they were suffering psychosis to the point of being a danger to other people. This however does not, just because a mad person acted on a delusion, mean that his delusion must somehow have some truth behind it.
The experience of one individual does not merit evidence. It merits not a second of my time usually. However, this is such a profoundly present principle throughout faith that I must combat it. Some may consider my parallel between ‘being saved’ and murdering a spouse to be quite harsh (if not a weak/false analogy) but they share a common ground: mistaken belief.
There was intent in pointing out my habit of apology. I often feel the need to apologize to a person who I’ve just told is wrong. I’ve come the recent conclusion (I’m not going to say revelation. . . .) that I simply cannot care about the feelings of an individual if I’m busy pointing out the false beliefs that have been unleashed upon the United States. When telling someone that they’re wrong I must clarify that I am not trying to demean the individual. What I am doing is making clear how much I care about the individual by trying to keep them from continuing to make the same errors in belief. In other words, on my quest for truth in the world I do hope that no individual takes personal offense to my treatment of beliefs — that is not my intention. However, I cannot assure anyone that their views will be spared the spear of skepticism.
If someone does become offended I do apologize, but only insofar as I feel vaguely bad for them. When someone is having a rough time (say, financial problems or alarming medical news) I may say “I am sorry”. However I am not responsible for the crisis. I feel bad that they have to experience it. I am sorry if you are offended, but if it’s because I questioned a belief of yours, to be quite frank, I don’t care. Sorry.