A few days ago, Davidian, another of the authors here at Answers in Reason, linked me to an article titled ’36 Questions for Atheists’ on a site called ‘Adherent Apologetics’. While generally I would not respond to an article like this, I thought it might be interesting to reply. It is not that there is anything particularly special about this list of questions that lead me to respond, it is, essentially, a collation of all of the common questions that we find in various other articles and YouTube videos directed at atheists. Though I guess that makes it slightly more appealing than many, as it is a sort of ‘greatest hits collection’, meaning that all of the common questions can be answered in one go. The reason I am responding to it is more that it has come at the right time, at a time when I actually feel like publicly responding to something like this. I have been tempted in the past to answer things like this publicly, rather than simply going through the questions thinking about my own responses, because it seems like an interesting exercise. In my opinion all atheists should be able to respond to a list like this, atheists should be able to defend their positions on questions such as these. It’s sort of funny, because I called this list a ‘greatest hits compilation’ of these kinds of questions, but I would imagine that a lot of the responses from atheists would also make up a ‘greatest hits compilation’ from the atheist side. Anyway, here is my attempt to answer these questions.
“1. Why is there something rather than nothing?”
This is an interesting question, and also a philosophically relevant question of course. My own thinking is that there just has not been a time that there was nothing. Most theists believe this too of course, with that something always having been God, or some variant thereof. The difference here is that rather than some non-material being existing in philosophical nothingness, I believe that something physical has always existed. What that something physical is I am unsure, and not even sure that we will ever know. However, there are just too many problems with the concept of the eternal immaterial being existing in philosophical nothingness that stop me from believing that it is the answer the question.
“2. Is there any evidence that suggests the universe is eternal?”
I think that’s a complicated question, and one whose answer is directly affected by what is meant by ‘the universe’. Do I think that what is commonly referred to by most people, especially Christians, Muslims, and other theists, as ‘the universe’ is eternal? Well, no. The Big Bang Theory seems to point towards ‘this’ as having a beginning. However, I am unsure that ‘this’ is all there is and all there has ever been with regards to the universe. I think we have much more to learn, and before we learn that everything we posit about ‘before’, and ‘cause’, is based on deductions made using insufficient data. Again, as above, my problem with claiming God as the answer is with that answer itself.
“3. If not, why do Atheists hold onto the idea and say you have debunked the Kalam Cosmological Argument?”
I can’t really answer for other atheists, but one of the common reasons I have come across has to deal with cause and effect itself. The common intuition is that for every effect there must be a cause. However, there are arguments from within Quantum Mechanics that argue that we actually see effects in our universe that appear to have no cause. However, I’m quite happy to accept, for the sake of argument, that everything that begins to exist has a cause. My problem with the KCA comes from elsewhere. My response to the KCA is not that it has been debunked, at least the classical opening 3 lines of the syllogism. My response is that what is appended afterwards, the arguments for an eternal, timeless, spaceless, formless, intelligent creator do not actually solve the problem they claim to solve. So, for me at least, it is not that the KCA has been debunked, it is that the arguments for God that come afterwards fail to make their case.
“4. If so, why do the vast majority of scientists reject this idea?”
I’m unsure of what idea is being spoken of here.
“5. Why is the universe so fine-tuned?”
I’m not sure the universe is ‘so fine-tuned’. The idea expressed with the term ‘fine-tuning’ is faulty, because ‘fine-tuning’ implies agency, and choices in how the universe turned out. I think the conditions of the universe are conducive the conditions within the universe itself. Until more is understood about the universe I’m unwilling to fully get behind the idea of fine-tuning. We know so little that this seems somewhat of an extravagant claim, and a claim made based not on an understanding of the universe but a lack of understanding of the universe.
“6. If your answer is the multiverse, why is there no evidence for that theory?”
What would count as evidence for the multiverse theory?
“7. Is it possible that there is no natural explanation for the origin of life?”
Of course it’s possible, it just seems more likely that there is a natural explanation.
“8. Where does consciousness come from?”
Consciousness comes from the brain. I’m a property dualist, I think ontologically consciousness is created by physical properties within the brain.
“9. Do you lack a belief that God exists or would you say that God does not exist?”
I would say that God does not exist.
“10. Do you lack a belief that Zeus exists, or do you believe that Zeus does not exist?”
I would say that Zeus does not exist.
“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?”
Irrelevant to me.
“12. Do you act according to what you believe, or what you just lack a belief in?”
It depends on the action, there will be times that what people lack a belief in influences those actions, but most people generally act on what they believe.
“13. What evidence is there that Atheism corresponds with reality?”
What sort of evidence are you looking for here? My evidence that atheism corresponds with reality is the faulty concept of God. Its incoherence and inconsistency lead me to believe that God does not exist. It obviously does not convince you, or you too would be atheist. So, really, what kind of evidence are you looking for here?
“14. Is Atheism a worldview?”
I think it is part of a worldview, and influences the atheists worldview when it comes to accepting certain ideas and propositions, but I do not think it is a worldview in and of itself.
“15. If not, what is your worldview?”
I do not have a simple identifier for my worldview I’m afraid. My worldview, like anyone else’s worldview, is more complicated than a single and simple identifier. I hold various beliefs on various topics, all of which are informed by various philosophical, empirical, emotional, and scientific viewpoints and beliefs.
“16. What would convince you that God exists?”
That’s an interesting question. I would assume that most answers you will get to this are along the lines of ‘evidence’ and ‘testable repeatable empirical evidence’. However, good coherent and consistent philosophical arguments and concept would at least be an opener for me. As an olive branch, I leave myself open to arguments from design. As stated before, I am willing to entertain a reasonable opening statement. My problem comes not from the claim that there could be a god, or that properties A, B, or C give us cause to argue for a designer. My problem is the arguments for, and concepts of, the designer.
“17. Are you willing to follow the evidence, even if it leads to a different understanding of how the universe works?”
Of course, I am always researching various ideas and topics, and have changed my viewpoints several times according to the research. An important question here is, are you? How many Christians and Muslims are willing to do what you ask of atheists here?
“18. If Jesus rose from the dead, would you become a Christian?”
No, as while I think there are some excellent ideas within Christianity, there are also those that I disagree with. Also, in what way are you inferring his ‘rising from the dead’ here. Is this the accounts written in the Bible, or is this question inferring Jesus rising from the dead directly in front of me? This detail changes things somewhat.
“19. If you wouldn’t become a Christian, why would you ever accept that he rose from the dead?”
This is somewhat of a disingenuous question, and something of a non-sequitor here. Someone not wanting to become a Christian does not necessarily lead to them rejecting the idea that Jesus rose from the dead. I will accept that there are those for whom an anti-Christian stance will influence their psychology when it comes to rejecting the idea of Jesus and the idea that Jesus rose from the dead. However, this question ignores that there are many good reasons to reject the idea that Jesus rose from the dead, especially now that we are this far from the recordings of the claim of said event. A more honest question here would be to ask atheists why the reject the idea that Jesus rose from the dead.
“20. Why do Atheists keep insisting faith is blind trust, when that’s not what Christians or the Bible say?”
Not all atheists do, if you look hard enough you will even find atheists arguing those atheists insisting faith is blind trust and other faulty definitions.
“21. Why do you want material evidence for an immaterial God?”
“22. Is there a purpose to life?”
This question is a little open ended, do you mean is there an inherent teleology to life? If that is what you mean, then I would have to answer no. If you mean can we, as conscious self-aware beings that exist inside of a society with a multitude of options gain purpose, then the answer is yes.
“23. If there is, by what standard do you determine life has purpose?”
Again, I do not believe there is an inherent teleology to life.
“24. If not, what is the point of listening to this video?”
What video? There was no video posted with this list of questions. Though I will say here that I am glad that these questions came in text format rather than as a video, as I probably would not be answering them if they came in video form.
“25. Where does morality come from?”
Another interesting question. I think the genealogy of morality is complicated, however, it comes from us, our psychology, the evolution of society, our social construction, and our education.
“26. How do you determine what is right and what is wrong?”
Again, interesting question. My moral system is one that is constructed from several different sources, like virtue ethics, utilitarianism, preference satisfaction, welfarism, objective list theory, and some others. I don’t think any one moral system has got it quite right.
“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 think it’s amoral.
“28. If evolution has put a sense of morality into us to help us survive, what makes our actions any better than any other animals actions?”
I don’t think ‘evolution has put a sense of morality into us to survive’, I think we have created and evolved a sense of morality that is then taught to us through social construction. There’s a nuance there. I’m also not sure that our actions are ‘better than any other animals actions’. I’d say agency, understanding, self-reflection, a shared space, and some other things, means that morality means more to us than it does to an animal without those things. Morality is a concept created by humans, and passed down through the ages through our environment. It is a complicated topic that will be discussed, argued, and refined, for a long time to come.
“29. Is it morally acceptable for you kill a toddler because you can no longer financially support it?”
Only if you hold to something like moral subjectivism.
“30. Is it morally acceptable to kill a fetus in the womb because you couldn’t financially support it?”
That seems like a perfectly valid reason to have an abortion to me, but the emotional loading of the language is a bit disingenuous and makes me doubt the intentions behind asking the question.
“31. Is it morally acceptable to kill a baby after it has been born?”
That’s a very general question, loaded in such a way to elicit a horrified response. As the question above, it makes me doubt the intentions behind asking the question. In answer to the question though, that would be very contextual. There could be perfectly valid reasons for terminating the life of a baby.
“32. How can you morally differentiate between a baby in the womb at 6 months and a baby born prematurely at 6 months?”
“33. Who was Jesus?”
That’s a bit of a big question, but to reduce it to its most simple form, Jesus was who the New Testament is based upon.
“34. Why did his disciples die saying that he rose from the dead?”
Why did Mohammed’s disciples say that Mohammed spoke to an angel and recited words directly from God? Why did Mohammed’s disciples die for the claim that Mohammed was a prophet? Why did followers of Jim Jones happily commit suicide and murder other followers in his name? Why did the followers of Heaven’s Gate kill themselves willingly because of the leaders teachings?
“35. Why does the Bible keep lining up with archaeology?”
Why do some Greek myths line up with archaeology? And why do some parts of the Bible not line with archaeology? Not all myths are cut whole cloth from falsehoods and fictions.
“36. Why do the three bloodiest regimes in History, (Mao’s China, Nazi Germany, and Stalin’s Russia) come from Atheistic ideas?”
They didn’t, they came from political ideas. Also, including Nazi Germany in here as ‘atheistic’ is somewhat dishonest, I would suggest reading its history from academic sources, not religious ones.
So, there’s my answers to the 36 questions. There were some interesting questions in there, but there were a lot of dishonest and disingenuous questions in there too. On the whole I feel that the intent of the questions was not to engage atheists, or honestly learn what atheists think. Though I could be very wrong of course. The one thing I did notice while answering the questions was a distinct lack of questions enquiring into why individuals might not believe in the questioner’s god. There were several questions designed to make the atheist look bad, but very much a lack of ‘why do you not believe in my god’. The question ‘what would it take for you to believe in God’ was a good start though. It’s a shame there were not more questions along those lines, ones designed to get at what the atheist believes about the questioner’s God, as those are the important questions.
For those interested, the list of questions can be found here:
Some of my problems with the concept of God.