• Fifteen Questions for Atheists

    On the blog Loving Christ with Your Mind there was a post called “Doubting Atheism: Fifteen Questions for Atheists.” What follows are the questions and my answers.

    1. Why are atheists so obsessed with religion? 

    If life were meaningless and ends at the grave, why even bother. If life is just a monopoly game that’s going to be put up, why even try to take the property and money of others (in a metaphoric sense, of course)? It doesn’t make much sense. Given atheism, nothing really matters since it’s not going to last. So, again I ask you, why bother with religion and its negative effects?

    Life is supremely valuable in part because it will come to an end. People take for granted things that are constants (when’s the last time you thought about how thankful you are for running water?) but value and appreciate things that are fleeting. Our lives are worth protecting because they are the only ones we have.

    As to atheists’ “obsession” with religion, the amount of interest that most atheists have in religion is not nearly enough to be called an “obsession.” At best, writing about religion might be like a hobby. The reason we spend any time on religion at all is because we have usually thought about and read about it to figure out the truth of the matter, and now that we have an informed opinion, it’s only natural to want to express. It’s like how someone who spends twenty years studying Ancient Greece will want to express their opinions about Greek history.

    2. Why are atheists so obsessed with monotheistic religions? 

    Why only the big three? If all religions are equally false, why only bother with Christianity, Judaism, and Islam? What about Hinduism or deism? Again, it doesn’t make much sense. Perhaps there’s a reason that atheists are so amazingly obsessed with Christianity?

    I’m glad you recognize that atheists attack Islam and Judaism as well. Often, we atheists are accused of being sympathetic to the muslims! That said, Deists believe in only one god, as well. There are probably several reasons atheists spend more time on Christianity and other religions, here are a couple:

    1. You don’t see deists trying to scrub evolution out of high school textbooks, rallying against abortion, oppressing women (as muslims do, and to a lesser extent Christians).

    2. Christianity is more widely known about and more culturally relevant than Deism or Hinduism. Most atheists in the English-speaking world know a good deal about Christianity, and they were raised in it. It only makes more sense to speak about what we know rather than what we don’t.

    3. How do atheists explain the beginning of the universe? 

    Often atheists have pointed to the Big Bang to justify their worldview, but the Big Bang actually proves theism. Here’s a simple syllogism:

    1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause
    2. The universe began to exist
    3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.

    There is great evidence for the Big Bang. We can be led to it by first stating this fact: The universe is either eternal, or it is not. If it’s not, than my argument is scientifically supported. The universe cannot be eternal because of the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which states that energy is running out. If the universe is eternal, it should’ve run out a long time ago. The Big Bang proves God because it proves the universe came into being from nothing, and nothing cannot create nothing, for it is nothing. Therefore, Something must have caused the Big Bang. So how do you explain away this evidence for the existence of God?

    The big bang does not prove that the universe came from nothing. The big bang is equally compatible with the view that matter and energy have existed for as long as time has existed (whether time is eternal or not). On this view, there was no time “before” the universe, just like there is no “north” of the north pole. For the universe to “come into being out of nothing” there would have had to have been a moment before its existence when no matter, energy, or space was present. But no one has ever proven that such a “moment of nothingness.” The big bang does not show this, and I’d challenge you to cite a peer-reviewed physics publication stating otherwise.

    4. How do atheists explain away objective moral values?

    Objective moral values are ones that are independent of human thought. If God doesn’t exist, they wouldn’t exist either. There’d be no one in charge to make a universal standard of right and wrong. It’d simply be a matter or opinion. But moral relativism fails. For one, it says that moral claims are only a matter of opinion but it asserts that as a fact. Also, we know things such as rape, murder, and child abuse are wrong, and if everyone agreed that they were right, they’d still be wrong. We know things are objectively wrong because we feel guilt when we do what is wrong; If morality was just our opinion, we wouldn’t feel guilty, for we would be doing what is right for us. So how do atheists justify the fact of objective morality?

    If morals are merely God’s commands, then they aren’t really objective, they’re subjective, part of God’s mind. That said, words like “wrong” is probably a label describing the fact that someone is treating someone else in a way that they would not like to be treated. This seems to be the way this label is used, and so that is it’s proper definition. Actions that are “wrong” are not determined by opinion but by whether they fit such a definition or not.

    5. How do materialists justify immaterial realities?

    Logic, math, morality, and other things such as free will, human dignity, and time exist. These things are all immaterial. We can’t put the number 7 or the Law of Noncontradiction in a test tube. But if God doesn’t exist, matter would be all there is, since there’d be nothing to be the foundation of immaterial things. Everything would come through by matter, and thus, be matter. How can atheists give an answer to this argument?

    I don’t think the argument here follows; if there are immaterial things, why couldn’t they exist without a “foundation”? That said, I view numbers not as “immaterial things” but as names for patterns that exist within space and time. This is known as Nominalism.

    6. How do atheists explain the existence of the universe?

     If atheism is true, there isn’t a reason for anything. It’s all an accident. There isn’t any purpose. But if there weren’t a purpose for anything, how do things exist? If God does not exist, the universe would have no meaning for its existence, and would, thus, not exist. So how can we living in a universe that both exists and has no reason for its existence?

    The best answer I’ve heard to this question is that something is more likely than nothing. There are infinite number of ways for there to be something (a universe with one atom, or two, or three, all the way up to infinity) and only one way for there to be nothing.

    7. How do you explain away circumstantial evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus?

    Here are just two facts that help lead up to the conclusion that Christ is risen: 1. The early Christians died for their belief that He rose from the dead. You don’t die for what you know is a lie. No one does, and no one ever could. 2. Christianity started in Jerusalem. If the tomb weren’t empty, the Jewish pharisees could’ve proved it and ended the Christian movement. But they didn’t. How can an atheistic worldview explain this?

    I’ve written an entire book addressing the so-called “evidence” Jesus’ resurrection. In a nutshell, there isn’t any good historical evidence that the original disciples died for their belief. Further, other people have died for things that they had clear evidence were false. As to the empty tomb, we don’t have much historical evidence that Jesus was buried in a tomb per se, and we have plenty of reason to think, based on the behavior of religious movements today, that a full tomb probably would not have made any difference to the early Christians. All of the claims I’ve made here are documented and referenced extensively in my book.

    8. If the gospels are just pieces of historical fiction, why are there embarrassing details in there? 

    Jesus being accused of being a demon. A prostitute wiping Jesus’ feet, which was seen as a sexual approach. Peter being called “Satan” and denying Jesus three times. Jews being told to pay taxes to the Roman empire. One criteria of finding a historical truth is to see if the text is embarrassing to the writer. If it is, they probably didn’t make it up. Could you clear this up for me?

    No atheist has to maintain that the gospels are “historical fiction.” They could very easily be based on real events with some embellished details. That said, the “embarrassing details” have reasonable explanations. Here’s just one: Many stories that are certainly false could be viewed as embarrassing, such as the story of the god Attis being castrated or the story of the god Romulus killing his brother Remus. Historian Richard Carrier has documented a number of other problems with applying the criterion of embarrassment to the gospel stories, and he details a much greater number of severe problems than I do. See Proving History, chapter 5.

    9. If we are just matter, and not souls, why would some atheists support life-sentences?

    The matter in our body is totally changed out every seven years. If Cartesian dualism—a view I embrace—is false, and we are just matter, that means I am not the same person as I was seven years ago.  And this is also true for a criminal. The justice system is completely futile if atheism is true. If matter is who we are, why don’t we change as our matter changes?

    I’m not sure that “the matter in our body is totally changed out every seven years.” Nonetheless, I’ll proceed as if it is true because my position on the issue doesn’t change whether it is true or false. The thing is, what “you” are does not boil down to any exact atom or even collection of atoms. Rather, what “you” are is some general configuration of atoms. Example: If a take a computer and chop it, melt it, and use the metals and plastics to create other stuff, is the new stuff still a computer? Of course not. Likewise, if someone built a computer made up of tiny individual “cells” that changed out every so often, it would not be incorrect to refer to such a computer as being the same entity over a long period of time, even after all of its original cells had been replaced, as long as there was some continuity in the computer’s stored memory, function, etc. throughout that time.

    10. Why do so many atheists deny historical facts? 

    The common view today that most atheists hold is that Jesus didn’t exist. But Jesus did exist. How do I know this? Historically reliable sources such as Josephus, Tacitus, Lucian, the Jewish Talmud, and Pliny the Younger wrote about Jesus. So why do atheists hold to the Christ-myth hypothesis in spite of what we know through historical facts?

    I don’t know whether “most atheists” believe Jesus did not exist, although certainly a very large number do. Atheists may adopt this view for a variety of reasons. Maybe they want another good stick to beat Christianity with. A lot of people are fascinated with theories that are shocking, that cause us to see a thing in a way we have never seen it before. Some may believe, rightly or wrongly, that they have good historical reasons for thinking Jesus did not exist. Historian Richard Carrier seems to be an example of the latter, as he is a bona fide historian and a very bright guy who thinks Jesus may not have existed.

    Personally, I think Jesus did exist, though the evidence is not as strong as you think.

    11. Why do most atheists, such as Richard Dawkins and Daniel Denette, equivocate evolution with atheism?

    Evolution does not prove God exists, nor does it prove God doesn’t exist. Darwin did not kill God. Most Christians accept evolution. Why, then, do so many atheists point to evolution as if it disproves Christianity?

    Some atheists, Dennett and Dawkins especially, say things that imply evolution is the death of God. Why do they say this? I don’t have a good answer for that. I do, however, that evolution qualifies as good evidence against the existence of God, though it doesn’t “prove” with absolute certainty that there’s no God. It just strengthens the probability that atheism is true. For why, see here.

    12. Why don’t atheists actually question everything?

     They’re always advocating skepticism, but fail to question their own views, including that of skepticism. If we should doubt everything, why not doubt atheism?

    I can’t speak for all atheists, but I personally advocate questioning everything, including my own viewpoints.

    13. Where do rights come from?

     Most atheists are supporters of the gay rights movement, and are furious when someone denies a homosexual of his or her rights just because of their sexual orientation. So it’s pretty clear that atheists believe inalienable rights exist. But where do they come from? How can they be explained naturally?

    “Rights” are choices people are allowed to make for themselves. The reason people can make those choices are because the law allows it. The reason the law allows it is because it was chosen to be so by the people. The reason the people chose it is because they would want the ability to determine the choice in question if they were that person.

    14. How can there be no objective evil, but religion causes it?

    There is objective evil, anything that demonstrably fits the definition of “wrong” is evil, see above.

    15. Why are there no good reasons to believe atheism is true?

    There are lots of arguments for atheism. See here.

    Category: Uncategorized

    Article by: Nicholas Covington

    I am an armchair philosopher with interests in Ethics, Epistemology (that's philosophy of knowledge), Philosophy of Religion, Politics and what I call "Optimal Lifestyle Habits."

    22 comments

    1. I don’t see why we need to answer some of these “questions”, No. 3 assumes that theism has an explanation, but ‘god-did-it’ is not a very good explanation, so if the atheist cannot explain that, neither does the theist, the same goes for objective moral values ,the existence of the universe and human rights. Also No. 15 is not even a question, but an unfounded affirmation.

    2. I actually like lists of questions like this. Whether you are an atheist or a theist, I think it is of paramount importance to ask yourself these kinds of questions to see if your understanding of the world is coherent.
      Some pretty good answers here (i didn’t much like your definition of ‘wrong’) and i think you did well to balance content with brevity – it would have been all too easy for this to have been ten times longer than it actually was 🙂

      Jim

        1. we cannot be sure of anything because everything we know is falsifiable. ask me to prove evolution, I don’t have the evidence. My belief doesn’t make it true. Given empiricism, even if someone has proof of something I don’t have, it is irrational for me to be certain based on testimony.

    3. Let me leave a comment that many seem to get confused with. You said, “The big bang does not prove that the universe came from nothing.”

      This is absolutely correct. Inflationary theory talks about the universe inflating from a very small dense point. Anything before that and the theory offers nothing except inference and speculation. Sometimes people get confused with the ‘theory’ (The universe is expanding) with conjectures made about the theory (‘Time’ started with the Big Bang for example).

      To say ‘time’ started with the Big bang is 100% pure speculation with not a shred of evidence and leads to contradictions and absurdities. Inflationary theory has good answers to the fact of inflation but offers little as to why it expands in the first place. The cyclic model answers this in depth more than inflation but is not without its own assumptions!

    4. 10) … Historically reliable sources such as Josephus, Tacitus, Lucian, the Jewish Talmud, and Pliny the Younger wrote about Jesus.

      Not a single one of those wrote of firsthand encounters with Jesus H. Christ. The earliest individual mentioned, Josephus, was born in 37 AD, so could not conceivably have met Jesus H. Christ in the flesh. Rather, they wrote ot the existence of the early Christian church, which is not the question, is not controversial , and is not denied by atheists.
      RE the Talmud: I don’t think so. Could you please provide some reliable citations for that?

    5. 6) … But if there weren’t a purpose for anything, how do things exist?

      This doesn’t even make sense. The writer need to clarify to himself whether he is asking ‘how’ or ‘why.’

    6. 4) Objective moral values are ones that are independent of human
      thought.

      What about nonhuman thought? Anything that smacks of human exceptionalism is a red flag to someone educated in modern biology. Would one human forcing copulation on another be “objectively wrong” to a conscious being of another species? Do we apply the same standards to nonhuman animals? (Of course not, as anyone familiar with animal husbandry knows.)

      So consider this: We share a few billion years of evolutionary history with our conspecifics. This influences the moral values we hold. Therefore all humans can share a moral value without it being truly objective. This denies complete moral relativism at the same time that it denies truly objective morality. I have seen the word intersubjective used for this.

    7. 13) Where do rights come from?

      Certainly not from religion in general, nor from Christianity in specific. Christianity was very much in power in Europe for a millenium before the enlightenment happened. This period was not known as a golden age of human rights. Rather, a large portion of it is referred to as ‘the dark ages.” A student of the history of thought could easily trace the development of the concept of rights by studying the writings of John Locke, et al. Apparently you have not done so.

    8. 14) How can there be no objective evil, but religion causes it?

      Note the switcheroo, from “objective evil” to “evil.” If I didn’t believe in objective evil, that does not require that I not believe in evil. That’s why the words are different. It is the power of adjectives. I am not impressed with the care taken in the construction of these questions.

    9. 11) Why do most atheists, such as Richard Dawkins and Daniel Denette, equivocate evolution with atheism?
      Evolution does not prove God exists, nor does it prove God
      doesn’t exist. Darwin did not kill God. Most Christians accept
      evolution. Why, then, do so many atheists point to evolution as if it
      disproves Christianity?

      As for the fraction of Christians who accept evolution, could you cite a reliable reference please? The numbers I have seen say that 40-50% of the US population are sympathetic to young earth creationism. And that is of the entire population, not just Christians; and that is young earth creationism, not all kinds of creationism. And the reason for the prominence of creationism in the US is clearly the Christian religion.

      .
      Now, to address the broader point: acceptance of the well-established scientific theory of evolution, along with the rest of modern science which addressed the age of the Earth, a lack of a global flood, etc. etc. etc. does not prove that Christianity is wrong. It just supplies a better explanation for how the world could have come to be as we see it; an explanation which is backed up by empirical data.
      .
      Also, it severely undercuts the central mythology of Christianity. If you, as a more enlightened Christian, accept evolution, then the whole Adam and Eve and the apple story is out. The most you could salvage is some wishy-washy nonliteral allegory.
      And if the Adam and Eve and the apple story is out, then what did Jesus H. Christ die for, an allegory?
      .
      Evolution goes even further in providing explanations. See my separate response to the question of “objective” morality, which invokes evolutionary thinking.

    10. 7) If the tomb weren’t empty, the Jewish pharisees could’ve proved it and ended the Christian movement.

      OMFSM, the empty tomb argument.

      .
      I have a miniature invisible unicorn in the palm of my hand. Do you see it? No? Well that proves it’s invisible!!!!11!

    11. RE #11, evolution: Here is a chart on Support for evolution by religious bodies

      Based on Pew survey, taken in the US, the graph is of “percentage who agree that evolution is the best explanation for the origin of human life on earth.” Note that you could word the question differently; on the age of the Earth, not ask specifically about humans, etc.

      Anyway,Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish and Unaffiliated range from 81% to 72%.

      Catholics, 58%. Other Christian groups 54 – 8%. Muslim 45%. Mormon 22%.

      Atheist/Agnostic not divided out, presumably folded into ‘unaffiliated.’ This bar graph does not account for the differing size of the groups.

    12. In U.S., 46% Hold Creationist View of Human Origins

      “Forty-six percent of Americans believe in the creationist view that God
      created humans in their present form at one time within the last 10,000
      years” – i.e. YEC.

      Based on a long-running Gallup poll, graphed over 30 years. Not broken down by religious affiliation.

      “The Most Religious Americans Are Most Likely to Be Creationists”
      With a table of church attendance vs. YEC, theistic evolution, or atheistic evolution

      Bottom line: the statement that “Most Christians accept evolution” is in question, at least in the US.

    13. Hey, I liked these answers. I was considering answering these questions myself, but I don’t feel I need to now, you did a good job!

    14. Hello.

      I’m a Christians and I think these points are really well articulated.
      They contain a lot of truth.

      However, these premises are incomplete. These are based on an atheistic presupposition.
      It is incompatible with a faith based presupposition.

      Well done though. A refreshing work most certainly.

      🙂

    15. Can I re-write question 6?
      How do [theists] explain the existence of [God]?
      If [theism] is true, there isn’t a reason for [God]. It’s all an accident. There isn’t any purpose. But if there weren’t a purpose for anything, how does [God] exist? If [a super-duper-creator that created God] does not exist, [God] would have no meaning for [his] existence, and would, thus, not exist. So how can [God] both exists and has no reason for [his] existence?

    16. 1. Why are atheists so obsessed with religion?

      Why were poor people during the Great Depression obsessed with the stock market? Why are British Anarchists obsessed with the Queen? Why were French Revolutionaries obsessed with the king? Why are Arabs, black people and basically all leftists obsessed with Trump?

      2. Why are atheists so obsessed with monotheistic religions?

      Why did you bother asking this question? Why bother making it 2 questions? I mean, this is just the last question with another word added. Are you padding the length for some reason?

      3. How do atheists explain the beginning of the universe?

      Before or after the Big Bang?

      4. How do atheists explain away objective moral values?

      Morality is about how humans treat other humans.

      Objectivity is outside of humans.

      “objective moral” is an oxymoron.

      5. How do materialists justify immaterial realities?

      huh?

      6. How do atheists explain the existence of the universe?

      You already asked that.

      7. How do you explain away circumstantial evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus?

      There’s various hypothesese. One is that the 2nd Jesus was just some nut, not unlike Anastasia.

      8. If the gospels are just pieces of historical fiction, why are there embarrassing details in there?

      The Simpsons makes fun of itself, the fox network and television in general all the time.

      Terrance and Philip is a satire of South Park within South Park, the animation is a cruder version of the rest of the animation on South Park, South Park has been accused of being “nothing but fart jokes” whereas Terrance and Philip really is nothing but fart jokes, the Stick of Truth videogame is very accurate to the tv show except when you go to Canada which basically suddenly turns it into an Atari game, etc.

      Some versions of batman poke fun at other version of Batman. In fact, the worst versions of Batman are the ones that don’t take iteself seriously at all (except lego batman).

      Shall I go on? i got several more examples but that’dmake this even longer.

      9. If we are just matter, and not souls, why would some atheists support life-sentences?

      Because hell may or may not be real. Or maybe the Zodiac killer is right and the people you murder become your slaves in the afterlife. Maybe vikings are right and murder gets you into Valhalla. Maybe Muslim terrorists are right. Either way, we shouldn’t leave it to the gods to make sure murderers suffer for their crimes. We need to build hell for them right here in the real world. Some murderers want to die. Giving people what they want is not a deterrent.

      Also, if you execute someone and later it turns out they didn’t do it, you can’t just let them out.

      10. Why do so many atheists deny historical facts?

      The Bible does not count as history.

      You tell me why you deny Homer’s Odyssey and I’ll tell you why I deny Moses.

      11. Why do most atheists, such as Richard Dawkins and Daniel Denette, equivocate evolution with atheism?

      We don’t. You guys are the ones who mix them up.

      12. Why don’t atheists actually question everything?

      We do. All self respecting skeptics do. Frankly, I think you’re just projecting your own narrow-mindedness onto us.

      13. Where do rights come from?

      From rebellion.

      14. How can there be no objective evil, but religion causes it?

      What is it with Theists and “objective”? And if Atheists are the evil ones, how come “child murderers are bad” is obvious to us but you need it explained to you?

      15. Why are there no good reasons to believe atheism is true?

      That is nonsense on 2 levels;

      1) loaded question

      2) Atheism is a lack of belief in a god or gods. A lack of belief can’t “be true”. The thing we lack belief in can be false, though.

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