Friday, August 6, 2010

Ask an Atheist Project: magx01

In this blog, you, the reader, get the chance the read several varying atheistic takes on common questions asked of us godless heathens by god fearing folk. We are going to all be answering the same 13 questions, and then we are each supposed to choose a random 14th question to respond to. In addition to this, you are also going to be able to read the take of a (reasonable, intelligent, atheist friendly) Islamic theist (Vestsao) answering from the perspective of an atheist. Sort of a "walk a mile in his shoes" sort of thing.

1) What is an atheist?/What do atheists believe?/Don't atheists worship Satan?/Can you prove that god does not exist?

A) At its core, atheism is the lack of a belief in god(s). Atheism is not a worldview; it has no edicts, dogma, or tenets. It is literally and simply the lack of a belief in god(s). This is expressed in the etymology of the word:

Theism=belief in god(s) (deities)

A-theism=the lack of said belief (the prefix A denotes absence)

However, it is important to note that many atheists can and do go one step further, and assert that they believe there is probably no god. It may seem like a fine distinction, but it's an important one. It's a different matter to not only say that "I do not believe in any gods" (because I have not been convinced of the existence of any through evidence and reasoned argument) but to say "I believe there are (quite likely) no gods." To state that one does not believe means that they have not been convinced by evidence. To say that one believes there to be no gods means that not only has one not been convinced, but one has been convinced of the opposite.

Note that this second position is not a bald assertion with no rational basis or empirical leg to stand on. It is NOT a faith claim. It's based on both the lack of evidence for the existence of any of these deities, as well as the contrarian evidence (in the form of scientific knowledge that contradicts specific god claims).

B) Atheists do not believe in Satan. You cannot worship that in which you do not possess belief. So, NO!

C) Can you prove that god does not exist? There are so many ways to answer this that leapt into my brain. Some of them snarky, some of them not. Here, for fun, are a few:

-No, can you?

-Which god?

-That's not my/our job. The burden of proof is always on those making the positive claim aka asserting existence. If you do not convince us that your claims are true, then disbelief is not only warranted, it's actually the axiomatically correct position. Think of it as being analogous to a court case, with you being the prosecution and the atheists being the jury. You have to prove guilt (god) and if we have a reasonable doubt, we vote not guilty. We are not then tasked with proving innocence. It would be impossible for us to probe such a negative. It's like me asking you if you believe in alien life forms, and then if you say no, saying "can you prove they don't exist?" How would you possibly demonstrate such a thing?

2) Aren't there some things that science can't explain? Also, how can you trust science since it's always changing?

As of now, there are a multitude of things that science cannot explain. This does not discredit science in any way. That would be like saying doctors have no credibility becauase they cannot cure everything.

As for science always changing, that's a positive. It means that science is amenable to the most important aspect of the world around us in terms of assessing truth claims: evidence. Scientific theories are formulated to explain the reality of the world around us. They are shaped to fit the evidence, not vice versa. With every change, with every modification, science gets better. Theories get better and more accurate, and our understanding of the world in which we reside grows.

3) What evidence would convince you that god exists? 

A personal revelation that could be demonstrated to be actually happening and not a dream or a hallucinatory experience. Once this happened, and this god was able to demonstrate that it in fact was god/a god, and it identified itself to me, then I would believe, unless I had reason to suspect this thing was lying to me. Now, belief is a far cry from worship, but I would agree.

4) Why is there something rather than nothing?

Honestly, this question always baffles me. If there was nothing, would you be able to ask me that question? The only way you could ever ask this question is if there was something. This calls to mind the Anthropic Principle. The Anthropic Principle is the idea that the observations of the physical universe must be compatible with the life observed in it. You cannot observe conditions of a given universe of you do not exist. Why is there something rather than nothing? There HAS to be in order for you to even ask me that question.

5) Where do atheists think the universe came from?

Where do theists get their haircut? Does it fucking matter? Seriously though, ask 1000 atheists, and you'll get vastly different answers. The only thing they will have in common for sure is the lack of a god in the explanation. Most will say the truth: we don't fully understand it all-yet. We know about the expansion (the big bang). Do we know if this was one of many in a cycle of expansions and retractions? I don't know. Are the cosmologists even 100% in agreement on the idea of a singularity anymore? I don't know. There's a lot of math to support a multiverse, I know that, but I don't know any details of it. Atheists do not need to be expert physicists, cosmologists, biologists, etc. I'm certainly not.

Atheists do not have to provide an explanation for the origins of the universe. The scientists working in that area of study do, and they will, when they can. Also, it's important to note that us not having an answer-yet, does not mean it's high time to shoehorn in a god did it explanation.

6) If you met god, what would you say to him?

Again "which god?" comes to mind. I don't mean to be snarky, but I point that out as a sort of consciousness raising. There are more than one religions out there, and they believe with the same ferocity and conviction you do. Not specifying your god implies that you think your religion is the only one that matters or is valid. Now, stepping off of the soapbox, assuming you mean the Christian god, I would have some questions for him, and, assuming he was willing to hear me out and not in an Old Testament sort of mood, I would point out all of the colossal mistakes he has made and continues to make.

And for those of you who are scoffing at the amazing hubris of the atheist who thinks he knows more than god.....SO DO YOU. Unless you think most of his actions are befitting of someone with omniscience and omnipotence. If so, and I mean if you truly, not out of fear or whatever, truly cannot think of any improvements to any of your god's methods, I feel sad for you. For what religion has done to your mind The subtitle of Christopher Hitchen's book 'God is not Great' comes to mind. If you don't get the reference, look it up online and read the subtitle.

7) Everyone believes in god, why don't atheists believe too? 

This is called argumentum ad populum, and it is a logical fallacy that basically proposes that if an idea is popular, or believed by the majority, it must be true. I can't believe I have to point out the flaws in this to grown adults, but anyways, some examples of ideas believed by the masses either now or at one time: dowsing, bloodletting for medicinal reasons, phrenology, astrology, alchemy, "toning" a muscle, the moon landing was a hoax, George W. Bush was worth electing a second time (hell, even a first but I dunno if he really won that one), and mental illness is caused by demonic possession.

The majority can be, and often are, incorrect. Hell, pick a religion that isn't yours, and tell me if you think it's true or not. If you think it's not, aside from me loving to hear you explain why, think of areas in the world where that belief is held by the majority. They all believe in that god, why don't you?

8) Where do morals come from, if not from god? 

Another case of atheists needing to have all of the answers. Look, it's a fair question, considering you are taught that god is the source of morality, but an atheist not having all of the answers is not evidence that 'atheism is incorrect' or whatever. Anyways, as far as the content of the question goes, the evidence points to the fact that morality is engrained in us, and the finer elements of it are cultivated over time, both socially and through rearing (and also some intro and extrospection in later life). Studies into morality and infants have revealed that morality exists even in young infants.

There is an evolutionary component to morality. The engrained moral ideas have helped our species propagate and be successful. We are social animals. Imagine a social creature living in groups that didn't act in ways that promoted sharing and mutual concern? Ya, not very successful. Our very existence is dependent on moral behaviour, ad this behaviour is inherent to much of the life on earth, as studies into morality in non human animals have revealed (as would some basic observation).

Now, if you want to argue that god implanted this morality into all of us, regardless of religious belief, and this includes infants and non human animals, okay, fine, but I don't see how this is compatible with the moral relativism we see. If someone has a proposed explanation for that, I would be willing to listen, although I do reject your basic premise, and I do it a priori. Just being up front :)

9) What's the point of living if you don't believe in god? 

I'll ignore the question begging fallacy and address this head on: The point is what you make it. That's what it is for everybody. If you think atheism means a cruel, cold, indifferent, random world, it doesn't. That's what reality is. Atheism doesn't make that more true or embrace it with teary eyes. We do, however, recognize that nature is often cruelty and coldly indifferent, but it's also beautiful, breathtaking and inspiring, and so too are both the people we surround ourselves with and the ventures we partake in along this journey we call life.

For specific points, well, it's different from person to person (and even from moment to moment within the same people). For some the point is to entertain. To wield power. To learn. To love. To laugh. To make as much money as possible. To provide. To some it's to have fun. To others, it's to learn. To many, it's to suffer. To glorify god. To another group it's without point, it's without merit. It is what you make it. Of course, from a biological point of view, it's to have sex and propagate the species. If you want, you can say it ends there, as that's the only objective answer. Up to you.

10) If we came from monkeys, why are there still monkeys alive today? 

We did not "come from monkeys." Humans are part of the ape classification known as Hominidae (yes, we are apes). We, and other great apes, share a common ancestor. This ancestor gave rise to differing ape species, including homo sapiens (us). This means that this species was broken up into more than one distinctive lineage. As to how a species can give rise to another species while still existing, the population splits, that's how. A segment of the population drifts, they adapt to their new environment, and over successive generations, marked by variation, adaptations, genetic drift, etc, the populations begin to grow further and further apart, genetically, until it is now impossible for them to breed with one another. Once they cannot breed together, they are classified as a new species.

So, even if humans did “come from monkeys,” you would still see monkeys today. It's not like one day the monkeys on earth would have mutated into humans, like the wolfman transforming from a little human into a giant, scary wolf human hybrid. Nor would monkeys suddenly have started giving birth to humans. You would have seen slow, gradual changes in a subset of the monkey population (or, to be more scientific, changes in allele frequency)

Also, note that this process has been observed. It is not a mere hypothesis. It's not a guess or a fanciful fictional creation to dispute religion. It's a fact that we can and do observe, and the evidence for it is multidisciplinary in origin, as well as incredibly prevalent. It's also consistently conforms to the theory of evolution, and has so for two centuries. Not a single shred of evidence has ever come to light that has ever disproven evolution. Two centuries of evidence from several different fields, and it's all consistent and supportive.

11) Don't you atheists wish there was a heaven? 

That depends. If heaven did not consist of me being required to grovel at the feet of some god, and it did not come at the expense of others suffering in hell (yes, folks, I'm more moral than you, since I would NOT be happy knowing I would be in supposed paradise while my fellow human beings were being tortured for eternity),then, depending on what exactly it consisted of, I would be inclined to wish there was a heaven. Who wouldn't? It just depends on what's involved. A heaven of my own making would be spectacular! However, I don't see what the point of this question is. Questions like this always seem to me to make the implicit point that religion is not true as much as it is comforting. I mean, if the issue is truth, what the hell does heaven have to do, have to do with it? I mean, really, what DOES heaven have to do, have to do with it? Besides, I also wish I had a billion dollars. Your point?

12) Why blog, debate on forums, make videos, etc? 

The reasons for this are numerous, and I could literally write a 20 page response. No one wants that though, so here are a few quick reasons:

-I enjoy the topic. I find it interesting.

-I care about the beliefs of the people with whom I share this planet.

-I care greatly about the truth value of said beliefs, especially when they impact the world around me.

-Myself and people like me are unfairly depicted as bloodthirsty power seekers under whom (if we served in government) everything good, fine and decent would collapse as we would enact an authoritarian, totalitarian dictatorship, at the reign of which of course we would sit, and under our thumb the people would suffer. Invariably, assholes like Stalin and Mao are invoked to support this ridiculous notion. I would like to try and dispel this idea.

-I am pushing back against those who seek to impose their religion upon the rest of us.

13) Pascal's Wager basically states that even though the existence of God cannot be determined through reason, a person should wager as though God exists, because living life accordingly has everything to gain, and nothing to lose, whereas living as an atheist can possibly cost you everything but you gain nothing. Essentially, why don't you just believe, what do you have to lose?

Pascal's Wager is severely flawed, and this fact is even starting to permeate within the religious community. Still, it is thrown at us fairly frequently during dealings with theists and therefore merits inclusion. Here are a few points to consider:

-If we are wrong, we go to hell. Okay, what about if you're wrong? What if you have the wrong religion? Or even the wrong denomination, if you're Christian. Remember, there are 38,000 Christian denominations.

-Are you saying we just just choose to believe? You cannot choose your beliefs. You are convinced. If we try to believe but aren't convinced, your god will see through that. He is omniscient, is he not?

-Living as a religious if there is no god DOES cost you. Time and money for starters. Losing out on the things that you inhibited yourself from doing due to religious rule. In many, but not all, cases, you'll miss out on scientific knowledge. You'll also miss out on the knowledge that this life is it, and so we better make the best of it, because it's our one and only shot.

14) magx's Bonus Question: How can you look around you and not see that this was obviously all created?

What exactly tells you that everything was created? Is it order that gives you that idea? Whatever it is, no, I do not look around and have this epiphany where it suddenly dawns on me that this was all created, and it especially does not dawn on me that this was all created just for us humans and everything we see is a testament to the majesty of an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent, moral, just, loving god.

I mean, what exactly gives you this idea? Is it the fact that most of the species on this forlorn planet subsist on nourishment that they attain from members of other species; this attainment achieved by eating from the flesh of said creatures, often while the poor things are still alive and feeling every second of it?

Is it the fact that we have an organ, namely, the appendix, which serves little purpose? An organ that we can absolutely live without? An organ that can, and does, kill many of us when it unexpectedly bursts?

How about the fact that our eyes are inverted, have a blind spot, and have woefully inadequate protection from external harm?

Perhaps the fact that our spines are not well equipped for walking upright is, for you, evidence that we were created by, and in the image of, a perfect designer?

We have wisdom teeth, the 'design' of which certainly don't seem at all wise, considering the fact that they don't fit very well into our current skull/jaw structure and need to be removed-by human dentists.

How about the coccyx (tailbone)? That design must cause you to bow at the feet of your god, right? I mean, the remnants of a mammalian tail at some point in history not only leads one to an evolutionary understanding of our origins, but also led to the burning at the stake of mothers and infants in the Dark Ages when the coccyx, which is made up of fused vertebrae, had a few extra vertebrae fused to it. What a wonderfully malevolent act from such a benevolent god!

Aside from the fact that there are.....questionable elements of this so called perfect design, there are some issues that I have with the argument from ignorance (I can't see how this was anything but design, so it must be design!!) known as the argument from design (teleological argument):

-You see order, and you ascribe the characteristics of purpose and design to this order. However, there are examples of systems that appear to be ordered, but their order is not indicative of design, as they are following natural physical processes. One example of such a system is the snowflake.

-Designed biological structures contradicts evolutionary theory, and evolution is a fact. Along with this point is abiogenesis, which has demonstrated both that life can arise from non-life and complex structures like amino acids, “the building blocks of life” are a part of this process, meaning that we have seen complex structures arise with no designer.

-The argument from design, even if it were able to establish design, does not necessarily lead to one god, or any god, for that matter. It certainly doesn't lead to the christian god. The designer could in fact be the designers. It could be a race of aliens, or multiple gods, or something else entirely. It does not establish what the designer is, only that there was a designer (well, it doesn't actually establish a thing).

-”Who designed the designer?” Saying that the designer need not have been designed is to completely contradict the premise of the teleological argument, and it's also abhorrent and blatant special pleading. Fail. Total and utter fail.

-Irreducible complexity has been issued forth as a component of the argument from design, and that was a complete and utter failure, as it has been demonstrated to be absolutely false. This is and of itself does not discredit the argument from design, however; I only mention it because I derive great joy from its crushing defeat. Now, if only the millions of people in the so called intelligent design movement who still cling to irreducible complexity would just let. it. go.

-One argument I hear quite often is the idea that the probability of everything in nature being designed by “chance” is incredibly, unbearably staggering. Like 1 in 78362910291727464301838281818012x12. This idea is fallacious, as it fails to take into effect the concept of changes over time. It's also wrong in that it ascribes the 'design' to chance. This is woefully inaccurate and betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the process of evolution. Natural selection is the mechanism driving it, not chance. This idea also fails in the following manner: looking at an event post-hoc and calculating the probability of said event occurring will make it sound impossible. The problem is twofold, however; for one, it did occur, and also, improbable and impossible are not the same thing.

Allow me to illustrate another problem with the post-hoc calculation of odds: Take the game of Bridge. If I sat down and drew a 13 card suit hand, and you then calculated the odds of that happening, your number would be 1 in 158753389899. Same logic. It might be 1 in 158753389899, but it just happened. Again, improbability does not equate to impossibility. Horrible odds do not preclude something from happening; they just mean that I likely won't. For most people playing the lottery, this is true. However, someone does often win.

It is NOT sufficient to merely look around, marvel at what you see and then posit that it was all designed. It doesn't matter that, in your experience, things that look ordered and structured are designed. It doesn't matter that you can't fathom things not being designed. It doesn't matter. You have to prove such an assertion. It is not proven a priori based upon your preconceived notions. Saying that you cannot fathom any other explanation is an argument from ignorance. “I can't see how else X could be true, so it must be Y.” This leaves out A-W, and also Z.


  1. Great job on thi-

    oh, wait......

  2. I hate it when theists ask the fourteenth question. Pascal's Wager does have its flaws and I don't really care for it. I say if you're happy with your life and not hurting others, then just keep on living the way you want to.

    By the way, I'm currently working on a blog about my stance on religion and atheism and clarifying Islam, you should check it out when it's done.

  3. When it is done I certainly will. I'll probably see it in my blog feed thing, but I don't always check that super regularly, so feel free to post back with a link.

    Just know that I will come to that blog ready to nitpick like an annoying bastard!!

    Lol. J/K.

    Sort of.


  4. I shall be prepared for you assault.

  5. If only Ray Comfort or Kent Hovind was subject to an internet forum discussion on this very same issue. He'd get massacred, and people would still follow him and give him money..

  6. Which issue? Pascal's Wager?

    Benton, how's the blog coming along?

  7. I just got back from vacation about an hour ago. I will begin to brainstorm what I'm going to write about - there's going to be a lot - and then I will write it and then revise.


Tell magx01 and the rest of The Thoughtful Gamers what's on your mind!