Now that the postings regarding religion are back with a vengeance, I thought I’d tackle this. This is a set of questions I grabbed off the website of CARM (Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry). The purpose of the questions, according to the author, is to better understand atheists. So I answered the questions and sent them back to the institute, as instructed. Here are my answers to said questions.
1. How would you define atheism?
Atheism is the lack of belief in God, or more specifically the idea that there is not enough evidence to prove or verify that God exists.
**edit** A lot of people seem to think that my definition falls more in line with agnosticism. To clarify, to me, an agnostic would answer the question of, “Do you believe in God?” with an “I don’t know,” while an atheist would simply answer “No.” Since I would answer with the latter, I self-identify as an atheist. Even though my use of “evidence” leaves open a probability that God exists, I am firmly rejecting that possibility due to the available body of evidence to the contrary.
2. Do you act according to what you believe (there is no God) or in what you don’t believe in (lack of belief in God)?
I’m really struggling to see a difference between the two choices presented here, but for the sake of answering the question I suppose I’d have to say that I act more in accordance with what I don’t believe, lack of belief. As a scientist, I don’t like absolutes. Acting from a lack of belief, in my opinion, leaves more room for future evidence or argument.
3. Do you think it is inconsistent for someone who “lacks belief” in God to work against God’s existence by attempting to show that God does not exist?
Not at all, especially given the fact that people who believe in God are responsible for creating policies and affecting legislation that can and does directly impact my life as an American.
4. How sure are you that your atheism properly represents reality?
I’m reasonably sure. I’m extremely sure that religion does not properly represent reality. What I would say is that I am 100% sure that science properly represents reality.
5. How sure are you that your atheism is correct?
Very confident until proven otherwise. I have absolutely zero scientific evidence that God exists, therefore it makes no sense to reach any other conclusion than that He does not exist. Of course, if new physical evidence entered the picture, my confidence in atheism would change.
6. How would you define what truth is?
I’m not really sure that this is truly possible, but for the purpose of this survey I would say that as it serves us in our day to day lives, that which is true is that which is observable, measurable, testable, and repeatable.
7. Why do you believe that your atheism is a justifiable position to hold?
Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. So far, religion has offered zero evidence. If religion had any credible evidence that God actually exists, then faith wouldn’t even be a word in religion. As it is, religion is predicated exclusively on the idea of faith–accepting something without evidence. I see no compelling reason to do this, so I do not.
8. Are you a materialist or physicalist or what?
I’m a scientist.
9. Do you affirm or deny that atheism is a worldview? Why or why not?
I would deny such a claim. Atheism is not a worldview because I do not make decisions or choices based on my lack of belief in God.
10. Not all atheists are antagonistic to Christianity but for those of you who are, why the antagonism?
Mostly because a good portion of Christians believe that their beliefs should supersede those of all others. Other religions are guilty of this, too. But in the US, Christianity colors our legal and governmental policies and practices, which means that Christianity affects my life. To my knowledge, nobody has ever tried to legislate atheism in this country, nor is anyone particularly interested in doing so. However, I could cite numerous instances of Christians trying to legislate their beliefs onto others.
11. If you were a believer in the Christian God, what caused you to deny his existence?
Before I answer this question, I would like to point out that this is worded in a somewhat condescending way. “Denying his existence” makes it sound like you categorically know that I’m wrong and you’re simply humoring me with these questions. If the intent or spirit of this survey is to better understand atheists, I suggest rewording this question.
The answer to the question is rather complicated, but I used to be a believer, yes. I was raised Catholic. However, when I reached my adolescence, I began to read and learn about science, and I realized that a lot of the claims that Christianity makes are not reflected by reality. Furthermore, the older I became and more I learned to think logically, the more I could not overlook the gross contradictions contained in the bible.
12. Do you believe the world would be better off without religion?
Yes. I think that history shows that the world would be a more tolerant and peaceful place if people hadn’t spent the better part of a millennium killing each other for believing in different gods and religions. It wouldn’t be a utopia, for sure, but it would be better.
13. Do you believe that faith in God or gods is a mental disorder?
Disorder, no. But I do believe that the brain structure and chemistry of some people predispose them to faith. Scientific experiments have shown that by stimulating certain areas of the brain we can induce people to have “religious experiences” where they feel like they’re in the presence of something greater than themselves, etc. What this shows, I believe, is that some people naturally tend to exhibit religiosity more than others. But it is not a disease or disorder.
14. Must God be known through the scientific method?
I think the better question is why shouldn’t He? If people are willing to kill and be killed over God, I would think that they’d want to be certain He exists first. Moreover, if people essentially want me to give my entire existence over to God, I’d like some proof that such a being exists. Otherwise what’s the difference between a Christian telling me to believe in their God or a homeless man telling me to worship the invisible man that follows him everywhere?
15. If you answered yes to the previous question, then how do you avoid a category mistake by requiring material evidence for an immaterial God?
Sneaky question. My answer to this would be what reason do I have to assume that God is immaterial? Please, give me one reason. The idea of defining God as “immaterial” is a convenient way to escape the burden of proof. But that idea also opens up a whole host of other problems. What exactly does it mean to be “immaterial” in the first place? Does that mean to not have a physical presence? How is it possible for something that doesn’t exist to exist? How is it possible for something immaterial to affect something which is material?
16. Do we have any purpose as human beings?
No. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t value or cherish our lives or time any less. It simply means that my existence is not predicated on a specific, predetermined role given by a creator.
17. If we do have a purpose, can you as an atheist please explain how that purpose is determined?
18. Where does morality come from?
It comes from logic and the human desire to survive.
19. Are there moral absolutes?
No. As an example, most rational people would casually say that murder or killing is wrong. Yet those same people wouldn’t hesitate to kill in self-defense, to kill in order to save others, or to kill as a form of punishment. Even though we clearly think of ending another life or having our own life ended as the worst thing that could possibly happen to us or another human, we are in no way absolute about it. It’s even one of the ten commandments, and we STILL find ways to justify it.
20. If there are moral absolutes, could you list a few of them?
21. Do you believe in such a thing as evil? And if so, what is it?
That’s an interesting question. Do I believe that people are capable of doing bad things? Yes, of course. But I don’t believe there’s a supernatural element to evil.
22. If you believe that the God of the Old Testament is morally bad, by what standard do you judge that he is bad?
I wouldn’t call the God of the Old Testament “bad” in a moral sense. But I would definitely say that he’s grossly incompetent. Wouldn’t the fact that God had to make a new covenant with man speak to the fact that this omniscient and all-powerful being who can see past, present, and future goofed up somehow? Or at the very least did something he knew he’d have to rectify later instead of just doing it correctly in the first place?
23. What would it take for you to believe in God?
I suppose if God revealed himself to us all physically, like if he literally descended from heaven and performed a bunch of miracles, I would be hard pressed to continue being an atheist.
24. Must this evidence be rationally based, archaeological, testable in a lab, etc?
Of course. We live in a physical world, so why wouldn’t the requirement of physical proof make sense?
25. Do you think that a society that is run by Christians or atheists would be safer? Why?
The short answer is neither would be objectively safer. Seeing as how there has never been a country run by atheists, I have nothing with which to compare Christian-run countries to make a conclusion. However, I have a feeling that even if religion disappeared tomorrow, people would still find reason to kill or harm each other. Love, greed, fear, etc. would all still exist whether we’re in an atheist country or a Christian one, and would all still cause aberrant behavior in people which could lead to violence.
26. Do you believe in free will (free will being the ability to make choices without coercion)?
27. If you believe in free will, do you see any problem with defending the idea that the physical brain, which is limited and subject to the neuro-chemical laws of the brain, can still produce free will choices?
If we’re defining free will as the ability to make choices, then no. Every random thing that happens to anyone will only ever have a set number of outcomes. For example, if someone throws a ball at me, I can only respond to it in three dimensions. But I guess my concern about this question would be in the way that the brain is presented as “limited.” I would agree the brain is governed by physical laws, but why is that mutually exclusive with the idea of free will? The way you’re asking the question would make it seem that free will is basically infinite, therefore a finite system like the brain would never be able to cope with it. But I see no evidence that free will is rooted in the unlimited.
28. If you affirm evolution and that the universe will continue to expand forever, then do you think it is probable that given enough time, brains would evolve to the point of exceeding mere physical limitations and become free of the physical and temporal and thereby become “deity” and not be restricted by space and time? If not, why not?
First of all, I do not affirm that the universe will expand forever. I affirm that it seems to be expanding currently, and that’s all I’ll affirm. Expansion forever is a possibility, but given the timescale of the universe a lot can happen or be discovered that changes our understanding of the universe.
As to the evolution question, this is a fundamental misunderstanding of evolution. The question that you’ve posed is indicative of the false notion that evolution is a linear process that always results in something “better” or “higher” or whatever you want to call it. The fact is that there is nothing in evolutionary theory that suggest people are going to evolve into non-corporeal beings, super humans, or any other such iteration of this idea. All evolution states is that the gradual accumulation of genetic mutations will produce an organism which can successfully live in its environment. Furthermore, there is no evidence that it is physically possible to exist beyond time and space.
29. If you answered the previous question in the affirmative, then aren’t you saying that it is probable that some sort of God exists?
I did not answer the last question in the affirmative. But I will take this last question as an opportunity to clarify something. Even though I do not believe that God exists, I will still admit as a scientist that there is a probability that He in fact does exist; I just happen to think that based on the available evidence that probability is incredibly small, and that it is far more probable that he does not exist. But that’s part of the problem in this discussion. Atheism is rooted in science, and therefore subject to change with available evidence. While there is no current evidence to indicate God’s existence, perhaps there will be one day. And our views would change. There is no such open-mindedness in Christianity, and from my understanding such an open-minded view is discouraged as falling prey to temptation, sin, or the devil. No matter how much evidence exists to refute the existence of God, Christians will never believe it. The atheist, however, is open to all possibilities. The evidence could literally take us anywhere in the future. And that’s part of the fun of being a scientist–you’re really an explorer of possibility. Religion, however, is a denier of possibility.
I sincerely hope that this survey provides the people at CARM a better glimpse into the views of an atheist. And I also hope that this survey is rooted in a genuine desire to understand and not merely as a means to formulate responses to atheists and propagate Christian points of view. I eagerly await some kind of response from CARM and to see what becomes of the answers they receive.