10 Questions For Atheists

questions atheist 1In discussion with my atheist friends, a number of topics arise and as purely intellectual questions, they are quite interesting, I think, for both parties. However atheists frequently tend to just dismiss these as ridiculous, as though they were familiar with this argument as toddlers and rejected it a long time ago. I often suspect that this is just a shell game, or a confidence trick, for even if these arguments for the existence of God fail, they are certainly not easy topics, they are not things which can be dissolved in a one-liner or 140 characters on twitter. I have summarized a few of these arguments into 10 questions for atheists, or rather they can be thought of as for Christians, to pose to atheists.

Note well that I am not arguing that I have below a series of knock down arguments in favor of Christian theology or the existence of God. I am rather suggesting that I have a series of questions which could be challenging to somebody who thinks deeply about these issues. Surely there could be arranged a similar set of questions which could be challenging for Christians, so I say again, this is not the claim that I have a series of knock down arguments. This is simply 10 questions for atheists which I think are challenging to anybody who is honestly seeking truth.atheist questions 2

Within are questions related to religious epistemology, philosophy, history, neurology, ethics and so forth. Among these, I am not claiming to be an expert in any of them, and I say this to avoid being accused of that. I am just reciting some of the arguments which I am familiar with and phrasing them as questions. Additionally, if you are to attempt to answer these questions, I ask that you read the commentary that I made under each one and possibly post it along with the question itself when you answer it.

1 – Could the cause of all nature, space, and time, be natural, spacial, and temporal?

It is my stance that it should be impossible for nature, space, and time to be intrinsic to the cause of nature, space and time, because that would imply that they existed, prior to their existence. But that is obviously absurd, prior to their existence, nature, space, and time… did not exist, and as such could not stand in causal relations with themselves.

From this it should follow that if nature, space, and time had a cause, it should transcend nature, space and time, which is to say that it would be supernatural, immaterial, and eternal. I suppose the only way around this conclusion would be to say that the universe is eternal, which lead to logical absurdities, (such as Hilbert’s Hotel) and contradicts scientific discovery.

2 – Is there an objective moral difference between the pro-choice stance and the pro-life stance?

When the term objective morality is applied in this context, it is taken to mean moral values which are valid and binding, independently of whether anybody agrees with them or not. The question, therefore, is whether the pro-choice stance is intrinsically a more moral stance than the pro-life stance. If there is, that implies that there is a transcendent standard of morality that is beyond ourselves. But that is in stark contrast with what most atheists believe, which would be a position of non-objective moral values and duties.

Be careful to note that this is not the claim that atheists cannot be moral or that they make their moral decision arbitrarily. Rather it is the claim that atheists carefully and thoroughly apply reasoning to their moral decisions and do so out of love and empathy. The problem with this is that in the absence of a transcendent standard of moral values and duties, these moral decisions become unjustified, and this is precisely the conundrum that most atheists find themselves in.

As Richard Dawkins wrote, “There is at bottom, no good, no evil, nothing but pitiless indifference.”

3 – If you are a mythicist (a person who believes that Jesus never existed), is it possible that your position is influenced by your opposition to religion?

I have found that many atheists are very quick to jump on the Jesus never existed bandwagon, and I cannot help but suspect that this is a consequence of their dislike for religion. Due to their claim to respond to evidence, one must assume that they just have not been exposed to any of the scholarly work on this topic. It is the consensus of virtually all secular scholars in the field that the person of Jesus Of Nazareth did, in fact, exist. If we are to ignore the scholarly evidence in favor of some webmaster, then it seems to me that a more likely motivation is not evidence but an opposition to religion.

4 – What would you accept as evidence for the existence of a transcendent Creator of the universe?

This is a question which I regard as important but never really hear a good answer for. Most atheists and non-believers will think of something absurd, or absolutely unreachable. In fact, one person told me that if the clouds were to randomly form the words, “The Bible is the word of God,” he would not believe it, he would regard it as an unusual cloud formation.

What about you? If the clouds formed this sentence, would this convince you? What would convince you?

5 – If natural determinism is true, then would it be the case that your beliefs and non-beliefs are just a consequence of a previous natural cause; a chemical reaction in the brain, and not necessarily reason?

As Doctor Sam Harris pointed out, we do not cause our causes, there is no actual free will on natural determinism, but only a very severe illusion of it, even in lower animals, but especially in humans. As such, we are just dancing to our DNA.

But if that is the case, then it seems to me to follow that the decisions we make, whether to believe, or to not believe, would just be a product of our DNA, a chain of chemical reactions in the brain, rather than a product of reason.

6 – Is it possible that the cause of genetic similarities would be that there is a common designer?

The most frequent evidenced cited of common ancestry is the genetic similarity between all organisms, indeed human beings share DNA with mice, lower primates, and vegetables, and this is a point that I happily concede. But I cannot help but think that this is precisely what we would expect if there was a common designer. Often architects and engineers use similar design blueprint and apply similar patterns and structures, so why could not the same be said of the designer of human beings?

Now I am not saying that this proves that there is a designer, but if it is possible, I have trouble seeing why, that when applying as an argument for common ancestry, this would not be a case of what Jared Orme of Conversion Points Radio called evolution-of-the-gaps, which is to say that we appeal to evolution because we do not know the answer.

7 – Is it possible that God has morally sufficient reasons for permitting evil and suffering?

Often when talking about the problem of evil, or the claim that there is so much evil and suffering that a good and omnipotent God could not allow it, this is a point that is often overlooked. What we have to remember is that as an argument against the existence of God, from a logical angle, it bears a burden of proof. It must disprove the claim that God has morally sufficient reasons for permitting evil and suffering.

Therefore my question is whether it is possible that God has morally sufficient reasons, and if not, how do you know?

8 – If Christian theology were true, would you become a Christian?

Be careful to note the conditional, namely, if Christian theology were true, would you become a Christian? If Christian theology were true, that would imply that the atrocities of the Old Testament were not a product of the wicked hearts of men, but of the righteous judgments of God, a God who was taking the lives that he gave in the first place. If Christian theology were true, that would mean that there was a being who was worthy of worship, who was omnipotent, omnibenevolent, and so forth.

If this were the case, would you become a Christian?

9 – Many claim that they know the risen Lord lives because he lives in their heart. Would that be an inadequate way of coming to know truth?

The most common religious epistemology is the claim that we have had an encounter with the risen Lord through the witness of the Holy Spirit. It seems to me that this is a valid approach to coming to know God, for it is an approach which appeals to the five senses. At what point do we begin to deny that which our five senses is telling us, and moreover, if God really were to reveal himself in this way, how much more tragic would it be for us to deny him?

Something could be said of other religions, other people coming to know different conceptions of God in this way. I would just say that in the absence of an overriding defeater, people are perfectly within their rational rights to follow what their senses tell them. For example if I claimed to have experiences of the Almighty Square Circle, you would quickly point out that this was incoherent. But insofar as God so revealed by Christian theology is concerned, there is nothing incoherent about him, and so, why should it be invalid that we follow our five senses?

Indeed I might even go as far as to argue that it would be foolish to deny what we can see plainly.

10 – As an atheist, you support the claim that there is no evidence for God’s existence. That, in itself, is a claim which bears a burden of proof. So have you looked at all of the arguments?

This is to say that to claim that there is no evidence for God presupposes that you have looked at all of the alleged evidence in existence and studied it thoroughly to conclude that there is no evidence of God’s existence. If you have not looked at all of the evidence, perhaps consider more modest claims, such as I have never seen any evidence…

But this basically goes as an implore to take another look at the arguments with an open heart and an open mind, for if there are rebuttals which satisfy your objection, and Christian theology is true, I can conceive of no greater tragedy than missing that truth out of an opposition to religion.

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3 Thoughts to “10 Questions For Atheists”

  1. ignostic

    Hello Richard, I found your questions interesting, I so am replying to your questions on my blog, two at a time. If you would like to review my answers, you may find me at http://ignosticatheist.wordpress.com

    1. Thanks, I appreciate the time to answer these questions. I will take a look sometime soon!

  2. Holden

    Hi Richard. I like your writing style; it’s much more accessible, respectful and not as presumptuous as many of the apologists I have been unfortunate enough to encounter. I appreciate that you’re asking questions, rather than simply making assertions – It’s all about communication. However (here it comes), I do heartily disagree on much of the content, but I have faith [gasps!] that we can have a pithy and productive disagreement. So, here are my answers…

    1. Don’t know.
    Not even sure it’s a meaningful question, particularly where causation of time is concerned.

    2. I’m not sure what you mean. Pro-choice and pro-life are of course objectively different positions, and one of them does serve better as a defence of agency – i.e. whether one is better than the other is in theory measurable.
    The standard of morality that is beyond subjective opinion is that measure of what implications actions have in reality, vis-a-vis the property of being morally preferable (Compare: the standard of obesity beyond subjective assessment is data for diagnosis against the medical definition). I would note that, even should a deity have an opinion on these matters, however accurate, it is still subjective – to be objectively correct means it must conform to an independent standard. If you insist that standard is internal to an agent then you have yourself an equivocation, not a point.

    3. (Frankly, meh.)

    4. Good question. Depends what exactly transcendent is to mean.
    My assessment of the supernatural is that it cannot be evidenced – even the most absurd natural explanations make smaller demands for assumption, and ignorance is never a valid basis for inference. This is the principal, but on the event I could be persuaded by something else. I don’t know. But I’m sure ‘it’ would.

    5. Determinism would not nullify reasoning.
    Even if it is not controlled by the caprice of dualistic mind, there is still a reasoning process in the chain of events that affects belief, and it still has validity and value. A computer does not personally control its actions, but it produces both accurate and pertinent inferences – perhaps more so in its determinism. It’s also worth acknowledging that such cognitive processes in humans occur in modes and on scales where intuitive causality is known to completely break down, so it’s certainly a bit more complicated than ‘consequence of a previous natural cause’. Anyhow, my position here is one of tentative compatibilism, excited by the prospects of discovery in that field this century.

    6. It’s a highly implausible conjecture that has no explanatory or predictive power.
    It’s also redundant, as natural mechanisms suffice to explain the variations thoroughly – we appeal to them for their explanatory power and adhesion to fact after fact, a la science. The absolute inconstancy of nature, and the abundance of junk and even malignant genes, testify to a teleologically indifferent origin, or a ‘design’ so muddled as to be indistinguishable from such perpetual noise.

    7. Morally; definitely not.
    Wilful omission to minimise evil and suffering directly contradicts the event having the property of being moral. But I won’t muse too much on the motivations of an extraordinary being I don’t believe exists.

    8. Insofar as it is possible, I would believe it, but…
    To sincerely and continuously worship a creature such as yahweh would be impossible for me. Yet, knowing his omni-claims to be fraudulent, I would explore alternative options.

    9. Yes.
    Not to say one must ignore internal experiences – they constitute the only capacity in which belief might be described as a choice. But when such feelings come to sit on a balance with empirical and verified conceptions, they have absolutely no weight whatsoever. Conversely, if they come without any tangible compliment, they are indistinguishable from delusions and deepities. This makes them practically redundant in the immediate determination the truth, but they do have utility in that they can point you in the right direction – take how theorists are of course much more useful to science than computers generating random hypotheses.

    10. Despite a fair exploration of the concepts, I experience no reason to believe in any gods.
    That’s a statement of viewpoint, not an external truth claim. While it may often be phrased in a more reductive way such as you mention, I am not aware of anyone who intends them as a (nonsensical) knowledge claim that no reason/evidence exists. That would be an argument from ignorance.

    It remains that disbelief (on any matter) is subscription to a null hypothesis, and as you point to an alternative, I encourage you to further relish the opportunity of proof as you did for many of the earlier questions – when you take full ownership of it it, the ‘burden’ can turn out to be anything but.

    I hope you find my answers informative and interesting. If you need anything clarifying, do say.

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