31 Questions For Atheists
By: Dean Tersigni
This is a collection of questions compiled on a Christian apologist web site directed toward atheists. The author claims that these
questions are asked merely to better understand the position of atheists, but from my experience with religious apologists, this is a charade. The apologistís goal isnít understanding, but debunking all
positions that donít fit with his or her religious agendaóafter all, you canít seek truth if youíre convinced you already have it. As you read through these questions, youíll see what I mean; some of the
questions are obviously loaded, others make little sense to the vast majority of atheists, and nearly all of them only apply to the authorís version of a god.
1.) How would you define atheism?
This is a good start because the word atheism (as well as theism, gnosticism, and agnosticism) has a lot of historical baggage and has changed definitions throughout history. My definition is as follows:
Theist - One who affirms a belief in a god or gods.
Atheist - Anyone who isnít a theist.
This agrees with most modern atheists I talk to, however, in order to know whether an atheist is making an affirmative belief, the term can be further divided:
Agnostic atheist - One who lacks a belief in a god or gods, but doesnít claim to know that they donít exist.
Gnostic atheist - One who lacks a belief in a god or gods, and affirms that they donít exist.
Using these definitions, I am an agnostic atheist for most definitions of gods Iíve encountered, but for those definitions that are logically impossible, I am a gnostic atheist.
Wikipedia: Atheism, Agnosticism
2.) Do you act according to what you believe in (there is no God) or what you don't believe in (lack belief in God)?
Don't all people act according to their beliefs? I believe that taking ibuprofen will ease my headache, so I take it. I don't believe in gods, so I don't assume they will help me solve my problems. I also
find that, most of the time in their lives, religious people act like atheists. If they break their leg, sure, they may say a prayer, but they're still going to the doctor for a cast. Or maybe you're asking
if I would suddenly pray to a random god in a crisis (the old no-atheists-in-foxholes lie)? I would not.
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 doesn't exist?
I don't believe in gods, and I think it's rational not to believe in gods. So, to me, it's as though you're asking if I believe it's inconsistent to try and convince people to act rationally.
What I do find inconsistent is someone who believes an all-powerful god wants them to pass legislation so they can coerce children to pray to their god. If their god is all-powerful, why would he need them
to pass laws for him?
Wikipedia: School prayer
4.) How sure are you that your atheism properly represents reality?
About as sure as I am that dragons don't exist. No, I can't guarantee that gods don't exist, just as I can't guarantee that dragons don't exist, but I live my life as though they don't.
5.) How sure are you that your atheism is correct?
Why would you separate the questions, "does your position represent reality," and, "is your position correct?" To a rational person, reality is that which is correct. If someone believes that reality can
be incorrect, I don't think I would be comfortable around them.
6.) How would you define what truth is?
I would use a common philosophical definition which, in layman's terms, could be described as a statement that is both coherent and accurate. Coherent, meaning it makes sense: "rocks are hard" is a
coherent statement, "rocks are happy" is not. Accurate, meaning it agrees with reality: "pigs are mammals" is an accurate statement, "pigs can fly" is not. Furthermore, if you want to espouse knowledge of a
truth, you must be able to demonstrate the truth. For example, the ancient Greek philosopher Democritus, believed that all things are composed of atoms, but he couldn't demonstrate it at the time. Thus, his
statement, while true, could still not be considered "knowledge" until centuries later when scientists became able to demonstrate atoms. Using these definitions, it may be true that gods exists, but if you
want to claim to know that it's true, you must be able to demonstrate their existence.
Wikipedia: Truth, Knowledge,
7.) Why do you believe your atheism is a justifiable position to hold?
For rational people, a lack of belief in something is the default position until evidence is made available, it's why people making affirmative claims have the burden of proof. Nobody just suddenly believes
in microscopic bacteria, they must be presented with evidence, and only if they find the evidence convincing will they believe in it. It's also rational to require more evidence as beliefs diverge further from
our previous experiences. If you tell me it's raining, I'll probably believe you without checking. If you tell me it's raining frogs, I'll need some convincing evidence. If you tell me it's raining unicorns, I'll
give you the number of a good therapist.
When it comes to big-picture questions like, "why does the universe appear complex and ordered," science has given us very detailed explanations like the big bang, stellar nucleosynthesis, abiogenesis,
evolution, and many other theories. All of these explanations make gods an unnecessary hypothesis that can be shaved off with Occam's razor. And while I admit there are still plenty of unanswered questions,
science has a long history of replacing religious answers, but religions have never once replaced a scientific answer.
Wikipedia: Burden of proof, Big
bang, Stellar nucleosynthesis, Abiogenesis,
Evolution, Occam's razor
8.) Are you a materialist or a physicalist or what?
I have not been presented with convincing evidence of the supernatural, so I'm a naturalist by default. I'm open to supernatural explanations like gods, magic, and fairies, but only if sufficient evidence
can be presented. And the evidence would have to be quite impressive because the majority of supernatural explanations I've encountered so far in my life have been presented ignorantly, demonstrated to be
wrong, and often times, dishonestly fabricated (especially from Christian preachers). I would not accept an answer like, "Science hasn't figured out what caused the big bang, therefore it must be my god!"
Peter Popoff, Marjoe,
9.) Do you affirm or deny that atheism is a worldview? Why or why not?
See answer 1. If atheism is merely the lack of a belief in gods, it cannot be a worldview. As the old saying goes, it would be like saying not collecting stamps is your hobby. There are plenty
non-religious worldviews in the realm of philosophy which are compatible with atheism, for example, secular humanism.
Wikipedia: Secular humanism
10.) Not all atheists are antagonistic to Christianity but for those of you who are, why the antagonism?
This was hinted at in question 3. I do not like it when other people force their beliefs on me, especially if I think those beliefs are unfounded. For example, most Christian Scientists believe it's evil
to take life-saving medicine, but just because they believe it's evil, doesn't mean they get to stop me or anyone else (their children included) from taking life-saving medicine. I also don't like it when
Christians prevent children from learning science, reproductive health, or when they quote their religion while they commit acts of terrorism.
Wikipedia: Christian Science,
11.) If you were at one time a believer in the Christian God, what caused you to deny His existence?
Don't assume that I deny your god's existence. I don't believe in goblins, but I don't deny their existenceÖ although I do feel justified in my lack of belief. The only gods which I deny exist are those
that are defined in logical contradictions. For example, I deny the existence of a god that is defined as "both all-good and all-powerful" because, if they're all-good, they cannot do evil things, and
something that cannot do evil can't be all-powerful. But if the definition were slightly modified to, "being all-good, and able to do all non-evil things," I wouldn't deny its existence.
Now, if you're asking the more inclusive question, "why did you stop believing," that was the result of an increase in education, especially world religions, critical thinking, science, and philosophy.
Wikipedia: Critical thinking
12.) Do you believe the world would be better off without religion?
It's not so much religion that I see as the problem because I could conceive of a religion where people are expected to challenge existing ideas, require evidence for beliefs, and be kind to one another.
Unfortunately, such a religion seems unattainable because religions tend to go hand-in-hand with what I see as the real problem: dogmaóthe idea that beliefs must be true and cannot be questioned. I do believe the
world would be better off without dogma because history shows us that ideas are often wrong and in need of reassessment.
13.) Do you believe the world would be better off without Christianity?
Which denomination? I've met some really nice Unitarians with whom I'd cheerfully share the world. I don't care what label you assign to yourself, I care about what you do. If a person believes, as the bible
demands, they must torture homosexuals to death or that it's acceptable to sell your daughter into slavery as long as it's at a lower price than your son, then of course I think the world would be better off
without such beliefs. And yes, I recognize all the good that Christians do creating charities and helping out after natural disasters, but that still doesn't make up for protecting child rapists or criminal tax
Wikipedia: The bible and homosexuality,
The bible and slavery, Catholic
Church sexual abuse cases, Kent Hovind
14.) Do you believe that faith in a God or gods is a mental disorder?
A mental disorder, no; irrational, yes. Irrational beliefs only qualify as disorders if they interfere with your day-to-day life. Like I said in answer 2, religious people act like atheists most of the
time. Now, if a person believed the voice in their head was their god telling them to murder their own child, I would certainly say they have a mental disorder, and it frightens me that so many people of the
Abrahamic faiths honor their scripture's story of compulsory infanticide.
Wikipedia: Mental disorder, Binding
15.) Must God be known through the scientific method?
When it comes to reliably describing the natural world and discovering new areas of thinking, the scientific method (i.e., rigorously testing ideas for accuracy to separate fact from fiction) has proved
itself to be very successful. There are other methods people claim to be successful at gaining knowledge (luck, going with your gut, ESP, etc.), but they've all been shown to be considerably inferior to the
scientific method. If someone does find a more successful way, I'd certainly want to know about it.
When it comes to knowing truths, we must have a coherent definition, and be able to show that it accurately describes reality. Many people have come up with coherent definitions for a god, for example,
"the most powerful being in existence." The problem comes when it's time to demonstrate the existence of their god, and the excuse, "my god cannot be mocked," is not a demonstration.
Wikipedia: Scientific method
16.) If you answered yes to the previous question, then how do you avoid a category mistake by requiring material evidence for an immaterial God?
Category mistakes occur when an object is mistakenly presented as though it fits into a category to which is does not belong, like suggesting that chairs are dogs because they both have four legs. For a
god defined as being "immaterial," I would agree that it's a category mistake to expect them to be measurable by material metrics. However, if you define a god as being "immaterial," you will introduce your
own category mistake if you suggest that it can affect reality, after all, what known immaterial object can affect a material one? If you suggest that your god becomes material to affect the material world,
then your god is subject to the same requirement of evidence as any other material object.
Wikipedia: Category mistake
17.) Do we have any purpose as human beings?
I believe it's up to the individual to make their own purpose. Furthermore, I would be very unhappy if someone tried to force their own purpose onto my life, the way many religious people do, especially if
that purposed turned out to be the servants of a being that can give itself whatever it wants.
18.) If we do have purpose, can you as an atheist please explain how that purpose is determined?
You want me to explain how every single individual that's ever lived came to their own unique conclusion? I think I'm going to need another sheet of paper! Or do you mean to ask, how did I personally come
up with my conclusion? That's easy; as an autonomous being, I've decided that I want that to be my purpose.
19.) Where does morality come from?
This depends on your definition of morality. If you just mean a desire for altruism, it appears to be a product of evolution among most social species. But if you mean the social construct of right and wrong,
then it is a collection of human-made systems that people have been refining for thousands of years. The one I find the most useful is a utilitarian system based on the well-being of thinking beings. In this
system, those actions that cause the overall level of suffering to increase or the overall level of pleasure to decrease are bad, while those actions that cause the overall level of pleasure to increase or cause
the overall level of suffering to decrease are good. This objective moral system is partially harmonious with most religions, because actions like murder and stealing are bad, while compassion and love are good.
The systems diverge when religious morals say something is evil when it doesn't actually hurt anyone (trimming your sideburns, being touched by a women who is menstruating, etc.). If the goal is a healthy happy
society, a utilitarian system like this is vastly superior to those found in any religion, as they often leave most of the population unhappy (homosexuals, women, non-believers, slaves, etc.).
Wikipedia: Altruism, Morality,
Utilitarianism, 613 commandments
20.) Are there moral absolutes?
In a utilitarian moral system based on well-being, there are certainly actions which are nearly always bad, like killing people, but even they aren't always wrong. For example, what if someone is about to
kill an innocent child and your only means of stopping them is to kill them? In such an extreme example, killing a murderer is not morally wrong.
21.) If there are moral absolutes, could you list a few of them?
See above. It should be noted that, although many believers claim to follow moral absolutes, when asked how they would respond to moral thought experiments like the one above, their answers demonstrate
that they use a consequentialism system of morality. Also, the bible is very wibbily-wobbily with morals. God says, "Thou shalt not kill," then shortly after says, "kill every single Amalekite, even their
children and infants!"
Wikipedia: Consequentialism, Amalek
22.) Do you believe there is such a thing as evil? If so, what is it?
I believe that there are actions which cause horrific suffering, and the word "evil" would be an acceptable term, but I would use it in a manner different than most Christians. Both Christians and I can agree
that murder is evil. However, while a Christian might say that murder is evil because it goes against their god, I would say that murder is evil because it causes great suffering. However, the bible also says
wearing clothing made from wool inter-woven with linen is evil, while I don't think it's evil since it doesn't cause suffering. Then there are actions which I don't think are good, but I wouldn't call evil. For
example, in the Gospels, Jesus says that it is evil for a man to even think about having sex with any woman other than his wife. I think, if the man dwells on other woman at the expense of his wife, then he's
causing her harm, but I still wouldn't think the action is bad enough to warrant calling it "evil."
Wikipedia: Shatnez, Internal sin
23.) If you believe that the God of the Old Testament is morally bad, by what standard do you judge that He is bad?
The god of the Old Testament is bad by every standard, including those of the Old Testament. He says don't kill, but he tortures babies to death in the flood, he says don't rape, but he tells his warlords they
may take captured virgins as wives, he says don't covet, but he is extremely jealous of his chosen people, and so forth. He's also bad according to pretty much every ethical system ever devised including most
forms of deontological ethics, virtue ethics, and consequentialist ethics. As far as I can tell, the only system of morality in which the god of the bible can be seen as good is if your moral system is defined
as, "everything the god of the bible does, even if he previously said it's evil, is good."
Wikipedia: Bride kidnapping
24.) What would it take for you to believe in God?
Any god that is all-knowing, would know exactly what it would take to get me to believe in him, and any god that is all-powerful would be able to do what it takes to show me. Furthermore, if such a god
exists, I would like for it to make itself known to me. So far, no god has taken me up on that offer.
25.) What would constitute sufficient evidence for God's existence?
This entirely depends on the definition given for a god. Let's say the indigenous people of a volcanic isle deify a volcano and, as evidence of their god, say he erupts when he's angry. Obviously, I believe
the volcano exists and that it erupts, but it's rational to suggest a natural geological explanation over a god. However, if the natives could routinely make the volcano erupt merely by shouting insults at it, I
would be impressed. In a similar manner, if a New Age believer suggests the miraculous healing of cancer as evidence of their healing god, it's rational to suggest medical explanations first. Did an oncologist
diagnosis them, were they misdiagnosed, did the body heal the cancer on its own, and so forth. Again, if the followers of such a god could show multiple cases of malignant tumors magically disappearing from their
bodies as they were being prayed for, I would be impressed. The trouble comes from nebulous definitions like, "my god is a spirit entity that transcends time and space," or, to use your own definition, in
question 16 you describe your god as being "immaterial," and claim that material evidence cannot be used to demonstrate its existence. This implies that there is something called "immaterial evidence." I don't
know what "immaterial evidence" would be like, so I can't answer your question. If you can give me a concrete definition of your god, I will do my best to determine what evidence would be sufficient.
26.) Must this evidence be rationally based, archaeological, testable in a lab, etc., or what?
What other kind of evidence is there? Are you suggesting we believe in evidence that is irrationally-based? Does "immaterial evidence" fit that category?
27.) Do you think that a society that is run by Christians or atheists would be safer? Why?
Safer for whom? We've seen what Christians do when they're in power: centuries of witch hunts, the Spanish Inquisition, the execution of free thinkers like Giordano Bruno, the squelching of scientists like
Galileo Galilei, etc. Even today, Christians continue to undermine reality and demand we teach religion as science.
Regarding a society run by atheists, remember my definition from question 1. Atheist are just people who aren't theists, which doesn't imply good leadership skills. However, I do think a society run by
secular humanists, would be superior because their personal goal is to foster a healthy society for everyone, not just people who share their beliefs. So far, history has shown us that those nations who rely
least on dogma tend to be the happiest nations.
Spanish Inquisition, Giordano Bruno,
28.) Do you believe in free will? (free will being the ability to make choices without coercion).
If you consider dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin as forms of coercion, then no. If free will means, people can make decisions regardless of the state of the universe, such a definition would require that
minds be supernaturally divorced from the brain (dualism). I am a determinist. I believe the mind is a product of the brain, and that both are governed by the laws of physics and cause and effect. So, if I
asked you to pick a door, and you chose door number one, I believe that if we were to rewind time so the state of the universe was the exact same before I asked you that question, and play the universe back, you
would pick the same door no matter how many time we do it. The only way I can see this not happening is if our minds transcend cause and effect, and I've never seen any evidence to suggest that they do.
Wikipedia: Free will,
29.) 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
I should point out that you're ignoring a third option, compatibilism. Instead of using the dualistic definition of free will (which requires supernatural abilities), assume that all of our choices are
determined, but that they are still "ours" in the sense that they are the product of our minds. From here, you can define coercion as, something other than your own mind interfering with our determined minds and
causing us to do something we wouldn't have done otherwise.
But regardless of whether free will exists, crime and punishment remains mostly the same. For example, viruses don't have free will, so they don't choose to kill people, but nevertheless, they are
responsible for the deaths they cause. So, if people want to remain healthy, they must either kill viruses (execution), put them in deep freeze (prison), or vaccinate (military defense). Thus, if murderers
don't have free will, it is still in our best interest to imprison them. The difference comes because in a deterministic world, retribution and vengeance are unjustified. If your loved one is killed by a virus,
it doesn't make sense to hate the virus or want to torture it.
30.) 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?
No, because you're essentially asking, "given enough time: magic?"
Even if humans were naturally selected for bigger brains, even if we used eugenics to speed up the process, how would superior brains translate to the supernatural ability to transcend time and space?
Evolution is a natural process, not a magic wand. Now, it's possible that evolution may eventually make a species vastly superior to humans or that our technology will increase so much that it appears to be
magic (Clarke's third law), but they'll still have to abide by natural laws, thus making them not a god.
Wikipedia: Natural selection,
Eugenics, Clarke's three laws
31.) If you answered the previous question in the affirmative, then aren't you saying that it is probable that some sort of God exists?
Even if I said yes to the previous question, the answer to this question would still be no. You suggest that, in the distant future, living beings might evolve into gods, and then conclude
that there are probably gods now? That doesn't make sense.
As a side note, learn when to capitalize proper nouns. In this question, and several questions before, you capitalize the word "god" unnecessarily. Unless your talking about a god named "God," it is
incorrect to capitalized the word. In fact, if your god is so petty that he demands the death penalty for anyone who worships other gods, he would probably be pissed at your capitalization of "sort of God" in
this question which implies that a generic god is just as important as Yahweh.
Wikipedia: Proper noun