From time to time one of the many atheist blogs (of the many I follow) will post a list of questions posed by a theist to challenge the lack of belief of an Atheist. Typically they are the silliest of questions ranging from “how can you say religion is so bad when atheism is a religion” to “if Evolution is true then how come there are still monkeys?”*

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These questions are supposed to be trap questions that Atheists are not supposed to have an answer to. The questions stem from a misunderstanding of what non-belief really means by individuals who would rather draw up a caricature and attack that, rather than actually engage the simple fact that Atheists reject belief without hard evidence.

I was rather surprised in viewing my reader when a list of questions appeared that seemed as though the poser was genuinely curious. I’m going to run down the question list as well, the original post can be found here. I’m going to break this up into two parts to avoid TL:DR but I’ll list the remaining questions at the bottom.

1: Why are you an Atheist?

This is a very complicated question but I’ll keep the answer as short as possible. Simply, I don’t see evidence for the belief in a higher power. Maybe the Deists have it right and there is a creative intelligence but that’s a stretch given how arbitrary the universe seems to be regarding what gets created and what does not. Yet the assertion that “there is a god” is not something I can honestly commit to. I find no religious text to be compelling as they merely assume you are going to believe in it and then you have to buy the stories. My collection of Norse Myths is placed right beside the Christian Bible and I believe both of them in the much the same way. Show me evidence and I’ll change my mind but until then I’m not agreeing.

2: Have you ever believed in a higher power?

Yes. I was a believing Catholic for a majority of my life. I was raised in a Catholic household, went to Catholic school, attended church on Sundays, was an altar server, and participated in various religious activities. The last several years of this blog explains why I started drifting away until finally ending up as an Atheist.

3: If so, did something traumatic happen to make you stop believing?

No. This is a popular stereotype that is pushed by the religious. They think that non-believers only drift away because they are angry at their higher power because they equate disbelieving with hate. I don’t hate god because to me, that would be like hating Sauron or Voldemort. I should also add that I’ve never met another Atheist who has explained that their non-belief comes from some kind of traumatic event.

4: If not, why did you stop believing?

Two main reasons, and as stated above, several years of this blog have been devoted to that explanation. First off, the stories either do not make sense or are contradicted by other stories in the same book. For contradiction: Jesus has two different genealogies which cannot be possible. For nonsense: the Bible claims a lot of knowledge of the world but as we have discovered (both before its writing and afterward) it’s not true i.e. if I ask how Jesus and family escaped Herod’s troops and the reply is, god’s will, I’m not going to take it on faith. I’m going to read some Roman history and find out that the massacre didn’t happen, the census didn’t occur when it was said to occur, and the idea that you would have to journey to the place of your ancestor’s birth to be counted is an absurd requirement for a number of different yet equally valid reasons.

The second reason was that too much of religious belief was hidden behind “mysteries.” I would be told that there many things that were mysterious and thus weren’t subject to questioning or at least not by a good Catholic. I, like all people, am naturally inquisitive and attempting to stem my nature only led me to read more which cleaved the idea that “mystery” was an explanation. The explanation of transubstantiation was always a mystery, but in looking into it (because, again, inquisitiveness is bad) it was patently obvious that it was made up. Mystery is a label designed to shield hard questions from followers.

5: What do you think happens to us when we die?

Other than an explanation of chemistry/biology I have no idea. Nothing, maybe something, I don’t know but I’m not going to live my life on some Pascal’s Wager/wishful thinking dream unless I can see some evidence for it.

6: Without believing in a higher power, where do you think we get our morals from?

I’m, by trade, a philosopher so I can explain this from numerous perspectives but the simplest answer is that if we are going to be social creatures we need some kind of rule system that is conducive to that. We can’t have a society if we allow members to steal from or murder and rape each other. Even lying impedes it, though not to the same degree. Religious morals are merely deified versions of the idea that “we are all in this together.” Whether you come from a Kantian or Utilitarian perspective morals are merely the rules that allow us to get along before fear of external punishment and ideally these are what the legal system is based on.

7: Where do you think the universe came from?

I really have no idea other than giving the astrophysical explanation as incomplete as that seems to be. The thing about this question is that I feel absolutely comfortable not knowing about what happened in the beginning as I do not knowing what happens at the end.

8: What are your views on Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens?

Dawkins is the person who coined and defined “meme” and has a great rebuttal to several arguments seeking to prove the existence of god. As an evolutionary biologist his work is impressive. However he has terrible views on women and really needs to be quiet when it comes to subjects outside of atheism and evolutionary biology.

Harris is a neuroscientist who has done some interesting work examining the brain. I have not read any of his atheistic books. He comes across as overly harsh with a severe anti-Islam streak, however his comments are directed so that liberals who too often excuse the actions of Islam as being just the work of extremists will have to face the cognitive dissonance they engage when those liberals blanket criticize Christianity. He’s a bit too extreme for me.

Hitchens was an interesting character. His take down of Mother Theresa was eye opening for me and he was the first atheist writer I encountered who included the Eastern religions in his attacks. He’ll always have my respect for doing that. I also liked that he managed to piss off everyone at one time or another by merely sticking to a consistent world view especially when he would explain that the loss of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was not a bad thing. I’ve read him more than the others.

The thing is that while those three individuals are the most well known atheists they don’t speak for us. Just because they are acerbic to some they get picked out as being the spokesmen for an entire group that has no hierarchy. We don’t have an Atheist Pope or minister that tells us how to think. Robert Ingersoll and Thomas Paine are the anti-religious writers (they were both Deists) that I have read the most. There is no official canon.

9: Do you consider yourself a weak atheist or a strong atheist?

As I understand the difference a strong atheist is one that strictly denies the exist of a divine being. In other words, this is an active position. A weak atheist is one that reserves the possibility of a divine being but has yet to see evidence or proof of it. I disagree with this terminology for the connotations that each qualifier carries with it. I’ve read many books and papers, I can argue against and show the problems with the proofs, and am knowledgeable on many different religions but would have to sit myself in the “weak atheist” camp even though my intelligence on the subject is greater than many of the people that can claim to be “strong atheists.” Further my problem with “strong atheism” is that you cannot prove a negative; they can’t know there is no divine being just as we can’t know there isn’t a teapot in space, but we can suspend affirmation until we see proof that either of those things exist.

While I’m open to the possibility that there is a divine being, as there is no necessity that attaches to either its existence or not, I do not have doubts that I’m wrong. In some cases this would make me more aligned with the strong camp but that’s only in the most pedantic definition of the term.

10: How can you prove that God doesn’t exist?

See above. I can’t prove that there is no god, but the crux of the issue is that I don’t have to. The burden of proof is on the one making the affirmation not the denial. You can’t prove that there aren’t Jotnar who live in Nifleheim but it would be foolish for me to say that without proof of non-existence you must believe that they exist. However, I can show alternative explanations for the claims of particular religions, oftentimes without having to go outside of those religions’ texts to point out contradictions and absurdities.

11: Do you believe in miracles?

This depends on what you mean by “miracle.” If you mean something awe inspiring then the answer is yes. Our existence is awe inspiring given the incredible probability against it happening. If you mean that something which violates the laws of nature then the answer is an unmitigated no. The miracles in religious texts are almost always reported either well after the fact or with no corroborating witnesses. Medical miracles have nearly completely ceased since we have started keeping medical records, those that remain always regard internal and unseen conditions that are usually self-reported or given no follow up. Sightings of Saints or spirits in the sky have nearly vanished since the advent of the camera and now that we all carry one in our pocket they have ceased altogether (just like UFO sightings).

12: Do you have a support group/system?

Not particularly. I listen to a lot of atheist podcasts and read a lot of blogs. I’ve also never really felt the need for one. I don’t live in an area where being an Atheist is a problem and for the most part the topic of religion doesn’t come up.

13: Do you try to get others not to believe?

Depends on who you ask. There are some people that think my blog is my attempt to convert others, but I’m just writing about the subject because I find it interesting and it also helps to clear my head if I read a story that I find interesting or frustrating.

The only times that I have tried to convert another person is when they have tried to tell me that I am wrong. In cases like that, the gloves come off. I was an active member of my graduate department’s Christian Philosophy Club and there was no friction either from me or toward me. The only time recently I began to have the argument was when a couple of Jehova’s Witnesses came knocking on the door. I don’t particularly care what a person believes unless they are trying to force their beliefs on me.

14: Do others tend to view you differently when they discover you’re an atheist?

Sometimes people look at me with shock, but that’s very rare. Usually they just ask a quick afterlife question and then the subject gets dropped. I know a few people that knew me for years but didn’t know I was an Atheist, when they found out they merely nodded and nothing changed.

15: Do people tend to try to convince you that your views are wrong?

It has happened, but it’s quite rare. On those few occasions they usually try and explain some aspect of their religion (it’s only been Christianity thus far) that they think I’m unaware of–but then they quickly find out that not only am I aware but that I find it not compelling. I find this tactic to be remarkably impotent, you can’t be an American and unaware of the basic beliefs of Christianity so quoting John 3:16 isn’t going to suddenly turn me around. Often times they become very aware that I have as much religious knowledge as they do, once that threshold is met they give up because outside of just referring to doctrine or text they have no reason to believe. The problem that they have is that they are merely regurgitating arguments that they are taught to be effective (e.g. the person doesn’t believe because they are unaware of what we believe) and will be engaging with caricatures of atheists who are easily swayed. Neither of these are effective. Admittedly, I’m dealing with a very small sample size and have no desire to increase it.

16. How does your family view your beliefs? Are they supportive?

If I’m not the only Atheist in the family (I’m counting my extended family as well) I’m the admitted one, but it has almost no effect on familial relationships. Some expressed a surprise but that was about it. I’m very lucky in this respect as I do know some atheists who constantly have to fight about it with their relatives and have heard some atheists talk about how they have been completely shunned by their families.

17: What are your views on Madalyn O’Hair?

Full disclosure: I have only heard her name mentioned on some podcasts and that she was a founder of American Atheists. Other than that I would have to look her up which I feel would be dishonest to do so in order to answer this question.

That settles the questions. I’m interested in seeing what other good questions theists would have for someone like me as long as they were in good faith and not thinly disguised attempts at reassurance. Perhaps a list of similar questions going the other way would be appropriate.

 

*In case you are curious the answer to both are as follows: Atheism isn’t a religion so the question begins on a false premise and the second question utterly misunderstands Evolutionary theory.

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Dave Hahn
Dave Hahn er PhD kandidat i filosofi på University at Buffalo. Han er tidligere katolik, men nu ateist med hustru og to børn. Han fører bloggen https://rdxdave.wordpress.com/ og har bl.a. publiceret i Pop Culture and Philosophy series. Selvom to katte bor i hans hus, så påstår han dog at de ikke er hans.
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