Hello. I noticed this article by a British doctor asking Atheists "Twenty Questions Atheists Struggle To Answer." I always enjoy a challenge so I answered them and emailed the following letter to him with my answers.
1. I would appreciate any comments, critiques, proposed revisions, additions, deletions YOU think would make my responses stronger/better.
2. These questions, some more so than others, may help you formulate your own responses for both your own edification, critical thinking skills and to assist others to "break the spell."
Kind regards to all.
Dear Dr. Saunders:
I apologize for being so late to the "game" but I only noticed your article playing "20 questions" today. Despite not being a scientist (retired trial attorney) I wanted to respond to your questions , not to attempt to persuade you of anything, but to see whether I should rethink my lapse from Christianity and rejoin the faithful. Any help you can provide would be genuinely appreciated. I am a seeker of truth and you believe you have some to offer. Please do. My answers are beneath each of your twenty questions. Please note that scientists DO struggle to answer many questions, including some you have posed, because science does not presume to know everything. Why and how the absence of perfect knowledge supports your belief in a triune deity despite no evidence thereof (unless you believe there IS such evidence, which would appear to contradict the very foundation of all religious belief, i.e. faith), is unclear to me. Hopefully, you will be kind enough to explain.
I would genuinely appreciate your answers to your questions or, if you deem them unanswerable, the reasons you believe the inability to answer these questions supports belief in a deity, especially YOUR deity, since you will agree there are others worshipped with equal faith, albeit incorrectly in your view, by others.
"Twenty questions atheists struggle to answer" (Your title, I believe)
1.What caused the universe to exist?
A. Nothing. See "A Universe From Nothing" by Lawrence Krauss. The explanation contained therein is subject to falsification as all scientific theories are. Feel free. Assuming a cause is required (you do based on your question. I do not, but I could be wrong), what caused your God? If your God does not require a cause, why does the Universe?
2.What explains the fine tuning of the universe?
A. Not sure. Science is still working on that one. I would point out that what you and others call "fine tuning" is simply human language attempting to describe what IS, as best we humans are able to describe what we OBSERVE in our universe. I enjoyed reading "Six Numbers" even though I did not understand a lot of the technical jargon. But I do understand that science has given us more meaningful answers in just the past one hundred years than all the religions of the world have given us throughout human history. Do you disagree? Science cured polio, hundreds of other diseases; observed that the Sun, not the Earth, is the center of our Solar system; "expanded" our universe to hundreds of billions of galaxies; and continues to make human life on Earth better and better. Any reason you can think of why Jesus, God himself according to you, never mentioned any of this valuable information while he was here saving us from "original sin" and "demons"? It's a fair question, right?
3.Why is the universe rational?
A. This appears to be two questions: Is the Universe rational? And, if so, why? I accept that humans are rational, or, at least capable of reason, but I have no idea what it means to refer to the Universe (by which I mean EVERYTHING there is) as rational. I am not an engineer but I understand we cannot build much of anything complex without the assistance of irrational numbers such as pi and the square root of negative one. If I am correct, that suggests to me the Universe is NOT rational, at least not in all respects. Regardless of the answer to this question, I do not see how gods enter into it.
4.How did DNA and amino acids arise?
A. Not sure if science knows the answer YET. But if it doesn't, it will someday. The answer will produce yet more questions even more difficult to answer. Do you really want to support your belief in God based on the "gaps" in human knowledge? The "god of the gaps" is so Nineteenth Century, don't you agree? I don't mean to "change the subject" on you, but are you a Biblical Literalist? Do you spend as much time questioning the Bible as you do science? Slavery? Genocide? Misogyny? Are you okay with these or am I misunderstanding the plain language of the Bible? Couldn't God have written his revelation in clear, unambiguous language?
5.Where did the genetic code come from?
A. See answer to 4.
6.How do irreducibly complex enzyme chains evolve?
A. See answer to 4. Also please recall that realizing the Earth revolved around the Sun was "irreducibly complex" for a long, long time AND flatly contradicted by the Bible. You do agree the Earth revolves around the Sun, right?
7.How do we account for the origin of 116 distinct language families?
A. "116"? Really. Not 115, or 117? We have discovered precisely 116? You are being silly, either intentionally or unwittingly. Human language has been evolving for thousands of years and continues to do so. When did Latin disappear and French, Italian, Spanish, et cetera begin? Which came first the chicken or the egg? THIS kind of analysis convinces you there MUST be a god? Please explain.
8.Why did cities suddenly appear all over the world between 3,000 and 1,000BC?
A. Am far more interested in YOUR answer to this, than whatever archeology, anthropology and other sciences have to say. Do you believe this somehow demonstrates God was involved? Is the answer staring me in the face in the Bible? Please explain the significance of this ASSUMPTION (My understanding is that cities existed long prior to 3,000BCE).
9.How is independent thought possible in a world ruled by chance and necessity?
A. Sorry. I really do not see the apparent inconsistency you see. Science still working on how we think, but we DO think. Independently? My thoughts certainly APPEAR to be independent of your thoughts. The world is NOT "ruled" by anyone or anything other than "e=mc2" until someone comes up with a better theory. God don't enter into it. BTW, any reason God has not "revealed" anything since New Testament codified ? When do you contend God's latest revelation took place? Does NT tell us everything we need to know? If not, why not? When you medically diagnose patients, do you use the Bible? If so, how? If not, why not? Just curious.
10.How do we account for self-awareness?
A. That's a tough one, isn't it? Synapses? What is your answer? "God gave it to us." Do you really find that helpful and informative? I think I'll wait for science to observe, experiment and REASON its way to an answer.
11.How is free will possible in a material universe?
A. Who says we have "free will"? How do you even define it? We make choices every day. Do we REALLY have a choice? How many angels can dance on the head of a pin? THAT is religion trying to be profound. But it isn't. Religion is on the silly side of this question, not science or Atheism. We have brains and we do not fully understand how they work. What we DO understand comes from science, reason and "worldly knowledge." Do you find it ironic that the Bible contains not one word praising human knowledge? You should because we've accomplished quite a bit by opposing god-myths and superstition masquerading as revelation. Do you believe a snake/serpent spoke to and tempted Eve? Your answer will tell me a lot about you.
12.How do we account for conscience?
A. see answer to 11. Also, evolution. Helping others, avoiding harm to others had significant benefits to everyone, i.e. it was a "selfish" act to be "unselfish." We did not need a god to tell us that. It works.
13.On what basis can we make moral judgements?
A. Is "judgements" with an "e" a typo or a British thing? Either way, we make them based upon our common experience over time. That's why morality changes. Slavery was ALWAYS evil but it took us time to figure that out and come to a consensus. If we listened to your God, slavery would still exist worldwide and would be perfectly moral, as would genocide and misogyny and polygamy. I prefer modern morality to Biblical morality. My meme is winning, albeit not fast enough.
14.Why does suffering matter?
A. Terrible phrasing by you but suffering is to be avoided whenever possible because it opposes human happiness. This is the only life we get (as far as we know) so that making it as pleasant and free from suffering as possible just makes sense. We should also be concerned about the suffering of our fellow species even though god, if he existed, clearly was NOT concerned about it. "Suffering" evolved with the "food chain"/predator and prey/et cetera. No loving god would have designed nature in so bloodthirsty a fashion. Except, apparently, YOUR God. Please respond as you deem appropriate. Nature is not moral. Nature wants to reproduce itself. You know, The Selfish Gene, written by your favorite Atheist.
15.Why do human beings matter?
A. For any and all reasons we decide we matter. You can find NO reason why we matter without God? Look at your wife, your children, your friends. Of all the claims implicit in your twenty questions, this is the most offensive, if not the most evidencing ignorance masquerading as religious ideology. Shame on you.
16.Why care about justice?
A. Because the only alternative (which has been tried) is anarchy and resulting chaos. "Justice" helps to keep us from killing/hurting each other. Blood feuds are costly to society. "Justice"/law codes provide a measure of confidence that people will be treated fairly and, therefore do not need to exact justice on their own. Human justice much better than God's justice. We no longer kill people for picking firewood on the Sabbath; disobeying and being unruly to parents; fucking your aunt, et cetera. We have a long way to go but we have come quite far thanks to contradicting the Bible rather than following it. I would love to hear any disagreement you may have.
17.How do we account for the almost universal belief in the supernatural?
A. Human desire for answers in a pre-scientific world unable to provide very many. Unfortunately, this was exacerbated by ascendance of Christianity after Constantine in 309CE. It kept us in the Dark Ages for more than a thousand years and would love to take us back there. Not going to happen. BTW, there is no belief in a personal god/supernatural among most Chinese. Ergo, Belief in Supernatural NOT almost universal, and decreasing at an accelerating rate, but, living in Britain, you are well aware of that fact.
18.How do we know the supernatural does not exist?
A. Technically, we don't. BUT, only technically, because you cannot prove a negative. If gods existed, at least one of them surely would have shown herself to us by now--clearly, unambiguously--"Here I am. This is what I want." Instead, we have myths and folk tales collected hundreds of years afterwards and promulgated as revelation by persons wanting to control other persons. Tough to argue with words/laws given by God himself. Nothing more than a clever and effective control mechanism. What else do you believe without evidence?
19.How can we know if there is conscious existence after death?
A. Easy. We will all die and find out. Has anybody spoken to you from the grave?
20. What accounts for the empty tomb, resurrection appearances and growth of the church?
A. Assuming facts not in evidence. Gospels are not evidence of anything other than a new iteration of a then three thousand year old myth: Osiris/Mithras/Dionysius. You should know this. Justin Martyr, early church apologist acknowledged these "similarities"/borrowings from long-existing pagan cults/religions and explained them away as "diabolic mimicry," that is, he said the DEVIL pre-planted these myths into history because the DEVIL knew Jesus was coming and wanted to trick people. Clever Devil, huh?
There is NO contemporary evidence Jesus/Yeshua ever lived. There was no resurrection. All three synoptic gospels, written roughly 70CE, 80CE and 90CE, decades after Jesus allegedly lived, tell the story with irreconcilable contradictions--except to believers who do not care about contradictions. "Everything is possible with God."
Finally, the church was quite small and inconsequential until Constantine had his vision and made it the unofficial state sponsored religion in 309CE. That explains its subsequent growth. It also explains why the first Church "Histories" (and I use that term loosely because they made it up as they wrote it down) were written at that time. There was money and power to be had by being part of the State supported Roman Church. "Follow the money" works here as everywhere else to provide explanation and motive.
Are you really arguing that "size matters"? The Mormons are one of the fastest growing religions in America. The FASTEST growing category worldwide is: No religion. But again, living in Britain you already know this.
I have enjoyed responding to your questions and did not find them particularly difficult to the extent I understood them. Compared to trying to defend the Bible, they were a cakewalk. Please let me know how I did.
Richard Dawkins was just selected by Prospect Magazine's panel of distinguished experts as the most impactful knowledgeable person in the world. Not a single Christian apologist made the list.
I hope to hear from you.
Well done. It's sincere where it should be, and bitingly sarcastic where it should be. You also do a fine job of picking up on the inherent fallacies in almost all of his questions, and I'm glad you didn't let him get away with anything (the question begging and special pleading bothers me most).
I think it too pushy for my tastes, much of the time the question was less answered than it was used to ask what it had to to with religion. While what you wrote down is correct I think that it would have been better to treat the questions with more respect as most of them are legitimatly good questions.
I understand how difficult that is to do with believers somtimes, but you will never change anybody's minds if you don't answer their questions.
The problem, though, is that they want THEIR answers to their questions, and they really don't want to hear ours. They're not interested in logic or evidence or anything substantial which yields usable or demonstrable support of our position. They have their CONCLUSION, and that is all that matters to them, at least as regards the questions posed here.
I've said it many times in different ways, but it still holds: it is unlikely, approaching impossible, that rational and irrational points of view will find a meeting of the minds. Put more simply:
Faith Is No Reason.
I agree, Loren, and as far as I know, I'm batting 0 for "a large number" in winning "converts." (There has to be a better word!) I'm okay with that. I am a seed planter. I don't have time to stick around to see if it grows and blossoms. I am convinced people who engage us have doubt. THEY will decide when the doubt becomes too great to continue to defend and support. We all need to keep planting seeds, because as Dawkins says, these "memes" are like genes and simply want to reproduce and insure their survival. Religious memes, as fraudulent as they have ALWAYS been, are powerful because they get repeated, too often, without anyone contradicting their falsity. Can you understand why Don Quixote is my fictional hero?
I agree with Loren!
I have to go with Loren on this one. It's like a conversation I got into with a devout Xtian theist about evolution and the 'ole 2nd law of thermodynamics argument. When I asked how many laws of thermodynamics there were, he gave the wrong answer, and I corrected him. When I asked him to explain the 2nd law, he got it wrong, leaving out the requirement of a closed system. When I corrected that, he got thoroughly pissed and stormed off. He didn't want the right answer, he wanted HIS answer.
Unlike John, I wouldn't waste my time with the British doctor. His questions are specifically designed to elicit the responses he wants, and not reality. Take, for instance, "What accounts for the empty tomb..." How about a fairy story made up by someone with an over active imagination. The same question, posed slightly differently. "What accounts for the presents under the Xmas tree when you didn't see anyone put them there?"
And old adage I try to follow. Never argue with a fool. People looking in from the outside may not be able to tell the difference.
Both of you are correct, although life would be much better if things were different. However, simply refusing to speak as pat would do, or answering with a hostile attitude as loren did will not change any minds. Remember that this should be our purpose. Few among us enyjoy discussing religion, but it is the responsibility of all of us to do our best to spread the seed of doubt. We, with few exceptions, all started religous at some point in our lives. Remember this and do your best to lead them on the same road that you followed.
If Atheism is to spread it will be through patience and logic, not hostility. Again however I must stress that I do not believe either of you are incorrect, everything you have said is true. What if sombody happens upon your discussion and gives them their first doubts? What if the person you are speaking with hears a question they cannot answer for themselves, only for you?
Travis, I could answer completely without emotional content if I wanted to and it would make ZERO difference. The blunt end of the stick is that They Don't Want To Hear It! They have closed themselves off from rational arguments or logical deductions or scientific fact because all of those things have the unmitigated gall to contradict their magic holy book.
I've gone head-to-head with JWs on at least three different occasions. They put out their biblical bullshit; I answer with reasoned, supported logical arguments. The result is invariably the same: "I guess we're just from two different schools of thought." True - I base what I believe and know on fact, established theory and the discipline of science. They apparently want to base what they believe in on an ancient book which has more flaws than I care to count ... but they don't want to acknowledge those flaws because their belief has subverted what little intellect they own.
Travis, I'm not in the habit of addressing an audience which isn't interested in listening, with few exceptions (such as the above). As for spreading "the seed of doubt," even the bible had something reasonably cogent to say about that, and I don't see much point in attempting to persist in casting pearls before swine.
If you want to, you are invited to do so. I have other things on my mind.
Agree totally! In my case, for whatever "reasons"[?], responding without even a hint of sarcasm is simply not an option. Even if I could pull it off, I would never be able to persuade myself to do so. Would you ask your pet dog to stop licking his balls? Of course not!
Travis, with all due respect, I strongly disagree with you about spreading atheism "will only be through patience and logic, not hostility.
Look at the slave trade in which American colonialists and Europeans and then USA vigorously participated in maintaining slavery, and the many outbursts of rage that occurred by many generations of slaves. In the end it was a violent means of a Civil War that slaves were freed in reality; even yet there are pockets of race-hatred-mongers churning the environment, wanting to return to a two class society. Race-hatred must be illegal, our law enforcement and courts must protect the rights of blacks in every noock and cranny we find them.
Look also at the Native American situation. Genocide, racism, hate-mongering took a heavy tole and many Natives gave their lives seeking their freedom and legitimate rights, only to be hounded down, laws ignored, and discrimination occurred, even today. Again Christian delusions and denial maintain and perpetuate the struggle. When Indians get so angry even the bullies will restrain themselves, then there will be not only more justice, but more peace.
Look at the ways women have been marginalized, not only by tribal peoples who follow the books of Bronze Age sheep herders, but by those who have no connection racially with Abraham's tribe, but have adopted those delusions as reality. Women have never gotten full citizenship by crying, pleading, reasoning, negotiating, compromising or acquiescing. Women have taken a stand, stopped their oppression and domination by passive and aggressive means.
I salute all these heroes who went before us, paid terrible prices for standing up for themselves, and who took the whip and forced feeding even as they fought back.
Mother Earth is now say very loudly and clearly, you dominators have it all wrong. You will die because of your hubris, and you will take your children and grandchildren with you.
Thanks Pat. See my reply to Loren. Being thought a fool is the least of Don Quixote's problems! lol
I agree, it wasn't so much 20 questions as it was about seven questions and thirteen others that were about the same intent. I do not understand the ability to follow rational thought in every single day to day interaction except they believe in magic when it comes to religion. Then justify their inconsistency with ideas like,"why couldn't the laws of physics be broken?".