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.
Loren, I don't see Tyson as arrogant either, and I'm sensitive to arrogant. I can't stand egotism.
When I first saw him on science programs I thought his excitement for the subject went overboard because overly dramatic people rub me the wrong way. I usually like my facts straightforward and presented in a calm manner.
However, as I've come to appreciate the man and his intelligence, his excitement bothers me very little now. I agree that he is a showman and think we need some showmen for science, even though I'm not one.
It is fun listening to physicists discuss how counter-intuitive this topic is. Reading about the struggles of the old men and women of science, and how they had to scheme or camouflage their work so they wouldn't be put to death, I realize we are going through that period once again with quantum physics.
Just as scientists were martyred by religious absolutists, probably for similar reason, except in their case it was because man fell from the center of the universe, the Earth moved around the sun, and religion lost much of its grip on the population. They did what every good religious leader does, they kill those with opposing views. We now witness the same struggle as Bruno and others from the 1300s to 1600s who were burned at the stake for heresy.
Today's religious leaders prohibit science from using their tools to prevent diseases, heal, restore life and make life flourish. Trying to control women's reproductive lives, failing to understand the role of hormones and whatever else is involved in LGBT, and preventing funding for stem cell research presents a different form of killing ideas, even as they allow the sinner to live.
Heretics Burned At the Stake
Tyson's arrogance must be irritating to those who understand the concepts. For us liberal arts majors, he makes sense and his enthusiasm inspires. Now, if I can be made to understand the very small of Quantum physics .... that statement is pretentious ... I may be able to learn new problem solving skills and learn how to be less gullible. I fall for every pretty idea.
Joan, you certainly seem to be fit for the task, if anyone is. I always have an admiration and respect for your work ethic and love of knowledge.
If you find a pathway that leads you to quantum understanding, please do let me know - I'd love to get my head wrapped around it as well. :P
This is an incredibly interesting time to be alive! Realizing that Newtonian physics doesn't fit quantum physics, and there is a whole new set of laws to discover, not invent, but to discover. Each step takes me into a more interesting, inspiring, encouraging domain and I do hope my brain holds up through this ageing process. I have good genes for ageing, it is this damnable cancer that slows me down because I seem not to be able to find the words to write what I think.
On the other hand, I can observe, up close and personal, the new technologies available to me that were not there for my mother and grandmothers.
Joan, a small first step, which you don't need to take if you've heard the sound of train or car horns, or heavy truck traffic, change as they pass you. The sounds go down in pitch, from high notes to lower notes.
Sound is alternating pressure differences in air, much like the highs and lows of water waves after you've tossed a stone into a pond. Your ear drums react to the pressure changes by vibrating and eventually tiny electrical signals reach your brain. Your brain interprets these signals as sound.
That's Relativity 101. Sound differs, depending on the movement of its source relative to you.
Einstein wasn't a mathematician. He asked people to imagine themselves in unusual situations.
Imagine a musical group on a moving flatbed truck. Imagine yourself in a moving vehicle that's passing the truck. As you pass the truck you hear the music about as you would if none of you were moving. After you've passed the truck your brain hears the music at a lower pitch, like that of a car horn moving away from you.
Now, with the music group behind your vehicle, you speed up until you're going about 800 miles per hour. That's faster than sound, which is something like 600+ miles per hour.
You know what? You're moving faster than the music group's sound and it can't catch up with you. For you the music group is making no sound.
That's Relativity 102. Sound that exists for slower-moving people doesn't exist for you.
Christian absolutists are going nuts.
I'm having fun putting this stuff into words. When I just think about it, it comes and goes too fast.
Also, in about 14 hours I need to have something for my writing group.
I hope there is no magic, because if there is, I have no way to grasp it. Kind of like the stock market, there is only magic because some gremlin is manipulating the data and it cannot be interpreted, or predicted, let alone understood. There is no understanding to understand.
Oh dear, perhaps a separate topic where p-w duality can be discussed for those of us who have unbounded curiosity with lots of ignorant questions.
"Does reason account for the universe?" Does it? Or is it purely process? or something else?
A rational actor in economics means advantage-seeking actor/ loss-avoiding actor.
Does a rational actor in medicine mean the same thing?
It seems to me that you fellows are on to something that is useful in common, everyday problem solving. Just by reading this string, I suspect you know how to put it in terms for we uneducated.
The p-w (particle-wave) duality puzzles physicists too. It says light behaves like
1. a stream of particles called photons flowing from a source, and
2. the waves you see when you throw a pebble into a pond.
Physicists with a sense of humor say light behaves like a particle on Mondays, Wednesdays & Fridays, like a wave on Tuesdays, Thursdays & Saturdays, and on Sundays uncertainty rules.
Happily, scientists found p-w duality after bronze age folk wrote a bible. Hm-mm, that and the Tower of Babble myth suggests a sci-fi story about a Tower of Sight.
Jack, I like your response: "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,"
I can stay rational as long as they ask questions, even if the questions are hostile. What turns me into an erupting volcano is when they claim people have better lives because of belief and faith in god. It is almost like I have projectile bile to spit at them.
Well-said! Of all the POVs in this thread, this is the one I most agree with.
Karim, why respond at all?
Well, ...there's physical exercise and there's mental exercise.
Part of the mental exercise is recognizing the flaws you saw. Another part is stating them as well as you did.
Yeah, some of us feel defensive about our perhaps newly-adopted conclusions and need to respond. We'll get over it and another cohort of atheists will similarly exercise their minds.