Tuesday, November 15, 2011

10 Questions Atheists Can't Answer Well Answered Well By An Atheist

So, some time ago, I addressed the website missinguniversemuseum.com and it's Evolution Test.
I discovered that website and the test through a biology student, fellow atheist and friend.  Now, he's stumbled upon another 'quiz' that I've decided to tackle.  These questions were originally posted way back in 2005, but they were recently (2010) re-posted by the same author, on his new website, exactly as they were before.
You can find the re-post here: http://www.wholereason.com/2010/11/10-questions-atheists-cant-answer-well.html

For the sake of convenience, I'll quote each question as is in the aforementioned link; complete with spelling and grammatical errors; before each answer.

1.  "Where did life and humanity originate?"
We don't know where the very first instant of life occurred.  Mathematically speaking, there are almost certainly other planets out there that are inhabited and many have been around for a lot longer than Earth.  The very first life probably went extinct eons ago on some very distant planet.
As for humanity, it originated on Earth of course.  Are you sure you didn't mean to ask how human life originated?

2.  "Why is there suffering, sickness and death?"
This is a pretty easy question to answer in the context of real-world factors.  Sickness is caused by viruses/harmful bacteria/what have you.  Death occurs when vital organs fail, be it through force (e.g. murder) or 'natural' causes (e.g. cancer).
This question is, in fact, much harder to answer if you assume there is a god that cares about us because...well, why does he let such things happen?

3.  "What is the cure for man's suffering, esp. his existential lonliness?"
Well, this is entirely subjective.  If somebody is suffering from, say, depression, an upbeat cartoon might cheer them up.  However, if somebody is suffering from hunger, then you wouldn't have them view the same cartoon and expect to cure their suffering.  There is no single cure.
As for existential loneliness, again this is still subjective.  I don't feel existentially lonely at all.  I certainly don't see why being an atheist should make me feel existentially lonely.
Previously I mentioned that in mathematical terms, aliens are practically confirmed to exist; that simple fact may stop some particular individual from feeling "existentially lonely" but may not do the same for another.

4.  "How does an atheist assign meaning to human activity?  Is all meaning subjective, or do some activities have self-evident and objective worth and meaning.  If so, what are these activities and how do you arrive at their value?"
We have conscious thought and instinct; both of these are playing factors in the actions we take.  You could say meaning is subjective in a sense.  I like to choose the course of action that benefits the human race because I sincerely care about our species and would like to see it thrive and better itself.  That path is, in my mind, the correct path.  Others may not agree; they may think humankind should go extinct for the sake of other species or the Earth itself. The latter view may seem ludicrous but there are many people in the real world who do think that way and that has to mean that these things are, in fact, subjective.
Even subjective context doesn't remove self-evident worth though.  Again, I want what's best for the human race as a whole.  I donate to charity every time I go to a fast food place that happens to be doing a charity drive.  With my desires in mind, the action of donating to starving and/or sick children has a clearly self-evident value; because our economies revolve around money and donating money to charity is going to help those in need.

5.  "Are humans of more intrinsic value than animals?  Why or why not?"
I would say yes, but that's subjective for reasons I already covered in my last answer; there are many people who would disagree with me thus confirming subjectivity.
I, not as a spokesman for atheists (as I'm not one, nor is anyone really) but as an individual, think humans are more intrinsically valuable than other animals (and I say 'other' because humans are, in fact, animals themselves) because we are the most cognitively capable species on the planet.  We have the highest standard of problem-solving ability, intelligence, productivity, etc.
Because of this superiority, we are the most capable species on our planet of achieving great things for our planet and for each other.
As much as I love cats, I would sooner kill a cat than another human being.  Thankfully, I doubt I'll ever have to make such a choice.

6.  "How does an atheist determine what is moral or immoral, right or wrong.  Is there any objective standard or principles?"
No, there isn't.  Again, I've covered that already.  If there is no god, and I do not believe there is, then our morals must have Earthly origins and since morals can change drastically from one person to the next, morality is thus undeniably subjective.
And again, I try to derive my morals from a sincere desire for doing what's best for the human race.
I can't tell you how all atheists determine morality as I am not all atheists.  I am one atheist.
As for the origins, I would contest that there are 2 factors that have, for lack of a better word, 'caused' our morality to exist.
The first of these factors is the evolution of instinct.  Throughout history, humans have tended to live in societies that benefited from their inhabitants bearing the traits of a good samaritan.  The inhabitants themselves also benefited from those traits.  Thus instinctual morality, such as empathy for human suffering, can be explained by this.
The second factor is the emergence of consciousness and, in turn, conscious reasoning.  With the ability to reason, we have the ability to choose our course of action based on our own criteria.  Many of us choose to reason based on factors that are, subjectively, moral.

7. "What type of government does atheistic philosophy translate into?  How does it understand the relationship between man and government?  What type of government structures flow from an atheistic world view?  Does it merely rely on someone else's system of thought, like the assumptions of naturalistic science?"
At this point, I can conclude that you do not know what atheism is.  Atheism is not a philosophy, nor is it a worldview.  Atheism is simply a lack of a faith-based belief system.  In fact, the components that make up the word 'atheism', the prefix 'a-' and the root word 'theism', together literally mean "lack of belief system".
Atheists do not universally agree on what government philosophy is right.  They do not have a universally identical worldview.
Let me give you an example:  Penn and Teller are atheists and hardcore libertarians.  I am an atheist and I agree with much of what Penn and Teller have to say on political philosophy, but I don't agree with all of it.  If I had to choose an existing political term to describe my stance, it would be 'libertarian' but I do not consider myself to be 100% libertarian; I have points of contention with that ideology.  TheAmazingAtheist on YouTube thinks, and I quote, "libertarians are idiots".
So in that example, we have 4 atheists who, even though they are all atheists, do not share identical philosophies.

8.  "How does atheism view religions and religious faith?  What about metaphysics?  Is atheism purely materialistic and naturalistic?"
Why do all of these questions assume that the one atheist answering can speak for all atheists on the planet?
Remember, atheism itself is the 'lack of belief'.  Atheism does not 'view religions and religious faith', it lacks them.
As an individual who is also an atheist, I personally view religions and religious faith with extreme skepticism and moderate contempt respectively.
Atheism is not purely materialistic and naturalistic because, yet again, it is not a philosophy or worldview.  Myself on the other hand, I am fairly materialistic.  I like having things, it makes me happy.  But that has absolutely nothing to do with atheism by definition.

9.  "Who are the authoritative writers/books of atheism?  What are the central tenets of atheism, and if they have a "greatest commandment," what is it?  For example, arguably, Christianity's is "Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, mind, soul and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.""
Before I answer, I just want to mention that it was really hard to resist making fun of the horrendous grammar in this question.
Just like it is not a philosophy or worldview, atheism is not a doctrine either.  There are no authoritative writers.  There are no rule books.  There are no commandments.  Atheism itself is simply not having faith-based beliefs.
There are people who write books about atheism, such as Richard Dawkins and his book 'The God Delusion', but they are not our leaders, nor are their books our doctrine.  The people are just that:  People.  The books contain those people's thoughts put onto paper.  Nothing more, nothing less.

10.  "What happens after we die?"
This is probably the most competent, if most often repeated, question on this list.
The truth is nobody can say for certain.  It's an impossibility for anyone to know for certain what's going to happen to them following their death.  However, the same can be said for just about everything of our perceived reality.  Nothing is truly a 100% certainty.  Even scientific laws are concepts that have such a high percentage of certainty that they may as well be 100% certain but really aren't quite.
With that in mind, I can tell you what I would say happens after we die because it is something I am so close to certain of that I may as well be certain.
To start, let's just make sure to establish the fact that when we die, our organs shut down.  This is a confirmed part of dying and an important factor for this answer.
I do not believe we have "souls" that supersede our living body.  My body is me, organs and all.  My thoughts, personality, preferences, etc. are all controlled by my brain.  My brain, being one of my many organs, will shut down when I die just like everything else.  As it goes, so will its functions that control and establish my persona.  Thus, I will simply be gone.
I will no longer have a consciousness to speak of.  I will not drift into a void of nothingness, I will not go to an afterlife.  I simply won't be.
It will be just the same to me as the time before I was born was.
People who aren't me will, of course, continue on, but not as far as I'm concerned because I'll no longer be capable of perceiving anything.
I will eventually decay and deteriorate, as corpses do.
And hopefully my family will be intelligent enough to not spend thousands of dollars on my funeral, trying to ensure comfort that I'm not physically capable of experiencing.

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