11 July 2022

Answering Michael Brown

In yesterday's link round-up, I linked to Bruce Gerencser's answers to Michael Brown's seven questions for atheists.  Since Brown says his goal is to "better understand your mindset as an atheist" rather than to argue and bicker, I thought I'd take a shot at answering them myself as well.

First, would you say that you are (or, were) an atheist based primarily on intellectual study or based on experience?  Or did you never believe in God at all?

I grew up without religion and never believed in God.  In the course of my almost 62 years, I've studied both science and various religions fairly extensively, and I've never found any reason to believe that any of the countless gods humans have invented at various times actually exist.  (My reason for studying religions is interest in the huge cultural and political impact they have, not any feeling that there might be truth or wisdom in them.)

Second, would you say that even as an atheist you still have a sense of purpose and destiny in your life, a feeling that you were put here for a reason and that you have a mission to accomplish?  Or is it primarily people of faith who feel like this, since we are simply the products of an unguided, random evolutionary process?

One of the best things about being an atheist is that I know my life is truly my own, not cluttered up by some "higher purpose" imposed by an external entity.  I was not "put here for a reason".  At various times I have pursued certain purposes and goals, but they were entirely of my own choosing.

As an aside (but an important one), it's wrong to speak of evolution as a "random process".  Mutation is indeed random, but natural selection, by definition, is not.  The world is full of natural processes which are not under any conscious guidance but don't operate randomly either.

Third, would you say that you are 100% sure there is no such being as God -- meaning, an eternal, all-powerful, all-knowing being?  Or would you say that, for all practical purposes, you have concluded that this God does not exist, although it is impossible to prove such a negative with absolute certainty?

I would put the Biblical God (or Zeus or Brahma or whatever) in the same category with unicorns, vampires, Spider-Man, etc.  In some arid and abstract philosophical sense, one can't absolutely prove the non-existence of such entities, but they're so implausible that it's not worth spending any time or mental energy on the issue.

Fourth, do you believe that science can provide answers for many of the remaining mysteries of the universe, including how the universe began (including where matter came from and where the Big Bang derived its energy), the origin of life, and DNA coding?

We already have a solid scientific explanation for how the universe began.  For the origin of life (an issue distinct from evolution, as I hope Brown is aware), there are about a dozen plausible hypotheses, any of which could be true, but we'll probably never know for certain which one is true, since it happened so long ago and little relevant evidence survives to be studied.  Nothing suggests that anything supernatural was necessary for life to begin.  I'm not sure why Brown thinks DNA coding requires a special explanation.  Again, there are multiple hypotheses about certain details of how DNA originated (discussion here), but as far as I know it's not considered especially mysterious.

Fifth, have you had any experiences in life that caused you to question your atheism?  Has something happened to you that seemed genuinely supernatural or otherworldly?  Or have you been confronted with some information that shook your atheistic foundations, such as a scientific argument for intelligent design?  If so, how have you dealt with such doubts to your atheism?

I have experienced things that I would say aren't explainable by current scientific knowledge.  I don't take that as being evidence for anything supernatural.  The fact that there isn't currently a natural explanation for something doesn't mean there never will be.  (It could also be that my interpretation of my experiences was mistaken, a possibility which any open-minded skeptical person must acknowledge.)  There are no "scientific arguments for intelligent design", just a lot of intellectually-dishonest gobbledygook and confusion presented as a very poor imitation of science.

Sixth, are you completely materialistic in your mindset, meaning human beings are entirely physical, human consciousness is an illusion, and there is no spiritual realm of any kind?  Or are you superstitious, reading horoscopes or engaging in new age practices or the like?

I don't know whether reality is entirely "materialistic" (however defined) or not.  Nobody does.  I don't believe consciousness or free will are illusions (see here).  Again, the fact that there are aspects of reality we don't understand yet is not evidence for the supernatural.  A few centuries ago we didn't have scientific explanations for gravity or light or disease or many other things, but as our knowledge advanced, none of those things turned out to be supernatural.  Time will pass and we'll figure out the scientific explanations for things like consciousness and free will too.  A "spiritual realm" is a nebulous concept, but I see no evidence for the existence of any such thing as most people would understand the term.  Astrology is just stupid nonsense.  "New age practices" is a huge and vague category, but I don't believe in auras or healing crystals or any such thing.

Seventh, if you were convinced that God truly existed -- meaning the God of the Bible, who is perfect in every way, full of justice and mercy, our Creator and our Redeemer -- would that be good news or bad news?  And would you be willing to follow Him and honor Him if He were truly God?

This brief video expresses perfectly what I would say in response to that question.

o o o o o

I haven't yet decided whether to send this to Michael Brown or not.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The comic book analogy I would use for God is Deathstroke, not Spider-Man. His creator made him a pretty blatant villain, including straight up murdering his son, but insists he's a hero.

I actually liked one Tumblr post I saw a while back about Christianity as a toxic fandom. One group of people ran a scam saying "If you pay us, your blorbo will know you're valid." and the fandom permanently split over a 95-paragraph call-out post for such behavior.

11 July, 2022 04:17  
Blogger Martha said...

Great questions and great answers! I enjoyed your thoughts on these.

11 July, 2022 05:31  
Blogger One Fly said...

Of course, send it. If someone gets their feelings hurt or whatever - tough shit! Non- believers are not the problem.

11 July, 2022 05:43  
Blogger Mary said...

Love the video! So clear and simple yet the blind don’t see. I’m with you on all your answers, but…
Answer to 5 for me is no I’ve never doubted my atheism. I believe that all can ultimately be explained through science.
I think we have free will and consciousness is a product of our brain and thus dies when our brain dies. I don’t go in to the cosmic consciousness woo.

11 July, 2022 06:20  
Blogger Sixpence Notthewiser said...

Great answers. I may even take note and elaborate on some, because my sister has found faith *groan* and we usually have discussions on this topic. I do try to be as tactful as possible, but she gets to me with the 'you need faith' trope. Ugh.


11 July, 2022 08:39  
Blogger yellowdoggranny said...

The Goddess approves of this message.

11 July, 2022 09:59  
Blogger Pliny-the-in-Between said...

"...if you were convinced that God truly existed—meaning the God of the Bible, who is perfect in every way, full of justice and mercy, our Creator and our Redeemer—would that be good news or bad news?"

Bad news, since it would clearly indicate that I have totally misunderstood the definitions of perfect, justice, and mercy my entire life.

11 July, 2022 12:25  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Anon: In that analogy I was just going for examples of obviously-fictional things that would be easily recognizable by everybody. Spider-Man is at least widely known.

Yeah, that post certainly sounds like Christianity.

Martha: Thanks: It's a bit of a self-intro, if nothing else.

One Fly: Based on observations I've seen by others, I kind of doubt he'll even read them.

Mary: I've never doubted my non-belief in gods either. Nothing's ever given me a reason to.

So far, there's no evidence that anything other than an organic brain can sustain consciousness. Logically, a computer organized in a similar way might be able to. We should find out soon.

Sixpence: Thanks. Sorry to hear about your sister. "Faith" just means belief without any supporting evidence, so "you need faith" really means "you need to believe without having any reason to do so". It doesn't make sense.

Granny: Thought she might.

Pliny: Indeed, it would mean those words meant their own opposites. The God described in the Bible is distinctly imperfect, unjust, and merciless.

13 July, 2022 00:26  
Blogger Shaw Kenawe said...

I just read this. Send it to Brown. Your answers, IMO, are intelligent, clear, and grounded in rationality. I'd like to link to this in a future blog, if I may.

13 July, 2022 10:31  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Shaw: You're certainly welcome to link to it. I guess I should hurry up and decide about sending it to Brown or not.

13 July, 2022 10:44  
Anonymous NickM said...

Short version is... It'll take seconds to send it. The more they know smart people don't buy their bullshit the better. It might encourage 'em to try and raise their game which will be interesting ;-) I used to play poker quite a bit and it's quite fun watching someone trying to balls-out a clearly bust flush.

13 July, 2022 11:15  
Blogger Lady M said...

Love your answers because they reflect my world view as well. I was raised without religion and therefore, have none the the emotional sentimentality many people attach to the practice. I find his questions loaded with religious presupposition especially that bullshit last statement. In what sense is any God about justice and perfection? I just don't see justice and perfection in religion at all. Religion is about control.

13 July, 2022 13:55  
Blogger Daal said...

I much admire your bravery & intelligence. as for me, dunno/don't care -- tho I do care that religion is often used as a bludgeon for evil deeds

13 July, 2022 17:08  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I mean, Deathstroke was created in 1980, but he has really been somewhat overexposed in adaptations. He was even in the Justice League movie, despite his usual nemesis being dead in that universe.

You probably do know Marvel's parody of him, though: Deadpool.

Maybe it's a generational thing.

14 July, 2022 06:54  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

NickM: Maybe so. Who knows if they even read the responses.

Lady M: The questions are definitely premised on a religious viewpoint. Of course, for an atheist to answer them within the same framework would be dishonest. I certainly have no sentimentality about religion either. I find it tiresome and childish, even when not dangerous.

Daal: Thanks for the kind words. Unfortunately the evil religion inspires makes it everybody's problem -- see for example the recent overthrow of Roe v Wade, an action rooted entirely in religious taboo.

14 July, 2022 09:29  

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