It struck me earlier this week that I see a lot of challenges for Christians made by atheists, especially on Twitter, but I can’t say I’ve seen any challenges aimed at atheists, made by Christians. Oh sure, I’ve answered some of their “10 questions” in the past and I enjoy doing things like that, but never any kind of direct challenge. Therefore, I took to the World Wide Web to see if I could find any and my Google-fu has failed me. Either that or there just aren’t any. So I turned my attention back to some of those lovable questions that theists direct at atheists that tell us a lot more about their lack of information than anything else and came across this list of 31 questions that Matt Slick of CARM fame directs toward atheists. What the hell, I’m game.
Of course, I can almost guarantee that I won’t answer any of these questions in a manner that Slick might wish I would because reality and whatever passes for it in Slick-land are two very different things. Still, I guess it might be interesting to see what he wants to know, even though we know that he and other presuppositionalists really aren’t terribly honest in their apologetics.
And so, without further ado, here’s Matt Slick’s list of 31 questions for atheists.
1. How would you define atheism?
I know this is a point of contention for Slick, but atheism is state of being without a belief in god(s). It can be an outright denial of the existence of god(s), but that doesn’t apply to me. I do not believe because there is not enough objective, demonstrable evidence for me to believe. I do not believe in god(s) for the same reason I don’t believe in Bigfoot, alien abductions, unicorns or honest politicians. If someone could present significant, objective, demonstrable evidence for the factual existence of any god, I would believe in it. That doesn’t mean I would worship it, but I certainly would accept that such a thing actually exists, the same way I’d believe that reptilian aliens are running the country if someone plopped the dead body of an alien in front of me.
Absolutely and without question. My actions with regard to gods are no different than my actions with regard to leprechauns. Neither have any bearing on my decisions or actions.
3. Do you think it is inconsistent for someone who “lacks belief” in God to work against God’s existence by attempting to show that God doesn’t exist?
It is fundamentally impossible to show that something doesn’t exist. Matt Slick is entirely unable to demonstrate that Krishna does not exist or that unicorns do not exist, etc. All you can do is point out that there is insufficient evidence to think that it does and reject it provisionally on that basis. I do not attempt to show that God doesn’t exist, any more than I attempt to show that there aren’t invisible, intangible gnomes living on my shoulder. There’s no point to it.
4. How sure are you that your atheism properly represents reality?
I’m not worried about atheism representing reality. I do not adopt a position and then try to measure that position against the real world, I explore the real world and adopt positions based on how well they jive with that reality. Honestly, I am a skeptic first and foremost and I reject anything for which there is no evidence, not just god(s). As I said before, present evidence for your claims and I will believe, not until.
5. How sure are you that your atheism is correct?
All positions are provisional. Based on the evidence that I have seen so far, there is no reason to believe that any god(s) exist. If that changes in the future, I’ll re-evaluate my position based on that new information.
6. How would you define what truth is?
You’d have to define what you mean by truth, far too many theists think “truth” and “fact” are one and the same. As I cannot be sure of the intent of the question, I will leave the question unanswered.
7. Why do you believe your atheism is a justifiable position to hold?
Apparently so since I hold it. Again, I’d have to ask what is meant by “justifiable”. Since atheism is the rejection of claims made by theists based on a lack of objective evidence, I’d argue that it’s just as justifiable as not believing in the Loch Ness Monster.
I know this would piss Slick off, but I identify myself as a realist. I accept that which has evidence that it is real and reject that which does not have evidence that it is real. Because we have evidence for the physical world around us, I accept it. If someone came up with a way to demonstrate a supernatural realm to my satisfaction, I’d accept that too. No one has done that, therefore I don’t believe it.
9. Do you affirm or deny that atheism is a worldview? Why or why not?
Atheism is not a worldview, nor is it a religion. It is the answer to a single question, that being do you believe god(s) exist? There is nothing else to it. The second you start talking about any other position beyond one’s lack of belief in god(s), you’re no longer talking about atheism, but about something else.
10. Not all atheists are antagonistic to Christianity, but for those of you who are, why the antagonism?
Because Christianity is demonstrably harmful to humanity. I feel the same about any and all religions, as well as any and all irrational beliefs. I’ve got more than enough evidence of this in the Religious Horror Show.
11. If you were at one time a believer in the Christian God, what caused you to deny his existence?
The same thing that caused me to deny the existence of Santa Claus. There was a time I believed it, I found that it was not a position that was defensible by the evidence, I rejected the claim based on the criteria I’ve described above.
12. Do you believe the world would be better off without religion?
Absolutely and without question.
13. Do you believe the world would be better off without Christianity?
Absolutely and without question.
14. Do you believe that faith in a God or gods is a mental disorder?
Again, that’s a loaded question. Do I think that all theists are demonstrably mentally damaged? No. Do I think that all theists are delusional to some degree with regard to their religious beliefs? Yes. Do I think that all theists are irrational in their religious beliefs? Absolutely.
15. Must God be known through the scientific method?
God, and I’ll expand this to any claim, must be known through some form of thinking or methodology which produces consistently demonstrable results, is able to make consistent testable predictions and allows us to learn more about the world that actually surrounds us. So far, the scientific method is the only means we’ve discovered which fits that criteria. I’d be happy to consider another criteria if it was able to demonstrably produce similar results, but theists don’t even bother to try.
Even though I didn’t really answer yes, I’ll point out where Slick fails here. There is no evidence that God is actually immaterial, mostly because there is no evidence that God is actually real at all. Christians arbitrarily assign the “immaterial” characteristic to their beliefs about God without being able to demonstrate that God actually has that characteristic. That’s like the farcical conception of the Invisible Pink Unicorn. Both the characteristics “invisible” and “pink” are arbitrarily assigned to this invented entity without any means to actually show that they are a part of the real unicorn. You could just as easily claim that it was an invisible blue unicorn and not fundamentally change anything. In order to have an immaterial God, you have to demonstrate that immateriality actually exists and that it is a demonstrable characteristic of God, two things that theists have entirely failed to do. I’d ask how they actually discovered that God was immaterial. They can’t provide any reason, outside of blind faith, that they think this way.
17. Do we have any purpose as human beings?
Define purpose. If you mean an external purpose, one forced upon us from without, I’d say there are many biological imperatives, such as survival and reproduction, which one could state as a purpose, although it is up to us whether or not we choose to follow them. Internally though, we all assign some purpose to our own lives. I decide what to do and how to live my life, within the context of the larger society around me. My culture can have some effects, both positive and negative, on my choices.
18. If we do have purpose, can you as an atheist please explain how that purpose is determined?
I think I already did that above.
19. Where does morality come from?
Humanity generate morals, we all decide what is best within our individual communities and through our larger societies.
20. Are there moral absolutes?
Absolutely not and a look around the world at different societies and cultures, and across history, should disprove any such assumption. There are certainly common moral views, brought about because we’re all humans and we all have similar needs and desires, but you cannot point to any single moral dictate that has held across all cultures and throughout time. It just can’t be done.
21. If there are moral absolutes, could you list a few of them?
22. Do you believe there is such a thing as evil? If so, what is it?
If you mean innate evil, then no. Certainly there are things that we, as humans, can identify as evil, those things that fall so far outside of our cultural moral norms or our own social expectations that we are shocked when we encounter them. What is viewed as evil in one place may not be viewed as evil in another.
23. If you believe that the God of the Old Testament is morally bad, by what standard do you judge that he is bad?
Based upon the narrative in the Bible and my own personal social understanding, I’d certainly call him morally bad, based upon my own subjective understanding of right and wrong. Of course, my understanding is neither universal nor “correct” in the sense that anyone who disagrees is absolutely wrong. Morals are subjective.
24. What would it take for you to believe in God?
That’s a somewhat difficult question because virtually any answer I could give, I could imagine an immensely powerful alien species being able to, at least in theory, duplicate it. Therefore, I will say that if God was real and has the characteristics typically assigned by Christians, God would know what it would take to convince me and because I am not currently convinced, God has not seen fit to do so.
25. What would constitute sufficient evidence for God’s existence?
The same as above.
26. Must this evidence be rationally based, archaeological, testable in a lab, etc. or what?
It must be objective and demonstrable to anyone without a requirement to believe in a god first. I cannot think of any way this would not need to be rationally based but I’m open to someone suggesting a demonstrable means that is not.
27. Do you think that a society that is run by Christians or atheists would be safer? Why?
I think that a society run by the rational would be safer. As I said above, atheism has no meaning outside of a lack of belief in god(s), hence any question about these people’s abilities to run a productive, safe society is entirely irrelevant and beyond the definition of atheism.
28. Do you believe in free will? (free will being the ability to make choices without coersion).
That depends on what you really mean by that. I think that people can choose from a variety of available choices without direct, identifiable coersion. Certainly, people are not able to make choices that are simply not possible. You can’t decide to flap your arms and fly. You can’t decide to explode into flames by mere willpower alone. I’m sure that on some level, our biology has a great deal to do with what choices we make, but this is not something that we recognize on a conscious level and therefore, even if ultimately it is an illusion, it certainly feels real to us when we exercise it. So yes, I believe in free will, I just disagree with how some people choose to look at it.
29. If you believe in free will do you see any problem with defending the idea that the physical brain, which is limited and subject to the neuro-chemical laws of the brain, can still produce free will choices?
I answered that above.
30. If you affirm evolution and that the universe will continue to expand forever, then do you think it is probable that given enough time, brains would evolve to the point of exceeding mere physical limitations and become free of the physical and temporal, and thereby become “deity” and not be restricted by space and time? If not, why not?
By the definition most Christians give for God, it is not possible for any physical being to ever evolve to such a point as to become as powerful as the Christian God. Therefore, I’d say no. Again, the Christian God has a lot of assigned characteristics, such as all-knowing and all-powerful which would seem to me to fall outside of any conceivable evolutionary path for humans or any other temporal/physical creature.
31. If you answered the previous question in the affirmative, then aren’t you saying that it is probable that some sort of God exists?
I didn’t and I don’t.
In reality, my answers here would frustrate Matt Slick to no end because none of them allow him to twist my words into something that serves his cause and that’s really what he wants to do. He’s demonstrated his own inherent dishonesty in debate after debate and that’s why he constructs many of his questions the way he does, to try to trip up the unwary and those not familiar with his methods. Of course, after more than 30 years of dealing with dishonest theists, I automatically look at everything that they say with distrust and try to work out where they’re trying to twist your words around and can avoid them the vast majority of the time. I recognize that these are not simple questions, they are designed to give the theist an opportunity to expand on the question and try to dig a wedge into the atheist’s words. That doesn’t work with me and for anyone who debates theists on a regular basis, it’s a mindset you ought to adopt as well. Know what they’re trying to do and think a few steps ahead and you’ll be fine.
So, while I doubt Matt will ever see my responses, what does everyone else think? Any that you disagree on? Let me know.