It is fun to answer theist questions aimed at atheists because most of the questions are ill-formed and ill-conceived and betray the theist’s ignorance, not only of atheism, but of reality as well. I find it funny that there are plenty of theists who are absolutely arrogant about their position, asserting that atheists must have some kind of problem coming up with adequate answers to their questions, such as this one that states that atheists will struggle to answer them. To be honest, I’ve never had a problem answering Christian questions and since I started with some questions by Matt Slick, I decided that I’d just throw in a couple of posts of theist questions to demonstrate some of these problems. In this set in particular, we see how theists simply do not understand the question they are asking and “stack the deck” to ensure that many atheists will fall into their trap by answering the questions as stated. This is inherently dishonest but I don’t think many theists even recognize that’s what they’re doing. So, will I struggle? Read on and see.
1. What caused the universe to exist?
Already, we’re starting off badly. This is a pretty consistent problem with most ill-equipped apologists whose preconceived notions are evident in the way they phrase their statements. Here, we see that this theist is really demanding a purpose in the universe, that’s really the way asking for a “cause” to the universe comes off. However, since these questions are aimed at atheists who don’t think that the universe has an inherent purpose, it betrays a clear bias. Nothing “caused” the universe to exist. It began in the Big Bang. We are unclear, at the moment, exactly what touched off the Big Bang, but there’s no reason to invent a magical explanation. There is no external purpose to the universe that we can determine. From mere moments after the Big Bang, we can examine everything that’s happened to it and to date, there’s no need to suppose any kind of supernatural agent was responsible or involved.
2. What explains the fine tuning of the universe?
There is none. That was easy. No? It always surprises me how absurd these claims are when even this planet isn’t fine tuned for human life and so far as we are currently aware, this is the only planet that we have so far discovered that is fit, in any way, for human life. Fine tuning? Where? There are plenty of theists who claim that there is an apparent fine tuning because we exist and if things had been significantly different, we couldn’t. That much is true. This comes from a faulty assumption that humanity was somehow intended. In fact, we are the way we are because of how the universe is. The universe is not the way it is because we were intended to exist. Humanocentric theists have it exactly ass-backwards. Had the universe developed differently, humanity would never have evolved, but perhaps a different form of intelligent life could and they’d be sitting here on whatever version of the Internet they came up with, marveling at how wonderful the universe is to have been designed just for them.
3. Why is the universe rational?
Depends on what you mean by rational, I guess. If you mean why does it operate by predictable, consistent principles, there isn’t an answer to that. It is what it is. It’s a good thing that it does though because if it didn’t, we wouldn’t exist. This kind of leads back to question #2 with the presumption of fine tuning. It is likely just chance that the universe turned out the way it did and if there is a multiverse, almost certainly the majority of possible universes do not support our form of life. That doesn’t make us special, it just makes us winners in the cosmic lottery that there was a universe where our form of life could exist and we just so happened to arise on a planet where our form of life was possible. There may be billions of other lifeforms out there in the universe asking the same question and coming to completely different answers. The fact is, we don’t know why, there probably is no reason, it just happened and here we are.
4. How did DNA and amino acids arise?
I’m not here to teach you science, sorry. There is enough available online information that if you don’t already know how it works, you haven’t even tried to look. This is really why I stopped debating evolution vs. creationism because the overwhelming majority of creationists are just absurdly pig ignorant and are proud to remain that way. I would spend hours of my time explaining how evolution works, all of the transitional fossils, etc. and they’d ignore it all and keep saying there was no evidence for evolution. I don’t debate the purposely ignorant, sorry. If you want a very easy-to-understand source, I suggest Evolution and the Myth of Creationism by Tim Berra.
5. Where did the genetic code come from?
6. How do irreducibly complex enzyme chains evolve?
7. How do we account for the origin of 116 distinct language families?
Because there are people all over the place and most distinct groups come up with their own languages? You have to remember that language is just sounds coming out of your mouth that people have decided have specific meanings. Why people treat language as magical, I will never understand. There’s no reason whatsoever to think that some absurd Tower of Babel myth was responsible because there’s no evidence of any kind to suggest that every single language spread out from a single location on the planet. In fact, the evidence shows exactly the opposite. Linguists can trace the origins of each individual language family and follow how it develops and how it’s modified as it meets up with other languages through time. It’s a big world out there and it didn’t all come out of some absurd mythical Garden of Eden, even though that’s not what was specifically mentioned, I’m sure it’s what the writer meant.
8. Why did cities suddenly appear all over the world between 3,000 and 1,000BC?
Because that’s when humans worldwide had evolved to such a degree where it was possible? It happened when humanity stopped being a hunter/gatherer species and changed to a more agrarian style of life. Of course, it didn’t happen all over the world at the same time, the earliest known cities in various areas predate your timeline above. Byblos (Jubayl) is known to have been continuously inhabited since Chalocolithic times, at least 5000 BCE or more. Likewise, Argos and Athens have been shown to have been inhabited for about the same amount of time. Cities in all of these regions sprung up at different times. In Southeast Asia, most actual cities did not spring up until after 500 CE, in Central and South Asia, they began around 1500 BCE and grew slowly over the next thousand years or so. Of course, cities in the “new world” came quite a bit later. This question is simply wrong in it’s religious implication.
9. How is independent thought possible in a world ruled by chance and necessity?
How is it not? After all, in evolutionary terms, the most fit individuals survive to reproduce more often, thus producing more offspring than their less fit counterparts. If everyone was an unthinking automaton, how could this work? Of course, in light of other questions above, I’m sure this individual doesn’t accept evolution, so he’s already operating at an intellectual deficit, but that’s really no excuse for asking such ridiculous questions.
10. How do we account for self-awareness?
Because that’s the way our brains work? Come on, these really are nonsensical questions, like asking why red is red. How do we account for self-awareness? Our brains evolved to such a degree that self-awareness occurred. There’s your answer. Of course, these people don’t understand basic biology or science so any questions that involve it are cause to just throw up their hands.
11. How is free will possible in a material universe?
I’d ask the reverse question, how is free will possible in a universe where a god knows absolutely everything that you are going to do, every second of your life, before you’re even born. By any definition of free will, it simply is not possible at all in such a universe, yet that’s the universe you believe exists. You wouldn’t believe the kind of mental gymnastics I’ve seen theists go through to justify free will and an omniscient deity. Then they come back and ask how we justify free will? Seriously?
12. How do we account for conscience?
Humans are a social species and do not survive well outside of social settings. Therefore, we are biologically programmed to look out for the overall good of our social group as ultimately, it benefits us. Further, we have something called enlightened self-interest, in which we realize that if we want people to treat us well and take care of us, we need to reciprocate with others. That’s the basis of the conscience. Just as in morality though, conscience varies from place to place, culture to culture and time to time. There is no evidence whatsoever that it’s something granted by a magical man in the sky.
13. On what basis can we make moral judgements?
The same basis as we can make any other kind of judgements. Morality is just something humans make up, just like laws. There really is no significant difference between the two. I’ve gone into this in great depth before and anyone wanting to see my take on morality just has to search for “morality” on this blog to read a wealth of information, including how I disagree with anyone, including atheists, who declare there is any objective morality. I could turn this into a book on it’s own so I’ll leave it there.
14. Why does suffering matter?
Much of it doesn’t. Some suffering is certainly good and important in learning about the world around you, you don’t understand why you shouldn’t touch hot things until you do and burn yourself. Suffering can be instructive in small quantities. A lot of it goes back to something I’ve talked about already, enlightened self-interest. We don’t want to suffer so we do our best not to make other people suffer unnecessarily. Of course, suffering is an inherent part of humanity, and in fact, of all life on Earth. People are hungry, people are sick, people are unhappy, people die. That’s part of reality. Humanity often wages war upon itself and more people suffer. Various cultures make laws that make some people suffer for the betterment of all. It’s just how it is. Of course, theists have no better answer and in fact, they think suffering is a good thing. Why do people suffer? Because they made a magical man in the sky unhappy. Seriously? That’s your answer?
15. Why do human beings matter?
Depends on what you mean. In the grand scheme of things, with hundreds of billions of galaxies and 1022 to 1024 stars in the universe, humans really don’t matter a bit. We’re a mere blip in the pattern of the universe and when we’re gone, nobody will miss us because if there is any other life out there, they almost certainly will never know we ever existed, nor would we know about them. Humans have vastly overestimated their own importance in the bigger picture, to the point where some of them believe that the whole universe was created just for them.
16. Why care about justice?
Because humans are a social species and we naturally develop rules of acceptable behavior for our tribes? I can’t imagine why the existence of a deity would have any effect on that. Justice is just punishing people who are guilty of violating our own very human laws. There is no justice outside of that. What does a god have to do with human justice?
17. How do we account for the almost universal belief in the supernatural?
I could go into a lot of human foibles, but there are several evolved traits that exist in the human species which tend to produce bad results. One is called “pareidolia“, which is an inborn desire to find patterns in the world around us. It was useful as we evolved, it allowed our ancestors to see the patterns of dangerous predators in the bushes, etc. In particular, pareidolia is linked to our ability to recognize the human face and form and is seen in many religious delusions where religious figures are seen on ordinary objects. This has created a market for such objects on eBay, where a grilled cheese sandwich purported to feature an image of the Virgin Mary sold for $28,000. It’s very easily explained. The second is the human inborn desire to find answers to questions, whether those answers exist or not. We, as a species, simply do not like not knowing things, therefore we will try to find answers, even if those answers are not accurate or factually true. Early on in our evolutionary development, the world was a mysterious and dangerous place and early human tribes came up with stories to explain how things worked or why things happened. This was the invention of religion and it hasn’t changed appreciably since.
18. How do we know the supernatural does not exist?
We don’t know, to any degree of absolute certainty, that it does not exist, but then again, we do not know, to any degree of absolute certainty, that it does. Good thing that absolute certainty is not a factor in intelligent, logical decisions. We can only go by the objective evidence that we have at hand and so far at least, that does not support a rational belief in the supernatural. Theists claim that it exists but can come up with no objective tests which we can perform to test for it. That seems to be a shortcoming in the thinking of the theists.
19. How can we know if there is conscious existence after death?
How can we know? I suppose we can’t really know until we die, but then we certainly can’t come back and inform everyone else which way is true. All we can do is go by the evidence that we have at hand and so far, that evidence does not support any kind of conscious existence after death. From everything that we can see and test, when your brain dies, everything that we identify as “you” dies with it. So maybe a better question is, why do people believe in things for which there is no evidence?
20. What accounts for the empty tomb, resurrection appearances and growth of the church?
Nothing accounts for it because Christians cannot demonstrate that it exists. Regardless of what it might say in the Bible, there is no independent, objective, demonstrable evidence that any of this actually happened. There is no external, independent, objective evidence of any empty tomb that Jesus ever inhabited, in fact, there is no independent, contemporary, eyewitness accounts that Jesus ever lived. Faith and tradition don’t add up to historically accurate fact. As for the growth of the Church, that’s hardly a surprise when you consider that the Roman Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity and pushed it on his people. This really is a nonsensical question.
Honestly, I am not particularly impressed with this set of questions because so many of them assume Christianity is correct, which atheists clearly do not accept, therefore, why are you addressing such Christian-centric questions toward people who are not Christian? That seems to be all too common, unfortunately, because many Christian cannot imagine that anyone disagrees with their worldview and their beliefs.
We’ll see if the questions improve as time goes on.