15 Questions for Atheists

I found 15 questions (and answers) for atheists here, but the original is apparently here (I say “apparently”, because they’re rehashing of old questions). The questions are brilliant misunderstandings of terms, scientific research and reason. I answer the questions to address the mistakes assumed in the question, because we basically already know the answers.

  1. Are you absolutely sure there is no God? If not, then is it not possible that there is a God? And if it is possible that God exists, then can you think of any reason that would keep you from wanting to look at the evidence?

We should not be thinking about things in terms of “possible”. Because absolute confidence in any conclusion is an unattainable goal, we should be thinking about issues of truth in terms of “most plausible”. Are we discover more and more about the universe, what we discover tends to show progress in a particular direction, and so plausible answers are answers in the direction that our progress points. Although it is conceivable that a true answer is actually in completely the opposite direction that all progress is pointing (i.e. that all things are natural), but it is not the plausible answer.

UPDATE: The definition of God is unusable because it is so bad. What I mean by that is the definition has been made to flexible as to account for literally anything. That is the same as not really claiming anything. Anything we see can be argued to be distorted to appear as if it is compatible with God. But, by using the definition of God held directly in the revelations in Holy Books, then you have a robust definition of God which is patently false. I am as sure as reason lets one be that the Gods of Abrahamic religions aren’t real. And I’m as sure as I need to be that God’s you’ve made up, collapsed around evidence but refused to let go of, excused and apologised for or forced into natural processes are patent inventions of your mind.

Bring me evidence! Be willing to discuss evidence. That is what it takes to show you take your claims seriously; I’m not going to take your view seriously if you don’t.

 

  1. Would you agree that intelligently designed things call for an intelligent designer of them? If so, then would you agree that evidence for intelligent design in the universe would be evidence for a designer of the universe?

Yes and yes. If you can find evidence for things in nature being intelligently designed that would be evidence for an intelligent designer. We don’t necessarily get to God from here. If you find biological system are designed, then we could be looking at aliens. (I know the word “aliens” inspires a mocking scoff, but natural life on another planet that seeded life on Earth is still more plausible than a God.) If the universe were demonstrated to be designed, then we would be talking about a Creator, which is more or less all the ingratiating face of religion means by “God” any more (which I feel is short changing the conversation). However, the burden to demonstrate this is not only to show that the universe is somehow poignant and significant in its character, but also to show that the universe could be other than it is, and that it isn’t an issue of probability and a multiverse.

In short, there is no evidence for the intelligent design of the universe. I’m concerned by one’s willingness to waste time on this inconsequential hypothetical.

  1. Would you agree that nothing cannot produce something? If so, then if the universe did not exist but then came to exist, wouldn’t this be evidence of a cause beyond the universe?

No. The philosophical definition of nothing does not necessarily describe anything that can be. The evidence discussed in A Universe from Nothing  by Lawrence Krauss implies that the idea of “nothing” needs to be thought about again in terms of what the evidence suggests can exist. The evidence suggests that what we would call “nothing” is actually something with property. “Nothing” as theologians mean it (which I shall call the ‘naive nothing’) in this dishonest question is different from how modern physicists would mean it. So, from nothing something can come. That might not seem intuitive to you, but from where have you developed your experience of how “nothing” behaves? Have you seen “nothing”? Of course not.

 

  1. Would you agree with me that just because we cannot see something with our eyes—such as our mind, gravity, magnetism, the wind—that does not mean it doesn’t exist?

Of course, I can agree with that. But to preempt the next question, I will point out there is a reason we know all the things listed here exist: we have evidence.

 

  1. Would you also agree that just because we cannot see God with our eyes does not necessarily mean He doesn’t exist?

This is a rather trite version of the “does absence of evidence mean evidence of absence?” question. In the trite way the question is presented to me, the answer is of course “no”. We don’t see all sorts of things that we know exist: the electromagnetic spectrum both infrared and ultraviolet; everything quantum; sound etc. But we have got ways of “seeing” or extrapolating and describing these things. We have built “sense organs” that detect the electromagnetic spectrum and set up apparatus that responds to it; we have done the same, guided by mathematics, for quantum mechanics; we can hear sound. The point is that which we think exists, we have a way of testing how it interacts with the universe. That’s how we test whether it is there.

God does not permit Itself to this. There is precisely no evidence for God. None. In fact, we observe things (like suffering and an indifferent nature) that are incompatible with God. What there is (and it is important not to confuse this with evidence) is a series of arguments that attempt to explain how God is compatible with what we observe: excuses and flexible definitions. Science would never be allowed to do this, because it is dishonest; if tomorrow we observed an elephant disappear completely, with no matter of heat left in its place, we wouldn’t be allowed to redefine the laws of conservation of matter and energy, we would have to discard it completely (if it were appropriately verified).

And omnipotent and benevolent overseer should eradicate naturally caused suffering, yet we see naturally caused suffering (followed by a flexible definition of a person’s theism to account for it). We would expect to see a leanly and efficiently created universe, but we see waste (followed by the explanation that God is mysterious). There is nothing that a God answer can allow us to predict or explain, simply because the definition is flexible enough to account for everything.

  1. In the light of the big bang evidence for the origin of the universe, is it more reasonable to believe that no one created something out of nothing or someone created something out of nothing?

Using the naive nothing, we have logical conundrums either way. How something can come from a naive nothing is an interesting question. (The most plausible answer, or at least the direction for the right answer, is outlined above.) But how someone can lie in a causal relationship with naive nothing to create something is equally a logical dead end. Positing a “someone” to attempt to answer the question doesn’t actually explain anything. Nothing at all.

  1. Would you agree that something presently exists? If something presently exists, and something cannot come from nothing, then would you also agree that something must have always existed?

Whether something exists is actually a very interesting question. Obviously, things exist. Even if I was a solipsist, I would have to concede that at least I exist. Isolated pockets of things that exist are definitely real. You, me, my Chromebook, the server I’m sending this via. However, part of the hypothesis associated with Krauss’ nothing is that for all the “something” that came into existence at the speculative Big Bang singularity there was also an antisomething (antimatter or pulling forces like gravity). So, from a far enough perspective the sum total of the universe may be nothing. This is despite the localised pockets of you and I.

There is a misunderstanding here of the Big Bang, also. The Big Bang has two different definitions: the phase (for which there is a lot of evidence) and the singularity (which Einstein’s equations cut us off from exploring). Models like Loop Quantum Gravity and Horava Gravity don’t have a Big Bang singularity because it treats gravity as discrete units. Instead, these model looped of oscillating universes and no absolute beginning at the event from ~13.8bn years ago.

Therefore, that something has always existed is a plausible answer.

  1. If it takes an intelligent being to produce an encyclopedia, then would it not also take an intelligent being to produce the equivalent of 1000 sets of an encyclopedia full of information in the first one-celled animal? (Even atheists such as Richard Dawkins acknowledges that “amoebas have as much information in their DNA as 1000 Encyclopaedia Britannicas.” Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker (New York: WW. Norton and Co., 1996), 116.)

Information is measured in bits. Each “bit” defines one level less ambiguity (and therefore precision). Information in DNA is not about the conveyance of ideas. Information in DNA is about creating precision and clarity in the immediate environment of the DNA. It is this “information” (which is information is similar but distinctly different ways to the information in a book) which defines the chemical environment and protein folding of biology. But it is not more intelligently created information than dendrochronology or ice core records.

 

  1. If an effect cannot be greater than its cause (since you can’t give what you do not have to give), then does it not make more sense that mind produced matter than that matter produced mind, as atheists say?

The premise of this question―an effect cannot be greater than its cause―is mistaken, or at least confused. What does the questioner mean by “greater”? The entire universe, in all its complexity, is the effect of two equations that can be written on an A4 sheet of paper: General Relativity and Particle physics. From that, we can biology and society and language and brains. Seemingly ‘simple’ things can give rise to incredible complexity. If by “great”, one means “complex” then the premise is demonstrably false.

Equally, if something’s greatness is defined by the effects that it has, then all causes are as great as their effects. If my greatness, to you, is defined by what I have created, then (to you) I am as great as this blog. That’s all. And that’s subjective. So, without a definition of great the question is meaningless. 

  1. Is there anything wrong anywhere? If so, how can we know unless there is a moral law?

There are a lot of moral philosophies. Not all of them are based on this strange religious nihilism; there are moral and ethical philosophies not bound by the belief that all things are worthless, except with God. However, the implied moral argument given here is based exactly on that religious nihilism. There are utilitarian, situationist and Kantian morals; there is relativism (which is not necessarily subjective) and there is nihilism; some people believe morals are an illusory intuition created by psychological evolution and the list goes on. I believe that we can objectively state some things are morally wrong. I think we know exactly what we are talking about when we talk about morality. It is not something so nebulous as “what we ought to do”, but relates exactly to the experience of different beings. That which safeguards the experience of others is moral, that which unwarrantedly vandalises it is immoral. This is Sam Harris’ Moral Landscape.

 

  1. If every law needs a lawgiver, does it not make sense to say a moral law needs a Moral Lawgiver?

I approve of the nuance shown by including this question and the previous one. At a first glance, they are the same question. However, laws are different to morality. I do not believe in a moral law. There is not some Platonic artifact that says “Killing is bad”. Instead, there are values we should observe, as discussed above with reference to The Moral Landscape. The laws we have created―and it is us that have created them―are approximations of what those values should look like in practice.

 

  1. Would you agree that if it took intelligence to make a model universe in a science lab, then it took super-intelligence to make the real universe?

No. I have a friend modelling delta-18 oxygen isotopes in glaciers. Her model relies on her intelligence; it relies on her inputting the natural mechanisms we have discovered. Yet, the actual process itself―the preferential evaporation and distillation of different delta-18 water molecules is a blind, impersonal process.  The same is true of climate change models, wave models and pretty much every other model. We discussed in Question 9 that complexity isn’t as profound as you think. Models are necessarily intelligent representations. They can quite easily be models of impersonal, non-intelligent processes. 

  1. Would you agree that it takes a cause to make a small glass ball found in the woods? And would you agree that making the ball larger does not eliminate the need for a cause? If so, then doesn’t the biggest ball of all (the whole universe) need a cause?

A cause? Perhaps “explanation” is a better word. Either way, yes. I should be able to leave the answer there. But the implication is that the cause is God, and if I leave my answer there someone will twist my words to say that I just accepted the universe is evidence of God. Of course, I did not just admit that at all. What I admitted is that the universe most likely has an explanation for its existence. As discussed in Question 9, complexity does not support the claim of intelligence, and the explanation does not have to be one of intelligence. In fact, the “God” answer is the complete opposite of an explanation: it answers nothing and raises more questions.

 

  1. If there is a cause beyond the whole finite (limited) universe, would not this cause have to be beyond the finite, namely, non-finite or infinite?

No. The question doesn’t even make sense. One half of the universe is a finite entity. That does not make the other half infinite. Earth is finite, and the sun is outside the Earth… therefore?

The only way to make this question make sense is to assume that the universe can be described as “the complete set of finite things”, which would mean that nothing finite could exist outside the universe. But that is a nonsense definition of the universe.

And this question is predicated on a continued misunderstanding of the difference between the extremely well established Big Bang phase, and the speculative Big Bang singularity (predicted by Einstein’s equations). If the singularity and an absolute beginning don’t exist (which is plausible), then the idea of a cause external to the universe is entirely unnecessary.

 

  1. In the light of the anthropic principle (that the universe was fine-tuned for the emergence of life from its very inception), wouldn’t it make sense to say there was an intelligent being who preplanned human life?

This question misunderstands the anthropic principle. The anthropic principle merely points out we evolve and survive where we can evolve and survive. If the universe is not uniform, and the physics is different in different places, then we would only find ourselves in the life-permitting area codes, because we could not find ourselves in the life-destroying parts. The same principle applies to non-uniform multiverse models.

The question is saying the universe is designed for us; it is a denial of the anthropic principle. It says not that we happen to find ourselves in life-permitting area, but that the universe is intentionally life-permitting. That needs a demonstration.

Consider the following quote from Sean Carroll in debate with William Lane Craig. Carroll attempts to compare theism’s assumption of fine tuning with actual data, and this is what he says:

“The point that I raised was not that there is not fine-tuning, it’s that there’s no evidence the fine-tuning is for life to exist. Indeed, the maximum possible entropy of the part of the universe we observe is this huge number, 10122. The entropy that you would need is a little bit lower than that if you wanted life to exist. But it’s almost the same. It’s 0.999 etc. times the maximum entropy, whereas the actual entropy of the early universe is enormously smaller than that. There’s absolutely no reason why the universe would look like this if the fine-tunings were put there in order for life to exist. I’m not saying there’s not fine-tunings; I’m saying they’re not there for life.”

Advertisements

2 thoughts on “15 Questions for Atheists”

  1. I think your answer to #1 is a little weak. Specifically with regard to “is it not possible that there is a God?” The only response to this is to ask for a clarification of the word “God.”. If what the questioner thinks of as “God” is the all-knowing, all-powerful, etc. god, then such a god is not possible, end of question.

    Also, one cannot approach a nonbeliever with an argument from reason when the entire structure of these religions is based upon faith. So, asking whether we are open to argument is a bit cheeky at the least. Clearly we are open to argument. What the questioner is saying is that we are not yet convinced by his arguments, therefore we must be wrong.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s