Here is a list of questions the author thinks atheists are unable to answer. There is a good chance the questions are insincere and the questions have done the round before. In places they have been answered better, but what’s the point in blogging if I won’t say something someone else has already said better (Lord knows everyone else does).
My plan is to answer the 48 questions across 4 posts of (quick! Do the maths) 12 questions each. I’ve already written all the answers so I know I lose my cool by the last post. I’ll publish them on Wednesdays. Put it in your calendar…
1. If creationists can’t do science, then why do Kent Hovind and Duane T. Gish, who are creation scientists, have professional degrees in science?
Ah, Kent Hovind. I have to admit to having a bit of a soft spot for him: he’s charismatic, entertaining and delivers underhanded insults as smoothly as anyone. And he does have a PhD. It is from Patriot Bible University and it is in Christian Education. He doesn’t have any professional scientific degrees that I can find, and many academics have questioned the validity of his PhD. Not least because Patriot university is not accredited, which means there is no way of making sure Dr Hovind met recognised standards to obtain his doctorate.
Duane T Gish is someone I am less familiar with and had to Google. His education and professional work I am much more impressed by. Which is good. I’m glad the question references someone whose degree is worthwhile because it allows me to discuss the heart of the question. This question sets the tone for what we are going to have to do to answer them: address the underlying assumptions being made. Sometimes that is easy (like here) and sometimes it is more tenuous. This question assumes that if one is a creationist, atheists claim they can’t do science. This isn’t true. Some of them can do science. What they can’t do is science, consistently. Sam Harris argues that in some respects, that creationists and other forms of extremists can do science is precisely the concern: by accepting religious dogma on one hand, while possibly being a talented nuclear physicist or virologist on the other, one could be an ideological eschatologist with access to weapons of mass destruction.
I bring up Sam Harris’ idea not to cause fear, but to make it very clear that the assumption that creationists cannot do science is not one that is ubiquitous among atheists.
I say creationists can’t do science consistently because when it comes to the diversity of life on earth, creationists throw out all the philosophies, methodologies and peer review of science (which, if they are a scientist themselves, are all elements that support their definition as well), and actively prefer poorly defined and unsupported answers. That is unscientific.
2. If dinosaurs turned into birds, why are we not afraid of them?
To a certain extent, I leave it to the reader to figure out what the underlying assumptions are. But here’s a few assumptions I think the questioner is either explicitly or implicitly making: all dinosaurs are scary, ‘scariness’ is a genetic trait, said genetic trait cannot be lost over evolutionary time, humans had any opportunity to evolve a fear of dinosaurs specifically. None of which are right.
Fear is a subjective thing with an evolutionary advantage. And fear is effected by certain traits like unfamiliarity (non-genetic), size (genetic) and knowledge (non-genetic). So, birds’ sudden flitting and fast movement might unnerve the occasional person, but in general they are small, familiar animals which we know tend not to cause harm.
3. If homosexuality is right, then how come two people of the same sex not produce a child?
You also cannot produce a child by offering a homeless person shelter and food for a night, nor by defending someone being attacked on the street. The production of children is not the metric by which we measure good deeds or moral things. If you demand that we define a ‘good marriage’ as one that produces children, then the elderly and the infertile should be banned from marriage, as should I as someone who currently doesn’t want one. Marriage is an institution for loving couples, regardless of childbearing ability.
4. What purpose do we have if evolution is real?
What purpose can you give yourself? I am going to blow the horn of religious nihilism again. The assumption of this question is that one cannot have an inherent meaning and that meaning cannot be dependent on human thought. The questioner assumes that ‘purpose’ (what ever that means) must be provided, externally, from a higher power. I don’t think that is a mature idea of purpose. Purpose is about direction, and all of our directions entwine and interact. Yes, some people make their purpose that of chaos as destruction. But the rest of us are searching for some level of harmony and have a response to the rest: prison. Our purposes, generally speaking, are about loving, being loved and being better people.
5. You say Jesus never existed, but have you heard of the Shroud of Turin?
Yes, I have. No one has ever told me why it’s important. If one looks at the details of the Shroud, it simply doesn’t suggest anything about Jesus. It’s carbon dated to the medieval period, it’s a crude picture of a face and body, showing some signs of injury consistent with crucifixion. It was once a common form of punishment and dates to the wrong time.
Even if this tentative evidence was―for some reason― taken as evidence of Jesus, not all atheists deny the existence of Jesus Christ. Plenty of atheists think the writings and saying attributed to Jesus Christ as quite nice. Others accept that such a man could have existed. That doesn’t mean he was magic. And even if he was magic, that doesn’t mean there’s a God.
Taking the Shroud of Turin as evidence of Jesus is a big leap. Lots of people were crucified and lots of people have been moved to create art about Jesus. Either of these facts could explain the Shroud of Turin.
6. Why do we not see humans being born in the zoos from monkeys if we came from monkeys?
Excellent question. Not because it demonstrates some nuanced understanding or contradiction, but for the complete opposite reason: if asked sincerely (this could be a Poe), it belies a massive misunderstanding of evolution. We did not come from chimps; they are our cousins, not our grandparents. We share grandparents.
The grandparent we share is tentatively and colloquially called Pan prior or technically referred to as Chimpanzee-Human Last Common Ancestor (CHLCA). CHLCA lived between 7 and 13 million years ago. CHLCA’s descendants became the distinct groups of the Great Apes; we are not a linear progression from each other, we are parallel lines all coming from CHLCA; evolution is a branching process. That’s why it causes diversity.
Children of Chimpanzees in captivity should be distinctly Chimpanzees; that is the prediction the theory of evolution makes. They will be slightly different to their parents, but should still be distinctly Chimp-y. Asking why we don’t see big leaps, like Chimp to a human, in a single generation is a bit like asking why you don’t go to bed young and wake up old. It’s a gradual process there small changes accumulate over generations.
7. Why do we go to church if God is not real?
Why do others go to Mosques or Gurdwaras? Does their attendance make their Gods real? The reasons some people attend Church are quite interesting. There is a social aspect, where a House of Worship stands as a social space regardless of theology. An ex-partner’s family attended Church so they could get married in a Church, which they only wanted to do for cultural reasons (particularly the expectations of one of their mothers); so cultural and familial pressure is a factor.
Not to mention, sincere belief. Some people go to Church because they sincerely believe a wrong thing. The invasiveness of religion into culture is a historical fact, a relic of times before cultures criticised ideas from authority and before science started answering so many of our questions.
8. How did the Grand Canyon form?
The Rocky Mountains (and, arguably, the Colorado plateau) were created and elevated by compression of the Pacific and North American tectonic plates. We think we can reliably date this back to about 80 million years ago. The erosion is the result of many factors and precisely how important each one was is uncertain. The climate, firstly, helps a lot: the desert area means that thermal expansion weathering weakened the rocks and the soils. But, as most people have probably guessed, the river plays the biggest role. Directly, the water erodes the rock through a process called denudation. Put simply, erosion and deposition work together to make flat surfaces (at approximately sea-level. (The unevenness is caused up geological uplift, like tectonics.) This means the river, where it is, buzz-saws through the land towards sea-level. Indirectly, the water in the river supports vegetation which produces organic acids which weaken rock (producing soils). Coupled with the climate, it makes the area very susceptible to denudation.
The river is not the only denuding force. Wind and climatic change over the last 80 million years (but the last 4 millions years in particular) also play a large role in widening the canyon.
9. Do you know that Jesus loves you?
I don’t know that. I have reasoned to doubt it, like that at a best reasonable guess, he’s dead (and more doubtful reasonable claims question Jesus’s existence altogether). But I can believe he would love me if he were alive, even if he hadn’t met me. I have heard of people who claim to ‘love’ everyone and everything, and I can sympathise to a level: I don’t wish any harm to come to anyone (as pedestrian as that sounds, it is proto-universal love).
If Jesus loves me, he doesn’t want me to go to Hell. So, why am I in danger of going to Hell? Does Jesus have no authority over Hell, or does he not really love me?
10. If Christianity is false, then why is it popular?
A quick Google search shows there are about 2.2 billion Christians in the world, between 1.6 and 1.9 billion Muslims and about 1 billion Hindus. To me, it sounds like phone ownership levels (1 billion Android users and 470 million iOS users). Popularity doesn’t indicate truth, else the geocentric view of the solar system would have been correct until we changed our mind. Islam and Christianity are popular because they have been intentionally spread by the sword, torture and missionary work.
11. If you say Christianity is not true, then why do hundreds of people continue to become saved every day?
This is the same question. But I’ll give a different answer. There are aspects of human psychology that are wired for religious thinking. People prefer having a provisional answer to no answer at all. There is also a ‘God network’ in the brain (slightly more complex that a ‘God spot’). It appears to be related to the Limbic system and is most frequently related to fear. This can be good, for fear can change our behaviour. But it can also be hijacked by highly profitable organisations that demand our fear and respect.
12. Why do we not see half trees and half carrots, fronkeys, and crocoducks if evolution is real?
Make an effort to understand the opposing side and even your own side. These questions are promoted as being aimed at atheists, suggesting the divide is between atheists and theists. Yet, reading the questions, it is clearly about Creationist Christians against everyone else. If you are Christian but believe in evolution, then this question is still aimed at you. I bring this up because the questioner appears not to understand that Creationism is not the same as religion and accepting evolution is not the same as atheism. Not understanding that undermines the credibility of the questioner and the pretense used to offer these questions.
However, we don’t see fronkeys or crocoducks because evolution is real. What we do expect to see is an animal that was an ancestor to both, and we should expect such an ancestor to be very old indeed (as birds and reptiles are distant relations). The Spinosaurus is a fair candidate for such an ancestor, living about 95 million years ago.
It is an utter misunderstanding of descent with variation to assume that one animal becomes another by an intermediate hybrid. That is just silly.
Until next time,