17 not-so-stupid questions for Atheists October 19, 2015Posted by Ubi Dubium in Questions, Responses.
Tags: atheism, christianity, morality, Questions, religion
Godless Mom was contacted by a christian student with a series of questions. And, surprise, instead of being “gotcha” questions, they seem to be actual genuine questions, a real effort to understand non-belief. So I’ll answer them here, and also cross-post them in the comments to the original blog entry, here:
Other bloggers and commenters have answered them, but I’m going to give my own answers without comparison to theirs. So I apologize if this comes out as repetitive.
1. Why are you an atheist?
Because I don’t have enough evidence to warrant belief in any god.
2. Have you ever believed in a Higher Power?
Sure, I was raised liberal Protestant, and it was just the assumption everyone made. God’s in charge, Jesus loves you, so let’s sing some more songs about love. I was the kid that was involved in everything – Sunday school, youth group, youth choir, retreats, conferences, handbells, VBS, I showed up for everything, and I had a great time too. If you ask me whether a bad experience at church put me off religion, I’ll have to say no.
3. If so, Did something traumatic happen to make you stop believing?
No. Traumatic things happened, and they might have been some of the factors involved in my thought processes, but no specific traumatic event made me stop believing.
4. If not, why did you stop believing?
In college a lot of factors came together that finally got me thinking about what I believed, and whether the stuff the church said was true was actually true. Dealing with judgmental fundamentalist students. Listening to Brother Jed’s ranting, among other crazy campus preachers. Reading great books. Tons and tons of science and math classes. And especially reading the bible all the way through for the second time. When I looked at everything, I realized that the belief system I had been fed, while very nice and lovey-dovey, was not something I thought was actually true.
5. What do you think happens to us when we die?
The same thing that happens to any other animal. We stop existing, and the atoms that we are made of go on to be part of other living things.
6. Without believing in a Higher Power, where do you think we get our morals from?
As social animals, we need to live in groups to survive, and get along together. We’ve worked out rules for doing this over thousands of years, by trial and error. We keep improving these rules, which is why there are things that people thought were OK hundreds of years ago that we now have decided are unacceptable.
Personally I got my morals from my parents, from school, from society in general, and my personal senses of empathy and compassion.
7. Where do you think the universe came from?
Don’t know. I don’t need to have an answer to this either, I’m OK with not knowing stuff. Scientists are working on this problem, and have some interesting ideas.
Every religion has an origin story, and none of them match up. This tells me that people who think invisible spirits talk to them are not a reliable source for accurate information about the universe.
8. What’s your views on Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens?
They’ve brought atheism into the public arena as something that can now be talked about openly. Their books have helped a lot of people find their way out of religion, and that’s great. Individually, each of them has/had positions that I agree with, and some that I don’t agree with. They are just three voices among a chorus of many other voices, though. They get the most attention, but they are not necessarily our best thinkers.
9. Do you consider yourself a weak atheist or a strong atheist?
If you use the definition of strong atheism as a positive belief that there are no gods and weak atheism as lack of belief in any gods, then I would be a weak atheist. However, those terms make my position seem wishy-washy and timid, so I don’t like them. I prefer agnostic atheist.
10. How can you prove that God doesn’t exist?
You can’t. However the first problem there is that there are so many different definitions of “god”. If you pin down one specific idea of a god that’s actually testable, someone else will pop up and say “well, that’s not the god I believe in.” Some modern theologians go all the way to completely nebulous definitions like “the ground of all being.” If you can’t even define it, how would you go about proving or disproving it?
11. Do you believe in miracles?
You mean localized violations of the laws of nature, to demonstrate the particular favor of a supernatural being? Nope.
12. Do you have a support group/system?
When I originally deconverted, no I didn’t, but that was in the 1980’s. Back then my only support system was books. Sagan, Asimov, Bronowski, Joseph Campbell, Stephen Jay Gould.
Now, with the internet, all nonbelievers can have a support system.
13. Do you try to get others not to believe?
I try to get others to think more clearly. I try to help them understand the limitations and biases of the human brain, and how it often leads us to jump to conclusions. I try to get them to think about why they believe what they believe, instead of just accepting what they are told. Once someone starts thinking, they often reach the conclusion that religion is BS on their own.
Once someone has taken the first steps toward non-belief, I do try to support them in that, because there are so many pressures on them to remain a believer.
14. Do others tend to view you differently when they discover you’re an atheist?
That doesn’t really come up much for me. I’m not a very social person, that’s just my personality. My friends and immediate family all know, most of them are atheists or non-christians anyway. At work and in my arts group I consider my religious views to be “not their business” and I don’t bring it up.
15. Do people tend to try to convince you that your views are wrong?
On the internet, all the frikkin’ time. But they usually try apologetics, which aren’t any good for that purpose. Apologetics are for reinforcing believers’ confidence in their beliefs, not for changing the minds of non-believers. What it would take to change my mind is evidence, and they never have any of that.
16. How does your family view your beliefs? Are they supportive?
My spouse and children are also atheists, so no problems there. As for my extended family, there’s quite a few fundamentalists, and I don’t generally bring it up with them (see “not their business” above.) Although we’ve had some interesting emails from my fundamentalist brother-in-law.
17. What are your views on Madalyn O’Hair?
She did some really important work, including helping get rid of compulsory bible-reading in public schools. Her public image was certainly abrasive and confrontational, but at the time that might have been the only way to get any media attention for the points she wanted to make. I might not have liked her personally if I had had a chance to know her, but I think her work has had lasting effects.