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Fun personal questions February 21, 2017

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Questions, Responses.
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The Shameful Sheep posted a set of questions that are pretty much just light and fun personal stuff. Since I can use some light and fun right now, I thought I’d do them.  If you like substance in your blog reading, you might want to skip this one.

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Share your world – questions November 2, 2016

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Questions.
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Godless Cranium found a fun prompt at Cee’s Photography, with some personal questions to answer that are a little more fun than the usual stuff I see.  So I thought I’d give them a stab.

What was your favorite subject in school?

Anything but P.E.  I didn’t care for writing much, either.  It’s not that I hated actually writing, it’s just that what we were writing about was usually so boring, and I could never figure out exactly what the teachers were looking for.  So I was putting in the amount of work that should have gotten A’s, but still often getting B’s.

Anything to do with music was always a favorite.  But a good teacher could make up for boring material in most other classes.

If you could have a servant come to your house every day for two hours, what would you have them do?

Clean.  Vacuum, sweep, mop, clean toilets, scrub out the fridge, then vacuum again because the cat will have shed all over the carpet since the first vacuuming.

Where did you live when you were in the third grade of school?  Is it the same place or town you live now?

Grew up in the DC suburbs, and now live in a different part of the DC suburbs, but in a place that’s a lot like the place I grew up.  I’ve lived elsewhere, but this is where I wanted to raise my children, because the schools are so good here.

In your opinion, list some places that are great for shopping?

Ethnic stores!  In my area they are the place for spices, seafood and produce.  In my neighborhood I have a choice of two full-size Korean supermarkets, and the regular supermarkets can’t come close for those items.  Plus they have samples on the weekends, and that’s such fun.

Bonus question:  What are you grateful for from last week, and what are you looking forward to in the week coming up?

I’m grateful that we’re almost done with these friggin elections. And I’m grateful for the people like Samantha Bee and John Oliver that can help me laugh instead of screaming.

Women in Secularism 4, Safe Spaces September 29, 2016

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Events, Responses.
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There were a lot of great talks at WIS4, and again, I’m not going to rehash the details of any of them, because it’s already been done.  For that, remember to go here:

CFI Live Women in Secularism

But there was one panel that I want to discuss at some further length, and that was the one on safe spaces.  The panelists were Maryam Namazie, Melanie Brewster, Sarah Haider, and Diane Burkholder, moderated by Ashley Miller.  Much of the discussion revolved around an incident involving Maryam, where a university talk she was giving was interrupted by a group of noisy male Muslim hecklers who wanted her silenced.  The panel discussion at WIS4 focused around university safe spaces in particular.

Here’s some video of the incident:

The Muslim hecklers complained that she should not be able to speak about how Islam harms women, because the university was a “safe space” for them.   Surprisingly, the administration and several left-leaning student groups that you would think would support freedom of speech sided with the Muslims.

I learned several things about Maryam from the panel discussion.  First, she is very passionate and devoted to the cause of freeing Muslim women from religious oppression, which I admire.  But I also realized that she is probably a very challenging person to work with. Almost every response she gave to the other panelists was “I disagree completely” and she would then make a passionate argument about the question she wanted to answer.  She constantly reiterated that a university is a place to challenge ideas, not protect them, even when that wasn’t the question she had been asked.

But what most frustrated me about the discussion was that people seemed to be talking past each other on different aspects of the issue, without first defining terms so they could make sure they were actually talking about the same things.  So I’d like to spend a little time on definitions, so that if I’m involved in a discussion about these issues in the future, I can refer people back to this post for clarification.

So, considering university “safe spaces” I think the first thing that needs to be discussed is “What do we mean by safe?”

The most obvious part of “safe” is that people at a university should be entitled to personal safety.  Although it’s not happening in practice as much as it should, the ideal is that students should be safe from physical harm on campus.

The next level of safety would be freedom from personal harassment.  Bullying, stalking, threats, sexual harassment, both in person and online, all are things that should be against university rules.   Again, I think this should be obvious.

But now we get to the real question about safe spaces.  What about safety from upsetting ideas, the kind of safety that the Muslims were demanding at Maryam’s talk?  I think for that discussion we need to include a discussion of what we mean by “space”.

Missing from Maryam’s impassioned statements was the fact that a university is not a single “space”, it’s a lot of different spaces.   I think the university “spaces” to be considered would include at least:

  • Private student spaces, like dorm lounges, cafeterias and quiet study spaces
  • Campus organization members only meetings
  • Open outdoor spaces
  • Classrooms
  • Talks from speakers sponsored by campus organizations
  • Talks from speakers sponsored by the administration
  • Publications, such as the student newspaper

I think it’s quite reasonable that a university could have different regulations about what’s OK in each different sort of “space”.  While it might be acceptable for Brother Jed to shout his nonsense out on the quadrangle, the university would be justified from excluding him from a study lounge.  And to complicate this further, I think it’s reasonable to expect that a university supported by government funding would have different standards than a private university.  I would not expect Liberty or Brigham Young Universities to support the same freedom of dissent that a state school should support.  And Maryam’s encounter was at a British University, which is not under the same freedom of speech expectations that US school would have.

So when we discuss the idea of a “safe space” I don’t think it’s clear that universities are, or are not, “safe spaces”.  At a good university there should be times and places where students are exposed to ideas that they may disagree with or find upsetting.  There should be times and places where students can retreat from such challenges.  And the administration should be responsible for setting the standards for what’s allowed in which sort of space, which is no easy task.  (And at private religious universities, the students and their parents may be paying for complete censorship of challenging ideas!)

And I guess my last frustration with the panel discussion was the narrow focus on academia.  While the standards for free speech on campus are important for college students and professors, and college is an important time in the intellectual development of those who can attend, it’s a small fraction of the scope of the total free speech discussion that needs to be held.

Answers to “A Question for Atheists” August 14, 2016

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Questions, Responses.
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Godless Cranium linked to a post at flyinguineapig, with two longish questions for atheists. Flyinguineapig appears to be a strongly christian blogger, but these questions aren’t really the typical “gotcha” questions that I would expect to see on a blog of that sort, so I’ll go ahead and tackle them. Rather than try to answer in the comments at either of those blogs, I’ll post my answers here, and link back to them.  Also, I prefer to write my own answers before I read through everybody else’s answers.

My first question is more general. I see this among atheists and my agnostic friends. People deny the possibility of any deity’s existence because of the lack of some kind of proof. It occurred to me that I have no idea what kind of proof you’re looking for. Furthermore, it seems to me that, in many cases, not just in the case of spirituality, what constitutes proof is at least somewhat subjective. I would love to get a few different perspectives, so my question is, what would prove to you that God exists?

Let me start with this part of the question: “People deny the possibility of any deity’s existence…”  Most atheists I know don’t actually do this, so the question is starting out with rather of a strawman assumption.

The difficult part of this assumption is – how do you define a god?  It’s a really nebulous term.  I know what the christians mean when they talk about their god, but the question here is “any deity”.  What characteristics would a being need to have in order for us to consider it a god?  Let’s look at a few examples: (more…)

Our two faces August 9, 2016

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Questions.
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4 comments

When I was working on my last post on the arrest of the Mayor of Fairfax, I pulled a picture of him off the interwebs.  As I was looking at it, I noticed that his expression was pretty asymmetrical.

Scott SilverthorneNow I’m not just picking on Scott Silverthorne here, this is often true about a lot of people.  We often seem to have two different expressions at the same time, one on each side.  But this photo seemed to be a good example.  Let’s take a closer look. (more…)

17 not-so-stupid questions for Atheists October 19, 2015

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Questions, Responses.
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14 comments

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:

http://godlessmom.com/questions-for-atheists-from-a-college-student-answer-them-yourself/?utm_content=buffera2f92&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

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?

Stay quiet

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.

48 Sure-Fire “gotcha” questions for Atheists! (part 6) June 22, 2015

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Questions, Responses.
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One last set and we’re done.

41. How did the moon form?

Finally, one question that is not stupid!!  Congratulations!!

One hypothesis is that the moon formed early in the formation of the solar system.  Most likely the newly forming earth was struck by another very large body, and the debris from this collision coalesced into the moon.  This explanation fits a lot of the things we know about the moon, but not everything.

There are other possibilities:  Perhaps the Earth and Moon formed together out of the same part of the original accretion disc.  But that leaves open the question of why Venus does not have a similar moon, or why our system has so much angular momentum.  Or perhaps the moon formed separately, and was captured by earth’s gravity.  We are learning more all the time

moon-formation

Kapow!

42. Did you know that famous scientists like Newton, Sir Richard Owen, Einstein, Galileo, and Copernicus were creationists?

Einstein was certainly not a creationist.  He said, in a 1954 letter “It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.”  So it’s a really bad idea to lump Einstein in with the others.

Each of those other men were raised in religion-soaked atmospheres, and despite that each discovered an important part of how the universe works.  (In the case of Copernicus and Galileo, the church did everything they could to put a stop to their work and suppress their results.)   Newton invented calculus but also believed in alchemy.  Does that mean we are under an obligation to believe in alchemy too?  These were brilliant men, but they weren’t prophets.

43. Why do we not see black people come from white people?

Because evolution only moves in small steps and takes a long time.  We’ve gone over this before.  Isolate a population for thousands of years, in an environment where darker skinned people have better reproductive success than lighter skinned people, and when you check back their descendants  will probably have generally darker skins.

very-gradual-change-we-can-believe-in

 

44. Why are fruitflies still fruitflies in the lab experiments if they are claimed to prove evolution?

Sigh.  Again, because evolution only moves in small steps and takes a long time.  We haven’t been at the lab experiments long enough.

45. Did you know that the Piltdown Man was a hoax used for Darwinist propaganda?

No, because it wasn’t.  Piltdown man was a hoax perpetrated on scientists by people who wanted the evidence to show that humans had evolved in Great Britain instead of Africa.  (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is a strong suspect for being one of the perpetrators.)  And it was the scientists who exposed the hoax, by doing science the right way.  They collected actual evidence from many places, evaluated all of it, and realized that Piltdown didn’t match anything else they had found, not by a longshot, which was suspicious.  Once they developed the tools for dating bones, they quickly determined that it was not an ancient skull but a modern fake.

 

The Piltdown bones, a medieval cranium and a stained orang-utan jaw.

The Piltdown bones, a medieval cranium and a stained orang-utan jaw planted in a quarry. Scientists exposed it as a forgery in 1953.

46. Why do we not see frogs turn into birds?

One more time!  Because evolution only moves in small steps and takes a long time!  The last common ancestor of birds and frogs was over 300 million years ago (and was neither a bird, nor a frog).  Both lineages have been adapting in different directions ever since then.  The amount of difference between the anatomy of a bird and a frog is so large that you are unlikely to see something of that magnitude happen again unless you are willing to wait hundreds of millions of years.

47. Why is Fox News dishonest if it is a network run by truthful Christians?

You’ve already stated the problem right there. You are assuming that being christian makes one more likely to tell the truth, whereas this is not the case.  Christians have a vested interest in never having to change their minds about anything they believe.  So if truth is getting in the way of faith, it’s the truth that has to go, not the faith.  So Fox is the channel of self-deception and confirmation bias.  They don’t tell it like it is, they tell it like they want it to be, and trust that their viewers will never bother to check on the facts.

48.  Why did Hitler fail to make a superior race if evolution is true?

Triple Facepalm

Triple Facepalm

Now you’ve invoked Godwin’s Law, which I suppose is as good a way as any to conclude a really long list of stupid questions.  Hitler was not using natural selection, he was trying to use artificial selection, which has been known and used for thousands of years by farmers.  And that kind of selective breeding doesn’t make plants and animals superior, it makes them different.  We breed in traits that are useful to us, but that comes at a cost of the change or loss of other traits.  Bananas are lovely and seedless, but that has resulted in all our banana plants being grown from shoots, and so they are genetically identical and a blight that kills one plant will kill them all.  Wheat and corn can no longer reproduce without human assistance, sheep must be sheared because they no longer naturally shed their winter fleece, and most of our domestic animals are now too stupid to be able to avoid predators.  

If Hitler had had enough time (which he didn’t because humans breed so slowly,  and also because we rightly put a stop to it) he might have produced people that were different, but could not have created the supermen he envisioned.

————————————————————————–

Finally done!  Has anybody else out there been asked any questions that are worthy of a list like this?

48 Sure-Fire “gotcha” questions for Atheists! (part 5) June 21, 2015

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Questions, Responses.
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Stupid questions continue, is there no end?

33.  If there is no God, then why do we have laws that govern us, such as speed limits?

Ah, this is a good time for me to talk about the two kinds of things we might be talking about when we say “laws”!

First, there’s the rules that humans make for ourselves to allow us to live together in large prosperous groups.  If you live in a small group, say of hunter-gatherers, you’d know every person in the group, and what your relationship is with them.   You’d know that if you kill someone, his family will come kill you.  You’d have customs about how people usually respond to social infractions, but there’s no need for a permanent code of laws.   Laws are needed when people are living in a group so large that everybody can no longer know everybody else.  Then there needs to be official rules for behavior and how you treat others in your group, and there can be different rules for how you treat outsiders.  These rules have been worked out through trial and error over thousands of years, and we continue to modify them still.

Then there are natural laws, which are descriptive.  We observe how the universe works, and figure out the mathematical relationships of the behavior of matter and physical forces.  Thus, when we say the law of gravitation is that gravity is proportional to mass and inversely proportional to the square of distance, or when we say the speed of light is a constant, we are describing the way things are, not imposing a rule for the way things ought to be.

34. Do you know where you are going when you die?

Yes, I’m going to stop existing and not go anywhere, and the atoms that currently make up me will go on to be parts of other things in the future.  The world will continue, I just won’t be part of it.  I don’t expect it to be any different than it was before I was born.

35. Why do we not act like monkeys if it is true we came from monkeys?

First, we don’t come from modern monkeys, we share an ancestor with them.  But why would you say we don’t act like them?  Have you ever spent any time studying monkeys, or our closer cousins, the great apes?  They live in social groups with complex social behavior and communication.  Their children are dependent on their parents for a very long time, and parents spend a lot of effort caring for them.  Males put on dominance displays, individuals sit around bonding with each other (they groom, we make small talk), members of the group both compete with each other and look out for each other.  Chimps make and use tools and make war on each other.  How are we so different?

36. Why do we display The Ten Commandments in the courtrooms if you say the Bible is not real?

Tree Widdling

37. Why should be it wrong to rape if God is not real?

Considering the treatment of rape in the bible, that’s probably not the best question for you to be asking. Why is it wrong to rape if there is a god?  The Old Testament is full of rape, but there aren’t any commandments saying “Thou shalt not rape”.  The Israelites are commanded by god to destroy everyone in a town, except that they are allowed to take the virgin girls as sex slaves.  Or how about Abraham having a child by Sarah’s slave Hagar, and nothing is said about whether Hagar consented.  Or how about the verses where the only penalty for rape is a 50 shekl fine, and then the victim has to marry her rapist?  And did 13-year-old Mary really have a choice to say no when she was told god was going to impregnate her?

Without religion, we can say we do not wish other people to harm us, so we should not harm other people, and violence against other people should be right out.  Remember that humans depend on one another, and are accountable to each other, not to an invisible god.

38. Why is The Passion of The Christ very high on the Box Office?

How old are these questions?  It was popular for a little while, but not anymore.  If we are using box office earnings as a measure of truth, I’d suggest that we should be following Harry Potter. (He saved us from Voldemort, you know!)

I watched The Passion of the Christ on DVD, to see if it was appropriate to show my children for cultural background. It was straight torture porn, and I got rid of the DVD very quickly.  I guess this was a way for christians to pretend to be doing something virtuous and be able to watch torture porn without having to feel all guilty about it.

39. How can America not be a Christian nation if there are way more churches than mosques?

America can be a nation with a lot of christians in it, without being a “christian nation”.  Our founding fathers weren’t ignorant of  hundreds of years of European history with countless wars over religious differences, and endless persecution and oppression of those who even slightly differ from acceptance the official dogma.  They saw how dangerous it was to give the government to power to tell the citizens what to believe, and so wisely built a separation of church and state into our government.  Ironically by today’s standards, it was the evangelicals who were some of the strongest supporters of that separation, because at the time they were a small minority sect.  If there had been an official religion, it would either have been Congregationalist (dominant in New England) or Anglican/Episcopalian (dominant in the south), and their freedom to practice as they wished would have been suppressed.  Too bad modern evangelicals don’t know their own history.

40. How is the bible not real if it’s the most popular book read by man?

It’s a real book, but that’s probably not what you mean.  It might be the most popular book right now, but that wasn’t always the case.  Back when the Old Testament was originally being written the Hebrews were a small unimportant tribe, and there were lots of other texts that were way more popular.  You’d have had a much easier time finding a copy of the Iliad or the Odyssey or the Story of Sinhue.  Any Egyptian rich enough to buy one had a copy of The Book of the Dead put in their tomb.

papyrusofani

And if the growth rate of Islam continues, the Qu’ran will probably overtake the bible in popularity someday.  Would that make the Qu’ran real and the bible not?

One more of these sets of questions left.

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48 Sure-Fire “gotcha” questions for Atheists! (part 4) June 19, 2015

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These questions may be getting stupider, if that’s even possible.  Sorry if these answers seem so obvious, and kind of like Atheism 101.  I’ve known this stuff for a long time, but for somebody who’s been told all their life that these are clever questions, this might be unfamiliar material.

25. If creationists can’t do science, then why does the website Answersingenesis have proven science articles from creationists that do science?

It’s not that creationists can’t do science, it’s that they don’t do science. Science means testing your ideas against reality.  Science means being open to the fact that your ideas might be wrong, and may need revising or scrapping.  If there is no possible answer that you could get from your experiment that would show your hypothesis is wrong, then it’s not science.  If you start with the conclusion you want (i.e. “the bible is true”) and then cherry pick some data that supports your conclusion, that’s not science.

If those guys were really doing genuine science, they could get their papers published in real scientific journals, not some fake one they publish themselves.  The stuff they put out is religion, not science, so they can’t qualify for real journals .

26. If evolution is true, then why can’t white people compete to be good in basketball like black people? After all, white people can’t jump!

(So in addition to the stupidity, now we’re adding racism.  This just keeps getting worse and worse!)  White people can be good at basketball.   White people can jump just fine.   I refer you to  Dick Fosbury, the famous Olympic gold medalist high jumper:

ihighju001p1

The Fosbury Flop

If there were an isolated population of people where success at basketball  was necessary for reproductive success, over many generations you would see the traits that permit success at basketball begin to dominate, and there would be an evolutionary shift towards those traits in that group.  But right now it’s possible to raise lots of kids while being terrible at basketball, so that change is not likely to happen.

27. Where do you decide to fit God in your everyday life if you don’t believe in him?

Wait, what?  This question demonstrates that the questioner is completely unclear on the concept of “not believing in things.”

Do you believe in Thor?  No?  Then where do you decide to fit Thor in your everyday life if you don’t believe in him?  Where does Krishna fit?  How about my invisible 6-foot-tall rabbit friend?  Where do you decide to fit Harvey into your life? 

Really, before you ask some of these questions, try substituting in some religion you don’t believe in, and imagine someone from that religion asking you the question.  If it makes no sense that way, then maybe you shouldn’t be asking it either.

28. Why is Christianity the fastest growing religion if it’s false?

Because it’s not.  Remember when I said you can look this stuff up on the internet?  Well, you can look this stuff up on the internet.  Worldwide, the fastest growing religion is Islam.  In the US, the fastest growing group is the unaffiliated.  The fastest growing church in the US is probably the Mormons.  But I think that the Pastafarians are actually growing much faster than any church, there’s just nobody keeping the statistics on that.

Here’s this chart again, just as a reminder as to that in the US, christianity is not the fastest growing group.

religious landscape

29. Do you feel free to commit murders, homosexuality, go to strip bars, steal, commit adultery, and do other sins since you believe there is no God?

Wow, so much to unpack with this question.

First, this idea of “sins” is problematic.  A “sin” is doing something that god told you not to do, and if there’s no god, then there’s no “sins”.  This whole idea of “sin” is just religion trying to convince you that you have a disease and need their cure.

And then you have listed a whole bunch of behaviors, some of which harm other people and some of which don’t, apparently classifying them as equally “sinful”.  This is ridiculous.  Murder and theft cause direct harm to others, so we can agree that they are not acceptable.  Adultery is the private business of the people who are married, and what promises they made to each other.   If you promised your spouse fidelity and then violate that, that’s a breach of trust and certainly wrong for your relationship, but not on a par with murder.  I’ve got no problem with strip bars as long as the people working there are of age and are working there of their own choice.   And homosexuality is not something someone commits, it’s something they are, and there is nothing harmful about it in any way.  Conflating unlike things into one big pot of “sin” like this may be one of the things that’s putting our young people off religion.  (One in three young Americans is not religious, a huge increase in recent years.)

And do I feel free to do things that cause harm to other people?  Why would I want to?  I live in a society where I depend on other people for my survival.  My children will continue to depend on the stability of that society, and their children after them if they choose to have any.  I don’t want to live in a society where murder and violence and theft are acceptable behavior, so I don’t do that myself.  I’m accountable to the people around me for my actions, not some invisible god.

And the obvious counter to your question –  is your belief in god the only thing that’s stopping you from harming other people?  If that’s the only thing, then you must be a very bad person indeed.  And please keep believing in your religion in that case!

30. Why do the fossils say no to evolution?

They don’t.  (They don’t actually say anything, we have to study them!)  Looking at fossils is one of the things that leads to the conclusion of evolution.  We see that life has changed over time, that new animals don’t just pop in out of nowhere, but develop from prior forms.  We see that animals didn’t exist in isolation, but as part of populations living and breeding in different environments.  You should try visiting a real science museum sometime, it’s fascinating!

31. Why did Darwin admit that how the eye formed is impossible?

More mistakes!  He didn’t say that.  Here’s the full quote:

To suppose that the eye with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest degree. When it was first said that the sun stood still and the world turned round, the common sense of mankind declared the doctrine false; but the old saying of Vox populi, vox Dei, as every philosopher knows, cannot be trusted in science. Reason tells me, that if numerous gradations from a simple and imperfect eye to one complex and perfect can be shown to exist, each grade being useful to its possessor, as is certainly the case; if further, the eye ever varies and the variations be inherited, as is likewise certainly the case; and if such variations should be useful to any animal under changing conditions of life, then the difficulty of believing that a perfect and complex eye could be formed by natural selection, though insuperable by our imagination, should not be considered as subversive of the theory.

And here’s an example of eye development, from marine animals, showing progressive stages of eye development, each useful to the animal that has it:

evolutionoftheeye

32. Where did everything come from if there is no God?

Don’t know.  I don’t need to know!  I may live my whole life without having an answer to this question, and I’m fine with that.  People have been working on this question a lot, but we don’t have an answer yet.  Maybe we never will.  Right now we don’t have enough information to begin to answer the question.  Neil DeGrasse Tyson has the right idea; this quote is from a discussion about UFO’s but is also relevant here:

COSMOS: A SPACETIME ODYSSEY: More than three decades after Carl Sagan's groundbreaking and iconic series, "Cosmos: A Personal Voyage," it's time once again to set sail for the stars. Host and astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson sets off on the Ship of the Imagination to discover Earth's Cosmic Address and its coordinates in space and time in the "Standing Up in the Milky Way" Series Premiere episode of COSMOS: A SPACETIME ODYSSEY airing Sunday, March 9, 2014 (9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. (Photo by FOX via Getty Images)

Well, if you don’t know what it is, that’s where your conversation should stop!

There’s lots of possibilities.  Maybe universes bud off of other universes.  Maybe there was always “something”, just in a different form.  Maybe “nothing” is unstable and always decays into “something”.  Maybe there is a hyper-dimensional cosmic cow that farts universes.  I’m not going to pretend I know, and I’m not going to believe that you magically know either.   Not knowing something is not a reason to fill the gap in your knowledge with a made-up “god”.

There’s still more of these to come…

Next post in this series

48 Sure-Fire “gotcha” questions for Atheists! (part 3) June 18, 2015

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Still more of the stupid questions…

17. How did the planets form when the Big Bang explosion all of a sudden happen? After all, you don’t see round objects form when something blows up.

Again, ungrammatical, and showing a lack of understanding of the science.  The “Big Bang” wasn’t an explosion, it was a sudden expansion of the universe itself 13.7 billion years ago from being very small to being much larger very quickly.  That expansion is continuing.  There would not have been stars and planets, not at first.   Those formed later (around 500 million years later), when things had cooled down enough.  Gravity working on dust and gas clouds  pulled them into stars.  (If there’s enough mass, gravity will pull anything into a spherical shape.  If you look at our solar system the only things that aren’t spheres are small rocks.  Everything else winds up round.)    At this point there weren’t any heavy elements, just hydrogen and helium, so there would have been no rocky planets, not for a long time.  Heavy elements are made inside of stars, and the really heavy elements are only made in the explosive deaths of large stars.  Our solar system formed about 4.5 billion years ago, out of dust clouds that included those heavy elements from those ancient stellar explosions, and so could also form rocky planets that can support life.  So never mind about ancient Palestinians, stars died for you!

18.  If evolution is real, how can it explain gravity, angular momentum, human emotions, and why we worship God?

This question conflates “evolution” with “science”, a common tactic.  Evolution only explains how life forms change over time, and is part of the field of Biology.  Gravity and angular momentum are part of Physics, and not related to whether evolution is real in any way.   Humans evolved, so the brains that let us experience emotion are a product of evolution.  We aren’t the only creatures with emotion, if you are paying attention that’s obvious. Chimps laugh, elephants mourn their dead, your dog is happy to see you.  Emotions help us survive in our complicated socially interactive world.

As for why people worship gods, that’s a more interesting question.  Probably it’s a side effect of other evolved brain functions that we need for survival (patternicity, theory of mind, agenticity, credulous childhoods) combined with our built-in mental failings and limitations (confirmation bias), like a sort of mental malware that crops up.

19.  How did pond scum make living things appear out of nowhere?

The snarky answer is that it didn’t make living things appear out of nowhere, it made them appear out of pond scum!

We don’t have the full answer on how life began yet, but it’s a question scientists are working on.  We can learn a lot about what was on the early earth by looking at our geology, and also by studying other planets and moons in the solar system.  We know there was a lot of water with a lot of chemicals dissolved in it.  We know there was an atmosphere, but not any free oxygen.  We know there were sunshine, tides, freezing and thawing, volcanic vents, and lighting, all affecting this ocean full of chemicals.  We know that there were different surfaces that the chemicals could interact with, such as rock, sand, clay, and ice.  Put all this together, and you get a lot of interesting chemistry happening.  Give that chemistry a long enough time, and you may get a molecule that can make copies of itself.  Once that starts, the “nothing succeeds like success” rule takes effect, and those molecules that were better at making copies left more copies.  That, plus four billion years, is all you need!

20. How can evolution be true if we don’t see pocket watches or airplanes form by themselves?

Pocket watches and airplanes don’t breed and produce offspring.  If they did, we’d see them evolving too.

This doesn't actually happen

This doesn’t actually happen

21. Did you know that dinosaurs and man lived together?

The Flintstones is not a documentary!  However some dinosaurs did live with man, and still do. I have three small ones at home right now, a yellow one, a green one, and a blue one, and my cat is very frustrated that he can’t get in their cage to eat them.  I also ate a dinosaur sandwich for lunch today.   But you probably weren’t referring to birds, were you?

The non-bird dinosaurs all died 65 million years ago, probably as a result of a meteoroid impact. (There’s a layer we can find in the rocks all over the world that has a high level of iridium (rare on earth, more common in meteors)  that was our first big clue.  Below that layer (older) – big dinosaurs.  Above that layer (newer) – no big dinosaurs.)   Humans didn’t diverge from their common ancestor with chimps until about 6 million years ago, and our modern form is only about 100,000 years old.  Sorry, no overlap there.  You know what humans did live with? Mammoths!  We have direct evidence of this – we find mammoth bones with butcher marks from stone tools on them, we have found bones with spear points still stuck in them, we’ve found human houses that used mammoth bones in their foundations.  If humans lived with dinosaurs, we should find evidence like that – but we don’t.

22. If evolution is real, then why do caring people like Rick Santorum argue that it must be challenged in the classroom?

OK, this is another one of those questions that tells me that these questions may be meant as a spoof.  Santorum?  A caring person?  Rick Santorum?  This guy?

rick-santorum-taliban-quote1

santorum-and-his-view-that-rape-is-a-gift-from-god1

The only thing Santorum cares about is shoving his religion into everybody else’s business.  I’ve never seen that he cares about actual people in any way.  But I do appreciate the opportunity to do my part here to add to Santorum’s little Google Problem.

And even if he were a caring person, (which he’s not) being a caring person does not prevent somebody from being completely wrong about something.  You can’t make something false into something true just by caring harder.

23.  Why are youtube atheists like AronRa and Thunderf00t afraid to debate Ray Comfort?

They each already have debated Ray Comfort.  You can look this stuff up on the internet you know.  Next question.

24.  Why do we celebrate Christmas if Christianity is not real?

The original celebration had nothing to do with christianity.  People have been celebrating the Winter Solstice for as long as they have been keeping track of the seasons.  The christians just usurped the celebration and now pretend like it was theirs all along.  But most of the associated traditions (evergreens, decorated trees, mistletoe, yule logs, gifts, images of a mother and baby, parties) come from the older pagan traditions.

Also, why does something need to be real to have a celebration?  I celebrate Star Wars day and Captain Picard day.  People can celebrate anything they want to, that doesn’t make it real.

More stupid questions to come…