Last summer, I published the responses that I’d received to my “Twelve Questions to Ask an Atheist”. Since that time there have been additional answers submitted on this site, on various other blogs (here and here), on Facebook, and on Reddit.
The number of responses is now up to 23, so I’ve compiled the updated data below. It should go without saying that this is not a scientific poll. I’m sure there’s quite a bit of selection bias here, and the answers are probably more representative of “internet atheists” than they are of the general atheist population.
But I hope you find it interesting, regardless. Some of the results I found really surprising (#6), others less surprising (#3, #5, #7), and others somewhat revealing (#11, #12).
As before, my original questions will be in bold. Atheist responses will be italicized, with the # of similar responses in parentheses. If you’re interested in my own reaction to these responses, check out my original summary.
1. Does the universe have a beginning that requires a cause?
– Yes (4)
– No (3)
– Probably not (2)
– Don’t know (9)
– No clear response (3)
– Claims the question is a fallacy
…If so, what was this cause?
– There was no cause (3)
– It was inevitable
– We CAN’T know
– P-Branes/Special Black Hole Hypothesis/Quantum Foam/Penrose Cyclic Universe
– Don’t know, not applicable, or no clear response (17)
2. Is materialistic determinism compatible with the intrinsically probabilistic nature of quantum mechanics?
– Yes (4)
– No (5)
– Don’t know (8)
– Kind of, since laws are still reliable on the macro-level (2)
– Claims the question is a non sequitur
– “Material” is not a coherent concept in the realm of quantum mechanics
– No clear response (2)
3. How do you account for the physical parameters of the universe (the gravitational constant, the strong nuclear force, the mass and charge of a proton, etc.) being finely tuned for the existence of stars, planets, and life?
– Anthropic principle/multiple universes will produce one capable of harboring life (10)
– Conveniently fixed parameters don’t imply that they were fine-tuned…reason unspecified (6)
– The universe isn’t fine-tuned; it’s barely even compatible with life (5)
– The parameters are what they are out of necessity
– Claims this is begging the question
4. Why is the human mind naturally fluent in the language of mathematics, and how do you explain the eerie, seemingly unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics in describing the laws of nature?
– Most people aren’t good at math (10)
– Math is merely explanatory (6)
– This fact isn’t unreasonable (2)
– We evolved to have adaptable brains (2)
– Math isn’t that effective
– Claims the question is circular
– No clear response
5. Do you believe that DNA repair mechanisms, catalytically perfect enzymes, and phenomena such as substrate channeling are best explained by naturalism? If so, why are rational human scientists and engineers so woefully incapable of imitating the precision and complexity of cellular machinery that (presumably) arose via strictly irrational processes?
Note: Although not explicitly stated, I infer that virtually all respondents would say “yes” to the first question. Answers to the second question:
– Science is still too young (13)*
– Evolution isn’t irrational (7)*
– Lack of knowledge doesn’t mean God is the answer (2)
– There’s no master design to understand
– Design is inferior to evolution
– Insufficient knowledge of genetics to answer the question
*Two responses included the ideas “science is still too young” as well as “evolution isn’t irrational”.
6. Do you believe free will to be illusory?
– Yes (3)
– No (11)
– Don’t know (3)
– Depends on how one defines “free will” (2)
– Sort of
– Probably not, because of quantum mechanics
– Free will is an incoherent concept
– Claims the question is pointless
…If so, can the punishment of crimes be ethically justified (and does the word “ethical” have any real meaning)?
– Yes (9)
– No clear response, or not applicable (14)
7. Does objective morality exist?
– Yes (5)
– No (17)
– Don’t know, and it doesn’t matter
…If so, what is its source…and how do you define “objective”?
– It’s simply defined as human well-being (2)
– It’s innate and driven by self-interest
– Pluralistic moral reductionism is needed
– There are certain unarguable facts about what is moral
– Not applicable (18)
…If not, do you concede that concepts like “justice”, “fairness”, and “equality” are nothing more than social fads, and that acts of violence and oppression must be regarded merely as differences of opinion?
– No, morality is universal and selected for by evolution and/or social necessity (6)
– No, we can rely on an empathy-based system of morality (3)
– Kind of (3)
– No clear answer (5)
– Differences of opinion, yes – but not “merely”
– Not applicable (5)
8. In what terms do you define the value of human life? Is the life of a human child more or less valuable, for example, than that of an endangered species of primate?
– It’s a personal/subjective decision (7)
– Value is based on our ability to “experience” (5)
– Human value is based on empathy for our own species (4)
– No definition is completely logically consistent (2)
– Life is precious, since it’s the only one we get
– Human life transcends value
– Our value is defined as our value to others
– Human value is self-evident
– Unsure how to respond
9. Much attention has been given to alleged cognitive biases and “wishful thinking” contributing to religious belief. Do you believe that similar biases (for example, the desire for moral autonomy) play a role in religious nonbelief?
– Yes (14)
– No, or mostly no (6)
– No clear response
– Claims the question commits ad hominem and tu quoque fallacies
…If not, what specifically makes atheism immune to these influences?
– Lack of belief is the default (2)
– Morality is inherently autonomous
– Can’t imagine any reason someone would wish for there not to be a God
– No clear response, or not applicable (19)
10. Do you believe religion (speaking generally) has had a net positive or a net negative effect on humanity.
– Net positive (3)
– Net negative (11)
– Depends on the religion; net negative for the Abrahamic religions
– Unsure, or neutral (8)
…If the latter, how do you explain the prevalence of religion in evolutionary terms?
– Religious belief probably isn’t genetic, so it can’t be bred out (2)
– Religion has evolutionary benefits, despite having a net negative effect on humanity
– Religion survives through the intervention of man, particularly those who benefit from religion
– In the past, religion provided a way to preserve cultural memory
– Religion hasn’t been around very long on an evolutionary scale
– Something doesn’t have to be positive to spread through a population
– No explanation offered (5)
– Not applicable (11)
11. Is it rational for you to risk your life to save a stranger?
– Yes (4)
– No (5)
– Depends on the situation and/or level of risk (10)
– It’s not a question of rationality, but of terminal values (2)
– “Depends on how good she looks”
12. How would you begin to follow Jesus if it became clear to you that Christianity was true?
– Would follow (5)
– Wouldn’t follow (6)
– Might follow the teachings of Jesus, but that isn’t Christianity (2)
– It would depend on how this truth was revealed (3)
– Christianity can’t be true (3)
– No answer given (4)
…What would be the hardest adjustment you would have to make to live a faithful, public Christian life?
– Adjusting wouldn’t be that difficult; would eagerly welcome knowing that Christianity was true (2)
– Praying, since it seems weird, creepy, and strange
– Trying to figure out how the Bible became so corrupted
– Trying to convince myself that the God of the Bible is deserving of worship (2)
– Don’t think it would be possible to adjust
– No clear response, or not applicable (16)