Objective Moral Values: Two Views

This is essentially a rewording of last week’s poem, in the form of an argument.

The Naturalist’s View

1. The purpose of an object or entity is defined as the reason for which that object or entity exists.

2. The reason for which an object or entity exists can be inferred from its eventual outcome, determinable at some sufficiently distant future.

3. On naturalism, from 1 and 2, the purpose of the universe is to achieve heat death.

4. Objective moral values – if they exist within our universe – must serve to achieve or advance the purpose of our universe.

5. On naturalism, objective moral values – if they exist within our universe – must serve to increase entropy (from 3 and 4).

The Christian’s View

1. The purpose of an object or entity is defined as the reason for which that object or entity exists.

2, The reason for which an object or entity exists can be inferred from its eventual outcome, determinable at some sufficiently distant future.

3. On Christianity, from 1 and 2, the purpose of the universe is to bring glory to God, through its redemption and renewal.

4. Objective moral values – if they exist within our universe – must serve to achieve or advance the purpose of our universe.

5. On Christianity, objective moral values – if they exist within our universe – must serve to glorify God (from 3 and 4).

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Atheist Survey Results (n=23)

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 boldAtheist 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
– 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)
– Unsure
– 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”
– Unsure

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)

Are Science and Faith Compatible?

Many who are critical of religion seek to justify their stance by presenting a contrast between science and religious faith. To illustrate the kind of argument I’m talking about, consider the following excerpt:

“Science often traffics in doubt and readily welcomes revision. And these are precisely the attributes that make it deserving of our confidence. This may seem contradictory, but give it a second thought. It is just those systems of thought that would have us believe that they know the answers with certainty because they have been received from an unerring supreme being and interpreted by a chosen priesthood, that should give us pause. Creation myths from the ancient Greeks to the Old Testament give complete descriptions of how the universe was created. No doubt there. Alternatively, science – cosmology, geology, archaeology, biology – give incomplete descriptions filled with open questions…Revision is a victory in science, and that is precisely what makes it so powerful.” (continue reading)

Or this succinct quote from atheist comedian-musician Tim Minchin:

“Science adjusts its views based on what’s observed. Faith is the denial of observation so that belief can be preserved.”

This argument asserts that science is superior to religion precisely because it is self-correcting. Science is constantly evolving to reflect our growing understanding of the universe, whereas religion is stubbornly committed to its ancient truth-claims.

If one accepts that faith requires the denial of observation (hint: it doesn’t), then this argument might seem entirely sensible. Science is, indeed, a powerful tool for understanding the universe and improving the quality of human life. And religion does, by its nature, hinge upon the accuracy of its truth-claims.

Yet there’s a glaring problem. This argument presupposes that every religious system of thought is entirely man-made. The entire force of the argument rests on this presupposition.

If, however, such a system of thought is actually received from an inerrant Supreme Being, then it would be far more worthy of our confidence than any truth derived scientifically. Science may be self-correcting, but Truth revealed directly by a perfect God wouldn’t have any need for correction in the first place. The criticism that religious systems lack science’s capacity for change assumes that there is (and will always be) a need for change.

I say this as someone who deeply values both science AND my religious faith. I spend most of my waking hours absorbed in either one or the other, and I find it perplexing when people seek to portray them as conflicting and mutually exclusive domains.

If anything, I would attest that my Christian faith provides an even more exciting framework for my scientific pursuits. Rather than seeing the universe through the objectively meaningless lens of materialism, I recognize it as a meaningful and beautiful (yet fallen) work of creation. To quote the Irish theologian (and former molecular biophysicist) Alister McGrath:

“If you do believe in God, it gives a new intellectual depth to your science…The more I appreciate the beauty of nature, the more I appreciate the beauty of God, so studying nature is all about gaining a deeper appreciation of God.”

There’s a sense of mystery and humility that comes with studying God’s creation, and applying that knowledge toward the relief of human suffering. In my view, science and faith are more than just compatible. They’re synergistic.

See Also: The Science News Cycle

Blaise Pascal Quotes

“There is no denying it; one must admit that there is something astonishing about Christianity. ‘It is because you were born in it,’ they will say. Far from it; I stiffen myself against it for that very reason, for fear of being corrupted by prejudice. But, though I was born in it, I cannot help finding it astonishing.”

“There is enough light for those who only desire to see, and enough obscurity for those who have a contrary disposition.” 

Blaise Pascal

“What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself” 

“[The Jewish people] are not eminent solely by their antiquity, but are also singular by their duration, which has always continued from their origin till now. For, whereas the nations of Greece and of Italy, of Lacedaemon, of Athens and of Rome, and others who came long after, have long since perished, these ever remain, and in spite of the endeavors of many powerful kings who have a hundred times tried to destroy them, as their historians testify, and as it is easy to conjecture from the natural order of things during so long a space of years, they have nevertheless been preserved (and this preservation has been foretold)…”

“There are only three types of people; those who have found God and serve him; those who have not found God and seek him, and those who live not seeking, or finding him. The first are rational and happy; the second unhappy and rational, and the third foolish and unhappy.”

Twelve Questions to Ask an Atheist: The Responses

I received a surprising number of responses to my recent post, “Twelve Questions to Ask an Atheist”. So many, in fact, that it didn’t seem practical for me to address them individually. In this post, I will provide a summary of the answers I received, as well as some (brief) feedback of my own.

Unfortunately, many of the comments were laced with insults and profanity…so I deleted those. After adding up the remaining comments on this blog – as well as the comments on this reddit page that were at least somewhat respectful and serious – I came up with a total of 11 people who responded to all of the questions.

I also want to clarify my intentions in asking these questions, since several respondents evidently thought I was trying to “stump” atheists. My goal was simply to provide an opportunity for introspection, and perhaps spark some constructive dialogue.

So here goes. My original questions will be in boldAtheist responses will be italicized, with the # of similar responses in parentheses. My own feedback will appear as standard text.

1. Does the universe have a beginning that requires a cause? 

– Yes
– No (2)
– Don’t know (2)
– Probably
– Not necessarily (2)
– No clear response (3)

…If so, what was this cause?

– Don’t know (4)
– It was inevitable
– We CAN’T know
– There was no cause (2)
– P-Branes/Special Black Hole Hypothesis/Quantum Foam/Penrose Cyclic Universe
– No clear response (2)

The most noteworthy finding here, I think, was the diversity of responses. The predominant theme seemed to be that we don’t know whether or not the universe requires a cause…or what that cause might have been. Several respondents suggested that this lack of knowledge shouldn’t be particularly troubling. For those who did make more clear assertions, I would be curious to ask: “Are alternative explanations any less faith-based than the belief that God created the universe?”

2. Is materialistic determinism compatible with the intrinsically probabilistic nature of quantum mechanics?

– Don’t know (5)
– No (2)
– Yes, since macro-objects behave in a deterministic fashion
– Kind of, since laws are still reliable on the macro-level
– Claims the question is a non sequitur
– No clear response

I was somewhat surprised that only two people came right out and said, “no”. Two other people suggested that determinism is still compatible because quantum effects are typically only seen on the micro-level…but it remains unclear to me why materialistic determinism should grant an exemption to protons, electrons, etc.

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?

– Conveniently fixed parameters don’t imply that they were fine-tuned…reason unspecified (5)
– Anthropic principle/multiple universes will produce one capable of harboring life (5)
– Claims this is begging the question

Responses to this question generally fell into two groups – either insisting that the universe’s finely-tuned parameters don’t mean anything (without much elaboration), or else citing some variation of the anthropic principle.

The strong anthropic principle – at least in my view – is really just a non-answer to the question. It states that the universe MUST be this way, but doesn’t really move beyond this assertion to address WHY complex/sentient creatures exist. The weak anthropic principle initially seems much easier to swallow, but it requires the existence of multiple universes (or even infinite universes) that cannot be measured, observed, verified, or falsified. If this kind of proposal doesn’t violate Occam’s Razor, then what does? For interested readers, this is an issue that I discussed in a previous post.

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?

– Math is merely explanatory (3)
– Most people aren’t good at math (5)
– This fact isn’t unreasonable
– Claims the question is circular
– No clear response

Several people suggested that mathematics is only explanatory, and isn’t actually a fundamental characteristic of nature. I would strongly urge these readers to read Eugene Wigner’s paper (the link I used in the initial question).

The largest group (5 of the 11) argued that I was working on a faulty premise, and that the human mind ISN’T naturally fluent in the language of mathematics. But this argument really doesn’t hold any water. Just because many (or even most) people are poor at mathematics, doesn’t mean that our minds lack an ability to grasp mathematical concepts. Virtually everyone is capable of some degree of mastery, even if it’s simple addition; and the very fact that mathematics derived by humans is successful is really all that’s needed to establish the question’s premise.

My real goal with this question was to get my atheist friends to ponder the implications of the following quote, from Pope Benedict XVI: “If nature is really structured with a mathematical language and mathematics invented by man can manage to understand it, this demonstrates something extraordinary. The objective structure of the universe and the intellectual structure of the human being coincide.”

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:

– Lack of knowledge doesn’t mean God is the answer (2)
– Science is still too young (7)*
– Evolution isn’t irrational (3)*
– There’s no master design to understand

*Two responses included the ideas “science is still too young” as well as “evolution isn’t irrational” – hence why the total adds up to 13 for this question.

For those who argued that a lack of knowledge doesn’t mean God is the answer: I agree that we shouldn’t look at these sorts of topics with a “God of the gaps” mentality. I would point out, however, that many people are all-to-willing to play a game of “naturalism of the gaps” when it comes to particularly intricate systems like those that I mentioned.

For those who argued that science is still too young for us to replicate the precision and complexity that occurs on a molecular level: You may very well be correct. I asked specifically about DNA repair mechanisms, catalytically perfect enzymes, and substrate channeling because I’m trained as a biochemist. Others with my background would probably be less hesitant to explain these away with naturalism…but at the very least, I encourage you to research them and consider the issue with as much open-mindedness as you can muster.

For those who argued that evolution isn’t irrational: This really depends on how one defines “irrational”. For the purposes of this question, I define it as the lack of any source of higher intelligence (or conscious will). One could perhaps imagine evolutionary processes RESEMBLING something rational – or define evolutionary principles as being rational to us – but this isn’t what I was talking about.

6. Do you believe free will to be illusory?

– Yes
– No (5)
– Sort of
– Don’t know (2)
– Probably not, because of quantum mechanics
– 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 (6)
– No clear response, or not applicable (5)

I was very surprised that only one respondent clearly stated that free will is illusory, since that tends to be the answer I receive most often from atheists. Maybe this is just a sampling error, but at the very least it highlights the importance of knowing what specific people believe about an issue.

Many of those who stated that the punishment of crimes CAN be ethically justified appealed to some form of utilitarian ethics. For these people: I would be curious to hear about your grounding for utilitarian ethics. Given materialism, what reason – aside from your personal opinions – do we have for valuing happiness/pleasure over pain/suffering? Can we really say that happiness/pleasure is more valuable to a species from an evolutionary point of view?

7. Does objective morality exist?

– Yes (3)
– No (8)

…If so, what is its source…and how do you define “objective”?

It’s innate and driven by self-interest
It’s simply defined as human well-being (2)
– Not applicable (8)

…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?

– Kind of (2)
– No, morality is universal and selected for by evolution (3)
– No, we can rely on an empathy-based system of morality (3)
– Not applicable (3)

Those who held that objective morality exists generally defined it as “something we can talk about in objective terms”. I’ve heard this response before, and I think it’s a common cause of misunderstanding between atheists and theists. I would point out the following: claiming to have objectively meaningful terms or conditions – within an otherwise subjective system of morality – is completely different than having an objective system of morality.

Using the analogy of baseball: the fact that 3 strikes = 1 out (objectively) doesn’t make the game any less subjective as a man-made invention. If enough people decided that a strikeout should require 4 strikes, and successfully changed the rules, then the 3-strike rule would no longer be an objectively meaningful condition. The “rules”, then, were never anything more than a man-made invention supported by the majority opinion. Viewed more broadly, they were never really objective at all.

Contrast this with, say, the mass of the electron. It won’t ever change based on human popular opinion. A truly objective system of morality – from the theist’s perspective – will look much more like the mass of the electron than the rules of baseball.

The largest group of respondents denied objective morality yet disagreed with the final part of my question. Most of these responses argued that morality – while not objective – was nonetheless universal and logically defensible. This almost seems to be a contradiction of terms, particularly from those who attempt to ground morality on an empathy-based code of behavior. There are numerous holes in the empathy-based model that I won’t go into here…but our first question must be, “Can an empathy-based moral code truly be universally applied, while remaining consistent with the evolutionary goals demanded by a materialist’s worldview?” We might then go on to discuss specific issues – such as eugenics or the economic cost of caring for the sick and elderly.

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?

– Life is precious, since it’s the only one we get
– Value is based on our ability to “experience”
– No definition is completely logically consistent
– Human life transcends value
– Our value is defined as our value to others
– It’s a personal/subjective decision (4)
– Human value is self-evident
– Human value is based on empathy for our own species

The responses to the first question were highly diverse. I summarized them as best I could…but as you can see, there weren’t any major trends. All of these answers obviously differ considerably from the Christian view, which holds that life is valuable because we are created in the image of a loving God.

Only two respondent addressed the second question. One claimed that it “depends on the child”, while the other claimed that the human child was more valuable than the endangered primate.

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 (5)
– No, or mostly no (4)
– Unsure
– No clear response 

…If not, what specifically makes atheism immune to these influences?

– Lack of belief is the default
– Morality is inherently autonomous
– No clear response (2)
– Not applicable (7)

With this question, I was really just curious to see how honest people were being with themselves.

10. Do you believe religion (speaking generally) has had a net positive or a net negative effect on humanity.

– Net positive
– Net negative (6)
– Depends on the religion; net negative for the Abrahamic religions
– Unsure, or neutral (3)

…If the latter, how do you explain the prevalence of religion in evolutionary terms?

– Religion has evolutionary benefits, despite having a net negative effect on humanity
– Religious belief probably isn’t genetic, so it can’t be bred out (2)
– Religion survives through the intervention of man, particularly those who benefit from religion
– No explanation offered (3)
– Not applicable (4)

The majority of respondents felt that religion has had a net negative effect on humanity. Several respondents offered evolutionary explanations for how religion could have survived…but I remain extremely skeptical that any of these could account for the overwhelming prevalence of religion across cultures and continents. To quote CS Lewis: “If you are an atheist you do have to believe that the main point in all the religions of the whole world is simply one huge mistake. If you are a Christian, you are free to think that all those religions, even the queerest ones, contain at least some hint of the truth. When I was an atheist I had to try to persuade myself that most of the human race have always been wrong about the question that mattered to them most; when I became a Christian I was able to take a more liberal view.”

11. Is it rational for you to risk your life to save a stranger?

– Yes, given the chance of success and the impact to others
– Yes, since these risks could be evolutionarily selected for
– Depends on the situation (6)
– No (3)

I have to give some credit to the 3 respondents who took their medicine like men and answered “no”. Given atheism, it would seem utterly irrational to risk one’s life (the only one we get!) in order to save someone outside of the family or the tribe. The atheist might still FEEL that this is “the right thing to do” – but that feeling cannot be defended RATIONALLY within his worldview.

As a Christian, I can rationally defend why I ought to risk my life to save a stranger. I am called to emulate the example set forth by Jesus, who not only risked, but sacrificed his life for my own sake. I am taught that my soul is eternal, so my existence doesn’t come to an abrupt end when I unsuccessfully leap into a river trying to save someone who’s drowning. I can also follow the examples of the countless Christian martyrs who have cheerfully sacrificed their lives in order to serve others and further God’s kingdom.

12. How would you begin to follow Jesus if it became clear to you that Christianity was true?

– Would follow (3)
– Wouldn’t follow (4)
– It would depend on how this truth was revealed (2)
– Christianity can’t be true (2)

…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
– Trying to convince myself that the God of the Bible is deserving of worship (2)
– No clear response, or not applicable (8)

Most respondents included a statement about having difficulty following a God that they perceive as a moral monster. I think this is really unfortunate. I suspect that much of this perceived barrier has to do with how God is portrayed on reddit/r/atheism (where the majority of respondents came from). Whether it’s links to misleading websites, out-of-context OT verses, or malicious and sarcastic internet memes, reddit/r/atheism doesn’t exactly paint a fair or accurate picture of God’s character.

I would only implore these respondents to read the Bible in its entirety – with a fair and open mind.

UPDATE: Since the publication of this post, additional responses have been written here.

Twelve Questions to Ask an Atheist

Some of these obviously involve multiple questions…

1. Does the universe have a beginning that requires a cause? If so, what was this cause?

2. Is materialistic determinism compatible with the intrinsically probabilistic nature of quantum mechanics?

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?

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?

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?

6. Do you believe free will to be illusory? If so, can the punishment of crimes be ethically justified (and does the word “ethical” have any real meaning)?

7. Does objective morality exist? If so, what is its source…and how do you define “objective”? 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?

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?

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? If not, what specifically makes atheism immune to these influences?

10. Do you believe religion (speaking generally) has had a net positive or a net negative effect on humanity? If the latter, how do you explain the prevalence of religion in evolutionary terms?

11. Is it rational for you to risk your life to save a stranger?*

12. How would you begin to follow Jesus if it became clear to you that Christianity was true? What would be the hardest adjustment you would have to make to live a faithful, public Christian life?*

*Questions 11 and 12 are taken from a similar list on Wintery Knight.

Christians & Theists: If you have additional questions you would have included on this list (or disagreements with anything I’ve included), I invite you to respond in the comments section, or with a post of your own.

Atheists: If you would like to respond to these questions, I also invite you to do so in the comments section, or with a post of your own. In the interest of fairness, I will include on this page a link to any such posts.

UPDATE: I’ve posted a compiled list of answers (n=11) HERE.

GK Chesterton Quotes

“In truth, there are only two kinds of people; those who accept dogma and know it, and those who accept dogma and don’t know it.”

“The point of having an open mind, like having an open mouth, is to close it on something solid.” 

“Reason is always a kind of brute force; those who appeal to the head rather than the heart, however pallid and polite, are necessarily men of violence. We speak of ‘touching’ a man’s heart, but we can do nothing to his head but hit it.”

“There are those who hate Christianity and call their hatred an all-embracing love for all religions.”

“The act of defending any of the cardinal virtues has today all the exhilaration of a vice.”

GK Chesterton

“Courage is almost a contradiction in terms. It means a strong desire to live taking the form of a readiness to die…A soldier surrounded by enemies, if he is to cut his way out, needs to combine a strong desire for living with a strange carelessness about dying. He must not merely cling to life, for then he will be a coward, and will not escape. He must not merely wait for death, for then he will be a suicide, and will not escape. He must seek his life in a spirit of furious indifference to it; he must desire life like water and yet drink death like wine. No philosopher, I fancy, has ever expressed this romantic riddle with adequate lucidity, and I certainly have not done so. But Christianity has done more: it has marked the limits of it in the awful graves of the suicide and the hero, showing the distance between him who dies for the sake of living and him who dies for the sake of dying.” 

“If I did not believe in God, I should still want my doctor, my lawyer and my banker to do so.”

“The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.”

“Children are innocent and love justice, while most adults are wicked and prefer mercy.”