Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Interview with the atheist, part 2: the answers

Last time, we went over the plan for this atheist interviewing operation, including the list of questions and how you can participate by sending in your own questions and answers.

The order of the answers is rotated so different people are listed first, second, etc. Note that all attempts to malign theism or Christianity or to employ tu quoque arguments in your answers were DELETED. Wherever possible, I sought clarification. I will answer the questions myself later, and then you may comment on my answers.

Atheist/Agnostic/Unitarian answers: [10 respondents]

Question 1: Is there a God? [YES: 1 NO: 8] and is he knowable in principle, if he existed? [YES: 2 NO: 1]

  • It just didn’t seem to make sense. No matter how hard I tried to include scientific fact and personal experience into religion there came  point when there was so much, indeed overwhelming evidence, that religion was based on a premise (a hypothesis) that did not stand up to testing.
  • There is no God, and we can know he does not exist
  • There is no God, I have no presumptions or beliefs concerning the “origins of the universe”.
  • Don’t know. Don’t know
  • There is a God, but he is remote, unknowable and disinterested in humans

Question 2: Which religion were you raised in?

  • Jewish. Strict
  • Atheist (x3)
  • Catholicism (x2)
  • Catholic, strict.
  • Hinduism
  • Episcopalian. They took it seriously but not literally.
  • Quaker

Question 3: Explain some events, not arguments yet, that altered your spiritual worldview.

  • I prayed to pass an important exam, and I failed (unanswered prayer)
  • None
  • Parental abandonment
  • I found the beliefs and practice of the Catholic church to be irrational and contrived
  • Unanswered questions from early age onwards

Question 4: What are your main objections to God’s existence and knowability?

  • I have nothing against religious belief. I don’t feel that I need it to cope with or explore life.
  • All religions are all man-made
  • All religions are the same
  • Religions all have the same goal, to make people act morally
  • Religions all have the same goal, to make civilization survive
  • Belief is when you suspend critical thinking because you want, so much, for something to be true. That’s not very grown up, is it?
  • Evolution shows that a Creator and Designer aren’t needed to explain life
  • The world operates according to natural laws. Even if Creator God, no obvious mechanism how this Creator can communicate with people.
  • Progress of science, naturalistic explanations of natural phenomena
  • The hiddenness of God
  • There is too much moral evil and suffering in the world
  • The suffering in the world makes me wonder whether God is good, even if he existed
  • I don’t a reason why God would allow certain instances of suffering
  • The plurality of religions, and the way your religion is set by where you were born
  • God is unknowable because he is non-material, eternal, etc.
  • I don’t find the scientific arguments from the big bang and fine-tuning arguments convincing because science changes all the time
  • I don’t to drop my own personal moral standard and purpose and exchange it for anyone’s else’s
  • As long as people are good, then then they should not be punished in Hell for an eternity
  • Biblical contradictions
  • Bible outdated
  • I don’t like the idea of Hell
  • Religion is not testable
  • There is no empirical evidence
  • Canonization was done by the victors at Nicea
  • Religious believers are not significantly more moral than non-believers

Question 5: What is the ontology of moral values and moral duties? [Individual relativism: 8] [Cultural relativism: 2] [Objective: 0]

  • Subjective. The standard varies by each individual. What we ought to do is whatever we want to do.
  • Subjective/Cultural. The standard varies by each culture’s evolved social conventions. What we ought to do is to do whatever the majority of the people are doing in the society we live in. Morality is like driving/traffic laws, just do what is right for where you live
  • Subjective. Abstract values can only exist in brain states of individual people
  • Subjective. They reflect properties of the mind. They can be codified as law and custom.
  • Subjective. Moral values are ideas that get passed from person to person.
  • Subjective/Cultural. They don’t exist. What does exist is a social contract that we make with each other so that we might have a better life.
  • Subjective. Morality exists in our minds and, given what we know about our animal cousins, likely evolved in us as a means to ensure group cooperation and safety.
  • Subjective. Moral and ethical values appear to be properties of minds (which are themselves physical entities with complicated causal explanations).

Question 6: Does your worldview ground free will, which is required for consciousness, rationality, moral judgments, moral choices and moral responsibility? [NO: 8] [YES: 0]

  • There isn’t any
  • I don’t know
  • No good evidence for free will, and people do what they do because of genes and environment. Still, to the extent that we can change our environment, it’s worthwhile to create an environment that deters atrocities.
  • There is no free will.
  • I do not think the concept of “free will” is logically coherent.
  • I don’t think that there is such a thing as free will – not in the sense that you mean anyway.

Question 7: Is there a way for you to rationally persuade an atheist dictator to grant you mercy? [NO: 10] [YES: 0]

  • There is no way
  • I would be pleading for my life for the sake of life itself, or if I had dependents, I would ask to be spared for their sake.
  • It would be pretty pointless wouldn’t it? When bad people do things for their own good you can’t persuade them to do otherwise.
  • Would point out that international sanctions might get tighter if Kim commits atrocity
  • I don’t know
  • There’s no way to get mercy from an atheist who wishes to harm you and does not fear human reprisal.
  • I would probably ask what he wants from me to spare my life.

Question 8: Is it rational for you to risk your life to save a stranger? [NO: 10] [YES: 0]

  • It would be an emotional or intuitive decision. Not a time for rational calculation.
  • Self-sacrificial acts are not rational on atheism, there is no reason to do it
  • No
  • Self-sacrifice isn’t necessarily rational, but not everything an atheist does has to be purely rational.
  • I use happiness in more of an Aristotelian sense.  Happiness is not something that I necessarily feel at this very moment.  I know that I would feel bad if the little girl died, but it would be more than just immediate feelings.
  • I behave in a way that I hope others will. It works pretty well most of the time.

Question 9: Could you condemn slavery in a society where it was accepted, on rational grounds? [NO: 10] [YES: 0]

  • No. I do not believe in praise and blame and judging others. I would not try to persuade them for fear of repercussions, up to and including my death at their hands
  • I would not because slavery is the custom of that society. Each society has different customs, and slavery is their custom. If I moved there, I would not oppose it because I would get used to it
  • Would use evidence that all people are basically similar neurologically, and ask slaveowners to empathize with enslaved. Might work with Thomas Jefferson.
  • I don’t know
  • No but I personally oppose suffering
  • I can oppose slavery by merely opposing slavery.  True, moral subjectivism does not provide an objective basis for deciding the question of slavery, in and of itself.
  • If I traveled back into time then it would be me who traveled.  So I would oppose slavery.  If I were born into that time period, it would be different.
  • I would argue that people deserve the right to be free from slavery because I think that’s a good idea.
  • I wouldn’t “use” atheism as it doesn’t come with any particular tenets or morals or behavioral requirements.
  • I would oppose slavery because I would *want* to, not because I think there’s some extrinsic reason I ought to.

Question 10: Is there ultimate significance for acting morally or not? I.e. – does it affect your or anyone else’s destination if you act morally or not? [NO: 10] [YES: 0]

  • There is no ultimate significance
  • Acting morally makes life easier
  • Too long after I’m dead for me to care about.
  • It always matters to maximize my happiness now. I don’t care what happens in 20 billion years.
  • There’s a preceding question that hardly ever gets asked. “Is there a meaning to life?” I don’t think there is.

Question 11: Is there an objective purpose to life, (or does each person decide for themselves)? [NO: 10] [YES: 0]

  • Mine is to feel good about myself and to feel respected by others.
  • Mine is to enjoy it. I’d hope that I go about it in a way that doesn’t interfere with others enjoyment and that when it does we can compromise.
  • Mine is to relieve inordinate suffering, while leaving room for constructive suffering that lead to creativity and progress. Based on empathy.
  • Mine is to help the species survive by having lots of children, because that lasts after you die
  • Each person decides for themselves. My purpose is to have happy feelings
  • My purpose is to have happy feelings by doing what most of the other people are doing and avoiding social disapproval
  • I have no “objective” purpose. I do what I can to be happy, all things considered.
  • To live as contented as possible. To find answers to big questions. To prepare my children for adulthood. I chose these things because that’s what I like. I don’t care what another’s purpose is as long as they don’t harm anyone.
  • My purpose is to seek happiness while doing no harm (or as little harm as is it may be possible to do) for as long as I’m alive. Of course it’s just my own purpose – I can’t presume to choose another’s purpose. That being said, I do presume everyone has more or less the same goal of happiness and fulfillment, but the precise methods of going about it are always going to vary from person to person.
  • I want to be happy. I generally like other people, and I want them to be happy too.

Question 12: Would you follow (and how would you follow) Jesus at the point where it became clear to you that Christianity was true? [NO: 7] [YES: 2]

  • I have no idea
  • I would not follow. My own goals are all that I have, and all that I would continue to have in that unlikely situation. I would not yield my autonomy to anyone no matter what their authority to command me
  • I would not follow, because God doesn’t want humans to act any particular way, and he doesn’t care what we do
  • I would not follow. Head is spinning. Would go to physician to find out if hallucinating.
  • If I found there was no trickery? I’d have to change my mind wouldn’t I! Not really likely though is it?
  • I would keep doing what I am doing now, acting morally. That’s what all religions want anyway. (In response to my triumphant scribbling, he realized he had fallen into a trap and changed his answer to the right answer) Oh, wait. I would try to try to find out what Jesus wanted and then try to do that.
  • I hope I would be courageous enough to dedicate my life to rebellion against God.
  • I would not have to change anything unless forced to and all that would change is my actions not my values.  I would certainly balk at someone trying to force me to change my behavior as would you if you were at the mercy of a moral objectivist who felt that all moral goodness is codified in the Koran.
  • He would have to convince me that what he wants for me is what I want for me.

Question 13: What would be the hardest adjustment you would have to make to live a faithful, public Christian life?

  • I don’t know
  • It would not be that big of a change for me. I already act morally, I’m already public about my beliefs, and I don’t care what people think about what I believe. I don’t mind disagreeing with people and being unpopular for it. I think the 10 commandments are good. I could find out what to do and start doing those things.
  • I would not be able to believe in miracles, so there would be cognitive dissonance
  • Sacrificing my personal moral standards to take up a standard from a book that is very old and outdated
  • The most difficult would be the fact that I believe something without good evidence.
  • I work many hours a week for institutions and organizations that are charitable. I’m certainly not going to swap those for hours for “prayer time” and waste them.
  • I would certainly balk at someone trying to force me to change my behavior as would you if you were at the mercy of a moral objectivist who felt that all moral goodness is codified in the Koran. Obviously, it is possible that if I became a Christian, then I would have different values then I have now.
  • The most difficult thing would be trying to believe the ridiculous claims of Christianity. As for what a Christian finds difficult, how would I know?
  • I could never obey God from gratitude and love, only from servility inspired by fear and cowardice. I do not see myself as servile, fearful or cowardly, and to behave in such a manner would injure my self-esteem and self-image.

To my atheist interviewees: Thank you for giving me these answers. I will be commenting on them shortly, and posted my own answers.

Bear in mind: It does not matter to me whether you can do something irrationally by an act of will, (supposing that you could even have free will on a materialistic, deterministic universe). I only cared whether you could give a rational argument based on evidence. When the chips are down, people act on what is rational to them.

UPDATE: Hot Air on the atheism agenda.

Filed under: Mentoring, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

4 Responses

  1. [...] with the atheist at Wintery Knight Blog. Related Posts:They’re Not Mentally Ill… They’re TerroristsThe perils of virtual gay marriagePat [...]

  2. HumanistDad says:

    Too bad your original questions were not more precise, like the summary of the questions here.

    • Sorry, you can submit updates to your answers! And I did e-mail you and the others back for clarifications! These questions are just a shorthand for the questions in part 1, because otherwise this post would get too long.

  3. [...] Later, Knight talks about an earlier survey he’d undertaken of some atheists. By the way, did you all see my survey of atheists that I did a while back? It’s relevant because one of the questions I asked to my volunteers was “How you begin to follow Christ if it suddenly became clear to you that Christianity was objectively true?”. I got some very strange responses that dovetail nicely with Sproul’s book.Here are a few of the responses: [...]

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