A response to Lucy

8 Dec

This is a response to Lucy’s post The Nature of Existence. Instead of blowing up her comment section with my reply, I thought I’d just write it down here and link it.

This is my personal view on things as a liberal atheist. I cannot speak for every atheist, though I suspect the majority of my views might match theirs.

EXISTENCE

Why do we exist?

Why or for what purpose? As to why I’d point to the various processes that created us, from the big bang, supernovas, to abiogensis, to evolution through natural selection, etc. (If you’re interested in the step by step way we got to where we are now, there is a really great series on youtube called “Made easy” It covers a lot of topics. As for a purpose, we make our own purpose.

What is the best thing about existing?

I think it depends on the person, but I’d say love, art, being able to feel, that stuff.

What is our purpose?

We make our own.

Is the world a better place for having had humans in it?

Not really sure how to answer that one. Depends on the definition of what a better world would be. We’re a natural phenomenon and yet we’ve reached the technological point of being able to destroy our planet’s ecosystem faster than ever. Obviously what we’re doing right now isn’t good for the planet, and if we don’t change it soon, perhaps we won’t be here any more to keep doing it.

How can we improve humanity?

Education. Education, education, education. Here’s a perfect example.

What is the best advice or philosophy for living?

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. (That and don’t be a dick)

RELIGION

What is religion?

Oooh, tough one. I’d say it would be a group of beliefs and rituals based around the worship of some being(s), usually accompanied by prescriptions for how to behave, often with articles of faith that must be held as dogma. I’m sure you could add more, but that’s just off the top of my head.

Why are there multiple religions?

Multiple cultures evolving in different and isolated parts of the world. Often people will create new ones for a variety of reasons, either power or some type of personal experience. Different sects within a religion are the result of disputes over the correct ways to worship. (Unfortunately history is bathed in blood because of this)

Should religions be challenged?

Whenever they threaten the lives of their followers, are committing fraud, abusing children, attempting to take over governments, undermine education, restrict personal freedoms, and making claims about the nature of reality that are directly contradicted by observable fact. (to name a few)

Is skepticism a good thing?

Most assuredly yes. If you weren’t skeptical you’d be food for ever scam artist that came along with a nice suit and a smooth tale. Skepticism is also crucial to making informed judgements about our lives and how to best apply our time and energy to the things that matter.

Why do people get angry when their beliefs are challenged?

It’s a defense mechanism and perfectly natural. The hard part is to not immediately put up your shields, but to take the time to listen and evaluate the claims of the other person.

Which religion is right?

None of them. A Christian is an atheist in respect to every god but theirs. Same with a Hindu, a Muslim, an animist, etc. Atheists just go one god further. There is a saying “When you understand why you reject my god, you’ll understand why I reject yours.” Zeus is false for the same reasons Allah is false.

Can all religions be correct?

Unfortunately the majority of religions have views that are absolutely mutually exclusive and incompatible with each other. To belong to one faith explicitly means not belonging to another.

What does fear have to do with belief?

A lot. For thousands of years it’s been a major reason why people believe. “Worship this or burn in hell!” (or at least get beheaded now) :-\

Do we have a need to believe in something?

Of course, it’s part of human nature. We’re biologically inclined to believe. For most atheists, Humanism fills this need.

What is spirituality?

Non-descript feelings of the supernatural, usually not organized into a group.

SCIENCE

Can religion and science coexist?

No. Science and religion are fundamentally opposed in how they operate and obtain knowledge. (I’ve got a science 101 page that explains a bit of this)

What’s the difference between religion and science?

To put it bluntly: (click to enlarge)


Can a religion change with society?

Depends on the religion. Usually this does not happen quickly. It took Christianity until after the civil war to stop using the bible to justify slaver. The pope just now slightly changed his position on condom use to prevent aids. Mormanism convenientlychanged throughout history to meet the political realities of the day. (Ie, no polygamy)

Was man created or did he evolve?

Evolved. This is a scientific fact and is the strongest theory in science. There is no debate. Creationists will try to say there is a debate among scientists, but this is really just a wedge strategy. (Check the “Evolution made easy” for more details. There is also another really great series called “Why do people laugh at creationists” which go point by point showing the scientific evidence that refutes their claims and attempts to mischaracterize science.

GOD

Is there a God?

Depends on what the definition of “god” is. So far there is no empirical evidence that such a being exists. Extraordinarily claims require extraordinary evidence. If provided with the evidence, I will gladly change my position. A god that interacts with existence would fall within the purview of science, a god that does not and leaves no trace of his/her/its dealings would not be observable and thus would be outside of the realm of science. Currently the only “god” we can say nothing about is the deist god. This is because we don’t know what happened in the 10^-34 seconds immediately after the big bang. Once we find that out, and we’re getting closer every day, there will be no gap in understand that the deist god can hide in. (This is an example of “God of the gaps”)

What is the definition of God?

Depends on the religion. A lot of people I meet like to keep it as hazy as possible so as to be able to move the goal posts when discussing the subject. The more attributes they ascribe to this god, the more claims they have to back up with evidence to support them.

What gives you certainty in your belief?

I don’t have any certainty. I’m an agnostic atheist, I don’t think it’s possible to be certain. I think it’s very unlikely, the 300+ posts on this blog are the various reasons why I think it’s unlikely.

How do you deal with doubt?

Doubt is a great thing. Doubt means not being sure of something you can’t possibly know. Doubt means you won’t be easily taken for a ride. The dangerous people are the ones who tell you not to doubt.

Who created God?

We did, in our image. There is a saying “If triangles had a god, it’d have three sides.” It’s no coincidence god has so many attributes that match our own. The old testament god gives you a perfect window into what it was like to be a desert dwelling goat herder in the Iron age. The human emotions and “morals” god espouses mimic that of the society that created him.

Is God male or female?

Neither. (Though in mainstream patriarchal religion it’s male)

What does God need from us?

Televangelists would say your money. Others say 10% tithe of your income, but most often it’s your unquestioning obedience to those who claim to speak for god.

Who is/are the Messiah(s)?

We are responsible for our own actions. Nobody is going to come and bail us out, it’s up to us to figure out how to live together peacefully. So far we’re doing a terrible job of it.

Who is the Devil?

The guy who planted all the evidence for evolution to make it LOOK like god wasn’t needed. (Just kidding) The devil is a really problematic concept. Here’s why.

FAITH

What is faith?

Belief in something for which there is no evidence. (Good video on faith here)

What is a fact?

An objective observation on how reality operates, irregardless to the wishes of the observer.

How can we tell which is which?

One is what you wish were so, one is what is.

TRUTH

What is truth?

Not sure, but I’m sure there can be many. The idea that there is only one “TRUTH” is dangerous.

How do we determine truth?

Hmm, this is a really tough one, and I’m honest enough to say that I’m not sure I have an answer at the moment. I think it ties in with morality that I’ll touch on later.

Which truth is right?

Many can be right.

SCRIPTURE

Is the holy-book(s) literally true?

No, none of them are. They’re all collections of the thoughts and views of man, and they all contain inconsistencies. If you’re interested, and you have the time, there is a really great lecture by leading biblical scholar Bart D. Ehrman. He wrote a book “Misquoting Jesus: Who changed the bible and why”. The lecture is a condensed talk about that book. It’s not told from a preachy standpoint, he’s a scholar and textual critic, he simply highlights inconsistencies in the bible, and how they can tell when lines were added, subtracted, ect. The lecture is here. (Skip to the 4 min mark to get past the introductions) Aside from the inconsistencies, there is just plenty of bunk science in holy books. See those videos “Why do people laugh at creationists” for exactly examples.

What is the origin of the holy book(s)?

That lecture I pointed out is about just this, how the bible was formed. It’s really fascinating.

How do we accept a holy book that positively portrays unacceptable behaviors like slavery, incest, murder, etc.?

We don’t. Fortunately our morality has evolved past that point. The bible is a snap shot of morality in the iron age desert. It’s views on such topics are appalling today.

Can we take what we like about a religion/belief system and make our own version and throw out the rest?

Anyone who is not a fundamentalist does this. It’s nice, though one must admit it has no basis but their own preference.

MORALITY

What is morality?

A system for how we treat others and respond in a variety of circumstances.

Is there a moral yardstick that applies to all cultures?

Yes. This is a very hot button issue in the atheist community right now. I HIGHLY recommend you check out this talk Sam Harris gave. It’s a 20 minute lecture discussing the main ideas in his newest book “The Moral Landscape”. It’s extremely interesting and thought provoking. I could try and sum it up, but he’s a lot more eloquent and well spoken.

Where does morality, or our “conscience,” comes from?

That lecture above covers exactly this.

Is altruism or morality possible without belief in a deity?

Of course. Murder was still wrong before it was ever written down on the 10 commandments. Millions of atheists around the world are good without god. Most everybody is. I’d really be worried about someone who would gleefully go out rape, murder, and steal if it were not for god holding them back.

SIN

What is sin?

You mean the 667 things the bible says are bad? Or whatever socially conservative preachers say is bad? (You know, you can take “abortion” off that list of things in that are sins in the bible because the only time abortion is mentioned in the bible is when god is ripping babies out of the wombs of his foes. That would ironically make the number of sins 666)

What is the punishment for sin?

Usually death, most likely by some barbaric and cruel means.

Is thought the same as deed?

Nope. I can think whatever I want, it stays in my head and harms nobody, as long as it stays there.

Does God want to test us? Why?

The idea of life as a test is a little sadistic, especially when you throw in the idea that god knows everything. What’s the point? He already knows the outcome but makes you go through the suffering anyways.

SEX

Should a person have sex before marriage?

Most definitely. Sex is a major part of a relationship. If you have no chemistry, then the relationship won’t work. Why make such a major life long commitment without knowing this crucial information?

Is masturbation a sin?

Nope, it’s perfectly natural and healthy.

What determines sexual orientation?

Genetics. And there is evidence to back this up.

Why is God interested in our sexual behavior?

He/she/it is not. It’s an iron age self-loathing and fixation on sex.

Should women be treated differently than men?

No. They’re human too and deserve equal treatment across the board.

FREE WILL

Do we have free will?

Without a god? Yes. With an all knowing god? No.

Is everything predetermined?

With a god that knows everything before it happens? Yes. (See above link)

What entity predetermines fate or destiny?

Fate and destiny don’t exist. We’re responsible for our own actions and writing our own futures.

SUFFERING

Why is there suffering?

Because nature is amoral and people do messed up shit to one another. Simple as that.

What is best path to happiness?

Hmm, I really don’t think there is a “best path”. That video by Sam Harris on Morality explains this a bit too.

Does God intercede in human tragedies?

Nope. Tell that to the thousands of children that die every day from the slow and agonizing death that is starvation. I hate nothing more than to see some rich athlete thank god for helping them when meanwhile so many people are dying.

PRAYER

Does prayer work?

Nope. Nothing fails like prayer. There is another saying “Two hands working do more good than a billion clasped in prayer.”

If so, why does God allow holocausts, and disasters?

He doesn’t exist, so he’s not there to stop them.

If not, why pray?

Most people never stop to think of the arrogance implicit in asking god for things like a new car or a promotion when there is such suffering and death all around the world. If they are aware of that, people can use prayer as more for soothing themselves than actually asking god to suspend the laws of the universe on their behalf.

Does meditation work?

I’m sure it has lots of stress relieving benefits that contribute to better health.

How does meditation work?

Controlling your thoughts, observing them, relaxing and achieving an inner calm.

SOUL

What is a soul?

There is no evidence that souls, in the religious context, exist. Instead, what most religious people would call our soul is actually just our consciousness and personality. Both originate in the brain as a result of our brain functions and cease existing when we die and our brain matter turns to mush.

Do animals have souls?

Funny you should ask, I actually wrote a detailed post about this.

Does a soul have the same thoughts and feelings when outside the body?

Your consciousness and personality cannot exist outside of the body that creates them, so no.

If a soul does not carry our memories, then what is a soul since it is our memories that make us up?

It’s just our consciousness.

What purpose does a brain serve if a soul can exist and feel without it?

It’s the other way around since there is no evidence that a soul exists.

AFTERLIFE

Is there an afterlife?

So far there is no evidence that such a place exists, and with no soul to go there, there is no point.

Where is it?

The closet thing is in the memories of our loved ones.

Where do we go after death?

Back to the earth.

Why do we need an afterlife?

We don’t, but some people prefer fantasy as a way of dodging and dealing with grief.

LIFE

When does life begin?

Depends on what you define as life. I talk about this a bit in my “animals and souls” post. A human embryo is “life” the same way broccoli is “life.” Under this definition abortion would be taking a life, and eating a salad would be genocide. For practicality, human life starts when you are born. You don’t celebrate your first birthday at 3 months old. (9+3=12) There is also no police report filed every time a woman has a period or a miscarriage.

When should abortion be allowed?

(My personal stance, there are atheists who would disagree) I would say in all cases, though I think if you’re going to make that decision then you should ideally do it before the third trimester, except if you find out during the third trimester that having the baby will kill you. (Another interesting vid about this here)

Is it ever appropriate to kill another person?

Only in self-defense or when they’re imminently going to kill your loved ones. Try to avoid it if at all possible, but their are cases when it’s the only way. (Unfortunately)

SUPERNATURAL

What are supernatural beliefs?

Beliefs that are outside the realm of the natural, or existence.

Are there extraterrestrials?

Of course. It’s arrogant and naive to think we are the only life forms in the entire universe. There are a billion billion stars (that we can see). If only 1% of them had planets that could support life, that’s still a BILLION planets with life. The whole thing is mindblowing. There is a video here touches on the scale and beauty of the universe, it gives me goosebumps and makes my eyes well up every time I watch it. I really recommend it. If there is only one video you see out of the ones I recommended, this video would be it.

Who are they?

Don’t have any idea :p

Do psychics work, and if you are religious, are they allowed?

There is a standing prize of 1 Million dollars to anyone who can demonstrate psychic powers under scientific observation. It’s offered by James Randi, a guy who’s been debunking and exposing these people for decades, and nobody has come close to winning it. Many have tried, all have been shown for what they really are, con men.

Where do the voices in our heads come from?

Our minds. They are versions of ourselves.

DOOMSDAY

Will there be a doomsday?

If we keep letting religious heads of state guide countries using the equivalent of bird signs, then yes, we will create our own doomsday. The really scary thing is there is a brand of Christianity that believes they have a check list of things that need to happen in order for Jesus to come back. Starting WWIII is on that list, and a lot of these people have positions of power in government. (Sarah Palin is also one of these people)

What is the greatest danger facing man’s existence?

Irrational thinking and the belief that there is one Truth, and that it’s worth flying planes into buildings over.

How do we stop conflict?

Education.

Should different cultures be preserved, or are our cultural differences the source of strife?

Diversity is the spice of life. Different cultures only clash when there is a lack of understanding and tolerance. Education can fix this.

Should political leaders invoke a deity in decisions or policy?

Absolutely not. If they want to pray privately, fine, but to let that faith make decisions in politics is dangerous. When you mix religion and politics people get burned at the stake. The whole reason the very first line in the very first amendment to the US constitution is about the separation of church and state is because the founding fathers just came from a Europe awash in blood and religious strife.

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