Archive for July 20th, 2007
The following is in response to a post on the Friendly Atheist blog, asking for short-and-sweet answers to common questions about atheists.
- Why do you not believe in God?
God-with-a-G means the Judeo-Christian God, I assume. I don’t believe in that “version” for the same reason I don’t believe in any of the others: no evidence for it that stands on its own merits, just “testimony” from fallible people.
- Where do your morals come from?
I don’t like the term “morals” at all: it reeks of prescriptive and proscriptive instructions, handed down from “authority”. I prefer to think in terms of “ethics”, sets of rules agreed on by a society of peers: doctors, lawyers, or… people.
- What is the meaning of life?
I think actions have the meanings you put in to them (the intentions behind them), and your life is the sum of your actions. In other words: a complex mess, just like life.
- Is atheism a religion?
About the only thing all atheists have in common is a lack of belief: they don’t necessarily share any other positive beliefs, or agree on anything else. That’s a “no”, then.
- If you don’t pray, what do you do during troubling times?
Talk to people who can help. I sorted out my philosophical positions on most things years ago, and that “armour” proved its usefulness when I was handed something real to worry about: I felt no need to turn to faith.
- Should atheists be trying to convince others to stop believing in God?
I don’t think so: it only leads to resentment and reactionary thinking. You can lead a horse to water, and all that, but you can also lead by example: be a good person, and tell the truth about yourself if asked.
- Weren’t some of the worst atrocities in the 20th century committed by atheists?
You can find plenty of evidence that Hitler was not an atheist, such as his statement about “doing God’s work” by trying to wipe out the Jewish race. Stalin is a more complex example: if you believe Khruschev’s “Secret Speech”, Stalin thought he was a god, and the Party was his Church.
- How could billions of people be wrong when it comes to belief in God?
Because people tend to do what’s easiest? If they are taught to believe from a young age, and live surrounded by fellow believers, what reason do they have to “swim against the stream”?
- Why does the universe exist?
“Why” is a human question: we want to know the reasons why things happen. It doesn’t mean that such reasons actually exist, or that “Why?” is a valid question to ask about the natural world. Does the universe care about our questions?
- How did life originate?
At this time I don’t believe anyone knows for sure: it was a very long time ago, so the evidence (if any is left) will be hard to find. Which does not mean that any religion has the Answer: that’s a “God of the Gaps” argument.
- Is all religion harmful?
I’m not qualified to talk about all religion, so I wouldn’t want to make any sweeping statements of that sort. What I do know is that much of the apparent good is not actually that good, in a wider context e.g. Mother Theresa, religious charities failing to spread the Safe Sex message.
- What’s so bad about religious moderates?
As people, I think they’re just people like me – this is not about who they are, but I have a problem with some things they do. Teaching children it’s OK to live their lives by “fairy tales” that have no evidence to back them, on the word of “authority”, is a grave disservice to the next generation of critical thinkers. They serve as “enablers” of religious extremism, much as friends and family of alcoholics can serve as “enablers” by buying the drinks.
- Is there anything redeeming about religion?
Religion has, at various historical times, provided essential services we would now expect from government. Laws, infrastructure, even “public health” (e.g. “don’t eat pork” when it was dangerous). It also provided a sense of community, something that atheists not really able to do successfully, yet. (We ask too many questions!)
- What if you’re wrong about God (and He does exist)?
If I ever meet up with one or more gods, I will have some harsh questions. Such as: “what the bleep were you thinking?”, or “where the bleep were you when your people needed you?” A god that just sat back and watched this planet gets no respect from me.
- Shouldn’t all religious beliefs be respected?
Certainly, as long as lack of belief is also respected. There should be no coercion, on any level, from anyone. Mandatory prayer, using my money to fund religious organisations, granting religion freedom from criticism… all forms of coercion. Basically, any intrusion of any particular religion, into an area it is not wanted, is a form of coercion, in my opinion.
- Are atheists smarter than theists?
It depends on what “smart” means. I think that atheists have done more thinking about the issues, but whether that’s “smart” or not is a “value judgement” I have doubts about. It could be that religious belief confers a long-term evolutionary advantage, which would be hard to argue against. See also Idiocracy.
- How do you deal with the historical Jesus if you don’t believe in his divinity?
That doesn’t sound hard at all: a real person, walking around 2000 years ago, saying things, perhaps performing magic tricks, is not a deal-breaker. Asking us to accept claims of supernatural powers is a problem, especially considering what we know about the history of the Church: a committee assembled an agreed version of events, based on written accounts, and included the supernatural claims that gave that Church its legitimacy.
- Would the world be better off without any religion?
Hard to say: maybe in the future, if people move that way of their own accord. My “no coercion” principle works both ways: actions have reactions, and even if I had the authority to take away someone’s religion, I would have no control over their beliefs.
- What happens when we die?
If I have a say in the matter, I hope I can feed a tree. A pear tree, specifically. I like pears. 8)
No, it’s not real: the Gematriculator is a spoof Numerology analyser for web pages or text. Well, if this says good things about the site, I can’t take much of the credit: it’s analysing the underlying HTML code too, and most of that is generated by wordpress.com and the Theme I use.
My two years of pill-popping have started: so far I have three bottles of capsules from America, complete with Federal warning labels, each with about a month’s supply of… a lot, a little, or nothing. The capsules are the smallest I’ve ever seen, so small it’s hard to imagine anyone having trouble taking them. Since I have to take one a day, I’ve set up alarm reminders, which means I won’t be forgetting to take my vitamins, either.
I spent most of the day just sitting around, and was able to write a few thousand words of… well, that’s for another day. There was no internet access, so no normal work was possible, but I could take coffee breaks. The worst parts of yesterday’s hospital visit were the ECG exams. (Electrocardiogram, also known as EKG.) I had one in the morning, before the first dose of medicine, and another later in the evening.
If you know about the ECG, you might be asking: what’s the problem? It’s quick, non-invasive, and all you need to do is lie still. Well, all that is true, but in my case the problem is preparation. I’m male, so I don’t get the luxury of modesty: I’m lying on a trolley with my shirt off, while everyone and their sister walks past, or pokes their noses in to say Hi! to the nurse. A pretty female nurse, who has to repeatedly reattach electrodes that refuse to stick to my hairy chest. It took alcohol swabs, surgical tape, and a threat to break out the razor and shaving cream, before they held still long enough for a minute’s data.
What I said before about being patient number one turned out to be untrue: I was the first going in, true, but the last going out with a bottle of pills. Well, not quite the last, because I made a new friend yesterday: Cathy, who stayed a little longer than me, and whom I will hopefully see again, on my next visit in two weeks’ time. After the first hour, during which we both failed to present any symptoms whatsoever, we went out for lunch. We also hung out during the day – but not while she was having her ECG: she, at least, got to enjoy a little modesty.