Riker's Mailbox

Wednesday, August 15, 2007


My responses to the FriendlyAtheist short-answer project:

  • Why do you not believe in God?
The 'supernatural' is undefined... kinda like 'divide by zero'; it's a concept we can label, but there's nothing we can actually put into that category. The entire universe is natural, and within it there's only the already-known and the unknown.
  • Where do your morals come from?
I am comfortable with certain things happening to me (good) and uncomfortable with other things happening to me (bad). I recognize that all other living things behave similarly to me, so it's easy enough to assume that if I don't like it, you probably won't either.
  • What is the meaning of life?
'Life' is a word that describes "the behavior living things exhibit before they die". Oh, what is the purpose of life? I don't think there is a single pre-intended purpose of life that we can identify... but I highly respect people who choose to apply a purpose to their lives, especially if the purpose is a positive one.
  • Is atheism a religion?
Only as much as total darkness is a color.
  • If you don’t pray, what do you do during troubling times?
I do my best to find a way to gain strength from the ordeal so I can better face it the next time I endure it. If it's too much to bear on my own, then I draw strength from the support of my friends and loved ones who are there for me during troubling times. If it's someone close to me enduring troubling times, then I do everything in my power to help them through it.
  • Should atheists be trying to convince others to stop believing in God?
I believe so; I think humans should have an interest in helping humanity as a whole. If you're spending any time at all worshiping a deity, then you're not helping humanity as much as you could be.
  • Weren’t some of the worst atrocities in the 20th century committed by atheists?
That's an irrelevant statistic. Some of the worst atrocities of the 20th century were committed by people who had dark hair, but we don't campaign against that. A more appropriate statistic would be the ratio of atheism-motivated vs. religiously-motivated perpetration of atrocities in all of recorded history. The number would be small enough to illustrate that this is an absolutely stupid argument against atheism.
  • How could billions of people be wrong when it comes to belief in God?
There was definitely a value in believing in a higher power when primitive humans were fighting each other for survival. This religious tendency is a residual trait that was never extinguished, since up until the last century or two we didn't have the capability to answer the biggest questions we were able to ask. Now our eyes are opened wider.
  • Why does the universe exist?
I don't believe that is an answerable question. I also don't believe it needs to be answered. Interestingly, the fact that the universe exists is a source of unspeakable awe and 'reverence' to me. It drives me to never stop learning. This is the kind of awe the religious could only dream of experiencing.
  • How did life originate?
I personally don't know. But some of the best minds out there are working on further refining the very solid theories that we have. Once we find out for sure, it will promote a whole new category of capabilities that we will be able to use to vastly improve the state of humanity and of the world as a whole.
  • Is all religion harmful?
No, assuming we apply a broad definition of 'religion'. The Eastern spiritualities do nothing to stifle our inherent benevolence. In some cases they actually promote it. The harmful religions are those of ethical theism; the ones that have codes dictating behavior.
  • What’s so bad about religious moderates?
They're not bad in and of themselves. But their existence enables fundamentalism to thrive. They make a case for being complacent about religion, which is actually a very dangerous thing.
  • Is there anything redeeming about religion?
Good things can come out of religious motivation... but to be redeeming I'd have to find an instance of something that religion provides more effectively than does rationalism (which is naturalistic in nature). For every good thing religion does well, there is a natural and rational thing that does it better.
  • What if you’re wrong about God (and He does exist)?
Then everyone who did believe in and everyone who didn't believe in the particular god that does exist (and it's not necessarily Yahweh) will be subject to the rules (if there are any) established by that god. If it ends up that Yahweh exists, then I will be undeservedly punished for eternity. If the actual god is one that values rationality and abhors blind faith, then I'll be handsomely rewarded for passing the test of religion. The god that does exist might not care at all what I did while alive, and he might not even have made us for everlasting life. We might still just die.
  • Shouldn’t all religious beliefs be respected?
Only the ones worthy of respect... but chances are, the aspects of those beliefs that deserve the respect predate and are independent of the religion itself ("Do unto others as you would have done unto you," et cetera). Rather: whether a belief is to be respected has nothing to do with the fact that it's religious.
  • Are atheists smarter than theists?
Not on account of their atheism, no. But smarter people are more likely to be atheist than theist.
  • How do you deal with the historical Jesus if you don’t believe in his divinity?
I assume you're talking about Yeshua ben Joseph, a man who was a small political/spiritual leadership candidate (and thus given the title 'Jesus', as such candidates were all given) of a growing sect of a monastic society in the middle east a few thousand years ago. With my understanding of the vernacular and the culture of the people who wrote what surviving historical documents we have, he never said he was divine. Other people did, much later. People all throughout history have been calling themselves and other people divine, and as far as I can tell they've all been wrong.
  • Would the world be better off without any religion?
I believe so, and I'm doing everything I can so that someday we can find out for sure.
  • What happens when we die?
We permanently lose consciousness; it is not unlike before we were born. Of course, there is the possibility of developing technology that will allow a person to live indefinitely; but that's a whole other can of worms.

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