I wonder why do these lists of questions claimed that non-believers can’t answer well? Maybe that’s because Christians assume that when a person answer differently from their standards and pre-conceive ideas that means you can’t answer it well. So without further adieu...let’s begin.
There are the basic world view questions:
1. Origins: Where did life and humanity originate?
2. The Problem: Why are there suffering, sickness, and death?
3. Solution: What is the cure for man's suffering, esp. his existential loneliness?
Men . . . have had the vanity to pretend that the whole creation was made for them, whilst in reality the whole creation does not suspect their existence. — CAMILLE FLAMMARION
This is always the very first question a believer asks an atheist. If a person doesn’t believe in the Christian god then how did life and humans originated? As if the question about god is synonymous with the question of origin.
Fortunately, not all religion in this planet shares the same enthusiasm about the question of origins. Buddhism for example believed that the question about origin is meaningless. Questions which are speculative in nature, and any answer to such questions will only create more confusion. People can discuss such questions for years without coming to a conclusion. They can only answer such questions based on their imagination, not on real understanding.
Don’t get me wrong. I believe that there are no stupid questions...yet answers that are base on speculations and assumptions don’t really answer anything.
As a Filipino I am always akin to my ancestors’ story of origin. I don’t know but I find the story of Malakas and Maganda very pleasing. Here’s an original story... I can’t recall on any foreign version of this OPM (Original Philippine Mythology). So before the Spanish conquerors landed in Cebu and brought the Bible together with their sword, the Filipino already has a tale of their origins. In this story (unlike the sexist version of the Bible) the first man and woman came out inside a bamboo which is of course very hygienic compare to dust and muddy clay. Oh and did I forget to tell that both emerged inside the bamboo at the same time...no one comes first and last...ah the beauty of sexual equality.
Ancient cultures have different versions of origins, and the Bible story is really not very different. Every story is unique. It just up to you what story you will prefer. But myths are stories...they are not factual.
So after the origin of life we now focus with life’s greatest question - Why is there suffering, sickness and death?
Most people dislike facing these facts of life and prefer to lull themselves into a false sense of security by dreaming and imagining and religion plays a role in keeping people from hallucinating. Many people don’t even like to hear of the word ‘death’. They forget that death will come, whether they like it or not. Unfortunately, (or fortunately for some people) one way of understanding life is to face it...or as what my mother say, “Hold the bull by his horn.” We are living a life that does not always proceed as smoothly as we would like it to. Very often, we face problems and difficulties. We should not be afraid of them because the penetration into the very nature of these problems and difficulties can provide us with a deeper insight into life.
So what does this mean? Well...as long as you are alive there will always be suffering, sickness and death. These things are part of life...they are not problems.
So as an atheist what do I do to confront them?
Different atheists might give different answer to this...not because the question of suffering and death is a toughie...Nope...That is because of individuality. “Different atheists, different reasons.” In my part, instead of focusing on an imaginary world free from suffering, I spend my time making the most out of it. Every Saturday, my Dad always watches this TV program where a poor unfortunate person’s wish is granted... The title of the program is “Wish Ko Lang” (Just My Wish). Anyway, I’ve seen some stories in that program in which I really sympathized...like that 89 year-old woman who still selling rattan fans (abanikong paypay) near a Catholic University in España, Manila. I sometimes compare my situation to these people. Yes I’m poor, but there are other people out there who are live more miserable life compare to my situation. I asked myself, if that old lady never given up her hopes, then why would I feel hopeless. Compare to her situation, mine is chicken feed!
Unlike the traditional belief that suffering is a result of the fall of man...for a non-believer, suffering is really an emotional response due to some unplanned drawbacks. Well I mean suffering is really a natural result derive from misery resulting from affliction. Not that I’m a pessimist, yet I have already accepted that suffering cannot be separated from life itself, and that the celebration of life necessary means acceptance of suffering. You will never get rid of suffering, yet we can alleviate it a little. I sometimes thought to myself, “Maybe that’s why people created religion in the first place”. We suffer because we lost someone, or we are in pain, and so on. Well that’s life. That’s the undesirable consequences of life. That’s the set-back of having human emotions You may reflect on beautiful things, divine promises and wishful thinking, but it won’t go away. If you don’t want to suffer, well you have to erase all your emotions and feelings first. But don’t blame me if you’ll become one of Sky Net’s T-800 robots.
Yet we can create a purpose on suffering. I know what you’re thinking...Do you think I’m referring to that loving, omniscient god up there in the sky who created a world full of suffering so he can test 6 billion people, while sitting in his sofa, eating some chips like a useless couch-potato as angels play their harps around him as he watches his pets in 6 billion TV monitors? Come on, the purpose of suffering is deeper than that. Suffering in life builds one’s character.
When I say “building character”, I’m saying it in a natural manner, not some supernatural gibberish. We are survivors and a billion years of evolutionary process have given us the ability to adapt in our environment. Like every living organism in this planet, human beings are a product of more than three billion years of selection for the will to live. That’s really a product of evolution...not some old fatso in the clouds! Suffering creates value. When you witness someone suffer, you start to build character because of the fear of facing the same situation. You see a cancer patient and you began to think how you can prevent it from happening to you. When we see suffering, we sympathized with our fellow humans.
And how about death? So what can I do about the Grim Reaper? Nothing. Dying is the natural end of living. Since I don’t believe in a god and immortality, I know that my life is final. Death is neither necessary nor sacred. I don’t need to pretend, to fantasize and I can proudly say that I’m not afraid with reality. I can deal with death authentically than any believers I know.
Speaking of death, believers assume that since an atheist believes that there is no God, then life for an atheist is bleak and empty. That humans are existential lonely. According to believers, belief in a god gives human life a sense of cosmic purpose. Yet we can also have a sense of purpose without a god belief. Every individual action serves a purpose, that’s already a fact.
Let me quote Nietzsche:
My formula for greatness in a human being is amor fati: that one wants nothing to be other than it is, not in the future, not in the past, not in all eternity. Not merely to endure that which happens of necessity, still less to dissemble it...but to love it. (Ecce Homo)
Here’s a good reason to have a purposeful life. It really doesn’t matter how unfair life is, how it is full of suffering, of sickness and death. Still you have to say “yes” to life...with all the ugly packaging. In his Will to Power, Nietzsche said that a great person, a tragic person, is strong enough to accept “even a monstrous amount of suffering”. And trying to elevate your life thru all that hardship is already a good purpose in life.
Questions of Meaning and Value:
4. How does an atheist assign meaning to human activity? Is all meaning subjective, or do some activities have self-evident and objective worth and meaning. If so, what are these activities, and how to you arrive at their value?
Isn't it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too? — DOUGLAS ADAMS
I really can’t understand why believers always insist that without a god, life would be meaningless. I don’t need some religious reassurance to give my life meaning and value...Why can’t a believer understand that the meaning of life need not to be mysterious and difficult. The meaning of life is view of a person’s fundamental purpose in which he/she can continue to live. The very simple reason that I want to live is a proof that I have a meaning in my life. If my sole purpose on this world is to survive then that’s the meaning of my life. Everyone in this world is trying to survive, isn’t it? So that makes the meaning of my life quite objective.
5. Are humans of more intrinsic value than animals? Why or why not?
From the point of view of a tapeworm, man was created by God to serve the appetite of the tapeworm. — EDWARD ABBEY
This question echoes an Aristotelian concept: "Man alone of all the animals is erect, because his nature and his substance are divine.”Religion has given humans the false impression that we are the caretakers of this planet and we were given the right to own everything in it. The Book of Genesis says that the Hebrew God have made man to rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and every creature that moves on the ground. Yeah...whom are they kidding?
Do you know that fleas nearly eradicate every human in this planet? Just look at what happened to the Bubonic plague...the Black Death that ravage Europe in the Dark Ages. Do you know that the plague was spread in all Western Europe because of fleas? About 20 to 35 percent of the population died because of it.
Humans are not that special compare to all living things in this planet. Damn! Haven’t they known that humans are just a part of the Web of Life? We and all other living things in this planet are sharing a common ground. We are not a special creation. Think about it: If humans haven’t invented clothing, we will die naked because of exposure...unlike those wild animals that live in the forest. We won’t survive not have the ability to adopt in the environment without our tools. We can’t outrun the fastest of predators...what so special about that?
In order to survive, human beings must cease his pride and accept the fact that we are not the dominators of this planet, but an essential part of a common and fragile ecosystem.
Well speaking as an atheist and an environmentalist, I say that humans and animals and all living things in this planet share their own uniqueness. Every life form in this planet is special.
6. How does an atheist determine what is moral or immoral, right or wrong. Is there any objective standard or principles?
Morality is of the highest importance—but for us, not for God. — ALBERT EINSTEIN
Let me first put it straight: Atheism does not logically demand nor promotes any theory of ethics. So as an atheist you can always have options to different non-theistic explanation of morality or secular theories of ethics like relativism, nihilism or even objectivism.
Some atheists believe that morality is relative (these are the pragmatists and the moral relativists) while others believe in an objective morality (These are the realists). Personally, I believe that morality is objective. According to Sam Harris, “we can easily think of objective basis of moral order that do not entail the existence of a lawgiving God. For there to be objective moral truths worth knowing. If there are psychological laws that govern human well-being, knowledge of these laws would provide an enduring basis for an objective morality.”
The Dalai Lama for example essentially argued that our very first emotional experience, which is the direct result of biology – attachment of a newborn to his or her mother-forms the basis for all other human attachments.
For objectivist, morality is really a question about the happiness and suffering of sentient creatures. If we are in a position to influence the happiness or suffering of others, we have ethical accountability towards them – and some of these responsibilities are so crucial that they become matters of civil and criminal law. Now this is what rational morality is all about. Rational morality, in essence, is a code of values required by man for his survival, well-being and happiness.
Do morality requires a god belief? Just ask yourself: Do members of the National Academy of Sciences, 93 percent of who reject the idea of God, lie and cheat and steal with abandon? How about those pastors and priest who molest children? We have news of religious people committing crime, molesting children, stealing money and committing fraud. Now does the belief in a god deter a person to be immoral?
Nah! I wouldn’t waste my time collecting news clipping or prison records just to prove my point nor will I claim that non-believers are morally good compare to believers. In L.U. (Rizal Park) for example, there is this fellow who loves to hold his Bible and start preaching to every one the Word of God. He also claims that he is a “Born-Again” Christian and as a born-again Christian, his sole purpose on Earth is to save lost souls in heaven. Guess what he does in his spare time? Well...he just gaze for lonely women in the park and present cash for sexual satisfaction. Hey if you ask me, there’s really nothing wrong with “victimless crimes”, but I thought this type of activities is “no-no” to a Christian lifestyle?
Here’s my point. It really doesn’t change everything whether you are a god believer or not. Both do immoral acts whether one fear a god or one doesn’t believe it exists.
But isn’t it quite strange. God believers accused atheists of promoting relative morality unlike the “universal” morality religion has to offer, yet who’s really into relativism? The Christians for example have proudly promoted Jesus’ Golden Rule as a positive one in contrast to Confucius and Hiller, yet the same Christians have used the thumbscrew, the rack, the wheel and the torture chamber to impose their rule. They say that their religion have teaches men to love thy neighbor, yet in the pages of their holy books, all you can read is how they annihilated their neighbor...men, women and children. But why bother to compare the difference between secular morality and religions morality. There is really nothing “universal” with religious morality. Religious morality is not really about what is good and what is bad – it’s about authority. Religious morality serves the purpose of god, not man; and man is required to subordinate himself to the moral code. Obedience is the major virtue, disobedience the moral vice.
To end this part, I would like to recall how Bertrand Russell answered Frederick Copleston when Copleston asked Russell how he distinguished between good and bad. Russell answered, “By my feelings.” “The feeling is too simplified. You’ve got to take account of the effects of actions and your feelings toward those effects.”
Questions of Worldview:
Before anything else, let me state this fact: Atheism is not a philosophy; it is not even a view of the world. An atheist is simply a person who believes that the 87 percent of the population claiming to "never doubt the existence of God" should be obliged to present evidence for his existence—and, indeed, for his benevolence, given the relentless destruction of innocent human beings we witness in the world each day.
7. What type of government does atheistic philosophy translate into? How does it understand the relationship between man and government? What type of government structures flow from an atheistic world view? Does it merely rely on someone else's system of thought, like the assumptions of naturalistic science?
If absolute power corrupts absolutely, where does that leave God? — GEORGE DAACON
I find this question quite amusing. What does atheism has to do with types of government?
Let see...since a Christian created this questioner, let me remind my readers that democracy was invented by pagan Greeks. The concept of "rights" is a product of thinkers of the Enlightenment who reacted against the Christian view that those who dissented from established dogma should be burned.
That is just a simple way of saying that between man and government, religion is really not an issue, unless you’re talking about theocracy.
The issue about political theories and atheism rises in the issue of communism. That’s because since Karl Marx was an atheist most believers assume that atheism and communism is the same. Karl Marx believed that religion is the opium of society. But communism is not a theological question rather a socio-economic issue. But Ayn Rand was also an atheist yet she disagrees with atheism. Here in the Philippines for instance, members of the Communist New People’s Army still go to church. I remember seeing a newspaper picture of communists’ party leaders attending a Sunday Mass.
If a person doesn’t believe in the existence of a god, that doesn’t automatically follow that, he/she, would prefer an authoritarian government or a communist state. Take a good look at France for example. Do you know that after the French revolution, the Archbishop of Paris publicly declared that the church was a sham? Yet look at France today, France is a democratic state...and we also have those secular Scandinavian state. They’re not communists yet they are quite secular.
So as an atheist, personally I prefer a government that takes care of its people. A government that promotes cooperation. A government that is stable. A government that is concern to its people’s welfare and education, Oh come on...as a Filipino I also ought to have a good government, not this circus that’s been running the Philippine republic for the last 8 years.
8. How does atheism view religions and religious faith? What about metaphysics? Is atheism purely materialistic and naturalistic?
We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another. — JONATHAN SWIFT
Believers have always thought that atheism is synonymous with materialism and naturalism. Ok...Ok... here’s the fact, not all atheists are materialists and naturalist. Jainism for example believes in souls and spirit yet they don’t believe in a god or gods.
Religion – different atheist have different views regarding what religion is. But not only atheists...different people in fact define religion differently. So in this post, I will define how Daniel Dennett defined religion: A social systems whose participants avow belief in a supernatural agent or agents whose approval is to be sought. But personally I define religion this way: When Ignorance and Fear met, they decided to get married and they have 2 children. One is religion and the other is superstition. Wherever this family went, they are followed by intolerance, war, deceit and bias.
I think religion is the most dangerous concept that human invented. Oh sure...you’ll say that religion help change the world. Yes it did, but have you forgotten how majority of wars were fought in the name of god and religion? It seems religion have done more harm than they have done good. When someone tells me that religion have changed lives...I always look at a postcard that pictures the once standing World Trade Center in New York...and I say, “Yep, it did changed lives.”
You might say that modern religions today respect each other. Hmmmmm just look at Quiapo, Manila. Now here’s a place where you can find Christians and Muslim living side by side. A Moslem Mosque in the right side and a Roman Catholic Basilica in the left side of the street. Yeah right...
Oh sure they’re living peacefully side by side. But that’s not because of their religion. That is because of secular ideas like human rights and democratic politics. But if you’ll read both their sacred books, both their gods have commanded these people to annihilate each other. The Judeo-Christian Bible tells us the destruction of non-believers and how non-believers and other religion should be dealt with, same with the Qur’an.
How about metaphysics? The dictionary defines metaphysics as the philosophical study of being and knowing. It is the study of reality, of existence as such – in contrast to specific studies of existence, such as physics (inanimate matter) and biology (living entities). Metaphysics investigates existence in terms of its most fundamental attributes. It deals with such concepts as matter, consciousness and causality.
Let us blame Andronicus of Rhodes not Aristotle on the issue of metaphysics. In 30 BCE, Andronicus put Aristotle’s treatises and place them after physics...calling them meta-physics.
Aristotle totally rejected Plato’s theory of ideas as disembodied forms. In Aristotle’s meta-physics, the question of Being depended upon the notion of “substance” – that which endures through time and change, and which cannot be taken apart and put together again, nor broken up into more of the same kind. It describes the essence yet it is independent of such contingent qualities. To put it simpler: Matter and form equals’ substance.
For Aristotle, matter consists of two aspects, substance, which contains within itself the potential for an infinite number of transformations, and a kind of active principle, "energeia," which is an innate and spontaneous moving force. Yet something must have “moved” this force since in Aristotle’s time, they believe that non-movement is a default position? This "something," however, must be an eternal substance and actuality. Well according to Aristotle, that something is “God” – the Prime Mover.
Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) changed the definition of metaphysics to the science of the “limits of human reason”. He set limits to knowledge and distinguished it between “appearance” or phenomena and Reality which is noumena. Any mysterious in-between is what he called the ding-an-sich or thing-in-itself which was unknowable. According to Kant, the attempt to go beyond the phenomenal world, to apply concepts outside the limits set by their empirical application inevitably leads to paradoxes, fallacies and actual contradiction.
I think Kant’s thing-in-itself is the basic element of theistic belief in a god. It justifies the believer’s claim of an unknowable god - a god devoid of human knowledge and understanding. Theism, using Kant’s thing-in-itself, maintains god’s nature unknowable to man. That man will never understand god.
Georg Wilhelm Fredrich Hegel (1770-1831) rejects Kant’s metaphysics. He argued that Kant’s claim that something which existed was unknowable was a clear contradiction of Kant’s own laws about the limits of knowledge. Hegel insisted that the Thing-in-Itself is an empty abstraction. If we take away all the properties of an object which are knowable, we are left with precisely nothing. Kant’s Thing-in-Itself is merely a way of indicating our present limitations. It is not a mystery, but a problem to be solved. What is today a Thing-in-Itself will tomorrow be a Thing-for-Us.
So why is the concept of metaphysics very important to believers? Because the word “supernatural” has metaphysical undertone and supernatural is the only place where their god can reside. The word supernatural really doesn’t have any natural meaning. It means something “beyond” or “above” natural. But what is this something that is beyond or above natural? Well... that means it is beyond the scope of natural laws, that god is not a part of the natural existence. So can a believer explain what “not a part of natural existence” is? No he can’t because if he can, then that means god is knowable...which will topple all of the believer’s trump cards. He’s stuck with an “unknowable god” whom he claims that he can “explain” to any non-believers (weird).
9. Who are the authoritative writers/books of atheism? What are the central tenets of atheism, and if they have a "greatest commandment," what is it? For example, arguably, Christianity's is "Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, mind, soul and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself."
Two hands working can do more than a thousand clasped in prayer. —ANONYMOUS
Contrary to popular theist’s belief, atheism is not a religion. That means atheism doesn’t have any authoritative writers or books. It doesn’t have these so-called “sacred book” which believers use to straighten their faith.
Well...if you mean atheist’s books available in bookstores...we have a lot of writers in the field. It’s really up to the atheist whose author he prefers. Today we have available books written by different atheists writers like Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris (my favorite), Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, George Smith, Michael Ofrey, Victor Stenger and Michael Martin.
A tenet? A tenet is a religious doctrine that is proclaimed as true without proof. Since atheism is not a religion, we don’t have any tenet or any religious doctrine. Now let’s talk about the Christian tenet: Love God in all your heart? Hmmmm I wonder how can I love something that sacrificed himself to himself to appease his own wrath? Well, this is what Christianity is all about isn’t it? Oh and does Christianity promotes neighborly love? I don’t think John Calvin have that in mind when he ordered Servetus to be burned at the stake. Tomas De Torquemada doesn’t really been thinking of loving thy neighbors when the Roman Catholic Pope appointed him as the Grand Inquisitor of Castile in February 11, 1482. Gosh 8,800 died on fire and 96,507 were cruelly punished yet Torquemada believed in Jesus Christ and this so-called Christian tenet.
In Genesis for example, the Torah forbid a Jew from having Jewish slaves yet a non-Jew neighbor, on the other hand, could remain in a state of servitude till he dies. Now here’s a good example of Loving God and loving your neighbor...Moses told his soldiers: “Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that halt known man by lying with him. But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourself.” – Numbers 31:17-18...Gosh!
Questions of Revelation:
10. What happens after we die?
From my rotting body flowers shall grow, and I shall be in them. —EDVARD MUNCH
Naturally, we rot – food for the microbes. Not really a pleasing sight. The bad news is that the world will continue even without you. So what should an atheist do before death comes knocking at the door?
If you’re rich, donate your properties to charity. Look for some secular school which is not run by any “ecclesiastic or sect”. I’m planning to donate all my books in case I bit the dust.
You can donate your body parts if you like. A lot of patients really need the spare parts like kidneys, heart, eyes, etc.
Until next time,
John the Atheist