Sunday, November 4, 2007

My answers to questions often asked of atheists.

The Friendly Atheist has asked atheists to give brief answers to several questions that are often asked of atheists. Here are my answers:

Why do you not believe in God?
Everything I’ve learned about the universe leads me to believe that it operates by natural processes. I don’t see any convincing evidence that there are supernatural beings of any kind.

Where do your morals come from?
Morals are ways of dealing with common problems of living. I make moral decisions on the basis of my estimation of what would bring me the greatest happiness in the long run. This includes the well-being of my family, friends, and all people.

What is the meaning of life?
The meaning of a person’s life is the message communicated to other people by that person’s words and actions. The idea that a particular message is intended by someone or something outside of that person is a natural consequence of belief in gods, but it implies that people are not responsible for their own lives.

Is atheism a religion?
Theism and atheism are beliefs about the existence of one or more supernatural beings that control or influence life. Neither is a religion in itself. There are many theistic religions, and many atheistic ways of living.

If you don’t pray, what do you do during troubling times?
I read, think about what I have read or experienced, talk with other people about the issues that concern me, write about my concerns as a way to help me think about them, and take whatever actions I can to improve the situation.

Should atheists be trying to convince others to stop believing in God?
Learning the truth is the best foundation I know of for making wise decisions. We should all present our reasons for what we believe to be the truth, and be open to learn from each other.

Weren’t some of the worst atrocities in the 20th century committed by atheists?
All the worst atrocities were committed by people who considered other people to be less human than themselves. Their actions were guided by their personal agendas more than by their nominal affiliations with particular religious or philosophical stances.

How could billions of people be wrong when it comes to belief in God?
Billions of people disagree with other billions of people about everything, including belief in gods. They can’t all be right.

Why does the universe exist?
Our current knowledge of the universe is inadequate to know the answer to this.

How did life originate?
This question is being researched, but many aspects of the origin of life are still unclear. To the best of our knowledge, the first living organisms developed from self-replicating molecules that formed from combinations of simpler molecules.

Is all religion harmful?
The greatest harm caused by religion is that many religious belief systems encourage people to treat other people in ways they would not want to be treated themselves. Religions that are tolerant and respectful of other people are nevertheless harmful in that they promote false beliefs and ways of thinking that discourage learning.

What’s so bad about religious moderates?
Religious moderates are not bad. Their values are generally humane, and their influence often tempers the effects of extremist positions.

Is there anything redeeming about religion?
Religious groups provide opportunities to develop friendships with people who share similar values. Cohesive groups often provide emotional and physical support when needed.
Religion itself can offer comfort in difficult times as well as a sense of worth in being part of a beneficial historic or cosmic movement.

What if you’re wrong about God (and He does exist)?
If I’m wrong, I’m wrong. The implications of that would depend on what the god is like. If the god is strict and demanding, we’re all in trouble. If the god is loving and merciful, we don’t have anything to worry about.

Shouldn’t all religious beliefs be respected?
All people should be respected. Beliefs deserve respect to the degree that they are supported by evidence, not merely because someone holds to them.

Are atheists smarter than theists?
I doubt that there is any difference in intelligence between theists and atheists. I do believe there is a positive correlation between atheism and a broad education.

How do you deal with the historical Jesus if you don’t believe in his divinity?
Jesus was a man whose life was exaggerated to promote him as a deity, and whose teachings have been adapted to support the purposes of other teachers who followed him.

Would the world be better off without any religion?
The world would be better off with more focus on truth—without religion or superstition in any form.

What happens when we die?
Like all other living things that die, we decompose, and the substances of which we are made are recycled.