Thursday, August 2, 2007

Atheist FAQ

Hemant asked his readers to contribute answers to a FAQ on atheism. He has now compiled them into a handy list available for download from his site. I like most of the answers, but some of them I would have answered differently. I will put my personal answers to the FAQ here. If there is no change in my answer from Hemant's list, I will put [no change] after it. My personal answers are in bold.

-- Atheist FAQ --

Q1: Why do you not believe in God?

A1: First of all which "God" are you talking about? If you mean Yahweh/Jesus the answer is that I have seen no good evidence for his existence, which is probably the same reason you, if you're a Christian, don't believe in Allah, Brahman, or Zeus. If you mean some other kind of god, first define it, and then I will tell you what I think.

Q2: Where do your morals come from?

A2: A combination of life experience, family, human nature, and the good sense to treat others the way I would like to be treated. [no change]

Q3: What is the meaning of life?

A3: I make my own meanings of which there are many. If you are asking about some kind of ultimate meaning, I have no idea. I also don't really understand the question.

Q4: Is atheism a religion?

A4: How are you defining "religion" here? Usually religion involves worship or ritual centered around something supernatural, in which case atheism is obviously not a religion. Someone once said atheism is a religion like not collecting stamps is a hobby.

Q5: If you don't pray, what do you do during troubling times?

A5: When it's possible, I try to take action to fix the situation. If that's not an option, I talk to people I trust and hope that things will get better. [no change]

Q6: Should atheists be trying to convince others to stop believing in God?

A6: Yes, but not because of spite or to "ruin the party." We should be encouraging critical thinking and intellectual honesty everywhere we see faith used as an explanation for believing something. [no change]

Q7: Weren't some of the worst atrocities in the 20th century committed by atheists?

A7: Some of them, yes (Stalin was one example). But these people did notcommit their crimes because they were atheists. Rather, the radical political/racist ideologies they held drove them to commit their crimes. [no change]

Q8: How could billions of people be wrong when it comes to belief in God?

A8: Truth is not subject to popular vote, just like the majority of people were once wrong about the Earth being flat or the center of the universe. Much of the reason people believe in some God has to do with their religious upbringing; our beliefs are generally passed down through the generations. [no change]

Q9: Why does the universe exist?

A9: As Peter Atkins said in a debate once, "why" questions assume there was some intention involved, and maybe all "why" questions can be broken down into "how" questions". So your question should be "How did the universe come to exist?" And my answer is: I have no idea!

Q10: How did life originate?

A10: We don't know for sure yet. But the best current theories involve a self replicating molecule (which occurred by chance) that eventually evolved to become more complex through the process of natural selection. [no change]

Q11: Is all religion harmful?

A11: Only in the sense that religious fervor has the potential to become disastrous. By avoiding logic and promoting faith when making our decisions, anything can be justified, good or bad. While there are people who can separate religious beliefs from scientific truths and respect for all people, there are many that cannot. [no change]

Q12: What's so bad about religious moderates?

A12: They teach that faith is a virtue. They use the same reasoning patterns as religious extremists when justifying their beliefs. If faith is all they need to believe, today's moderates could become tomorrow's extremists. [no change]

Q13: Is there anything redeeming about religion?

A13: Religion can be used as a motivator for good. It can be a source of comfort in times of need. It has the ability to bring people together and unite them. It has been the inspiration for much of our world's beautiful music and architecture. However, all of these redeeming qualities can be found outside of religion as well. [no change]

Q14: What if you're wrong about God (and He does exist)?

A14: Again, it depends on which god you are talking about. If Yahweh exists then I'm in trouble, but if Allah exists maybe we are both in trouble. Anyway, I can't force myself to believe something through Pascal's Wager.

Q15: Shouldn't all religious beliefs be respected?

A15: No. Beliefs, ideas, and principles should all be respected based on their own merit. [no change]

Q16: Are atheists smarter than theists?

A16: Not necessarily, and a lot depends on how we are measuring "smarts". However I think most surveys show a correlation between level of education and rates of atheism, not that there aren't very highly educated theists and very stupid atheists. I do have to say in most cases regarding these "big questions" about god(s) and existence, the average atheist is more rational than the average theist. The division in a normally rational and intelligent person's mind between theistic beliefs and rational thought is often referred to as "compartmentalization".

Q17: How do you deal with the historical Jesus if you don’t believe in his divinity?

A17: If he was an actual person (and not an amalgamation of many people), he had some good ideas mixed in with some bad ones. We should be questioning the documents that refer to him, studying how they came to be, and asking ourselves if we would believe the miracles he performed if they happened today. [no change]

Q18: Would the world be better off without any religion?

A18: Only if people stopped behaving the way they currently do because of religion. Other potentially harmful ideologies could take its place. In a nutshell, though, we will always be better off without blind faith and dogma no matter what form they take. [no change]

Q19: What happens when we die?

A19: I assume you are asking about our conscious mind (personality and memories) and not our body, but I don't know if we can even separate the two. I find the idea of eternal life almost as horrifying as oblivion. Is there a third option? I don't have any answers. Maybe you should give cryogenic freezing a shot! Yet we know for sure we are here alive now, so we should make the best of it and try to leave this world a better place before we die.

This list [at least the unchanged bits] was created by the readers at and edited by Hemant Mehta. A full list of responses can be found at:


Only 19 questions? I can't leave it at that. I must think of one more to make it an even 20:

Q20: What does an insomniac agnostic dyslexic do at night?

A20: Lie awake wondering about the existence of dog.


NeoPunk said...

Q20: What does an insomniac agnostic dyslexic do at night?

A20: Lie awake wondering about the existence of dog.

Wrong, I read your blog.

that atheist guy said...

Don't you mean you read my Glob?