I’ve seen a lot of these “X questions for atheists” style posts cropping up recently. Some are quite clearly bad jokes and attempts at trolling but quite a few, like this one, seem to be somewhat genuine and I thought I’d take a shot at responding to it.
1. How did you become an atheist?
Well, strictly speaking, I was born an atheist. As a baby I held no beliefs about a god or religion. As I grew up I was taught to believe in a god and in a religion, Catholicism to be specific. As I got older and I learned more about the world and myself I refused to blindly accept what I was being told. This refusal lead me to question my beliefs and, as non-evidence based beliefs are want to do, they collapsed under the weight of those questions. This lead to me abandoning my catholic beliefs and to me becoming an atheist.
2. What happens when we die?
We cease to exist, at least in a conscious sense. Our families and loved ones perform some kind of action with our body, usually cremation or burial, and they move on with their lives as best they can. Our memory and our legacy lives on for some time in the minds of those who loved us, but we are no longer here.
3. What if you’re wrong? And there is a Heaven? And there is a HELL!
Well then I’m wrong. But the prospect of being wrong is not compelling enough for me to believe claims which have no supporting evidence. Even if I am wrong, humanity believes and has believed in so many different god throughout history that the chances of anyone who believes in a god right now believing in the correct god is negligible.
If I’m wrong and heaven and hell do exist, I’ll go to hell according to the teaching of just about every religion that has a heaven/hell concept. But I’m ok with this, I would much rather suffer in hell than enjoy a heaven knowing that billions of good people were suffering in a hell having committed no crime.
4. Without God, where do you get your morality from?
From the same place everyone else does, my empathy. I don’t need a god to tell me that taking the life of another person is immoral. Morality is not contingent on a belief in a god. In fact a belief in god can often lead to immoral actions being justified, one example is slavery. Owning another human as property is probably one of the most immoral things some could ever do and yet the bible not only condones slavery, it actually outlines who you can have as a slave and how you should treat them.
5. If there is no God, can we do what we want? Are we free to murder and rape? While good deeds are unrewarded?
You are free to do whatever you want to do, however the vast majority of people understand the immorality of actions like rape and murder. Aside from that our society also punishes those who rape or murder, as well as steal or injure others. We live in a world governed by humanity and as such we have laws in place which must be followed.
A good deed may go unrewarded, this is a fact of life, though this is not a reason to not perform good deeds.
If the only reason you have for being good is to earn some form of reward, or indeed to avoid a punishment, then you are not truly a good person.
6. If there is no god, how does your life have any meaning?
Our lives have the meaning that we give them. I live my life to enjoy it, this is the meaning I have given it at this point in my life. A few years ago I was a lifeguard, I did that to help people and at the time that was the meaning I had chosen for my life. The meaning I give my life changes constantly, but this doesn’t diminish the meaning of my life in any way. I only have this life, and I’ll live it in a way that makes myself and those I love as happy as possible while I’m here.
7. Where did the universe come from?
One of my favorite phrases in the world is “I don’t know”. I don’t know where the universe came from, and there’s no shame in admitting that. Science has many theories about how the universe began, the big bang theory being one, though I am not a scientist and I don’t claim to fully understand all the theories.
It’s also worth pointing out that atheism doesn’t actually make any claims about the origins of the universe. Atheism simply rejects the claim that a god, or gods, exists.
8. What about miracles? What all the people who claim to have a connection with Jesus? What about those who claim to have seen saints or angels?
There’s no evidence to support any miracle claims. Often when investigated the “miracle” is proven to have never occurred or it is explained by natural processes.
It’s entirely possible for someone to believe they have a connection to someone who doesn’t actually exist. This happens all the time now as people fabricate identities online and lure unsuspecting people into relationships with these imaginary men and women. It’s a phenomenon known as “catfishing”. Jesus is, in my opinion, the original catfish.
As for those who claim they’ve seen saints or angels, that could be anything from dreams to their eyes playing tricks on them to full blown delusional episodes. Just because someone makes a claim doesn’t mean it’s true. I once spoken to a man who firmly believed that John Lennon was alive and well and living 2 doors down from him, he was as convinced of this as anyone I’ve ever met was convinced of anything. He was wrong.
9. What’s your view of Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris?
I don’t follow any of them especially closely, I try to avoid any kind of “hero worship”.
Dawkins is a brilliant biologist, and an excellent writer based on what I’ve read from him. I’ve never met him so I can’t judge the man on a personal level. I agree with him about many things, though I disagree with him on many issues as well.
Hitchens was an extremely intelligent man, and a very entertaining figure when engaging in debates. Again I agreed and disagreed with him on many topics.
I know very little about Sam Harris.
10. If there is no God, then why does every society have a religion?
Probably because it’s human nature to want answers to life’s questions, and when no answer is apparent a supernatural one is an easy way to explain that which is unexplainable. It’s worth noting that though most, if not all, cultures developed religion and mythology, these religions are rarely compatible with each other. Often they are mutually exclusive. That’s not a very strong argument for religion.