Friday, April 10, 2015

Answers to Tuese's Questions for Atheists

Tuese Ahkiong posed some questions for atheists, so I thought I'd take a whack at them.

• If the atheistic worldview is true, why do they knock people of faith?

I try not to knock people of faith, but I think there are two main reasons that people do:

1.  They think that ridicule is an effective means of getting people to question or abandon their faith.  (I think they're wrong about this, but some people believe it.)

2.  They think that faith deserves ridicule because of the bad effects it has on the world, like climate-change denialism, or ISIS and the Taliban destroying historical relics in the name of stamping out idolatry.

Also, some people knock faith because they are jerks.

• Aren't people of faith, as well as atheists, the way they are b/c of their genes, environment, family, upbringing, chance, indoctrination?


• Didn't the universe just randomly make people into atheist, murderers, Christians, Muslims, etc.?

That is a deep philosophical question to which I don't have an answer.  We humans (at least those of us who aren't Calvinists) like to believe that we have free will, and so we can choose not to murder people.  Whether we have free will to choose our beliefs, though, is a different question.  I feel like I don't have the free will to choose what I believe.  I believe based on evidence, experiment and reason, and I have no idea how I could do otherwise.

• If we're just cosmic accidents waiting to be annihilated, why make such a fuss about truth as if your life and truth really matter?

Because truth and life do matter.  Life is a pre-requisite for caring.  Non-living things can't and don't care about anything, so if you're going to care about anything you have no choice but to care about life.

Also, it makes sense that living things that have brains capable of caring about things should care about life because those genes that produce brains that don't care about life don't reproduce as well as those genes that produce brains that do care about life.

• If the world is just material, accidentally, randomly, chaotically, meaninglessly floating around, what does it matter if one is right or wrong?

Because the world isn't "just material, accidentally, randomly, chaotically, meaninglessly floating around".  The world contains living things, and living things evolve according to a process that includes both random variation and non-random natural selection.

And being right matters because being right gives you the gift of prophecy.

• Btw, what one thing do you know to be absolutely true about evolution?

It is the process that created all known living things.

• And how would the atheists know that people of faith are wrong or bad or misled unless they had some absolute standard to judge from?

We do have a standard: evidence, experiment and reason.  And we don't generally believe that people of faith are "bad".  But the problem with faith is precisely what you say: there is no standard.  You can choose to have faith in the Bible, or you can choose to have faith in the Quran, or you can choose to have faith in the Book of Mormon, or the Bagavad Gita, or Dianetics.  Without an absolute standard there is no reason to prefer one faith over another.

• Do atheists believe in absolute truth?

I don't know what you mean by "absolute truth."  But yes, we believe that there is a real world out there, and that some claims about the world are true and others are false.

• Where does absolute truth come from?

It is a property of objective reality.  And it's a remarkable property.  It didn't have to be the way it is.  There's no inherent reason that the world has to operate according to physical laws, but as far as we can tell, it does.  We don't know why.  Albert Einstein once said: the most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible.

• Did absolute truth just assemble itself in the Big Bang?

We don't know.

• Are morals absolute?

No.  But there are some universal moral principles that are wired into us by evolution.

• Did life come from non-life?

Yes, almost certainly.  We don't know exactly how yet, but there's no reason to believe that it was not a natural process.

• Did intelligence come from non-intelligence, i.e., DNA?

Yes. Intelligence evolved gradually, just like everything else.  Simple nervous systems evolved into more complex nervous systems, which evolved into small brains, which evolved into bigger brains.

• Did order come from disorder?

Yes, but only locally, and only with a net energy input.  In the case of earth, the energy required to power the local ordering process comes from the sun, which is becoming more disorderly over time.

• How do you know what you know?

Years of study and careful consideration.

• What is you?

I (the thing writing these words) am a software process, essentially computer program, running on a biological computer called a human brain that is the result of about four billion years (more or less) of evolution.

• How do you know that you are you?

Because there's evidence that I am me.  I can effect changes in the world (like writing these words) and other people provide evidence that I did in fact write these words by writing other words in response (I hope).

• Where do the laws of logic come from?

They come from the fact that computation is universal.  What this means is that all computational processes, whether they are running on an electronic computer or a human brain, can be modeled in one very simple way (or, if you prefer, in many ways all of which turn out to be equivalent to each other).  The theory of how this happens was first worked out by Alan Turing in the 1930s.

• Is ok to torture babies for fun?

Of course not.

• Why or why not?

Because babies are habitat for memes.

• Where did the universe come from?

We don't know (yet).

• Does evil exist?  Does love exist?  Do non-material particulars exist like logic, numbers, ideas?


• Are ideas physical?

That depends on what you mean by "physical."  Ideas exist in the physical world, but they are not made of "stuff", they are made of "configurations of stuff" (the technical term is "computational state").

• Is logic material?


• Do non-physical particulars like logic, numbers, ideas, people's spirit or soul, love exits?


• Where do human rights come from?

They are a human invention.  And a damn good one if you ask me.


Carl H said...

"I (the thing writing these words) am a software process, essentially computer program, running on a biological computer called a human brain that is the result of about four billion years (more or less) of evolution." This is not a bad description if you consider your software program constantly evolving and changing from moment to moment. However, the analogy of the human brain as a computer is old school. A more progressive theory of cognition is that of 4E, embedded, embodied, extended, and enactive. Another analogy: the flight of a bird is not in it's wings, it can't fly without them, but it's the whole context of the relations of everything involved, the bird, it's body, wind, weather, etc. etc. Thinking is not just in the brain. It was good to see you use the term process, as all phenomena should be seen as processes dependent on conditions; the error is in seeing them as distinct essential things. Evan Thompson is a leading authority in this area and his important and notable book "Waking, Dreaming, Being: Self and Consciousness in Neuroscience, Meditation, and Philosophy" is highly recommended.

Ron said...


> all phenomena should be seen as processes dependent on conditions

You might enjoy this then: