Thursday, July 25, 2013

Questions For Atheists - Part 1 (Truth, Matter in Motion, Afterlife, Supernatural, Miracles)

Phil Fernandes has been a Catholic apologist for over 20 years. He has a site called "I Love Atheists - just not their worldview" which is supposed to be a site that explains Christianity to skeptics and lapsed Catholics. In his debates he basically plagiarizes William Lane Craig's standard mantra for the case for god, and does a great job doing a bad impersonation of him. After I saw a debate on YouTube of him debating Jeff Lowder, I decided to look him up and I came across his website. On it, there's a page called Questions For Atheists, with what I assume are supposed to be challenges for the atheistic worldview. So I decided that I'd take a crack at it, and offer some brief answers from my atheist perspective.


1. What or whom do you consider to be YOUR chosen intellectual starting point, your supreme authority for knowledge, your final standard for truth? Why?

Truth lies in the inability to be contradicted. I don't hold onto truth by authority. There are no authorities in science for example. Any scientist can be challenged, and any scientist can be wrong. I certainly don't ground truth in ancient scriptures that are full of contradictions. Evolution has equipped us with accurate senses and cognitive faculties (which I defend here), and so we have to use them to construct the best possible picture of reality we can. We may get some things wrong, as is expected, but aside from certain a priori truths, I rely heavily on science to guide my standard of truth because it is the best method we have for weeding out facts from nonsense.

2. Would you consider turning skepticism on itself and examine your own assumptions?

Of course! Everything should be critically examined, including atheism. But considering how naturally gullible the human mind is for easy answers that on close examination make little to no sense, a healthy dose of skepticism is more than warranted.

3. If God exists, could Christianity be exclusively true?

I have serious doubts that the god of the Bible is logically possible or even coherent. (See here and here) If god is defined as the greatest conceivable being, then all I have to do is conceive of a being greater than Yahweh, and that makes it impossible that Yahweh is god. Thus, the ontological argument can be used to disprove the god of the Bible. So no, even if god did exist, Christianity would almost certainly be false.

1. Is the material reality the only reality (are we just material creatures in a material world and nothing more)?

I have every reason to believe that the material or natural world is all that exists and no reason to believe that the supernatural or immaterial world exists. When I'm shown good scientific evidence that the supernatural exists, I will incorporate that into my belief system. But until then, it is categorized as bunk along with alien abductions, ghosts, and Bigfoot.

For more thoughts on materialism see here and here.

2. Is reductive materialism synonymous with reason and science? Why?

I'm prefer to be called a naturalist and not really a materialist. You cannot reduce consciousness to individual atoms as far as I know and so consciousness is an emergent property of the physical brain, just like wetness is an emergent property of hydrogen and oxygen bonds. Thus, you cannot reduce wetness to individual atoms. So I fully acknowledge that consciousness and abstract concepts are not technically material themselves, but depend of physical brains to be conceived.

1. What happens after we die?

Our physical bodies decay and our consciousness is extinguished forever.

2. Do you KNOW there is nothing more beyond death? How?

I don't claim to posses knowledge beyond death since I've never been there and no one has gone there and came back with information about it. But we have very good evidence that consciousness is completely dependent on physical brains. If you damage the brain, you damage consciousness. If consciousness existed independently of the brain, it opens up a host of problems.

I've written about some of them here.

3. Isn’t the Christian’s hope for heaven a better bet than the atheist’s hope there is no hell?

This is totally subjective. To give an American analogy of heaven and hell, according to Christianity, we will all be forced to spend either an eternity in Detroit, or an eternity in Disney Land. Neither sound too appealing, I personally don't like the idea  of existing eternally no matter what condition I am in. I like the idea of dying eventually. Now I will admit that I'd like to live longer than I am - even if I live to be 100 - but I certainly do not want to live forever. I don't think many Christians have really thought about what it means to exist consciously for an eternity. What could possibly keep your mind occupied for trillions and trillions of years? And then add eternity after that. Now also imagine spending all that time with your family. To me that would be hell.

See more on heaven here and here.

4. If God does exist as Biblically revealed, would hindsight on Judgment Day render Christians inappropriately prejudiced or gullible?

If somehow Christians were right all this time I wouldn't think very highly of god for making the most fanatical and often uneducated people on earth somehow right. I mean, why couldn't god have made his revelation more intellectual? Why make it so that we have to sacrifice our critical thinking and accept absurd stories of magic and fantasy that are indistinguishable from countless other myths from the ancient world? So no, even if Christians are somehow right, calling them gullible is warranted. 

1. Is there a supernatural realm, a reality that lies outside sense perception and outside the reach of modern science? If not, how do you know?

Theists put so much emphasis on "knowing" absolute truths. This question is designed to put the atheist into a position where his knowledge is in question. Does anyone "know" the supernatural realm exists? The theist doesn't have a clue, let alone anything close to empirical evidence. The theist simply infers the supernatural through giant leaps of logic to try to explain the natural - which we know exists. So I don't know that the supernatural doesn't exist, but since there's no evidence for it, I am within reason to reject it.

2. Is God a byproduct of wishful thinking? Why?

God means many things to many people. For some, god is a product of wishful thinking. For others, god is a product of the masochistic aspect of the human imagination. We have very good evolutionary explanations why we infer intentionality to natural processes that can explain why humans are susceptible to believing in angels, demons, ghosts and gods. 

See my refutation of the Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism here for more information.

1. Can bona fide miracles happen? If not, why not?

If a miracle is defined as a violation of the natural laws of physics, then no, miracles cannot happen. Show us scientific evidence of a genuine miracle, and I will consider it plausible. 

2. If a Supernatural Transcendent Causal Agent does exist, with or without our acknowledgment, and if He (let's say) was so powerful that He could think all Universal matter, space, time and energy into existence from nothing, wouldn't creating life, parting the Red Sea, turning water into wine, healing the sick, revealing His nature through Divinely inspired Biblical authors and raising a Loved One from the dead be child's play? (Yes or No) 

If we're assuming that the biblical god does exist, then sure, he could part the Red Sea and turn water into wine with no effort. He could also cure cancer and hunger and all diseases and unnecessary suffering and give us scientifically confirmed proof that he exists. But, he just doesn't feel like it. Christians say god wants us to suffer because it brings us closer to him. That's like me saying I need to beat my wife in order to make my her love me more. It creates a sadomasochistic relationship that to me is obviously a product of our masochistic imaginations. And it makes a world in which more suffering is good. Consider the question I ask to Christians here.

1. Is science the only means of gaining reliable knowledge? Why?

Of course not. There are things that are true by definition, such as the statement, "All blue cars are blue." This is logically true because it must be, and there is no need to scientifically prove such a statement. But the only way that we can verify metaphysical claims, is though science. 

2. Is belief in God a byproduct of ignoring science? Why?

Yes. In order to believe the god of the Bible, you have to be ignorant of science in some respect. The people who wrote the Bible were completely ignorant of even the most basic scientific knowledge of reality. One could argue that the Bible was not meant to be taken literally at all, but was a deliberate attempt by the Israelites to create a back story of their history in the style of myth like the ancient Greeks did, and one could argue that the Gospel of Mark was also a deliberate work of fiction. TruthSurge on YouTube makes this argument here.

3. Does faith in God mean one has to relinquish science and reason?

To a certain degree yes. To have faith in the god of the Bible - which is the god we're talking about here - one has to believe in things that are scientifically impossible like miracles. One also has to believe that a timeless being can do things that requires time - like the process of thinking itself - which is a logical contradiction. 

4. Can scientific claims be faith-based? 

Let's take for example the multiverse theory, which posits that our universe is one of many others. Now we don't know for sure that the multiverse exist, but given inflationary theory, it is a strong possibility. When it comes to scientific claims that are not backed up by empirical evidence, we have to be cautious in stressing their possibility but not their factuality. Unproven scientific claims differ from other faith based claims in that scientific claims are supported by some scientific evidence or can be made with reasonable inference from them. Faith based claims are most often not scientific in their nature and often violate all of known science. The statement, "God exists" for example defies all of science (not to mention logic).

I will work my way to Fernandes' other questions in time for a part 2 so stay tuned.


  1. I like his 2nd question about miracles - Theists often seem to assume some sort of degree of effort involved in these things for their purported omnipotent being - they're imagining a powerful human in place of their supposed deity.

    For an omnipotent being, as God is generally conceived of as being, creating all of reality, parting the red sea, raising a loved one, curing a child of disease, stopping my hiccups and doing absolutely nothing involve the same degree of effort and difficulty - which is to so none what so ever.

    1. Don't forget to thank him every time he gives you that perfect parking space that you were praying for.



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