Hello. I noticed this article by a British doctor asking Atheists "Twenty Questions Atheists Struggle To Answer." I always enjoy a challenge so I answered them and emailed the following letter to him with my answers.
1. I would appreciate any comments, critiques, proposed revisions, additions, deletions YOU think would make my responses stronger/better.
2. These questions, some more so than others, may help you formulate your own responses for both your own edification, critical thinking skills and to assist others to "break the spell."
Kind regards to all.
Dear Dr. Saunders:
I apologize for being so late to the "game" but I only noticed your article playing "20 questions" today. Despite not being a scientist (retired trial attorney) I wanted to respond to your questions , not to attempt to persuade you of anything, but to see whether I should rethink my lapse from Christianity and rejoin the faithful. Any help you can provide would be genuinely appreciated. I am a seeker of truth and you believe you have some to offer. Please do. My answers are beneath each of your twenty questions. Please note that scientists DO struggle to answer many questions, including some you have posed, because science does not presume to know everything. Why and how the absence of perfect knowledge supports your belief in a triune deity despite no evidence thereof (unless you believe there IS such evidence, which would appear to contradict the very foundation of all religious belief, i.e. faith), is unclear to me. Hopefully, you will be kind enough to explain.
I would genuinely appreciate your answers to your questions or, if you deem them unanswerable, the reasons you believe the inability to answer these questions supports belief in a deity, especially YOUR deity, since you will agree there are others worshipped with equal faith, albeit incorrectly in your view, by others.
"Twenty questions atheists struggle to answer" (Your title, I believe)
1.What caused the universe to exist?
A. Nothing. See "A Universe From Nothing" by Lawrence Krauss. The explanation contained therein is subject to falsification as all scientific theories are. Feel free. Assuming a cause is required (you do based on your question. I do not, but I could be wrong), what caused your God? If your God does not require a cause, why does the Universe?
2.What explains the fine tuning of the universe?
A. Not sure. Science is still working on that one. I would point out that what you and others call "fine tuning" is simply human language attempting to describe what IS, as best we humans are able to describe what we OBSERVE in our universe. I enjoyed reading "Six Numbers" even though I did not understand a lot of the technical jargon. But I do understand that science has given us more meaningful answers in just the past one hundred years than all the religions of the world have given us throughout human history. Do you disagree? Science cured polio, hundreds of other diseases; observed that the Sun, not the Earth, is the center of our Solar system; "expanded" our universe to hundreds of billions of galaxies; and continues to make human life on Earth better and better. Any reason you can think of why Jesus, God himself according to you, never mentioned any of this valuable information while he was here saving us from "original sin" and "demons"? It's a fair question, right?
3.Why is the universe rational?
A. This appears to be two questions: Is the Universe rational? And, if so, why? I accept that humans are rational, or, at least capable of reason, but I have no idea what it means to refer to the Universe (by which I mean EVERYTHING there is) as rational. I am not an engineer but I understand we cannot build much of anything complex without the assistance of irrational numbers such as pi and the square root of negative one. If I am correct, that suggests to me the Universe is NOT rational, at least not in all respects. Regardless of the answer to this question, I do not see how gods enter into it.
4.How did DNA and amino acids arise?
A. Not sure if science knows the answer YET. But if it doesn't, it will someday. The answer will produce yet more questions even more difficult to answer. Do you really want to support your belief in God based on the "gaps" in human knowledge? The "god of the gaps" is so Nineteenth Century, don't you agree? I don't mean to "change the subject" on you, but are you a Biblical Literalist? Do you spend as much time questioning the Bible as you do science? Slavery? Genocide? Misogyny? Are you okay with these or am I misunderstanding the plain language of the Bible? Couldn't God have written his revelation in clear, unambiguous language?
5.Where did the genetic code come from?
A. See answer to 4.
6.How do irreducibly complex enzyme chains evolve?
A. See answer to 4. Also please recall that realizing the Earth revolved around the Sun was "irreducibly complex" for a long, long time AND flatly contradicted by the Bible. You do agree the Earth revolves around the Sun, right?
7.How do we account for the origin of 116 distinct language families?
A. "116"? Really. Not 115, or 117? We have discovered precisely 116? You are being silly, either intentionally or unwittingly. Human language has been evolving for thousands of years and continues to do so. When did Latin disappear and French, Italian, Spanish, et cetera begin? Which came first the chicken or the egg? THIS kind of analysis convinces you there MUST be a god? Please explain.
8.Why did cities suddenly appear all over the world between 3,000 and 1,000BC?
A. Am far more interested in YOUR answer to this, than whatever archeology, anthropology and other sciences have to say. Do you believe this somehow demonstrates God was involved? Is the answer staring me in the face in the Bible? Please explain the significance of this ASSUMPTION (My understanding is that cities existed long prior to 3,000BCE).
9.How is independent thought possible in a world ruled by chance and necessity?
A. Sorry. I really do not see the apparent inconsistency you see. Science still working on how we think, but we DO think. Independently? My thoughts certainly APPEAR to be independent of your thoughts. The world is NOT "ruled" by anyone or anything other than "e=mc2" until someone comes up with a better theory. God don't enter into it. BTW, any reason God has not "revealed" anything since New Testament codified ? When do you contend God's latest revelation took place? Does NT tell us everything we need to know? If not, why not? When you medically diagnose patients, do you use the Bible? If so, how? If not, why not? Just curious.
10.How do we account for self-awareness?
A. That's a tough one, isn't it? Synapses? What is your answer? "God gave it to us." Do you really find that helpful and informative? I think I'll wait for science to observe, experiment and REASON its way to an answer.
11.How is free will possible in a material universe?
A. Who says we have "free will"? How do you even define it? We make choices every day. Do we REALLY have a choice? How many angels can dance on the head of a pin? THAT is religion trying to be profound. But it isn't. Religion is on the silly side of this question, not science or Atheism. We have brains and we do not fully understand how they work. What we DO understand comes from science, reason and "worldly knowledge." Do you find it ironic that the Bible contains not one word praising human knowledge? You should because we've accomplished quite a bit by opposing god-myths and superstition masquerading as revelation. Do you believe a snake/serpent spoke to and tempted Eve? Your answer will tell me a lot about you.
12.How do we account for conscience?
A. see answer to 11. Also, evolution. Helping others, avoiding harm to others had significant benefits to everyone, i.e. it was a "selfish" act to be "unselfish." We did not need a god to tell us that. It works.
13.On what basis can we make moral judgements?
A. Is "judgements" with an "e" a typo or a British thing? Either way, we make them based upon our common experience over time. That's why morality changes. Slavery was ALWAYS evil but it took us time to figure that out and come to a consensus. If we listened to your God, slavery would still exist worldwide and would be perfectly moral, as would genocide and misogyny and polygamy. I prefer modern morality to Biblical morality. My meme is winning, albeit not fast enough.
14.Why does suffering matter?
A. Terrible phrasing by you but suffering is to be avoided whenever possible because it opposes human happiness. This is the only life we get (as far as we know) so that making it as pleasant and free from suffering as possible just makes sense. We should also be concerned about the suffering of our fellow species even though god, if he existed, clearly was NOT concerned about it. "Suffering" evolved with the "food chain"/predator and prey/et cetera. No loving god would have designed nature in so bloodthirsty a fashion. Except, apparently, YOUR God. Please respond as you deem appropriate. Nature is not moral. Nature wants to reproduce itself. You know, The Selfish Gene, written by your favorite Atheist.
15.Why do human beings matter?
A. For any and all reasons we decide we matter. You can find NO reason why we matter without God? Look at your wife, your children, your friends. Of all the claims implicit in your twenty questions, this is the most offensive, if not the most evidencing ignorance masquerading as religious ideology. Shame on you.
16.Why care about justice?
A. Because the only alternative (which has been tried) is anarchy and resulting chaos. "Justice" helps to keep us from killing/hurting each other. Blood feuds are costly to society. "Justice"/law codes provide a measure of confidence that people will be treated fairly and, therefore do not need to exact justice on their own. Human justice much better than God's justice. We no longer kill people for picking firewood on the Sabbath; disobeying and being unruly to parents; fucking your aunt, et cetera. We have a long way to go but we have come quite far thanks to contradicting the Bible rather than following it. I would love to hear any disagreement you may have.
17.How do we account for the almost universal belief in the supernatural?
A. Human desire for answers in a pre-scientific world unable to provide very many. Unfortunately, this was exacerbated by ascendance of Christianity after Constantine in 309CE. It kept us in the Dark Ages for more than a thousand years and would love to take us back there. Not going to happen. BTW, there is no belief in a personal god/supernatural among most Chinese. Ergo, Belief in Supernatural NOT almost universal, and decreasing at an accelerating rate, but, living in Britain, you are well aware of that fact.
18.How do we know the supernatural does not exist?
A. Technically, we don't. BUT, only technically, because you cannot prove a negative. If gods existed, at least one of them surely would have shown herself to us by now--clearly, unambiguously--"Here I am. This is what I want." Instead, we have myths and folk tales collected hundreds of years afterwards and promulgated as revelation by persons wanting to control other persons. Tough to argue with words/laws given by God himself. Nothing more than a clever and effective control mechanism. What else do you believe without evidence?
19.How can we know if there is conscious existence after death?
A. Easy. We will all die and find out. Has anybody spoken to you from the grave?
20. What accounts for the empty tomb, resurrection appearances and growth of the church?
A. Assuming facts not in evidence. Gospels are not evidence of anything other than a new iteration of a then three thousand year old myth: Osiris/Mithras/Dionysius. You should know this. Justin Martyr, early church apologist acknowledged these "similarities"/borrowings from long-existing pagan cults/religions and explained them away as "diabolic mimicry," that is, he said the DEVIL pre-planted these myths into history because the DEVIL knew Jesus was coming and wanted to trick people. Clever Devil, huh?
There is NO contemporary evidence Jesus/Yeshua ever lived. There was no resurrection. All three synoptic gospels, written roughly 70CE, 80CE and 90CE, decades after Jesus allegedly lived, tell the story with irreconcilable contradictions--except to believers who do not care about contradictions. "Everything is possible with God."
Finally, the church was quite small and inconsequential until Constantine had his vision and made it the unofficial state sponsored religion in 309CE. That explains its subsequent growth. It also explains why the first Church "Histories" (and I use that term loosely because they made it up as they wrote it down) were written at that time. There was money and power to be had by being part of the State supported Roman Church. "Follow the money" works here as everywhere else to provide explanation and motive.
Are you really arguing that "size matters"? The Mormons are one of the fastest growing religions in America. The FASTEST growing category worldwide is: No religion. But again, living in Britain you already know this.
I have enjoyed responding to your questions and did not find them particularly difficult to the extent I understood them. Compared to trying to defend the Bible, they were a cakewalk. Please let me know how I did.
Richard Dawkins was just selected by Prospect Magazine's panel of distinguished experts as the most impactful knowledgeable person in the world. Not a single Christian apologist made the list.
I hope to hear from you.
Excellent, Joan. Ego and fear of loneliness drives people to believe the universe is set up for them. When the most popular myths were written nobody had even the slightest notion that other planets or even that stars had there own planets which made the idea much more palatable. The justification for those myths get harder and harder the more humankind learns about the universe.
What? ego ? What about it ?
I've nothing to say.
That was well said, Jack. I agree with you and Loren. The answers they want are their answers. I've even found atheist websites that lead you along until you finally discover they are Christians after all. I guess the idea is to get you "back into the fold" through trickery.
I think this Christian has given us a powerful technical tool to use against Christianity. I would be interested in changing the title to this questionairre to "Twenty Questions Christians Struggle To Answer' and seeing what responses would come back from a survey. I doubt the wording would have to be changed all that much.
Has this author even answered his own 20 questions? Perhaps you should send the same twenty questions back to him and ask him what the Christian answer would be to these questions.
From what I've read, all of the questions he is asking can be answered simply by: "God did it."
What you would want to specify is an elaboration on the base answer.
My personal favorite is question 7: How do we account for the origin of 116 distinct language families?
I like that one because we do have a direct Biblical myth explaining the origin of distinct language families. It's in the story of the Tower of Babel. All the people of earth spoke the same language and came together to build a tower 'into Heaven.' First off, God is actually portrayed as being fearful that they could succeed. God himself admits that he lives in a place, not of spiritual existence, but rather one in which people could build a tower up to...think Jack and the Beanstalk...and challenge his authority with physical armies.
God is scared of us. As well he should be, since NASA has shown not only can we go up to the place where God supposedly lives but there is nothing there...no Heaven, no God. Oh, our theologians have gotten so clever over the years...but its all CJA...Covering Jehovah's Ass...theology.
So God decided he had to do something to keep mankind from all working together. It was never his idea for all of us to live in peace and harmony...unless you think the resurgence of the Slave Empire of Rome promised by the Millenialists is your idea of Heaven.
So it was God, himself, who took the single language of man and broke it apart into "116 distinctive language families" making co-operation between humanity an impossibility since no one knew what anyone else was saying.
Not only that, this single incidence of interference by the tribal YHWH of the Children of Israel, single handedly created war and distrust and xenophobia. This madness led to the deaths of millions...literally billions. And it is a madness that, just as the space program disproved the existence of God...after all, God is omniscience and eternal therefore disproving his existence at one point in time disproves his existence at all others, we are only now beginning to overcome.
So, whose up for a little research? Who can get some small funding to send the "20 Questions Christians Struggle To Answer" quiz out to as many people as possible. BTW, I'd love to have the money, seriously. The US Postal Office, in an effort to stay alive a few more years, offers a service where a single page advertisement or questionairre can be sent to everyone in a zip code area at one set price.
This sort of specific coverage of particular zip code areas at a reasonable price is, in my opinion, the best source of advertising that has dropped in to our Arsenal of Atheism in a long time. I can't see why...and would recommend that each...atheist groups couldn't take it upon themselves to pay for the coverage of their own zip code area.
And far enough away to taking action for this Xmas for my long dreamnt of "Let's Put Claus Back Into Xmas" campaign. Front page is a rip off of a poster I had in my room during college showing John and Mary and the Wisemen and Shepherds and Animals all bowing solemnly around the manger in which lay the cutest Jesus Christ I've ever seen...dressed in a Santa Claus suit.
The text on the back would be, of course, the whole explanation of the Nativity through similar myths from existent cultures of the time.
The plea would be simple enough. I grew up in a church that was extremely anti-catholic...Southern US during the Fifties...and refused to have any special church service on Christmas precisely because we were taught the same thing Mythologists teach now on the subject. Of course, in our hate-filled church, the real culprit was the Catholic Church and the Pope...the Satan of Kingdom and the Anti-Christ. Lucky for me, I learned early on that Christmas was a pagan holiday, but I...and the church and my father, a minister in the church...without acknowledging the holiday from the pulpit...taught me that Christmas was a secular holiday and that Santa and his flying reindeer and Frosty the Snowman and the Grinch and, my personal favorite, Jim Backus in Scrooge...all were myths but were still fun to play with.
Let's Put Claus Back Into Xmas.
Let's return Xmas to the secular, drunken holiday it used to be before Clement Moore's Night Before Christmas brought it back in to a family holiday that could be enjoyed just for the gift giving and the reunions and the love it brought into the world rather than the lies Xtians have turned it into.
Very well said, Philip; let's get off the defensive that our l-o-n-g replies reveal.
However, will the title "20 Questions Christians Struggle To Answer" frighten the plain folk (not their trained leaders) we want to hear from? Will it frighten them into their usual submissive stance?
Let's do some science; choose a small sample and test market the title you suggested and several others.
Maybe the too long "Atheists Want to Believe But Need Some Answers from Everyday Christians" or "Christians, Help Atheists Believe."
We will get "God did it" replies and biblical quotes. Do you see a way to encourage personal replies?
Oh yes! I like the direction this is going. I am in on the challenge, and it will have to be after dinner. See you then.
Thanks, Phillip! Excellent points.
"Has this author even answered his own 20 questions? Perhaps you should send the same twenty questions back to him and ask him what the Christian answer would be to these questions."
If you reread my lengthy missive, toward the end I specifically ask him to respond to his questions and share his insights with me. No response yet but, frankly, I'm not holding my breath waiting for one. I can accept otherwise intelligent people who compartmentalize their knowledge to allow for religious superstition (brainwashing from birth by parents and family is very powerful!), but I still have difficulty carrying that as far as YECs. The OBVIOUSNESS of evolution and a 14 billion yr.old universe is so apparent in so many incontrovertible ways, I do not understand how anyone with knowledge of science in any particular field (this guy is supposed to be a medical doctor!) can believe the Earth was created 6000 years ago. They insult their imaginary god by taking this position because of a Stone Age book of myths which they admit is rife with immorality and contradictions. Okay, they do not ever admit these problems, but it is difficult to understand how they ignore them or explain them away.
"...(this guy is supposed to be a medical doctor!)...."
While a student I was a night watchman in a medical school. Later I very nearly went to law school.
I can with confidence point out that med students and law students have something in common. Their professors are cramming their heads so full of so much in so little time that, after the partying they desperately need, they have no time or energy to consider life's important questions.
Tom, This is SO true. Their emotional development suffers also.
I've often wondered why my brother (MD) and his wife (biology PhD) seem to compulsively consume cultural events - lectures, plays (season subscriptions!), jazz festivals, etc., etc., nonstop.
My current theory is that they are both trying to get the education that was denied them during their intensive scientific training, hoping they'll soak up enough to make up for all the art, lit, philosophy, and drama courses they didn't take.
And of course, no amount of play-going will enlighten them on life's important questions; neither of them has the faintest inkling of what those questions are.
Reminds me of Sogyal Rinpoche's remark that "Western laziness consists of cramming our lives with compulsive activity, so that there is no time at all to confront the real issues."
This same phenomenon was going on when I went to engineering school in the late 60's and early 70's. The emphasis was on engineering, science and mathematics. Liberal arts were a secondary consideration, if they were a consideration at all. What culture I got or aid in my own rites of passage into adulthood I got on my own. The faculty and administration were largely unconcerned with those issues.
I seem to have managed, despite their attitude and curriculum. It strikes me, though, that I could have done a LOT better.
With regard to Q.3, I would say that the question itself is wrong. I'm thinking of particle wave duality here.