Nestafan made a comment on this article that I felt deserved a post by way of response, as it involved a number of interesting questions meriting detailed responses, and I didn’t want them buried in the comments. I’ll address them on a per-question basis: Nestafan’s text is in bold and my own is in default type.
A few questions for aetheists[sic]:
1. Aren’t you saying people who believe in a higher power are idiots because science can explain why we’re here? Hypocritic[sic].
No? I’d be the first to admit that any number of men of extraordinary genius have believed in a “higher power”. I’d add that science (in terms of “systematic knowledge of the physical or material world gained through observation and experimentation”) doesn’t concern itself with the metaphysical moral sense of ‘why’–this is the proper province of Ethical philosophy, in both its secular and religious flavors.
2. How do you know what’s right and what’s wrong? If there is a moral law, why is there not a moral law giver? Who determined morality, scientists?
The first question is a good one, and deserves lengthier treatment than it’s reasonable for me to give it here. If I were to elaborate upon it, though, I would at least not have to do all the heavy lifting myself, as thousands (perhaps millions?) of man years worth of thinking and writing have gone into the study of normative ethics (moral theory), the branch of Philosophy which attempts to address this question. A large number of workable non-theistic ethical systems have been proposed; you may wish to look into them.
Parenthetically, the fact that an enormous corpus of fairly robust non-theistic moral philosophy exists partially informs the irritation experienced by many atheists when they are accused of not being “ethical”, or having no “moral barometer.”
The second part of this question will have different answers for different non-theistic ethical systems and interpretations of the word “law”. Suffice to say, no non-theistic ethical system requires a “moral law giver” in any traditionally anthropomorphic sense, and the word “law” may refer to anything from “government legislation” to “accepted custom”.
For the third part of this question, see my response to question 1.
3. Aren’t these scientists and evolutionary theorists dead?
If this question is meant to continue on from “Who determined morality, scientists?”, then I’ve already addressed it.
4. How do you explain death?
In terms of what it is, “the total and permanent cessation of all the vital functions of an organism” works for me. In terms of why I think death’s a good idea, well. A constantly changing environment would have been a real evolutionary stumbling block without it (and its logical complement, reproduction.)
5. There is archaeological proof that Jesus did indeed walk this earth some two thousand years ago. Is there any proof that we evolved from some intergalactic comet?
I don’t recall denying the existence of Jesus as a historical entity. Based on the available evidence, I think it far more likely than not that Jesus did exist. Whether or not I think he was a divine being with magic powers who rose from the dead is a separate debate.
The idea that comets might have been responsible for bringing simple organic compounds to Earth’s surface in the distant past is only a relatively minor component of one of many current abiogenetical theories. Check out some of the others. Most don’t require comets.
6. Wasn’t the constitution (which protects your rights) based on biblical principles?
There is no unequivocal statement in the Constitution specifying the importance of Christian principles or morality; Christianity is never singled out as the basis of anything claimed by the text. (For an extended discussion of this often-heard claim, read this.)
7. Do atheists marry? If so, why?
The answer to the first part of the question is obviously “yes”. I can’t speak for all atheist couples, but I’d imagine they get married for many of the same reasons that theists do. Legal, social, emotional, and economic stability; the formation of a family unit; procreation and the education and nurturing of children; to be perceived as “legitimizing” their sexual relations; as a public declaration of love.
8. If believers only “pick out” the good points in the bible, don’t atheists only “pick out” the bad? Who’s right?
I’ll answer these questions with a question: to what authority or standard are you appealing when you use the terms “good”, “bad”, and “right” here?
9. Isn’t it easy to oversimplify or discount something when you already have a preconceived notion about it? Okay Steve Harvey called atheists “idiots,” that’s a bit heavy-handed; but Bill Maher said the same thing about believers. Who’s right? If you say atheists are, how do you know this?
To the first part of this question I would respond: “Sure, I guess?”, to the second: I’m not familiar with the specific context of Bill Maher’s statement (a reference would be appreciated), but were I to take his reported utterance at face value I ‘d say that I thought both Harvey and Maher guilty of making bigoted statements. I don’t think people who believe in God are necessarily idiots, but I do think atheism represents a superior conceptual system, of course. Otherwise I wouldn’t be one.
10. We are not born understanding right from wrong. Inherently, like animals, we are more prone to do wrong (ex. breaking your mom’s favorite vase at aged-three, then denying it when she confronts you). How, then, do we learn that violating someone and lying about it is wrong? How did we become separated from animals? Who’s to say it isn’t right to get yourself out of a fix? We know murder, rape, theft, etc. are wrong, right? Well, who says?
I don’t know about “wrong”, but if we don’t figure it out independently (or are genetically defective enough to not have developed empathy) we soon learn that raping/murdering people or stealing their property is a bad idea when doing it gets us killed/beaten/put in jail for a decade.
And I don’t believe we are separate from animals in the sense of “not being animals”. Why do you believe that we are?
Without morality, there would not be six billion people on this planet, because we’d all destroy each other. And, someone had to be the moral law giver as I said earlier. Oh, yeah, it was those evolutionist dudes, right? But wait, aren’t they dead? n Mensa members can’t even figure out how to stop death.
Your statement is a confused one. It presupposes there’s no good reason outside “getting laws from a moral law giver and abiding by them” for humanity not to want to completely destroy itself. Self-preservation is the most important instinct for any life form to develop. Not developing this instinct would make a life form autodeleterious.
I fail to see the relevance to your argument of the observation that “those evolutionist dudes” are dead and that “Mensa members can’t even figure out how to stop death”.
“God is like the sun; you can’t look directly at it, but without it you can’t look at anything else.”
Cute. Here’s one I like: “I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.”
Feel free to comment below on any of the points raised by this post. I’ll do my best to respond to specific criticisms.