Monday, May 11, 2009

Interview with an atheist

Wintery Knight wants to interview atheists. I'll bite, although I have a low opinion of his intelligence, honesty and character.

1) Do you believe that the universe was brought into being out of nothing by a person (agent)?


Is it possible that this agent could communicate to us, or that we could discover something about that agent? (i.e. – does God exist, is he knowable)

It's logically possible, perhaps, but the evidence argues strongly against such an agent even existing.

2) Explain to me in which religion you were raised by your parents, if any. How did your parents approach religion in the home? (strict, lax, etc.)

I was raised a Quaker. Lax or strict does not really apply to Quakers.

3) What events in your past affected your beliefs about God’s existence and knowability? (e.g. – I studied biology, comparative religions or anthropology, or I met a girl I liked)

No specific events. Just generally thinking logically, scientifically and philosophically about the issue.

4) What are your main objections to belief in God’s existence and knowability today? (e.g – suffering, pluralism, hiddenness)

This question is not well-phrased. I have concluded that no god exists because the evidence argues strongly for that conclusion: we see the opposite of what we would logically expect to see if any kind of interventionist god (even a malevolent god) actually were to exist.

5) This salt shaker (grab salt shaker and brandish it in a non-threatening way) exists because it is made of matter and occupies space. What is the mode of existence of moral values and moral duties, on atheism? Where do they exist, and what do they exist as? (e.g. – in people’s minds, as descriptions of behavior, in God’s mind)

Moral and ethical values appear to be properties of minds (which are themselves physical entities with complicated causal explanations).

6) Free will is required in order for humans to act in ways that are morally responsible. You cannot assign praise or blame to anyone if they do not have free will. What is the rationale for free will on atheism? If there is no free will, on what grounds can atheists praise or condemn any behavior? (free will means the ability to act or not act)

I do not think the concept of "free will" is logically coherent. I praise or condemn behavior based on how it affects my interests, including my empathic interests. I take no credit for my empathy, I was born that way and my parents did not indoctrinate me into feeling otherwise about anyone.

7) Suppose you are an atheist journalist writing a story in atheistic North Korea in which you criticize the atheist leader Kim Jong Il. His secret police burst through the front door of your apartment and drag you off you a torture chamber. You are told that you are about to be personally executed by the dictator himself. On what basis would you plead for your life, on atheism? (i.e. – how would you persuade a powerful atheist to do right)

I don't think that appealing to God (or any sort of "objective" moral standards) would have any practical effect, so the question is irrelevant. If one criticizes a tyrannical dictator, one must practically expect nothing better than martyrdom as the price of exposure.

8) Suppose that you are strolling along the river in the winter, and you cross a bridge. Suddenly, you hear shouts for help coming from the icy water below. A little girl has fallen in the water and will die in minutes unless you jump in. There is no one else around to save her. You have no relatives/dependents. You can swim. There is an even chance that you will both die if you try to save her. Do you try? How is this rational on your worldview? (i.e. – how is self-sacrifice rational on atheism)

I have emotions and feelings (properties of my mind with a complicated causal explanation): I would feel bad if I did not try to save her; I do not wish to feel bad, therefore I would try. Death comes to us all, and holds no terror for me.

9) Suppose you travel back in time to the United Kingdom, when slavery is still legal! You meet William Wilberforce. He says that he has been battling slavery hard for 20 years, on the basis of Christian convictions, but that today he wants to let you try it in his place. On atheism, on what rational grounds could you try to persuade them? (If they say yes, ask them if they are pro-life and what they have done to support the pro-life movement)

I would find ways of arming the slaves and fomenting a slave revolt, again, because I would want to, not because I think there's some extrinsic reason I ought to. Note that attempts to use Christianityto eradicate chattel slavery were an abject failure; it was only when the material economic conditions made chattel slavery untenable was it exchanged for wage slavery (which in many ways is as bad or worse than chattel slavery). (And I do not consider blastocysts or embryos to be "persons" in the same sense that living, thinking, feeling, self-aware human beings are persons. I just don't care about embryos like I care about people with working brains.)

10) Consider the heat death of the universe, which is the theory that the amount of usable energy is going to run out at some point in the finite future, as it disperses in space. On atheism, what is the ultimate significance of your moral decisions? How does it does it affect your fate, or the fate of anyone else you act on ultimately? What does it matter to you and to the species ultimately whether you act morally or not? (i.e. – how do your good and evil actions change where you and everyone else ends up?)

There is no ultimate significance to my actions. So what? I'm not so full of myself that I have to believe I'm at the center of the universe to have a happy and fulfilled life.

11) What is your purpose in life, and why did you choose that purpose? Is it just yours, or for everyone else too?

I want to be happy. I generally like other people, and I want them to be happy too.

12) Suppose Jesus appeared to us right now and addressed you directly with the following words: “I’m really here and you need to follow me in order to flourish and achieve the goal for which I created you”. He then glares suspiciously at me, snatches a few fries from my plate, eats them, and then disappears. Later on, the Ghostbusters show up and confirm that Jesus was no ghost, but really God stepping into history. And everyone in the restaurant saw and heard exactly what you and I saw and heard. How would you proceed? How would you find out what to do? (i.e. – the atheist now knows Christianity is true, and I want to see what they think they should do in order to act like a Christian)

If I knew Christianity were true (and I will ignore the triviality of your attempts to establish its truth), I hope I would be courageous enough to dedicate my life to rebellion against God. Perhaps quixotic, but I have the moral beliefs that I have. Since I'm not sadistic, and I take no real pleasure from the suffering of others, I could comply with a savage, brutal psychopath such as the character of Jehovah in the Christian bible only out of fear and cowardice.

13) What would be the most difficult thing about becoming a Christian for you? Would it be the moral demands? The demands on your time? The unpopularity, humiliation and persecution that you would face? How would you feel about publicly declaring your allegiance for Christ and facing the consequences? (i.e. – they have become a Christian, what is the most difficult adjustment from your current life?)

Per above, self-loathing, the injury that fear and cowardice would cause to my self-image.


  1. Urgh. I threw up a little in my mouth.

    Not at your answers, but at WK's condescending bullshit.

    Half of those questions are just unadulterated nonsense based on faulty premises, ass-backwards "logic" and other typical fundie idiocies.

  2. His persistent incorrect use of "___ on atheism" when what he means is "___ in atheism" is really, really annoying. Too much free time, not enough elementary grammar.

  3. I posted answers (very quickly) and he removed them. He emailed some further questions to my post and I answered them, but that is it. This is the same bull shit you get from all of these sites, We could blind fold our selves and type out more coherent objections to atheism drunk than you will get from this site.

  4. I obviously meant the Christian site when I said "this" site and not the Barefoot Bum's.

  5. No worries, Chris: That's how I read your initial comment.

  6. I think you left out a 'not' in your final sentence in answer 12.

    Otherwise good stuff. The first question is beautiful. Scary to think most of my neighbors and co-workers would answer 'yes'.

  7. Oops, no you didn't. I overlooked the final phrase "only out of fear and cowardice."

    Must be my cognitive faculties don't function properly as a result of sinning.

  8. Yeah, that "on atheism" shit made me want to stab my fucking eyes out with a rusty tetanic fork. How fucking pig-ignorant do you have to be to not even know how to use the motherfucking preposition "on"?

  9. On that last question I thought Knight was asking about the most difficult thing about being an Atheist...increased moral demands, unpopularity, persecution all come hand in hand with rejecting dogma.

    Questions 6 - 9 were very interesting. There were so many ways to justify moral behaviour and objective Universalist morality from an atheistic standpoint. I think a theist would have a much harder time with those, especially with 9) since slavery was justified using Christianity.

  10. They ask the same boring questions, don’t they? What is curious is how Christians presume their own world view when asking these questions. For example, Question 12 I found…odd.

    What if Jesus showed up? WinteryKnight immediately presumes this establishes “Christianity” as he defines it. What if it didn’t? (Hey—we have already started the “What if…?” game in these questions. Why stop?) What if Jesus showed up and said, “All that stuff in the Tanakh and New Testament is bunk. I’ve been busy killing off God the Father for the past 2 minutes (which seems like 2000 years to you all) and now we can establish peace. First let’s straighten out the mess religions have made.”

    Or take your answer, The Barefoot Bum. What if Jesus showed up? Since we are already “What if…?” What if he gave justification for the situation of the world that satisfies your reason and you would NOT be interested in rebelling against him.? Sure, I understand you and I cannot see any possible justification at this moment, but nor can we see the possibility of Jesus showing up, either! Once we enter the realm of “You don’t think this will happen, BUT pretend it does…” we can fill in the blank with anything and everything. And keep going and going.

    WinteryKnight presumed a certain “Christianity” was proven true, yet isn’t that the point? If we thought it was true, we wouldn’t be atheists! Making the question like, “If the sun blew up yesterday—what would you do today?” The answer being: “Nothing. I would not exist.”

    P.S. WinteryKnight uses the term “on Christianity” and “in Christianity” apparently interchangeably throughout his blog. As well as once using the term “in atheism.”

  11. Rene,

    It is true that he, like most Christians, tends to assume that atheism implies subjectivism. The trouble is that he is hopelessly muddled in his thinking about ethics (like most Christians.) I am a subjectivist (heavily influenced by MESR) but it is still maddening to try to debate the issue even when the Christian seems to want to discuss subjectivism. For one thing, when Christians say “moral subjectivism” they often mean “do whatever the hell you want any time you want and don’t ever judge anyone else”. In a trivial sense I do do whatever I want (including judging others) all things considered. That is the crux of the issue--all things considered. But in any case, this is not subjectivism especially with the second clause included. I can darn well judge. Secondly, Christians are subjectivists too and they also do do whatever they want (including judging others) all things considered. It is just that in their considered opinion, they choose to follow the moral dictates of the Bible. Even if God were real and even if the Bible is his list of do’s and don’ts, Moral Objectivism would be no more true than if I put out a list of do’s and dont's and people wanted to follow it.

    And that is the real problem. Christians (and many Atheists) who profess moral objectivism are very unclear about what they mean by the term. Moral Objectivism is not simply making use of an objective list of do’s and dont's.

    This is also why you would fare no better arguing objective morals. Unless you and the Christian start with an agreed upon list of shared values (subjectively supported) you could not reach any agreement with the Christian.

  12. Knight states, on the subject of incorrect prepositions:

    "Thanks for the input, but I’m not changing anything because that’s the way philosophers speak. The word 'on' is a short form of 'on the assumption that atheism is true'."

    While I do not think this is correct, even where it so, then all it would indicate is that some philosophers are quite dumb.

  13. The prepositions didn't bother me nearly as much as all the other bullshit surrounding them.

  14. Chris,

    I have tried to argue that point with Christians, but it just never sinks in. It does not matter if there is an objective standard if we don't have an objective method to gain access to the standard.

    But, the best thing we have is an inter-subjective standard. Me and you and whomever else we live around decide amongst ourselves how we ought to behave.

    The Christian seems to have this fetish for certainty. They want to know that there is some absolute right and wrong.

    For me, because of pragmatism, whether or not there is such a thing as objective morality is irrelevant, because we have no objective way of knowing what it is.

    Anyway, just restating your point. This issue drives me insane.

  15. I think you gave fantastic answers, but especially to the "What if Jesus showed up and proved xtians right" question. The existence of god (as implausible as it seems) is irrelevant to whether or not I would follow biblical teachings and backward, arbitrary "morals".


Please pick a handle or moniker for your comment. It's much easier to address someone by a name or pseudonym than simply "hey you". I have the option of requiring a "hard" identity, but I don't want to turn that on... yet.

With few exceptions, I will not respond or reply to anonymous comments, and I may delete them. I keep a copy of all comments; if you want the text of your comment to repost with something vaguely resembling an identity, email me.

No spam, pr0n, commercial advertising, insanity, lies, repetition or off-topic comments. Creationists, Global Warming deniers, anti-vaxers, Randians, and Libertarians are automatically presumed to be idiots; Christians and Muslims might get the benefit of the doubt, if I'm in a good mood.

See the Debate Flowchart for some basic rules.

Sourced factual corrections are always published and acknowledged.

I will respond or not respond to comments as the mood takes me. See my latest comment policy for details. I am not a pseudonomous-American: my real name is Larry.

Comments may be moderated from time to time. When I do moderate comments, anonymous comments are far more likely to be rejected.

I've already answered some typical comments.

I have jqMath enabled for the blog. If you have a dollar sign (\$) in your comment, put a \\ in front of it: \\\$, unless you want to include a formula in your comment.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.