The questions come from a “survey” created by CARM founder Matt Slick. As you might expect, it’s a pretty dumb “survey” – it’s mostly leading and “trap” questions designed to “challenge” atheists rather than any actual survey-like attempt to simply find out what atheists actually believe. Even when the questions aren’t obviously leading, they are often worded in a way that presupposes Christian philosophy; it’s hard to tell whether that’s deliberate or just Slick’s limited imagination.
Godless Mom actually dug up her old answers from 2014 for comparison, and I really wish I could do the same. But I certainly did those questions long before 2014, and I honestly can’t remember where I might have posted the answers – I’ve written for a lot of atheist sites over the years.
I do know I must have answered some of the questions differently. I am almost certain that I would have answered all the questions about morality using a consequentialist, utilitarian-based morality – one about reducing harm and “the needs of the many” yadda yadda. (That’s pretty much the answer Heard gave in the recent video, although she delightfully prefaces with
morality comes from your ass.) My views on morality have changed in recent years to a deontological model, for reasons I should probably explain some day.
I would also have given a simpler definition of “truth”, though still basically just correspondence. Maybe a more “antagonistic” response to the question of whether the world would be better off without religion. A less detailed answer to whether God can be scientifically proven, but still essentially the same idea about interaction being key (I probably would have contrasted theism with deism at the time). Probably would have been more willing to accept mere evidence for God’s existence (though still a lot of it).
So my beliefs have changed, and matured, but I think – other than the issue of morality – they would have been essentially the same in my previous go at this “survey”.
Before reading my answers, you should check out Heard’s video with her answers:
Also, like her, I encourage you to take a swing at these questions yourself, and share the results. They’re terrible questions, sure, but part of the exercise is in recognizing how they’re terrible questions. It’s always good to let your beliefs (or lack thereof) be challenged. And it can even be fun!
So with no further ado, here are my answers to Matt Slick’s “Questions for Atheists” “survey”.
1. How would you define atheism?
The definition of atheism always causes headaches for atheists, because the English language doesn’t have a way to cleanly express a “lack-of-belief” idea (or lack of idea – see? problem!). I’ve found the best way to explain atheism is by explaining theism first:
Theism is belief in the existence of gods. “Atheism” is formed by taking “theism” and adding the alpha privative, which causes logical negation. Thus, atheism is the logical complement of theism; it is anything and everything that is not theism.
The logical complement of “believing gods exist” includes “believing gods do not exist”, but also includes:
- having no opinion
- being unsure
- not caring enough to even consider the question
- not being able to answer because you don’t understand what a “god” is (how can you say “foobles exist” or “foobles don’t exist” if you don’t even know what a “fooble” is?)
- and more.
The easiest way to tell if someone is atheist is simply to ask them: “Do you believe any gods exist?” If they answer “yes” (directly or indirectly, because believers love to waffle on even this simple question), they’re theist. If they answer anything else – “no”, “I don’t know”, “I don’t understand the question”, “you have to define ‘god’ first”, etc. – they’re atheist.
2. Do you act according to what you believe (there is no God) in or what you don’t believe in (lack belief in God)?
This question seems somewhat specious. (Or at least it does when I make a point of ignoring what I know are the questioner’s real motives.)
Everyone acts according to what they believe and according to what they don’t believe. When you cross the street after looking both ways, it’s because you believe:
- your vision is good enough to actually see cars and other potential threats
- your pace of walking is fast enough that you can get to the safety of the other side before cars outside of your range of vision can get close
and also because you don’t believe:
- something is about to drop from the sky
- there are invisible cars
Note that “not believing something is going to drop out of the sky” is not the same as believing “nothing is going to drop out of the sky”. There is no way anyone who is not omniscient or prescient can actually be sure nothing is going to drop out of the sky at any given moment. But given the low odds of it happening, so long as we don’t have any reason to believe something will in the next few moments, that’s good enough reason to act as if it won’t.
(People do act against their beliefs sometimes, either unthinkingly or for calculated or selfish reasons… cf. Christians supporting someone as ridiculously non-Christian as Donald Trump, just because he does them political favours. But this seems outside the scope of the question.)
3. Do you think it is inconsistent for someone who “lacks belief” in God to work against God’s existence by attempting to show that God doesn’t exist?
No. Do you think it is inconsistent for someone who “lacks belief” in evolution to work against science by attempting to show that evolution isn’t real?
4. How sure are you that your atheism properly represents reality?
Your question is nonsensical on many levels.
The first problem is that the question is backwards; a symptom of your own beliefs and assumptions intruding into the questions you’re asking. Religious believers usually start with their beliefs and their faith, and only then worry about whether reality accords with or challenges them. In that mindset, worrying about whether your beliefs “properly represent reality” makes sense. There’s actually a name for that.
But that’s not how I work. I did not pick a belief system I like (or one that was handed down to me by my parents/culture) and then start worrying about whether it accords with reality. I started with reality, and formed my beliefs (and lack thereof) from that.
So the question of whether or not reality accords with my beliefs is a non sequitur. If reality didn’t agree with some belief I have, I wouldn’t have that belief. If reality says X, then I believe X. Always. It’s as simple as that.
So I am 100%, absolutely, positively, metaphysically sure that “my atheism” represents reality insofar as I am able to discern and understand reality. There’s no possibility of doubt or dispute, because “my atheism” and all of my beliefs are literally defined by reality. Whatever is reality, I believe; whatever is not, I don’t.
I did not pick a belief system I like and then start worrying about whether it accords with reality. I started with reality, and formed my beliefs from that.
The caveat is that I am not absolutely sure that what I understand as “reality” actually concords with reality. On the contrary, I am pretty damn sure that I don’t fully understand reality. But that doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the question being asked, because I can’t possibly answer to whether “my atheism” represents reality if I don’t even have a belief about what reality is. What I can say is that my beliefs conform completely to reality as understood by the best of my current, human ability… and if new knowledge or understanding comes along to change that, my beliefs will always change accordingly.
Now, all that being said, we come to the second problem with the question. I’ve been putting “my atheism” in scare quotes all along because “my atheism” is not actually a belief. It’s not having a belief. Asking someone whether a belief they don’t have accords with reality is… gibberish, frankly.
5. How sure are you that your atheism is correct?
You just asked that question. The only way this question is distinct from the previous one is if there is some difference between “being correct” and “being in accordance with reality” are two different things… and that issue is better explored in the next question. I don’t see a difference in this context, so if you do, you should have explained it.
6. How would you define what truth is?
Truth is what is in accordance with the conceptual set in question… which is usually objective reality. (But not always. It is truth that Superman killed General Zod by snapping his neck in the conceptual set described by the DC Extended Universe… but not in the conceptual set described by the Christopher Reeve/Brandon Routh films (or in the comics, presumably)… and certainly not in reality, because there is no Superman or General Zod in reality.)
7. Why do you believe your atheism is a justifiable position to hold?
That was answered in question 5, but to reiterate: I wouldn’t “hold to ‘my atheism’” if I didn’t believe it was justifiable. Something becomes one of my beliefs if and only if I can justify it. I don’t believe something first then seek to justify it as an afterthought.
8. Are you a materialist or a physicalist or what?
I don’t believe there is any meaningful fundamental difference between the terms. They’re both ultimately just substance monism.
I don’t have any strong position on the question, but I suppose I am a physicalist by default. I work under the assumption that all of reality boils down to one “thing”, such as matter (or energy, or strings, or branes, or whatever – I don’t know what that one “thing” is, so I’ll just use “matter” as a shorthand for simplicity). But I cannot assert that there is nothing else.
However, if there is something else other than “matter”, then either it can interact with matter or it can’t. If it can’t, then it is ultimately meaningless – there is no meaningful difference in practice between something that cannot interact with the universe and something that doesn’t exist. If it can interact with the “matter” of the universe, then both it and the “matter” must boil down to something even more fundamental. Which just brings us right back to the same monism, just now with a different substance.
9. Do you affirm or deny that atheism is a worldview?
I deny it. The definition I gave for atheism should make it clear why.
I don’t deny that some forms atheism can be a part of a worldview, or even a fundamental part of a worldview. There are atheistic worldviews. But atheism itself is not a worldview.
10. Not all atheists are antagonistic to Christianity but for those of you who are, why the antagonism?
I am not particularly antagonistic to Christianity (or any religion) as a whole… but I am very antagonistic to forms of Christianity (or other religions) that cause harm. As for “why”, the answer is right there: because they cause harm.
Most Christians (and most forms of Christianity, but, for the record, I am more concerned with the people than the ideology… why aren’t you?) are fine people, and I assume – given the culture I live in – that most of my friends are Christians, and they’re my friends. They’re not my friends with a qualifier – they’re not my friends “despite being Christian” – they’re my friends. Period. They just happen to be Christian, which is of no concern to me.
I don’t even care if they try to convert me from time to time. I understand that they really believe in their religion, and they believe they would be helping me to bring me into it. Their actions are out of love; I understand that, accept it, and even think more of them as my friends because they care about me in that way. Hell, I do the same; I try to convince them of my beliefs because I believe they will find more freedom and happiness as a non-religious atheist than they will in a religion that imposes so many restrictions on them. All I ask – no, insist – of all my friends, and of anyone that interacts with me, is that they respect me as a person while doing so; take me… my situation, my feelings, me… into account when considering whether this is a good time to bring up the topic. I promise to do the same of course.
If you won’t respect me… or others… well, then you’ll get your antagonism. And you’ll know damn well why.
11. If you were at one time a believer in the Christian God, what caused you to deny his existence?
I was born atheist, and never spoiled.
12. Do you believe the world would be better off without religion?
That’s actually a tricky question to answer, because “religion” has subsumed so much into itself. “Religion” includes traditions, rituals, fashion, diet, social structure, community, even art and culture… basically everything has been claimed by religion at one time or another – right now there are even religions trying to claim computer programming into AI religions. So long as religion continues to claim all these things, it is simply impossible to just remove “religion” from the world. It would take just about everything worthwhile with it.
But here’s the thing: most of what is tangled up with religion has absolutely nothing to do with religion fundamentally. It is very possible to take virtually everything good that is currently entangled with religion, extract it, and create a secular version of it. Take, for example, rites of passage like the bar/bat Mitzvah, or festivals like Christmas. There are already secular analogues to these things: the “sweet sixteen” or “quinceañera celebration” in the former case, and Christmas itself – which has already been almost completely secularized – in the latter.
If we boil down “religion” to just its core – the faith-based beliefs about the nature of the universe and humanity’s place in it – and if we could get rid of just that while creating secularized versions of everything else it is entangled in – everything from cultural identity to community building – then yes, the world would be better off without religion.
If you won’t respect me or others, then you’ll get your antagonism. And you’ll know damn well why.
We can’t just throw religion out today. Not yet. What we need to do is extract faith from all the things it has no right being entangled in: politics, health care, education, and so on. Once religion no longer has its tendrils in everything, then we could take it or leave it. If we get to that point, there wouldn’t be any need to resist it anymore… but I wouldn’t feel a pressing need to preserve it either.
13. Do you believe the world would be better off without Christianity?
I don’t know in what sense this question isn’t just a rehash of the previous one, unless you either think Christianity isn’t a religion, or that it’s somehow special above all other religions.
14. Do you believe that faith in a God or gods is a mental disorder?
No. Faith in gods is an epistemic mistake; not every epistemic mistake is a mental disorder.
15. Must God be known through the scientific method?
That depends on your definition of God, but for virtually all definitions by all religions in the world, past and present, the answer is “yes”. See the next answer for more detail.
16. If you answered yes to the previous question, then how do you avoid a category mistake by requi1ring material evidence for an immaterial God?
By knowing what I’m talking about.
That may sound like a smartass answer, but I mean it quite literally, and on multiple levels. The first thing I have to know about is God himself (or herself, or itself). You say this god is “immaterial”… but what precisely do you mean by that? And I do mean precisely.
If you’re saying that God himself/herself/itself is not made up of any of the material that makes up our physical universe (whatever that “material” might be) – that God exists wholly beyond or “outside of” the universe – that’s fine… but that’s only half of the equation. The other half is whether God can interact with the universe. Can he/she/it affect the universe in any way at any point now, in the past, or in the future?
Even if God is immaterial, if he/she/it has any observable impact on the universe, then we are perfectly justified to demand evidence of that impact.
If you’re willing to define God as some entity that exists wholly “outside” of the universe and just stop there, then fine: you’d be right to criticize any expectation of evidence within the universe of God. But that’s not what you’re doing, is it? It never is. No religion, anywhere, anytime, has ever (or probably ever will) defined their deity as existing wholly “outside” of the universe and having no influence whatsoever on it. All gods ever defined have some impact on the universe… and thus all should have left evidence. None has ever been found.
The second thing I would have to know about is how you know about God. Because you are a material being, at least in part. Assuming God is real, and assuming that your knowledge of God is not simply just your imagination or a delusion, then you must have somehow gotten evidence of God. There is no way you can deny this. Even if you want to claim your evidence of God comes not from the evidence of your senses, and it’s just something you “know in your heart”, then if that “knowledge” is not coming straight out of your ass, it must have come from somewhere. That “feeling” you have of God’s existence – if it’s not imaginary – somehow got from this immaterial, transcendent God into the physical material in your biological brain, and ultimately into the muscles of your mouth that made you say it. So there… must… be… some physical evidence of this immaterial, transcendent God’s influence on your very much material body.
The bottom line is: You are not sparing your god from investigation by claiming it exists transcendently, immaterially, or any other ploy you wish to try to avoid direct examination. Unless you are willing to claim your god has no influence on the universe whatsoever – that is, unless you want to make him completely irrelevant, such that he/she/it might as well not exist – then your god is subject to demands for material evidence.
17. Do we have any purpose as human beings?
No. Why would we?
This one of the religious apologetics that I find most disturbing. The argument goes, roughly, that atheism is somehow “inferior” as a belief (such as it is), because theism gives a “purpose” to humanity that atheism doesn’t. This is supposed to be a good thing? That humanity has some use to a superior being? Apologists try to disguise the idea in flowery language, such as by stressing that the deity is supremely benevolent and thus its purpose for us must also be supremely benevolent. But ultimately, all this “purpose” boils down to is the “purpose” a master has for their slaves.
I don’t want to exist for anyone else’s purpose. I don’t even see how that would be something to hope for. If I exist for any purpose at all, it must be for a purpose of my own making. I am not a slave.
So the direct answer to the question is: I don’t know if we have any purpose… but if we do, that would not be a good thing at all. If there really is something out there with a purpose for us, then it is obligated to tell us exactly what that purpose is and confirm that we are okay with it. If not, then we are obligated to resist that purpose, as all slaves are obligated to resist their masters.
18. If we do have purpose, can you as an atheist please explain how that purpose is determined?
This is supposed to be a good thing? That humanity has some use to a superior being? Ultimately, all this “purpose” boils down to is the “purpose” a master has for their slaves.
See the previous answer.
19. Where does morality come from?
This is another bizarre question. It only makes sense if you presuppose the answer – that there is something everything comes from. Without that presuppostion, the question makes no sense: Where does math come from? Where does up come from? Where does beautiful come from?
Morality is simply the application of logic to the decisions and interactions of intelligent agents. It’s similar to math, which is simply the application of logic to sets and values.
So where does it “come from” that 1 + 1 = 2? It “comes from” the logical deduction that if you have a set of 1 object and another set of 1 object, the union of both of those sets (which is what “+” is) must have 2 objects. (Alfred North Whitehead and Bertrand Russell took about 360 pages in Principia Mathematica to make that proof, if you want something more in depth.) Similarly, where does it “come from” that “murder is wrong”? It “comes from” a series of logical deductions based on what murder is (the destruction of an intelligent agent without their consent) and what interactions between intelligent agents are logically coherent. Obviously this argument is complex, and far too much to be included here, but that’s why we usually boil it down to simple rules of thumb like the “golden rule”.
So the direct answer to the question – so much as is possible with such a bizarrely worded question – is that morality “comes from” logical inference applied to the interactions of intelligent agents. We know “murder is wrong”, for example, by the same basic principle that we know that 1 + 1 cannot equal 3 – because that would be logically incoherent.
20. Are there moral absolutes?
Yes, but they are not as simplistic as most religious people would like to believe.
For example, a simplistic view of morality might claim that “stealing is wrong”, and thus, anyone who steals, anytime, anywhere, completely regardless of the circumstances, is acting immorally. The only alternative – the simplistic belief goes – is that whether or not stealing is wrong is relative to the culture, the person, or the whims of a particular god.
The reality, though, is whether any given instance stealing is wrong or not depends on whether the facts in that situation match the assumptions in the logical deduction that concluded that stealing is wrong. In simple terms: The rule “stealing is wrong” wasn’t just blindly asserted, it was determined for reasons X, Y, and Z. If your current situation satisfies X and Z but not Y, then the conclusion that “stealing is wrong” doesn’t apply there. Other rules may apply, but not that one.
This is not relativism. If stealing is wrong when X, Y, and Z are true, then stealing is always wrong whenever X, Y, and Z are true. Always, in every situation, in every culture, anytime, anywhere. If X, Y, and Z are not all true, then stealing is not necessarily wrong (at least not by that particular argument – there may be another argument that makes it so). This is an absolute, universal rule, no more “relative” than the rule that “if X, Y, and Z are all positive, than the sum of the three is positive” is… if X, Y, and Z are not all positive, then their sum might be positive, or it might not.
So yes, there are moral absolutes. They’re just not as childishly simplistic as “thou shalt not steal”.
21. If there are moral absolutes, could you list a few of them?
Yes, I could.
22. Do you believe there is such a thing as evil? If so, what is it?
There is no such “thing” as evil. Evil is just a label we slap on things we find to be morally or otherwise abhorrent, or unjust.
23. If you believe that the God of the Old Testament is morally bad, by what standard do you judge that he is bad?
I have explained what morality is in detail above. Morality is an absolute, objective “thing” in the same sense that mathematics is, so the “standard” I judge by is reason.
24. What would it take for you to believe in God?
This is not a simple question, and I don’t believe flippantly answering “evidence” is good enough.
In point of fact, given the complete absurdity of God, the incoherence of how he/she/it is described, and the vast amount of reasoning and evidence against God, there really is no finite amount of empirical evidence that could ever completely convince me that God exists. No matter how ridiculous the demonstration – turning all the stars on and off with a finger snap, transforming the moon to pink cotton candy, or whatever – it will always be more likely that the being claiming to be “God” is just a super-advanced alien, or that I am suffering from a delusion.
Practically speaking, with a lot of very good empirical evidence, I suppose I might eventually be swayed by balance of probability. Even though I could never be completely sure, it might be possible to come to the point where it’s easier for me to believe than doubt.
But if you really want to convince me that God exists, your only real bet is an irrefutable logical argument. If you can come up with one – just one – irrefutable, ironclad logical argument for why God does or must exist, then I would be a believer. But you have an uphill battle on that front, because I’ve studied logical arguments for God for at least two decades, and there’s not a single one among them that isn’t riddled with logical fallacies. Still, if God really does exist and really is as capable as described, providing a single, irrefutable logical argument should be trivial for him.
25. What would constitute sufficient evidence for God’s existence?
Because my beliefs are all founded on “sufficient evidence”, this question is the same as the previous one.
26. Must this evidence be rationally based, archaeological, testable in a lab, etc., or what?
Already answered in #24.
27. Do you think that a society that is run by Christians or atheists would be safer? Why?
It should go without saying that that depends on which Christians and which atheists we’re talking about.
But if you really want to do this….
Let’s consider only the core fundamentals of both Christianity and atheism. The core of atheism is… well, it’s nothing. There is no core. All atheism is, is not believing in any gods. That’s literally it. So how much safety or danger does it cause a society to not have a belief in gods? I can’t really see any. All other things being equal, I can’t see merely lacking a belief in gods having any real impact. Certainly not on safety?
So on to Christians. The core of Christianity is the Bible. That’s where all their knowledge of their God and their faith ultimately comes from. What would a society based on the Bible look like? Well, we’ve kinda danced that tune already. It’s not a good sign that we now call it the Dark Ages.
You may argue that’s unfair, so alright, let’s imagine a society with today’s technology being based on the Bible. But once again, we don’t even need to use our imaginations. There are plenty of groups that try to “live Biblically” in the modern age. We can even look at countries ranked by their religiosity, and – to no one’s surprise, I hope – generally speaking, the less religious a country, the healthier and happier its people are. This is true whether the religion is Christianity or not.
There is no rule “in atheism” that people should be put to death for anything, so, obviously and indisputably, a Christian society would be less safe to live in.
And if you ignore the trend evidence and focus on a particular religion directly – like Christianity – the answer is even more obvious. Virtually all religions proscribe things and describe punishments – usually savage punishments – for those who break the rules. Christianity is no exception – it is chock full of violent threats. Just take Matthew 15:4 for example: children that “curse” their parents should be put to death. There is no rule “in atheism” that people should be put to death for anything, and certainly not for something so slight as “cursing” one’s parents, so, obviously and indisputably, a Christian society would be less safe to live in.
28. Do you believe in free will? (free will being the ability to make choices without coercion)
I do not believe that free will is a real thing.
However, I believe that free will is a “useful lie”, in that even if we can’t prove free will is real – even if we suspect that it is not – we should still assume its true in the way we run our society and carry out our lives. The reason is two-fold: First, our brains and psychology evolved to believe free will is real, so a society built assuming it does not will be completely alien to us; trying to fit in and function in that society would be like forcing square pegs into round holes. Second, we might be wrong, and free will might be real; forcing free beings to live like machines would be morally abhorrent.
Normally “lying to ourselves” is a terrible idea, but in this rare case there is no harm. Literally. If free will is real, then the right thing to do is act as if it is. If free will is not real, then we wouldn’t be able to freely choose whether to live as it is or not. If we continue to act like it is even knowing it isn’t… there’s no contradiction there because the lack of free will means we couldn’t choose not to act like it is even if we wanted to. And so, given the reasons in the previous paragraph for why keeping up the act is beneficial, the only logical conclusion is that even if we know (or suspect) that free will is not real, we should continue to behave as if it is.
So I do not believe in free will, but I think acting as if there is no free will is logically incoherent. Whether free will exists or not, we should more or less continue to behave as if it does.
29. If you believe in free will, do you see any problem with defending the idea that the physical brain, which is limited and subject to the neuro-chemical laws of the brain, can still produce free will choices?
I don’t believe in free will.
30. If you affirm evolution and that the universe will continue to expand forever, then do you think it is probable that given enough time, brains would evolve to the point of exceeding mere physical limitations and become free of the physical and temporal and thereby become “deity” and not be restricted by space and time? If not, why not? How does one lead to the other?
First, while I do believe the universe will continue to expand forever, I don’t believe that means humanity or our descendants will continue to exist forever. The universe will expand forever, but at some point, it will no longer be able to support any form of life, or even thought.
But okay, even if we don’t have an infinity to work with, we do have a long time, so let’s assume humans eventually do “evolve” to the point that we can create new universes with life within them, and thus become gods to the inhabitants of those universes.
Do I think this is probable? Absolutely not. We’re more likely to go extinct before that happens. Do I think this is possible? Sure.
Now the unspoken implication here seems to be: Maybe this happened before, in a previous universe, and our universe’s “God” is really just a hyper-advanced alien. Okay, sure, I’ll bite. As unlikely as it is, it isn’t impossible. But I don’t see how that really helps Christian logic at all. Quite the contrary.
Because this being wouldn’t be the Platonic ideal that Christians imagine their god to be. It would just be an alien. A really powerful alien, and one from a universe outside of our own. But still just an alien, evolved up from primordial slime with all that goes along with that. They wouldn’t be “perfect” in any sense; they certainly wouldn’t be perfectly good. More importantly, they wouldn’t be in the least bit worthy of worship.
Quite the opposite, they would owe us an explanation for many things. Whether we were created intentionally or just as an accidental side effect, we deserve to know. If they had the power to prevent all the suffering and death humanity has experienced, they damn well better have a good explanation of why they didn’t. If they didn’t have that power, then we’d at least deserve an apology, and help preventing future suffering and death.
And this whole thought experiment works out particularly bad for Christianity. Do you think it is probable that a super-intelligent alien that could create universes needed an itinerant Palestinian carpenter to be nailed to a cross to get a message to humanity that we shouldn’t masturbate? Remember, you brought up the word “probable” here, not me. If everything we’ve assumed about this universe-creating alien is correct, then Christianity is almost certainly bullshit.
31. If you answered the previous question in the affirmative, then aren’t you saying that it is probable that some sort of God exists?
First, as I pointed out, none of that is probable. It may be possible. That’s not the same thing.
But even if it is true, what we’ve just hypothesized isn’t really a god… let alone “God”. It’s a super-intelligent, super-advanced alien entity. It’s certainly something worthy of interest. And study. And attempts to communicate and interact with. But worship? No.