There’s a set of 22 questions floating around the internet, posted by Brett Keane and aimed at subscribers to various religious ideologies as well as atheists. I think it’s a worthwhile exercise responding to these questions as they tend to come up time and time again.
- Where do you get your morality from, and please explain your morality.
The popular, but incorrect concept that morality is dependant on religion is one of the hurdles atheists must overcome in order to be openly welcomed by the masses. The idea that morality can be controlled by the fear of reprisal (as pushed by the major religions – don’t do these things or you’ll go to hell) or the promise of reward (do as we say and you’ll get into Heaven) is dangerous. It encourages extremism, just look at what Muslim extremists will do to make the acquaintance of virgins. Morality born out of this carrot and stick approach inevitably leads to selfish endeavours.
I’d also like to point out that traditional religion based morality is strict and inflexible. Instead, my morality is free-flowing and adaptive. I can approach situations in a more flexible way, and make a judgement on the impact of my actions. And that’s what drives my morality, the underlying question “what affect will my actions have on others?”. It’s also important to note that there is a base level of morality built into our personalities that has evolved with us as a species. It’s foundations are preservation of the species and can be found in most, if not all, living creatures. It’s the reason packs of animals hunt other species and not their own. It establishes a hierarchy of importance to the individual, from direct blood relations and partners, to pack, to species and beyond. Therefore, preservation of those important to us is always the foundation on one’s morality.
- Why do you accept evolution? Explain how you came to your conclusions.
Quite simply, there’s a mountain of evidence to support evolution. From laboratory recreated speciation, evidence within our own bodies (for example, the Palmaris Longus muscle), to the fossils of intermediate species and some key finds like Ida. It seems unthinkable that anyone could, at this stage, dismiss evolution.
- What is the meaning and purpose of your life?
Life is what you make of it. I don’t believe I was put here to fulfil some unknown purpose nor do I believe that my life inherently as a meaning. I try to make the most of my life and to not do things which I would consider morally objectionable. I’m not arrogant enough to believe anything beyond that.
- What is the greatest thing you have ever done for others?
This is a difficult question to answer. While I may perceive my actions to be beneficial to others, I’m not arrogant to know that they are. I’d really have to go and ask the people who were affected by my perceived good deeds. It’s entirely possible that an act that I didn’t perceive to be beneficial to others, actually was.
- Would you kill for atheism?
It would be easy to flippantly say no, but I can see situations in which killing is justified (see my points on morality above). For example, if we lived in a society that was suppressing free thought and free will, which may include atheism (or any number of theisms), an uprising may be the only way. This wouldn’t be killing in the name of atheism however, but rather in the name of freedom. Clearly atheism would never be the sole motivating factor, it would have to be a combination of factors. And in truth, I think it very very unlikely, but you just don’t know until your put in a position where your freedom is under threat.
- Why are you an atheist and consider your position valid?
I’m an atheism because, in my opinion, it’s the only viable stance. I’ve been an atheism for a very long time. I remember being in school, when they made us pray, thinking that it was ridiculous. This was probably from the age of 6 or 7. The more I learned about religion, the more I disliked it and everything it stood for. And that didn’t stop at the predominant religion in my school, family and neighbourhood (Christianity), but as I learned of, and about, other religions, I disliked them an equal amount. Arguing why atheism is valid seems pointless. It should not be the point of the atheist to argue the validity of non-belief of something there is absolutely no evidence for, the onus should be on those who make the fantastical claims.
- If you died and discovered a god existed, what would you say to he/she/it?
This largely depends on which God I met. I have some questions for the specific Gods as proposed in the major mono-theistic religions, after all, they have a lot to answer for, but a general, non-specific God? Apart from the obvious (where did you come from? What are your plans for the future? Why did you create us, the world, the universe? etc.), I don’t really know. It would probably depend on the nature of the God and its demeanour.
- What religion is more dangerous in your eyes today and in the past?
In the past, Christianity without a doubt. Currently, probably Islam, although the two are heavily interrelated. The oppression of Islam by the Western world under a thinly veiled banner of a Christian crusade has been highlighted as a key trigger for some of the Islamic extremists. It’s easy to point the finger, however, but in reality, any religion can give birth to extremism, and extremism can only be viewed as dangerous. You could also make the argument that any person who believes in something for which there is no evidence is potentially dangerous and unpredictable.
- Name 3 peaceful religions you have no issue with.
For the above reasons, I have issues with all religions.
- What would it take to believe in a God?
I’ve already covered this.
- Would the world be a better place without religion?
Absolutely. Many more people are hurt by religion than benefit from it.
- How do you feel about government and politics?
Many people ask me why I run this blog, and why atheists are growing more vocal. This is the reason. In general, we don’t have any issues with people believing anything they want to believe. What we do have an issue with is the pushing of those beliefs on to others. When religion penetrates government, the pushing of beliefs tends to happen on a grand scale. Looking back at the Bush years, we can all see the impact of religious driven policies which resulted in two wars (three if you count the absurd “War on Terror”) and a lack of oversight that resulted in the collapse of the economy. The underlying problem is that the decisions of governments should not be based on religion.
- If you could go back in time and kill Hitler/Stalin as babies so they will never kill the millions in the future, would you do it if time travel was possible?
This isn’t an easy question to answer. I could flippantly say yes, but as time travel isn’t possible, we just don’t know what the impact would be. We don’t know whether stopping Hitler would allow an even more despicable person to take their place. Time travel sounds risky, even in these situations.
- Why is stem cell research so important?
Anything that improves our knowledge, and assists in the formulation of the prevention and cure of ailments seems like a good idea. The nature of embryonic stem cells, particularly their ability to develop into multiple other types of cells and the fact that they renew themselves. I don’t see any moral issues with stem cell production (for the same reason I have no objection to abortion or contraception) but I’m hopeful that alternative methods of extraction and production can be found, if only to placate the current moral objectors.
- Is abortion evil?
No. I do not subscribe to the idea that it is better to birth a child into a miserable existence than not.
- What would the circumstances be for you to approve of torture as an individual?
Currently available evidence strongly suggests that torture simply does not work. Morally, I’m not comfortable with the idea of torture, practically and logically, I don’t think you can trust or rely on the results of torture. Therefore, not only do I not think it’s morally effective, I also do not think it’s effective.
- Should we try to save animals from going extinct?
I don’t know, and I’m not afraid to admit that. One may argue that we should try to save species that are becoming extinct because of our actions, or that we should adjust our actions to limit the affect on the animal kingdom, but I don’t know enough to make a call. After all, natural selection and evolution dictates that the strongest tend to survive, so one might also argue that species that become extinct, regardless of the cause, do so because they are not strong enough to survive their changing environment.
- Do you approve of capital punishment? Explain.
Another difficult one. This depends on three factors. Firstly, the burden of proof has to be beyond any doubt. Secondly, the grade of the act which is being punished has to be severe. Thirdly, the person who performed the act has to be shown to be beyond rehabilitation and proven to be capable and likely to re-offend. Practically, there’s no way those three conditions will ever be met, so no, I don’t.
- Do you believe in aliens, ghosts, spirits, souls, any supernatural forces?
With the exception of aliens, absolutely not. It seems odd to group aliens with that company as they almost certainly wouldn’t be supernatural. It seems unlikely, given the potential size of the universe and number of planets, that we are alone. There is no evidence to support alien life at the moment so I wouldn’t try and claim it exists. What I would say however, is that statistically it seems more likely than not.
- Would you sacrifice yourself for a loved one with a chance you may end up on hell for being atheist?
I think you’ve just hit on one of the dichotomies of religion. If I performed a noble, “good” act a religious God would still punish me for not worshipping them. In the eyes of the major religions, a good person is mostly judged based on their enthusiasm of worship, not the deeds they perform. I could save the lives of a thousand innocent babies and still go to hell for not believing in an invisible, unprovable Sky God. So yes, I would. And if I had to answer to a God after I died I’d question where they got their morals from.
- Explain in detail the process of death.
The process of death? The shut down of the major organs including the brain and heart. Cardiac arrest, the cessation of electrical activity in the brain, no longer responding to stimulus and so on.
- Have you ever been dead?
Not since I was conceived, no.
I hope I’ve not been too controversial, not that it would be the first time. Atheist, or theist, what are your responses to the questions?