John Asks: Do you believe that everyone should strive to live a moral life and do no harm to others?
Of course. I don’t think anyone truly believes differently – except the few psychotic among us. The big difference between my reasons for living a moral life and a religious person’s come down to motivation. Why
do I believe in being moral and not harming others? It’s certainly not to earn favor with a celestial being or to escape its punishment. I believe in living a moral life because it’s the right thing to do. My moral compass is based on the concept of overall human well-being as opposed to the prospects of my own comfort in an afterlife. It’s focused on what I see making the world better and not what rules a divine being has issued or demanded to be obeyed.
Objectively, believing that being immoral or that causing harm to others is a good thing, endangers the society I live in. It causes fractures in the trust space and engenders conflict among the people. I can see this domino effect and realize its potential to do more harm than good.
Helping other people, and avoiding intentional harm to others, by myself or by others, fosters a more trusting and peaceful environment. It builds bridges based on communal interests and the prospect of a more positive future together.
Christian apologists like William Lane Craig propose the idea that objective morality exists because God has deemed certain things to be right and others to be wrong. But that’s not objective at all. It’s based on the subjective matter of God’s choosing. And as I’ve said before, if God said murder was right, would that make it right to murder?
I think that everyone should indeed strive to be moral (that a common, universal, and objective basis for morality can be found) and that not intentionally doing harm to others is the right thing to do because I can see (and have seen) evidence that this course of action is better at building a positive global community. I can empathize with people who are harmed and feel pity for them. I do this because it is right. Not out of concern with being rewarded or punished for my choices in an afterlife or with the whims of fancy by celestial, divine beings that I can’t be sure even exist. It makes the world a better place and helps create a better life for everyone here… and that by itself is reason enough.
Jon Asks: What are your thoughts on the Ancient Alien hypothesis? It states that God was an extraterrestrial who interacted with primitive man and shared knowledge with early man.
I’ve never quite heard of the ‘Ancient Alien’ hypothesis, especially not stated in such a way. I am familiar with the ‘Ancient Astronaut’ hypothesis which is quite popular and similar except for the ‘It was actually God part’ – That said, I would personally put both ideas in the realm of ‘possible’ but not very probable.
The main reason being Archeologists have a fairly good understanding of the emergence of intelligence and technology among humans and pre-human civilisations throughout history. We know about when humans first started developing tools and art and about when they started developing social cultures where these trades were passed down from generation to generation. There’s really no need to invoke the supernatural to explain these developments. So why do so? But more importantly, why do so BEFORE exploring and exhausting all possible ‘natural’ explanations first?
When you attempt to explain away an unknown with another unknown, you’ve explained absolutely nothing. You’re basically saying, “I can’t explain how this thing came about, so I guess it was caused by this other thing I also can’t explain.” — That’s not a really good explanation is it?
The second main reason would be that if a god came down to share ‘knowledge’ with early man… where’d all that knowledge go? Where was the knowledge that the Earth is round, that the universe is massive, that disease is caused by germs, etc. and so on? One would assume a god sharing knowledge would have access to these basic facts about the way things work. A better explanation would be that humans slowly developed this knowledge on their own, making major errors at times and getting things close to correct other times. Slowly building up the store of correct knowledge and discarding the incorrect ideas. Which pretty much sums the history various scientific disciplines have uncovered.
Anonymous Asks: Isn’t it possible that you’re wrong and God does really exist?
Yes, it’s possible. It’s just not very likely.
There’s a big difference between ‘possible’ and ‘probable’ … It’s possible that there is a God. It’s also possible that there are thousands. Just like it’s possible the moon will self-destruct tomorrow evening. But none of these things are very probable.
Science works because of predictive probability. We generate ideas and then test them to the point where we can predict, with high accuracy, what is and what will be. Religion, on the other hand, has a horrible track record of making valuable truth claims. It can do good things and it can lead people to do good things… but none of that reflects whether or not its claims about reality are actually true. Given that throughout history its claims about the nature of reality have been proven false time and time again, I find it much more ‘probable’ that its remaining claims are also false.
I’ve asked numerous people for an honest opinion of what they believe happens to people after death..I’ve only come across the church brainwashing responses of heaven if you’re good, hell if you’re bad. I can’t buy into that line of thinking and have decided that one just ceases to exist and there’s nothing beyond decomposition after death. As an intelligent and open minded individual, what’s your take on that subject?
I think the most honest answer I can give is “I don’t know” and I haven’t seen anything that has led me to conclude anyone else does either. In a line of pure speculation and probability… I think It’s much more probable that our brains simply turn off when we die and that’s that. I’ve never seen anything to convince me of the existence of an afterlife.
Just thinking of what an existence would be like without a body boggles my mind. I am my body. I can say I’m sitting in this chair and not standing in the doorway because my body is sitting in a chair and not standing in a doorway.
It’s all great food for thought, but at the end of the day I just don’t know. Which I think is a perfectly acceptable position on the matter given the lack of evidence or even the means or a method for gathering evidence.
Anonymous Asks: My friend says “If there is no god , we wouldn’t know right from wrong ….. and we would be F’n our sisters” ……. can you help me with this?
The idea that God is some kind of arbiter of Good and Bad or Right and Wrong is an old argument. Ask your friend if Right and Wrong are a matter of God’s choosing. Can God change what is right and wrong? If God said murder was right, would that make it right to murder? If God says something is right which isn’t right, then God is wrong. God (or anyone else for that matter) can’t make something right just by saying it’s right. Things are either intrinsically right or intrinsically wrong whether God says so or not. All God can (and does) do is reflect what we already know (or knew).
One also wonders, if God is the ultimate judge of Good and Bad, on what set of guidelines, laws or rules is he using to make his judgments? WHY does God judge this to be right and this to be wrong? We don’t let Judges go around arbitrarily deeming people Guilty or Innocent. I have a serious problem with the idea of someone judging me based on a set of guidelines I don’t have access to.
Your friend seems to be using God as a moral kick in this case. He knows the difference between right and wrong, but he also knows he doesn’t always do what’s right, so he’s got God there to give him a moral kick every once in a while.
Anonymous Asks: I love the Lord but I do not know how too Pray what to say or what too [sic] ? [sic]
I don’t know how to pray either… I know how to talk to myself and that it can be a very powerful thing. Meditations and affirmations are well documented as being powerful mental forces. It’s like publicly declaring how you plan to change yourself… having made that declaration public (or at least promised or known to someone else) gives your drive to make that change for unconscious fear of guilt. (You DID say you were going to do that) … but I don’t think there is a supernatural entity listening and making changes to the world after being convinced by our thoughts. We, however, have the power to make those changes ourselves, once we have convinced ourselves it’s the proper course of action.
Anonymous Asks: Why defy God when He controls where you will spend eternity?
I’m not defying God, as I don’t think it’s very probably that there’s a God to defy. I also don’t know what “eternity” is or whether a benign or malevolent version of it exists much less that there’s someone responsible for deciding who goes where. So I’m not really concerned with it. I have no path of knowledge to understand ‘eternity’ or what may/may not exist beyond death. Why assume anyone knows something that they have no path of knowledge to?
Anonymous Asks: I’m having feelings for this girl who’s kind of religious. She knows I’m an atheist, and she says she understands. And I don’t have the right to tell her what to believe…. and I wouldn’t do that. Do you think a relationship can work between an atheist and a religious person in the long-run? Or will there be just too many problems?
This can be very difficult. But in the end, it all comes down to what kind of beliefs her religion really has. If she really, truely believes that your lack of belief will ultimately result in your going to some form of hell, then she’ll probably start trying to convert you at some point, which could put strain on the relationship. If her beliefs don’t fall that way, the relationship may go strong for years to come.
The most important factor here, as with all relationships, is communication. Communicate your concerns and start an ongoing dialogue with her on how your differences in religious view might impact your future together. Keep yourselves on the same page, keeping each other’s feelings in mind as you continue. Just as you might not want her trying to convert you, she may have concerns about you trying to de-convert her. Be honest with each other and don’t let your fears keep either of you from enjoying your relationship.
Oh bless your little heart! I know some people just haven’t been touched by the Grace of God yet, but it’s really sad to see when someone doesn’t believe in anything… Have you looked into other things to give your life meaning. I would ask you to try to believe in my Awesome God, but I know there are other options out there. I know a couple of Muslims and a budist [sic] who are really nice… so have you done some searching anywhere else?
I know it doesn’t mean much, but I’m praying for you. It’s all I know to do!
Why do you presume my lacking a belief in a supernatural deity equals my lacking a belief in ‘anything’? I hold many things to be true. I believe in love. I also believe what we call love is the result of various chemical reactions happening in our brains. But that doesn’t do any injustice to the very real, deeply emotional connection that happens between two people who are ‘in love’ with each other. It’s still very real and very powerful. But also, very explainable.
My life has a great deal of meaning. To think it doesn’t due to a lack of supernatural beliefs is… odd, to say the least. There are a lot of things I wish to accomplish in life. These goals and my previous accomplishments give my life purpose and meaning. To think that the meaning and purpose of our lives are up to an unknowable entity makes little sense to me. What validates it’s concept of meaning and purpose? I can rationalize my own. I can’t rationalize something I can’t know.
“Isn’t it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?” – Douglas Adams
Pray for me all you like. I appreciate your genuine concern.
Do you fear for the future knowing that so many people believe in such ridiculous things? What can we atheists do to promote critical thinking among people (who still look to the Bible or Qu’ran for answers and continue to kill each other in the name of their faith) yet not offend them?
For many people, the harder you try to challenge their beliefs, the more militant they become. However, I have met many learned and very smart people who have articulately defended their beliefs… yet still rely on “faith” when it comes to the really tough questions…
Oh… and do you ever read any CS Lewis (his nonfiction… not Chronicles of Narnia!!) He’s an atheist-turned-christian… Brilliant man… and he is almost convincing… But anywho … you should read “mere Christianity” just to hear his arguments…
Ok TnAtheist… be good man!
I do fear for a future dominated by unverifiable dogmatic beliefs. That is one of the reasons I do this. I think the best way to combat irrational thinking is with rational thought. the important thing is to not be overbearing about your skepticism. Don’t verbally ambush a believer with downloads of critical thought. Rather approach each idea or situation by itself. Question one thing at a time along with a believer and let them see the critical process as it unfolds. Relate it to other claims the believer themselves don’t hold true. Bigfoot, Elvis, alien abduction. But most importantly, show them how you CAN be a moral, ethical, good person without a belief in their god figure.
I have read some C.S. Lewis and I find many of his arguments, as well as many others, are very emotion-based. Emotions are powerful, but don’t dictate reality and in many cases, serve to distort it.