6 Questions to ask an Atheist

Many times, as Christian theists, we find ourselves on the defensive against the critiques and questions of atheists.  Sometimes, in the midst of arguments and proofs, we miss the importance of conversation.  These questions, then, are meant to be a part of a conversation.  They are not, in and of themselves, arguments or "proofs" for God.  They are commonly asked existential or experiential questions that both atheists and theists alike can ponder.

1.    If there is no God, “the big questions” remain unanswered, so how do we answer the following questions: Why is there something rather than nothing?  This question was asked by Aristotle and Leibniz alike – albeit with differing answers.  But it is an historic concern.  Why is there conscious, intelligent life on this planet, and is there any meaning to this life?  If there is meaning, what kind of meaning and how is it found?  Does human history lead anywhere, or is it all in vain since death is merely the end?  How do you come to understand good and evil, right and wrong without a transcendent signifier?  If these concepts are merely social constructions, or human opinions, whose opinion does one trust in determining what is good or bad, right or wrong?  If you are content within atheism, what circumstances would serve to make you open to other answers?
2.    If we reject the existence of God, we are left with a crisis of meaning, so why don’t we see more atheists like Jean Paul Sartre, or Friedrich Nietzsche, or Michel Foucault?  These three philosophers, who also embraced atheism, recognized that in the absence of God, there was no transcendent meaning beyond one’s own self-interests, pleasures, or tastes.  The crisis of atheistic meaninglessness is depicted in Sartre’s book Nausea.  Without God, there is a crisis of meaning, and these three thinkers, among others, show us a world of just stuff, thrown out into space and time, going nowhere, meaning nothing.
3.    When people have embraced atheism, the historical results can be horrific, as in the regimes of Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot who saw religion as the problem and worked to eradicate it?  In other words, what set of actions are consistent with particular belief commitments?  It could be argued, that these behaviors – of the regimes in question - are more consistent with the implications of atheism.  Though, I'm thankful that many of the atheists I know do not live the implications of these beliefs out for themselves like others did!  It could be argued that the socio-political ideologies could very well be the outworking of a particular set of beliefs – beliefs that posited the ideal state as an atheistic one.
4.    If there is no God, the problems of evil and suffering are in no way solved, so where is the hope of redemption, or meaning for those who suffer?  Suffering is just as tragic, if not more so, without God because there is no hope of ultimate justice, or of the suffering being rendered meaningful or transcendent, redemptive or redeemable.  It might be true that there is no God to blame now, but neither is there a God to reach out to for strength, transcendent meaning, or comfort.  Why would we seek the alleviation of suffering without objective morality grounded in a God of justice?
5.    If there is no God, we lose the very standard by which we critique religions and religious people, so whose opinion matters most?  Whose voice will be heard?  Whose tastes or preferences will be honored?  In the long run, human tastes and opinions have no more weight than we give them, and who are we to give them meaning anyway?  Who is to say that lying, or cheating or adultery or child molestation are wrong –really wrong?  Where do those standards come from?  Sure, our societies might make these things “illegal” and impose penalties or consequences for things that are not socially acceptable, but human cultures have at various times legally or socially disapproved of everything from believing in God to believing the world revolves around the sun; from slavery, to interracial marriage, from polygamy to monogamy.  Human taste, opinion law and culture are hardly dependable arbiters of Truth.
6.    If there is no God, we don’t make sense, so how do we explain human longings and desire for the transcendent?  How do we even explain human questions for meaning and purpose, or inner thoughts like, why do I feel unfulfilled or empty?  Why do we hunger for the spiritual, and how do we explain these longings if nothing can exist beyond the material world?

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European Space Probe Lands on Comet, Heralded by Overheated Promises of Solving the Enigma of Life

The European Space Agency successfully landed its probe Philae on the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko following a ten-year journey through space. Excellent. Now with that accomplished, let the overheated promises pour forth that the landing will solve the enigma of life's origins on Earth, or help reveal the existence of life elsewhere. Countdown: ...3, 2, 1. Go!

  • "Scientists hope the £1billion project will solve some of the greatest puzzles in science -- including the origins of life on Earth." (Daily Mail)
  • "Experts hope studying the inhospitable mountains and ice-filled craters of the comet will help to unlock the secrets of our how life started on our planet." (Express)
  • "Opinion: How comet mission helps in search for alien life." (CNN)
  • "Scientists hope that samples drilled out from the comet ... will unlock details about how the planets -- and possibly even life -- evolved, as the rock and ice that make up comets preserve ancient organic molecules like a time-capsule." (Reuters)
  • "Rosetta’s success will illuminate the origins of life -- it’s a billion well spent." (The Guardian)
  • "Rosetta has travelled four billion miles in its quest to find out, among other things, whether comets could have sparked life on Earth." (Telegraph)
  • "Another idea is that they could have 'seeded' the Earth with the chemistry needed to help kick-start life. Philae will test some of this thinking." (BBC)
  • "Some of the complex molecules thought to be the first building blocks for life may be preserved in 67P's ice." (The Verge)

European space scientists indeed deserve hearty congratulations for an amazing achievement. But as for unraveling the mystery of life here or elsewhere? Get real.

At best, closely examining a comet may illustrate a scenario whereby organic molecules were delivered to our planet, or to another. It can tell us nothing about the really vital question of how the information in life arose -- how those molecules became organized and arranged into complex living systems, the kind that successfully land probes on distant comets.

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Is the Universe Hostile to Life?

Greetings Dr. Craig,

May God continue to bless you and your ministry. In looking at various objections to the fine-tuning of the universe I stumbled upon Neil DeGrasse Tyson's objection where he states and I quote "Most places in the universe will kill life instantly - instantly! People say, 'Oh, the forces of nature are just right for life.' Excuse me. Just look at the volume of the universe where you can't live. You will die instantly.”

It seems to me that the fact that life exists anywhere at all is miraculous. Your syllogism defending the fine-tuning argument is great but I would like to hear what you would personally say to Dr. Tyson.

Thanks so much for taking the time to answer my question and God bless!

Franquelis

 

United States

Click HERE to read Dr. Craig's answer

If ISIS’s God Were Real, Would I Be Obliged to Follow Him?

Dear Dr Craig,

You may be aware that Frank Turek has a question he will sometimes ask atheists, "if Christianity were true, would you become a Christian"? Well, recently, an atheist flipped this question around and asked me "If the Islamic State were true (by which he means, if the specific type of Allah that IS believe in, existed) then likewise, would you become an IS member?"

Now, my gut reaction is to say no. I would not follow a God whom I find so horrendous as to condone rape, mass murder and forced conversion such as we're seeing happen right now in the Middle East.

Two problems arise, however:

Firstly, if I say this, the atheist can simply reply, "exactly! And now I'm sure you're aware how I feel too. Even if your Christian God existed, I would not follow him, because I find certain things about his morality horrendous and objectionable". This would seem a conversation stopper.

But, secondly, there seems an even greater problem:

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Biology's Quiet Revolution

Jonathan Wells

In 1980, I overheard a prominent Ivy League cell biologist say that all the basic features of living cells had been discovered; we just needed to fill in the details. His remark reminded me of a statement attributed to William Thompson (Lord Kelvin) in 1900: "There is nothing new to be discovered in physics now. All that remains is more and more precise measurement." Of course, many revolutionary discoveries in physics were made after 1900. Similarly, many revolutionary discoveries in cell biology have been made since 1980.

Features of living cells that were known by 1980 included the nucleus, the plasma membrane that encloses the cell, the nucleolus (a rounded structure inside the nucleus), chromosomes, mitochondria (tiny energy factories inside the cell), vesicles (tiny membrane-bound compartments in the cell), and the Golgi apparatus and endoplasmic reticulum (a network of membranes inside the cell). Scientists had also discovered that DNA carries information encoded in sequences of its four subunits; that the coded information is transcribed into messenger RNAs; and that messenger RNAs are translated into proteins by complex molecular machines in the cell called "ribosomes." Indeed, it became widely accepted that DNA thereby determines the main features of cells -- and the multicellular organisms that are composed of them. Put simply, "DNA makes RNA makes protein makes us."

This view fit neatly with the modern version of Darwin's theory of evolution, according to which DNA mutations provide the raw materials for evolution by natural selection. "With that," said molecular biologist Jacques Monod in 1970, "the mechanism of Darwinism is at last securely founded, and man has to realize that he is a mere accident."

But there have been many discoveries in cell biology since 1980, including some that undermine the idea that "DNA makes RNA makes protein makes us."

Before 1980, biologists already knew that protein-coding regions of DNA in plants and animals are separated by non-protein-coding regions, and that the former could be spliced together in various ways before translation. But it wasn't until 1985 that biologists discovered the "spliceosome," a molecular machine that engaged in RNA splicing that rivals the ribosome in its complexity. Biologists subsequently learned that a single protein-coding region in DNA can yield thousands of different proteins through alternative splicing.

In 1986, biologists discovered RNA editing, by which a cell modifies the subunits in a messenger RNA before translating it into protein--so the final product is not what would have been predicted from the original DNA sequence. At first, this process was found only in single-celled organisms, but extensive RNA editing has since been discovered in humans. In 2003, biologists discovered the "editosome," which performs RNA editing and (like the spliceosome) rivals the ribosome in its complexity.

So several important structures in cells have been discovered since 1980. Significantly, these discoveries cast doubt on the old adage that "DNA makes RNA makes protein make us." If "makes" is taken to mean "determines," then in many cases it is not true that DNA makes RNA.

In many cases it is also not true that RNA makes protein. A protein consists of a string of amino acids that folds into a three-dimensional shape. A protein's function depends on its shape, but in many cases the same amino acid sequence can fold into different shapes.

In 1982, biochemist Stanley Prusiner discovered "prions," proteins that normally fold one way but can fold differently and thereby cause disease. There are also healthy proteins in which the same amino acid sequence can fold into more than one shape; these are known as "metamorphic" proteins. The first was discovered in 1992, but more have been identified since then.

In 1996, biologists discovered a protein that does not fold into a unique shape but can assume different shapes when it interacts with other molecules. Since then, many such proteins have been found; they are called "intrinsically disordered proteins," or IDPs. IDPs are surprisingly common, and their disordered regions play important functional roles.

Recently, biologists Jeffrey Toretsky and Peter Wright published a scientific review article about transient functional compartments inside cells (but not enclosed in membranes) that they call "assemblages," many of which are composed of IDPs. According to a news report in ScienceDaily, the authors are "issuing a call to investigators from various backgrounds, from biophysics to cell biology, to focus their attention on the role of these formations."

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Theistic Ethics and Mind-Dependence

Dear Dr. Craig,

I'm an atheist living in Sweden (there are plenty of us here, as you know!) with an interest in philosophy and ethics, and while I probably disagree with you on a lot of things I very much enjoy your writing and debates. Everyone knows they're in for an intense debate when you take the stand! (There might be a theistic argument here: if God does not exist it's a *miracle* you win so many debates, and therefore evidence of God! I kid, I kid)

I have a question about morality that you'll hopefully be able to answer and clarify your position on. My knowledge of meta-ethics is pretty modest, but I'm actually leaning albeit tentatively towards morality being objective (see, there's at least one thing we agree on!). I'd argue that moral obligation can be objective without God (I won't do that here though), but I'd go even further and say that IF morality is founded in God it is NOT objective. If "objective" means "mind-independent" which might be a rough definition of objective, but let's accept it for now doesn't that make morality founded in God "divinely subjective" rather than objective? Now, perhaps you'd want to object here and say this is a straw man your view is that morality is founded in God's *nature*, perhaps. But if God's nature IS "the good", I don't understand where the normativity comes in. You'll recognize this as the is/ought problem: if God's nature IS in one way and not in another, how does that commit us to the view that we OUGHT to reflect the nature of God in our actions? It certainly seems like we might have prudential reasons to do so (if it were true), but I don't see how we'd have any *moral* reasons (at least not in any stronger sense than what we'd get from basic utilitarianism which I know you reject).

My second question is more directly about your moral argument: if our moral duty is to "reflect God's nature" and God simply IS "the good" (or however you want to put it, I'm trying my best not to straw-man!) doesn't that make your moral argument circular? It seems to me it only make sense because you never define what you actually mean by "moral values and duties" (well, I've never seen you define it anyways!), if we change "objective moral values" to "God's nature" and "duties" to reflection of that very nature, we get:

P1. If God does not exist, God's nature and actions that reflect his nature does not exist. (I agree!) 
P2. God's nature and actions that reflect his nature does exist. (I disagree, this is what we're arguing about!) 
Therefore, God exists.

That seems to make it circular, cause you're just assuming that God's nature exist in premise two. Maybe you can clarify this!

So, to summarize (I know you like summaries): What's the argument that bridges the is/ought problem above, and isn't your moral argument ultimately circular? (Perhaps you could make a clarified version of your moral argument where you define moral values and duties explicitly)

Stay skeptical, keep educating and keep learning!

Love,

Rasmus

 

Sweden


Click HERE to read Dr. Craig's answer

The Reality of Time

Dr. Craig,

You have played a vital role in my apologetic development, a long with other philosophers. I am puzzled by the fact that a lot of things are taken for granted although examining their legitimacy is the job of philosophy, thus I need to ask you, why do you believe in time in the first place? Isn't just an idea in our mind that helps us locate an event in relation to our experience? I do not get older because of time, but because of my biological development and entropic reality. These are physical constituents of the Universe that entail space and mass in a dynamical interaction. Moreover, the elements that shape events already exist in our universe, to say the time for x has not yet come, is strictly to say that the physical conditions for x to occur is not satisfied yet by the gathered factors. Can you help me identify what I could be missing here, please?

Guillermo

Nicaragua

Nice to get a question from someone with the same name as mine! Why do I believe in time? In a word, I experience time, and I have no defeater of the veridicality of that experience.

In my work on God and time, I argue at length for the reality of tensed time, which entails that time is real. I cannot think of any other belief which we have that is so fundamental and so powerfully warranted as the belief that time is real. Even the belief in the existence of the external world of physical objects can’t compare to it. For the external world is apprehended as a temporal world, but in addition to that we apprehend time in the inner life of the mind as we experience a temporal succession of states of consciousness. Even if I were a Boltzmann Brain with the illusion of a physical world about me, the experience of time would remain undiminished for me.

So I’ve argued that belief in the reality of tensed time is a properly basic belief grounded in our temporal experience. Here’s the argument as I state it:

1. Belief in the objective reality of the distinction between past, present, and future is properly basic.

2. If our belief in the objective reality of the distinction between past, present, and future is properly basic, then we are prima facie justified in holding this belief.

3. Therefore, we are prima facie justified in holding our belief in the objective reality of the distinction between past, present, and future.

Since premiss (2) is true by definition of “properly basic belief,” the premiss requiring defense is (1).

I offer several arguments in support of (1), pointing to such data as our experience of the presentness of our experiences, our differential attitudes toward the past and future, and our experience of temporal becoming. These examples show how basic, deeply ingrained, strongly held, and universal is our belief in the reality of tense and temporal becoming. On any view that time is unreal, we are all of us hopelessly mired in irrationality, prisoners to an illusion from which we are powerless to free ourselves. By contrast, if a tensed theory of time is correct, our experiences and beliefs are entirely rational and appropriate. Thus, insofar as we think that such experiences are justified, we should embrace a tensed theory of time.

It follows from the above argument that we are prima facie justified in holding our belief in the objective reality of the distinction between past, present, and future. Far from being controversial, such a conclusion could be accepted even by a proponent of a tenseless view of time. What he will argue is that our prima facie justification is defeated in some way. But by what? I argue that there are no successful defeaters, including McTaggart’s famous argument for time’s unreality, of such experiences. (By the way, almost nobody agrees with McTaggart’s argument: tensed and tenseless time theorists just fault it in different ways.)

You ask, “Isn't [time] just an idea in our mind that helps us locate an event in relation to our experience?” I see no reason to think so; but even if it were, as explained above, because that experience is tensed, any idea that locates us relative to that experience will give us a tensed, temporal location.

You say, “I do not get older because of time, but because of my biological development and entropic reality.” Well, yes and no. Time does not make your body run down and in that sense age. But everything in time is getting older in the sense that it has existed for a greater temporal duration than it used to, regardless of its physical appearance. As Sydney Shoemaker once showed in a famous article, even a universe frozen into immobility can still undergo temporal passage and so grow older over time.

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Q & A about the Historical Jesus

Question 1: Is it not true that we don't even know in what century Jesus lived? How come we only have a lot of references in the New Testament and no where else from that general time?

Answer 1: You will have to work pretty hard to find scholars who argue the thesis that Jesus never lived. Even most "liberals" dismiss these views as baseless. It has been refuted time and time again. Why? Because there are first century references to Jesus, several of which critical scholars date to within months to a couple of years after Jesus' death. I'm speaking here chiefly of the early creeds in the New Testament, like 1 Corinthians 15:3ff. Besides all of the New Testament writings, we have a few extra-biblical writings that date from the mid-first century to about 110 AD. Altogether, there are even about a dozen and a half non-Christian sources that mention Jesus within the first 150 years after his death. For all these sources plus a critique of views like those who question or deny Jesus' historical existence, see my book The Historical Jesus (College Press, 1996).

Question 2: Is it true that Josephus' statements about Jesus are in fact not his and were added later in history by those seeking to prove that Jesus was a historical figure?

Answer 2: The vast majority of scholars who address this issue think that although Josephus' longer statement about Jesus in Antiquities 18:3 has been altered a bit, the bulk of it was written by Josephus. This view means that Josephus supplies some very important material about Jesus. An even larger percentage of scholars accepts Josephus' second statement concerning Jesus being the brother of James (Antiquities 20:9). Further, we have to make sense of ancient non-Christian historians like Thallus, Tacitus, Suetonius, and Lucian, who reported all sorts of facts about Jesus. In The Historical Jesus, pages 243-250, I provide a long list of well over 100 items that are reported about Jesus, many by non- Christians. So, to argue that Jesus never existed totally ignores a large body of historical data. That's why, of over a thousands recent publications on the subject of the historical Jesus, I am aware of less than five who doubt or question his existence.

Question 3: Why do you suppose Josephus does not discuss Jesus in even more detail? Assuming from his two passages that he was in fact aware of Jesus and the corresponding movement, isn't it a bit odd that he includes no other discussion on Christianity? There is plenty about John the Baptist, Pilate, Caiaphas, etc., but very little about Jesus.

Answer 3: I don't suppose anyone knows exactly why Josephus doesn't say more about Jesus than he does, or why, more generally, any writer doesn't say more about someone, especially in ancient times. One possibility could be that Josephus catered to his Roman patrons, and of course, they crucified Jesus. For instance, neither Tacitus, nor Suetonius, nor Pliny the Younger speak well of Christianity. All of them, by the way, along with Josephus, clearly place Jesus in the traditional time slot. But given this general reluctance not to laud Jesus (Pliny states that early Christians sang hymns to Jesus as to a god and even says that he killed Christians who failed to worship the gods), it's not terribly surprising that Josephus doesn't say more.

Of 10 highest IQ's on earth, at least 8 are Theists, at least 6 are Christians

Have you ever heard the claim "all smart people are atheists", or maybe its inverse: "people who believe in God are dumb"? It's quite a pervasive urban legend, and one which I've known is false for a long time, but I didn't realize just how false until the other day. I recently decided to do a quick cataloging of the ten highest IQ's on earth, and discovered that it's nearly the exact opposite of the truth!

Before reading the list, however, I want to remind you of the caveat that IQ test results are not in any sense the measure of a person's worth. They tend to favor folks who are good at hard "knowledge" things like mathematics and chess, and I think we all know very valuable people who are good at none of these. Moreover, I think the attribute of "wisdom" (valuing attributes like ethics and foresight) is a far better measure of whether or not a person will be happy. I'm not aware of any standardized test for measuring wisdom, however.

Another important point is that there are competing ideas on which tests most accurately measure intelligence. Not everyone takes the same IQ test, and there are enough claims, counterclaims, and disputes in this subject to drive a researcher bananas! All I could do was read everything I could find on it, and rank the candidates based both upon their scores and on who seemed to be the most unanimously agreed upon as worthy (ignoring many "fan clubs" along the way).

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The Founding Fathers on Jesus, Christianity and the Bible

A Few Declarations of Founding Fathers and Early Statesmen on Jesus, Christianity, and the Bible

(This list is by no means exhaustive; many other Founders could be included, and even with those who appear below, additional quotes could have been used.)

 

John Adams

SIGNER OF THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE; JUDGE; DIPLOMAT; ONE OF TWO SIGNERS OF THE BILL OF RIGHTS; SECOND PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES

 

The general principles on which the fathers achieved independence were the general principles of Christianity. I will avow that I then believed, and now believe, that those general principles of Christianity are as eternal and immutable as the existence and attributes of God.1

Without religion, this world would be something not fit to be mentioned in polite company: I mean hell.2

The Christian religion is, above all the religions that ever prevailed or existed in ancient or modern times, the religion of wisdom, virtue, equity and humanity.3

Suppose a nation in some distant region should take the Bible for their only law book and every member should regulate his conduct by the precepts there exhibited. . . . What a Eutopia – what a Paradise would this region be!4

I have examined all religions, and the result is that the Bible is the best book in the world.5

 

John Quincy Adams

SIXTH PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES; DIPLOMAT; SECRETARY OF STATE; U. S. SENATOR; U. S. REPRESENTATIVE; “OLD MAN ELOQUENT”; “HELL-HOUND OF ABOLITION”

My hopes of a future life are all founded upon the Gospel of Christ and I cannot cavil or quibble away [evade or object to]. . . . the whole tenor of His conduct by which He sometimes positively asserted and at others countenances [permits] His disciples in asserting that He was God.6

The hope of a Christian is inseparable from his faith. Whoever believes in the Divine inspiration of the Holy Scriptures must hope that the religion of Jesus shall prevail throughout the earth. Never since the foundation of the world have the prospects of mankind been more encouraging to that hope than they appear to be at the present time. And may the associated distribution of the Bible proceed and prosper till the Lord shall have made “bare His holy arm in the eyes of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God” [Isaiah 52:10].7

In the chain of human events, the birthday of the nation is indissolubly linked with the birthday of the Savior. The Declaration of Independence laid the cornerstone of human government upon the first precepts of Christianity.8

 

Samuel Adams

SIGNER OF THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE; “FATHER OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION”; RATIFIER OF THE U. S. CONSTITUTION; GOVERNOR OF MASSACHUSETTS

I . . . [rely] upon the merits of Jesus Christ for a pardon of all my sins.9

The name of the Lord (says the Scripture) is a strong tower; thither the righteous flee and are safe [Proverbs 18:10]. Let us secure His favor and He will lead us through the journey of this life and at length receive us to a better.10

I conceive we cannot better express ourselves than by humbly supplicating the Supreme Ruler of the world . . . that the confusions that are and have been among the nations may be overruled by the promoting and speedily bringing in the holy and happy period when the kingdoms of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ may be everywhere established, and the people willingly bow to the scepter of Him who is the Prince of Peace.11

He also called on the State of Massachusetts to pray that . . .

  • the peaceful and glorious reign of our Divine Redeemer may be known and enjoyed throughout the whole family of mankind.12
  • we may with one heart and voice humbly implore His gracious and free pardon through Jesus Christ, supplicating His Divine aid . . . [and] above all to cause the religion of Jesus Christ, in its true spirit, to spread far and wide till the whole earth shall be filled with His glory.13
  • with true contrition of heart to confess their sins to God and implore forgiveness through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ our Savior.14

 

Josiah Bartlett

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