Top Ten (apparently) questions for atheists

A man called Stan posted some questions for atheists here. I have, for some reason (possibly because I’m three sheets to the wind and possibly because I’ve never really done anything like this before) decided to answer them. Maybe it’s a slow day.

Top Ten+ Questions For Atheists

1. Can you prove empirically that there is no creating agent for the universe? If the answer is yes, then you must show your work if it is to be considered anything more than just a claim.

We’re not off to a very good start.

Short answer: No, I can’t prove empirically that there is no creating agent for the universe. However, as I don’t claim absolute knowledge of the universe I don’t assume the burden of proof. I’m not making a claim that there isn’t a creating agent (whatever that means – it’d be really helpful if you defined this “creating agent” before demanding that people disprove its existence). The burden of proof – just as with a prosecutor who makes a positive claim of a person’s guilt – is on they who make the claim. Claim a creator exists (or a sasquatch or a hippogriff)? Please provide evidence. No evidence? No reason to accept the claim. Hence atheism (a-sasquatchism, etc). 

2. Can you prove deductively that there is no creating agent for the universe? If the answer is yes, then you must show your work if it is to be considered anything more than just a claim.

Short answer: no, I can’t, because I don’t claim there isn’t a “creating agent” (again, whatever that term actually means). I am also not making some kind of deduction that there isn’t one. What I am doing is saying that those who make claims of theistic existence aren’t convincing me.

3. What are your moral principles? List them completely.

Completely? You don’t want much, do you? There simply isn’t enough space to list the things I think are moral and are immoral. However, they can be distilled to a handful of simple rules:

Seek happiness. Share love. Be honest. Don’t hurt people.

How about you list yours?

4. What makes your moral principles “moral”, rather than personal guidelines? Perhaps you will want to define “moral” from the Atheist viewpoint.

I consider my principles “moral” because they seek to avoid harm and dishonesty and maximise happiness at a bare minimum. I think “not hurting people” and “being honest and loving” are decent goals for anyone, regardless of the particulars of their philosophy. Your methods may vary, but if the core of your morality is to avoid harm to others and to maximise happiness, we’re going to intersect at some point – and possibly at many points. If any one of your moral principles is “honour the creator” or “don’t piss the creator off”, we’ll most likely encounter points of difference.

And what, by the way, are anybody’s moral principles but “personal guidelines”? Do any two people share precisely the same moral principles? You seem to think it’s acceptable to demand a ridiculous standard of disproof from people who don’t accept extraordinary claims at face value; I think it’s perfectly reasonable to withhold judgement on any claim until an appropriate standard of evidence has been met. Claim the sky is blue and I can look up. Claim an immortal invisible being created the universe and wants very specific things from me and everyone else, for example, and I hope you’ll forgive me if I don’t take your word for it.

5. What is the source of your morals?

A combination of things: the empathy I have as a human being (which is by no means unique to our species), my parents, schooling, friends and my society and culture in general. I did go to church and Sunday School as a child, but (as I learned recently) my mother removed my brothers and I from that Sunday School when she learned we were being taught about Hell. My mother may well have intended that I learn some valuable lessons from Sunday School, but a place of eternal torment ruled by an immortal psychopath at the behest of another immortal psychopath clearly crossed some sort of moral boundary.

6. What makes that source a “moral authority”, with unquestionable, indubitable ability to determine what is morally Good and what is morally Evil in a purely materialist context, where evolution has caused our existence?

Ay, there’s the rub. The appeal to the requirement for a “moral authority”, as if we can’t figure out for ourselves as thinking, feeling human beings, what constitutes harmful or beneficial behaviour.

Here’s a quick test: punch yourself in the face. Go on – hard as you can. No? Why? Because it’d probably hurt, I’m guessing. Okay then: go and punch somebody else in the face, completely at random. Wear something to protect your hand if you like. No? Don’t want to? Why? Because it would hurt them too? Because it may provoke retaliation? Because they might call the police? Or a huge angry friend? You could probably think of a dozen reasons not to punch a stranger in the time it took to read this paragraph – but you really only need one. Hurting people is a bad thing.

If you can decide, without even thinking about it, that punching a stranger in the face for no reason is not something you want to do, then you’re your own moral authority. If the only thing holding you back from punching a stranger in the face is some kind of “authority” telling you it’s wrong, then that’s good too – nobody wants to be punched. But please bear in mind that that “authority” might change their mind and starting asking you to punch strangers in the face tomorrow. After all, one of the most famous “unquestionable moral authorities” inspired a still-popular series of books which contained rules to slave ownership, orders to kill homosexuals, adulterers & people who worked on weekends, orders to commit genocide & rape and threats of eternal torment. However, if you don’t accept that your “authority” would ever ask you to start punching strangers in the face, ever, ask yourself: is stranger-punching a bad thing because my authority forbids it – or does my authority forbid stranger-punching because it’s a bad thing? If the latter, from where does that authority get the knowledge that it’s a bad thing? Smarter people than me have been asking questions like that for longer than the aforementioned series of books has even existed. In the absence of a coherent answer from the various flavours of pro-authority advocate, I’m happy to align with the general opinion of humanity that punching strangers is a Bad Thing.

7. Can you empirically prove your morals to be valid for all humans? If the answer is yes, then you must show your work if it is to be considered anything more than just a claim.

No, I can’t.

Now, please explain why I should have to prove that my morals are a “one size fits all” for the entirety of the human race before they can be shown to be valid in any way (even just for me). Next, explain why even attempting to do so wouldn’t be a massive exercise in narcissism, arrogance and hubris. Morals are plastic and always have been. That which was considered moral five centuries ago wouldn’t stand today (unless you’d like to bring back stake-burnings for heretics). That which was considered moral five decades ago wouldn’t stand today (unless you’d like to undo the entire Civil Rights movement in the US, or repeal Aboriginal voting rights here in Australia, or any number of advances various societies have made in that time).

What I can do is repeat my simple rules (Seek happiness. Share love. Be honest. Don’t hurt people) and then challenge anyone to show why those goals aren’t worth pursuing without a moral authority coercing you to do so.

8. Why should anyone trust you, or any Atheist? Be specific.

This question reeks of a presumption that, as an atheist (a small “a” is sufficient for a regular old noun), I shouldn’t be trusted from the get-go for the solitary reason that I don’t accept the claims of extant theistic gods.

You should trust me for the same reason you trust your barista not to poison your latte in the morning, or your barber not to slit your throat with a straight razor when tidying up your neck-stubble, or your plumber not to crack your skull with a wrench when they’re at your house unclogging your drains: without a basic level of trust among strangers within a social species like ours, we’d all end up too paranoid to leave the house, buy anything or open the front door. We – and our society – would not function. You can’t know everything about everyone: your insurance claims assessors, tax accountants, waiters, cab drivers, local cops, judges, school teachers, firefighters and a zillion other people you don’t know very well (or at all) could all be atheists. Do you trust them to do their jobs and do the right thing by you or do you intend to give them the third degree about their religious opinions and morals before engaging their services? If the latter, you might find that it’s very hard indeed to get good help these days. Especially if you’re on fire.

Here is my solemn oath for anyone who’s wondering: I, Hank of Everything Sucks, don’t intend on poisoning anyone or slitting their throats or cracking their skulls. Even if they ask presumptuous and offensive questions.

9. Can you prove, empirically, that the incident which is referred to as the Miracle at Lourdes was purely a physical phenomenon? If the answer is yes, then you must show your work if it is to be considered anything more than just a claim.

Right away, this makes a lie of the promise of your blog’s header: “A former 40 year Atheist analyzes Atheism, without resorting to theism, deism, or fantasy”. The miracle at Lourdes definitely fits into the first category.

I don’t make any sort of claim that the alleged miracles at Lourdes are nothing but mundane phenomena; I say merely that any claims of divine intervention should be viewed skeptically and that none appear to have been supported, from Lourdes to those tiresome crying statues or sightings of Mary in tortillas and tree stumps and toast. But to repeat myself: no I can’t “prove it empirically”. I get the feeling that nobody could prove anything empirically to your satisfaction – if they happened to disagree with you, anyway.

Can you or anyone else prove empirically that the alleged miracle at Lourdes was, as advertised, a miracle? Can you show me not just a pile of crutches and some glowing testimonials, but the detailed before-and-after medical records of every single person who claim to have been healed at Lourdes? If you’re not a theist – or even if you are – this is a red herring.

Can I demand at any point that you empirically or deductively (or anythingly) prove unquestionably and indubitably that there is a God, a creating agent, a supreme “moral authority”, a miracle-maker at Lourdes or anything at all that would call my atheism into question in any meaningful way? Would I be justified in remaining unconvinced of the existence of any such thing if that demand wasn’t met?

10. Are your political leanings toward the Left? If so explain why in detail (i.e., “Yes, because….)

This is entirely irrelevant to my opinions on religion – there are left wingers, right wingers, centrists, anarchists, libertarians, anarcho-syndicalists, Tea Party nutters and all sorts of political (and completely a-political) types who don’t believe in gods. There are also feminist atheists, misogynist atheists, atheists who like cake, those who prefer pie, those who ride bikes and those who knit and those who sit at computers all day.

Until an explanation of why my political leanings are relevant to my opinions on religion is forthcoming, I won’t answer your question.

However, I will say that the question is revealing: you appear clearly prejudiced against the (again, capitalised, for some reason) “Left”, as if having a left-leaning political outlook is something undesirable. I wonder: could you demonstrate that empirically?

11. At what age did you become an Atheist? What is your current age?

More irrelevancy. Can you explain what a person’s age might have to do with their ability to rationally assess the likelihood of a theistic claim? Can a person in their late 30s (who has not been religious for over twenty years) not have amassed the requisite intelligence to be an informed atheist? Does somebody need to be an atheist for forty years before it counts? This is ageist and another argument from authority.

And, again, this question reveals more about its author than it asks of its recipient.


Well, that was underwhelming.

What we have here are some petulant and unreasonable demands to prove empirically/deductively that gods don’t exist (a ridiculous position that almost nobody holds), a demand to list and source and justify my entire moral principles followed by an argument from “moral authority”, a further demand to (again, empirically) debunk the alleged miracle at Lourdes, concluded with a couple of irrelevant and prejudiced questions about age and political leanings. What was missing? Any reason whatsoever to accept theistic or miraculous claims (or even a half-decent reason to lean toward deism), an understanding of the burden of proof and yes – even an understanding of atheism. For someone who was an atheist for forty years (a claim I shall accept on face value as it’s not extraordinary, despite the seeming lack of familiarity with the subject displayed by the inquisitor), Stan doesn’t seem to have learned much about atheism.






#election2013 aftermath – my promise to you

You know what? Next time, just vote for me. Why? Compulsory rainwater tanks on every new home built. Solar panels on every public school roof and office block. Realistic unloopholed taxes on CEO salaries. A 35-hour week. A national secondary school driver instruction program. Broadband which isn’t laughed at by the entire developed world. A sausage sizzle at my place every second Saturday.

And: Gina Rinehart on a janitor’s wage. Clive Palmer in a clown suit. Your mum on a postage stamp. A big stick to whap people who don’t let you change lanes. Rupert Murdoch barred from owning anything in Australia except some thongs. Andrew Bolt on a leaky boat to Sri Lanka. Japanese whale pirates on a raft in the Antarctic. John Howard and Tony Abbott thrown overboard – if there are any rescue offers I’ll STOP THE BOATS.

I further promise you’ll never see me kissing a football or kicking a baby.