Wednesday, 20 May 2009
I wanted to do a vlog of this off the cuff, but I just don't have time to set that up, given that Wintery Knight (link) is already done with his survey.
1) Do you believe that the universe was brought into being out of nothing by a person (agent)? Is it possible that this agent could communicate to us, or that we could discover something about that agent? (i.e. – does God exist, is he knowable)
I don't believe the Christian God exists, but if he did, then I see no reason why he wouldn't be knowable hypothetically.
2) Explain to me in which religion you were raised by your parents, if any. How did your parents approach religion in the home? (strict, lax, etc.)
Missouri Synod Lutheran. My dad was fairly moderate to liberal and both parents have grown more fundamentalist over time. I think I was leading the way there for most of my Christian years. I was a self convert as well as a self de-convert.
3) What events in your past affected your beliefs about God’s existence and knowability? (e.g. – I studied biology, comparative religions or anthropology, or I met a girl I liked)
Let's see, converting from Luthernism to Eastern Orthodoxy called every way I thought I knew Christianity was true into question. That was fairly significant since it got the ball rolling on overhauling my epistemology in general. Realizing that my theistic feelings did not necessarily correspond to any spiritual reality and that I rather had to mold myself arbitrarily into a specific mystical view of the divine was a significant eye opener. Having to make difficult, morally complicated decisions with other people's feelings other than my own on the line pressed me into a deeper need for being grounded on something other than apologetic excuses. Basically just growing up and taking full responsibility for everything I believed in a more serious way pushed me towards atheism and away from how unstable Christian doctrine is. One can say God is a moral foundation, but that doesn't mean anything practically when that foundation is invisible.
4) What are your main objections to belief in God’s existence and knowability today? (e.g – suffering, pluralism, hiddenness)
I think all three of those are pretty good starting objections in raw form at least. Rather than labeling it all of those things though, I think my most significant objection is the lack of solid communication. It's the number one relationship priority in any other context I know of, so that's a mega-FAIL on god's part. One can make excuses all they want, but when it comes down to it, the lack of straight forward overt communication simply isn't there without a lot of special pleading. You could prove philosophically that there's some kind of god and I think I'd be rather content as an apatheist.
5) This salt shaker (grab salt shaker and brandish it in a non-threatening way) exists because it is made of matter and occupies space. What is the mode of existence of moral values and moral duties, on atheism? Where do they exist, and what do they exist as? (e.g. – in people’s minds, as descriptions of behavior, in God’s mind)
I think they are ideas in our heads for how to go about acquiring and securing genuine human happiness. Ideas are likely computational in nature and physically manifest in the neural arrangements of our brains. Since our brains tend to work in a certain way, one can objectively deduce the best method for running the emotional system efficiently. If someone comes to me and says that behavior x will objectively lead to more probable misery over the next ten years (or more stable happiness), I listen. What moron wouldn't?
6) Free will is required in order for humans to act in ways that are morally responsible. You cannot assigned praise or blame to anyone if they do not have free will. What is the rationale for free will on atheism? If there is no free will, on what grounds can atheists praise or condemn any behavior? (free will means the ability to act or not act)
I define free will as the ability to act without hindrance from outside coercion. In other words we can do what we want without someone forcing us to do something else. No one picks their own wants. Even though you can cultivate different desires over time, the drive to do that is still yet another want you did not give yourself. It doesn't matter if it somehow invalidates other concepts (which I don't think it does), since it is self evidently true that we don't define our desires and "free will" can't mean anything else other than doing what you most want to do.
7) Suppose you are an atheist journalist writing a story in atheistic North Korea in which you criticize the atheist leader Kim Jong Il. His secret police burst through the front door of your apartment and drag you off you a torture chamber. You are told that you are about to be personally executed by the dictator himself. On what basis would you plead for your life, on atheism? (i.e. – how would you persuade a powerful atheist to do right)
I wouldn't bother. That guy is crazy. I doubt getting into Christian philosophy at that point would be of much help either. :p
8) Suppose that you are strolling along the river in the winter, and you cross a bridge below. Suddenly, you hear shouts for help coming from the icy water below. A little girl has fallen in the water and will die in minutes unless you jump in. There is no one else around to save her. You have no relatives/dependents. There is an even chance that you will both die if you try to save her. Do you try? How is this rational on your worldview? (i.e. – how is self-sacrifice rational on atheism)
I'm not sure about the logic of that scenario (if there's no way in principle to even hope to avoid hypothermia for the both of you), but I know from experience in other circumstances where I was a pizza delivery guy and some lady was screaming for help that I knew I couldn't just drive away. It terrified me, because from what she was yelling about her husband, it sounded like he might be killing her or he might have a gun or something. If I just ran over there, I might just be shot dead and of no use. But I couldn't be the person that just walked away from a screaming woman calling out for help and so it was a matter of personal identity or self image. Fortunately, it didn't turn out to be that bad, but I did take one heart pounding step in front of the other hoping that I wouldn't die and would be able to help. I negotiated their little squabble about whatever it was and called the cops. So one basis for self sacrifice on atheism goes that if you can't be the person that doesn't do it, then obviously you have to do it. If you die and nothing happens, you aren't someone who is experiencing a loss of any kind because you aren't someone at all.
9) Suppose you travel back in time to the United Kingdom, when slavery is still legal! You meet William Wilberforce. He says that he has been battling slavery hard for 20 years, on the basis of Christian convictions, but that today he wants to let you try it in his place. On atheism, on what rational grounds could you try to persuade them? (If they say yes, ask them if they are pro-life and what they have done to support the pro-life movement)When investigating the issue of slavery I've often wondered how I would approach a culture that was clearly dependent on it at least in the economic sense without merely starting a civil war of some kind. After all, they do have half a valid argument that would go something like this; "Our economy might instantly collapse if we let all the slaves go tomorrow and that would be bad." I think I would try to connect with their own concepts of equality wherever they do find it, connect with whatever anti-slavery sentiments they may have...gently point out the kinds of damages it has been historically known to cause, point out whatever problems it would likely be causing right now in their very midst that perhaps they look over conveniently, and suggest a long term weaning off of slavery in palatable stages with alternative means of getting the same work done in the works in order to displace it. The newly freed slaves aren't going to be treated well immediately anyway (if it's a racism kind of thing) so the ones that have to keep working longer than others aren't necessarily missing out on the action. If done right, the soon to be former slave holders' futures ought to look like a bright win, win situation that isn't threatening in any way. The job gets done. Society doesn't have immediate grounds to overreact all the while their economy remains stable and they steadily profit from what consistent moral application has to offer in life. And former slaves have less to fear in retaliation as a result. Perhaps this would mean 10% of slaves a year should be let go for the next decade while good workers are hired (or hired back) to replace them. Eventually the slavery comes to an end and most of the consequences to immediately re-instating equality are avoided with compromise and gradualism. Of course the diplomacy of this proposition still probably wouldn't go over very easy and this is just the general format...who knows what you'd have to deal with in any specific situation? But keep in mind, it probably wasn't exactly that easy for Christian abolitionists either, now was it?
10) Consider the heat death of the universe, which is the theory that the amount of usable energy is going to run out at some point in the finite future, as it disperses in space. On atheism, what is the ultimate significance of your moral decisions? How does it does it affect your fate, or the fate of anyone else you act on ultimately? What does it matter to you and to the species ultimately whether you act morally or not? (i.e. – how do your good and evil actions change where you and everyone else ends up?)
I don't see what the heat death of the universe has to do with my moral choices. That's too horrendously stupid a scope to take seriously though for some reason many people do. Even Christians believe that being immoral leads to personal misery in this life and that alone is a good enough reason to be moral even when no one is watching.
11) What is your purpose in life, and why did you choose that purpose? Is it just yours, or for everyone else too?
The purpose in life for everyone is to find a suitable place to fit in the bigger picture for the sake of personal and mutual edification. We're human, we do human things, and fitting in and doing those things well will naturally lend to satisfaction of many kinds.
12) Suppose Jesus appeared to us right now and addressed you directly with the following words: “I’m really here and you need to follow me in order to flourish and achieve the goal for which I created you”. He then glares suspiciously at me, snatches a few fries from my plate, eats them, and then disappears. Later on, the Ghostbusters show up and confirm that Jesus was no ghost, and everyone in the restaurant saw and heard exactly what you and I saw and heard. How would you proceed? How would you find out what to do? (i.e. – the atheist now knows Christianity is true, and I want to see what they think they should do in order to act like a Christian)
Well, the problem is that I already know that's not true. There are already people who didn't need Jesus to flourish in life and an appearance of Jesus wouldn't change the nature of the argument from evil one bit. The cosmic mathematician can't show up and tell you that 1+1=3 and expect you to believe it. Further, the fact that Jesus didn't appear to lots of other doubters in history would also hurt this manifestation's credibility. Haven't you seen any Stargate? I have all ten seasons. I'd definitely think I was dealing with someone powerful that seems dubious that I did not fully understand, but I wouldn't think Christian theism is true as a result for many reasons. If a new deity wanted to start earning my trust on completely new terms, so be it. That's how normal healthy relationships go.
13) What would be the most difficult thing about becoming a Christian for you? Would it be the moral demands? The demands on your time? The unpopularity, humiliation and persecution that you would face? How would you feel about publicly declaring your allegiance for Christ and facing the consequences? (i.e. – they have become a Christian, what is the most difficult adjustment from your current life?)
After believing that it is actually true...I suppose it depends on which version would turn out to be true. I don't know. Most things are pretty easy once you know what is actually going on. It's just a matter of doing it. Again, this comes back down to communication. Finding out Christianity is true doesn't solve the main objection since God's not going to start sending detailed memos if an apologist can land a successful argument. To me, Christianity can never offer a serious relationship as a result and it's pretty pointless to try to argue your way there.
I hope Wintery Knight would see that I've tried to avoid being overly polemical or attacking the Christian position too much. Naturally since I've been doing this unapologetics thing for years now, my responses are just second nature and some of that will just slip through. I can address his criteria rational morality (link) directly if he wants since some issues have been unaddressed.