This is the first installment to “Six questions to ask an atheist.” There are actually far more than six questions. It’s more like six categories of several questions. I will attempt to answer each section, one at a time. The questions are in bold; the answers are in standard font.
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.
I’m only going to say the Big Bang and leave it alone. My understanding of physics is terrible. Still, why not something? Honestly, I’m not that interested in the question. If you want more, you’ll have to ask someone else.
Why is there conscious, intelligent life on this planet, and is there any meaning to this life?
Conscious, intelligent life on earth evolved this way, through a slow, progressive, unplanned course. I don’t understand evolution that much, but I know that it doesn’t happen by design. I also know enough about our bodies to know they certainly aren’t well designed. My back, for instance (which is fairly typical of a middle-aged, human back), is quite poorly designed. Really, if someone were going to design a good, bipedal creature, the least he/she/it could do is give it a decent back, like, oh, maybe that of an early cylon.
Now that’s a back to be proud of designing; a back that wouldn’t need physical therapy to get through middle age. My back is better suited for traveling on all fours, or better yet living in water. Yes, I have the back of a fish.
There are many other poorly designed parts to humans, other animals, and plants. I won’t go into great detail, as there are too many examples for me to cover here and I’m no expert on evolution. However, I find the example of the giraffe’s laryngeal nerve to be quite interesting and even bizarre. The laryngeal nerve connects the brain to the larynx (voice box) by descending down into the chest and looping around the aorta before coming back up again. It’s a terrible design for a giraffe with a 5-8 foot neck, as that nerve can be up to 16 feet long, when it’s beginning and end are only a few inches from each other! In fact, it’s not even a good design for other mammals with shorter necks. However, it makes sense from an evolutionary sense as the route is much simpler in fish, who essential have no necks. Unfortunately, evolution doesn’t have the advantage of a designer. It simply moves forward, unable to plan, so often we are stuck with poor designs. Not that we were designed. We evolved, incrementally, with many flaws, as the stages before didn’t always effectively flow to make the best, next design.
This is why I don’t get angry about my lousy back. If I thought a designer did it, I might be pretty angry.
As far as why humans developed consciousness and intelligence? I don’t know. It was working, advantageous to our species. Sometimes…I’m not so sure it still is.
If there is meaning, what kind of meaning and how is it found?
For me, meaning is found in living life to the best of my ability. It’s in loving others and being loved. I find meaning in learning and teaching and learning some more. I find meaning in grappling with questions I don’t really understand, but accepting that I can’t understand all the answers that are available and that there are many unanswered questions. I find beauty and awe in the recognition that the more I know, the more we all know, the more there will be to learn. It doesn’t end. This is beauty. I don’t need to give it an explanation given to me by a priest, a rabbi, a sage, a king, or a savior. I accept that I don’t know and revel in the wonder of that. I find that far more awe-inspiring than acceptance through faith. I look for explanations for life’s experiences and when I have none, I accept that, finding using gods, kings, priests, rabbis, saviors as limiting. I accept no limitation accept that of human, including my own, knowledge.
Does human history lead anywhere, or is it all in vain since death is merely the end?
Human history has certainly gone a long way so far, so I expect it will continue to do so. Where that will be, I don’t know, nor do I need to know. Is it in vain? That’s not a relevant question to me. I hope to lead a good life and to have positive effects on others. To me wanting more, expecting more, desiring more is vain (ooops, different vain). A more interesting thing to fathom is how amazing it is that I am alive. That out of all the combinations of eggs and sperm throughout the generations of my lineage, most of which didn’t survive, that here I am, the result of a combination that did make it and that I have a moment to live, to give, to grow,… this is truly amazing and much more interesting to me than focusing on death and what might come after. Instead, I focus on the amazing fact that I am here at all.
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?
This is interesting, as I believe most Christians are perfectly capable of determining right and wrong independently of the Bible. If they didn’t we would see a lot more stoning of disobedient children in the village square.
21:18 If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them:
21:19 Then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place;
21:20 And they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard.
21:21 And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die: so shalt thou put evil away from among you; and all Israel shall hear, and fear.
It occurs to me that if my parents had been better Christians, I would have been stoned before I reached 20. Then, I bet my parents wouldn’t have lived to childbearing age, if their parents had been better Christians. Thank goodness the generations before me were able to decide right and wrong without simply looking to the Bible.
If you are content within atheism, what circumstances would serve to make you open to other answers?
I am content as an atheist and I am entirely open to other answers. Like other areas of my life, I would want those answers to be verifiable, repeatable, and able to make predictions. I believe that neither Christians (nor other religious people) or atheists know for certain if God exists or not. Christians take their belief in God on faith and do not seem open to other answers, as that goes against faith. Atheists take their beliefs on what is known, what has been proven through the scientific method, and do not rely upon faith. Personally, I’m pretty comfortable with not knowing. Atheists are open to changing their opinion, just as they do about other areas of life when evidence is presented that is verifiable, repeatable, and can make predictions.
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