This is the second part of my reply to Matt Slick’s Questions for Atheists, from the CARM webpage. Some tough ones here; do excuse the number of “don’t know”s. I’ve also grouped two questions together in a couple of instances where they logically seemed to belong together.
11. If you were at one time a believer in the Christian God, what caused you to deny His existence?
12. Do you believe the world would be better off without religion?
I honestly don’t know. That’s like asking whether the world would be better off without ambition, or stubbornness, or any other trait that can potentially be turned to either good or bad and that is in any case so inherently a part of humanity that it’s impossible to imagine where we’d be today without it.
13. Do you believe the world would be better off without Christianity?
Wow, that really is an interesting one; again, I don’t know, but I’d love to see a historian write it up as a counterfactual. Would Islam, with no other monotheistic and pro-conversion religion to counteract it, have swept across the Western world unchallenged? Or would polytheistic religions have remained much more dominant in the West? We’d certainly have avoided the Crusades and the Inquisition. On the other hand, it would have taken far longer to institute the idea of a compulsory rest day each week for even those beings considered to be of lesser importance (servants, slaves, animals).
I think on the whole we very likely would have been better off overall; other religious beliefs would have filled the vacuum, so we wouldn’t be looking at the loss of the positives that religion can bring (emotional support in times of trouble, potential strengthening of growing communities) in the same way as we would with the previous question. But it’s speculation; we’ll never know. I’m really tempted to e-mail Richard Carrier and ask him if he’d be interested in writing it up as a counterfactual speculation.
14. Do you believe that faith in a God or gods is a mental disorder?
15. Must God be known through the scientific method?
No; no more than you use the scientific method to figure out if your friends or work colleagues exist.
N/A (though that link raises some interesting potential discussion; must write a post on that at some point).
17. Do we have any purpose as human beings? 18. If we do have purpose, can you as an atheist please explain how that purpose is determined?
Yes. We have the purpose that comes from enjoying our lives, interacting with others, and reaching out to improve the world for others as well as ourselves.
19. Where does morality come from?
From our understanding that others have feelings as we do and that they, like us, feel pain and joy and the wish to be treated as agents in charge of their own lives. From that knowledge, we extrapolate the understanding that it is important to treat all people (ourselves and others) in such a way as to avoid causing them pain, bring greater joy and pleasure to them, and allow them have decision-making rights over their own lives. (Obviously, these interests often conflict, leading to grey areas where we can dispute which of those issues should have priority; however, that understanding is the basis for our discussions and our beliefs about morality.)
20. Are there moral absolutes? 21. If there are moral absolutes, could you list a few of them?
Another tough one, because so many exceptions are possible. The only one I can think of is the rule against sexual assault. (It’s possible to think of emergencies in which killing or theft or lying would be justified in order to save another; I can’t think of any circumstances in which you’d be required to sexually assault someone in order to save someone else.) I think this one is open to a lot of discussion.
Answers 22 – 31 to follow when I have the chance.