10 questions an atheist can't answer?

I saw someone post their own responses to these questions on Twitter this morning, and I thought that it could be a good idea for a blog post of my own. So, I'll tackle these questions that originate from this youtube video titled: "10 questions an atheist can't answer." (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZvJyHD2sF4g).

 

Let's dive right in.

1) Does science answer everything?

One thing I am obviously going to have to keep saying as I look through the questions really quickly, is that a big issue here is (surprise, surprise) the person asking these questions makes a lot of assumptions rather than actually seeking answers to these questions. In fact, it becomes painfully obvious from reading even just this first question, that this is a person who would rather make incorrect assumptions based off of poor understanding of the definitions of words.

Science is one of 2 things. First and foremost, it is the method/process of inquiry you learned as the "scientific method" in school. The scientific method is a bit more complex when actually employing it, because things often don't go exactly to plan. A method/process doesn't answer anything. It can't. It is something that is done by a human who seeks to use the method/process to answer specific questions. You can't ignore the role humans play in the scientific process.

Secondly, science is also used to refer to the collective body of knowledge attained via the scientific method, and this must be what the question is trying to base itself off of. In that sense, science is a body of knowledge about what is and isn't evidentially supported, as well as which ideas have been shown possible and which have effectively been disproven. Science as a collective body of knowledge, is never and has never been static. As a result, one should never expect "science" to answer any and every question out there. Humans answer questions, and one way of trying to do so is to use the scientific method.

Why? Well, for starters, there are such things as stupid questions. Your teacher lied to you when they said there are none, but it was a white lie intended to encourage students to ask questions and participate in class. In reality, there really are stupid questions and they are almost always stupid because they display a profound lack of knowledge about a subject such that the question is either nonsensical, or displays an incorrect assumption within the question that would need to be addressed first. This list has a lot of stupid questions, because a lot of these questions would have very obvious answers if the person asking them would even look up the definitions of words they use within them. 

To stick with this question as an example, the list is "10 questions atheists can't answer," but being an atheist does not mean that someone is a scientist or even an admirer of science by default. What then is the relevance of the question with respect to atheism? 

Furthermore, I've never seen an atheist or a scientist ever claim that scientists (and the collective body of scientific knowledge) answer every question we (humanity) have asked. So, why even ask this question? Who is claiming science has all the answers? If science didn't exist as a process, that doesn't make any other answer/response to a question/problem correct by default. That's not how logic works.

I'll give you an example. Let's say my car doesn't start one morning. Frustrated, I storm back inside and mention it to my wife as I grab the keys to the other car to go up to the auto parts store and have my battery tested.

My wife says to me: "I bet it won't start because of gremlins."

I dismiss this because, it's fucking nutty. I grab the battery, drive up to the auto parts store, and they test the battery and it's fine. My hypothesis that the battery is the issue, is now incorrect. Does my wife's hypothesis of gremlins become any more likely by default now that I have ruled out my battery being the issue? 

Hell no. In order to assert that gremlins are the likely culprit, I still need actual evidence or reason to conclude that gremlins are even possible to exist in order to be able to find evidence or reason that they are the culprit for my specific problem. I can't simply assert or assume another response to a question/problem is true because I currently lack the evidence to prove what the actual answer is to said question/problem. There are so many other things that could cause my car to not start that I know are possible and plausible because we have evidence that they can inhibit a car from starting (my starter motor, a seized engine, no gas, bad fuel pump, the electronic control module, etc, etc). 

So, even if science as a method/process can't answer a given question, that doesn't mean anything with respect to whether or not religion is or isn't true, or whether or not a god(s) does or doesn't exist. 

What does the color "purple" taste like? Science can't answer that question. Does that mean science is flawed? Or does that mean the question is stupid? In this case, the question is stupid. 

There are other questions that we don't have answers to within science that are theoretically things we might be able to answer. In many cases, the lack of answers is due to one or more of several different factors. In some cases, we simply don't have the technology to answer the questions, or we may not have the samples we need. For example, it is possible life exists elsewhere in the universe, but our ability to explore space and seek answers to the question of life elsewhere in the universe, is limited by our ability to traverse it.

Another example would be the origin of life on Earth. We have hypotheses about how it could have originated, but finding samples of rock and minerals from the earliest portions of Earth history has proven difficult, and in some cases impossible because of how the minerals and rocks have been altered over the course of the last 4.5 billion years. This is because the Earth recycles rocks and minerals via plate tectonics. The rocks and minerals from the earliest portions of Earth's history, have mostly been destroyed. That makes it very difficult to answer questions about the early Earth and the potential for life on it. So, we can't always ask and answer the questions we want due to a lack of samples needed to sufficiently answer the questions. This isn't the fault of science as a method, it is a consequence of how the universe works. The universe does not operate in a manner that is intended to make it convenient for us to live in. The universe is indifferent to us. In fact, it isn't a conscious entity with the capacity to give a shit about us. The universe wasn't made for us, and it wasn't made with us in mind. We adapted to the universe because we evolved in the universe.

What people need to remember about science is that it is a process that was constructed by and used by humans. It will always be limited (as a process) by whatever limits us as a species.

2) Why do atheists care if people worship God?

This is another good example of a question with a bad assumption in it. Whatever you consider yourself (theist, atheist, christian, buddhist, etc), can you answer for all members of that group? No? Well, of course you can't.

One thing you can do, if you are part of a religion, is point to a holy book, dogma, laws, customs, and traditions that are part of your religion. This allows people to understand at least some of the basics of your belief system, and allows for some generalizations about the beliefs of people who adhere to this religion. Someone who tells me they are a christian, for example, has given me enough info for me to safely assume they believe the Bible is accurate and worthy of being followed. I may not know their specific beliefs on a given topic, but I know enough to make some assumptions.

What then can one assume about an atheist by knowing they are an atheist? Well, we have no dogmas. There are no atheist traditions. Nor are there atheists rules, laws, or customs. There is no set of beliefs or ideas that atheists share. Nor are there life experiences we all have in common. Some of us are formerly religious, some of us were never introduced to religion. There is literally no way for an atheist to tell you why another atheist does or doesn't care if anyone worships a god. If you want to know that, you need to ask the specific atheist you want to answer the question. That atheist most definitively can answer the question though. To prove that, I'll answer it.

I don't give a shit if people do or don't worship and/or believe in a god(s). It's of no consequence to me what other people do or don't believe. What is an issue, is when people believe that they have a right or mandate to coerce others to believe as they do, and/or force others to abide by their religion's rules, laws, customs, and traditions. If you are a Catholic and you truly believe that the wine turns to blood and the hostia (the Jesus cracker) literally turns into Jesus' body when you take the sacrament, that has no effect on me. I don't care. It has no bearing on my life.

If you believe that a fetus is the same thing as a viable human being and you therefore consider yourself to be pro-life (in this case, I explicitly mean "anti-abortion"), then I expect you'll avoid having an abortion if faced with that choice. Again, this would have no direct impact on my life, only your own. BUT, if you think that your religious reasoning for your pro-life (anti-abortion) stance is something I, or anyone else, should adhere to, and therefore you think that your religious beliefs are something that other people should be required to adhere to, you have now crossed a line. What you do with your life, is your business as long as you are not involuntarily forcing your life and beliefs on other people. You do not have the right to tell other people what to do or how to believe. 

So, why do some atheists (like myself) choose to speak out against some christians in the US? Why do we appear to care about their beliefs? Because people are always trying to force us (and others) to adhere to them. I'd be just as outraged if a Muslim tried to make me adhere to Islamic traditions, or a Jew told me I had to adhere to their dietary laws. In the US, Muslims and Jews aren't often the religious groups trying to force their religion on the rest of us (but it does happen: https://www.thisamericanlife.org/534/a-not-so-simple-majority).

I don't care what people do or don't believe. I do care if people want to force their beliefs onto others. If you are a christian, and you choose to lead a christian life, I truly don't care. By all means, go ahead. I wish you the best and hope you'll be happy. What I won't do is accept you trying to coerce others to believe as you do or act as you do. 

3) Can nothing create something?

We find ourselves with the first truly redundant question in this list. How does this question differ from the first? If we can't answer this question, that does not mean a default religious answer is possible.

What we do know about the universe and the origin of it, is that there has never truly been "nothing." As long as there has been time, everything that exists has existed. Not in the same state as it exists now, mind you. In fact, experiments show that the earliest portions of the Universe's history are very bizarre indeed. 

The simple truth about the origin of space and time (the origin of the universe as we know and understand it), is that there is a lot about it we will never know with 100% certainty because we can only look backwards at the evidence and the range of possibilities the evidence suggests. 

I once heard being a paleontologist described as "like being a detective, except the evidence has been left out in the rain for millions of years."

This is the same issue that astronomers and physicists face in trying to learn about the early universe. The evidence we have, is limited, as is our ability to collect and interpret it. Not knowing definitive answers to a question, does not mean that we can never answer them, nor does it mean that anyone else claiming to have an answer to the question is telling you the truth. Sure, religions typically proclaim to have an answer to the questions about how the universe originated, but these attempts to answer the question are not evidentially substantiated. They are assumptions based off of their religious beliefs. Someone assuming their religion is correct about the origin of the universe, doesn't actually mean they are. Even if science doesn't have a definitive answer to the same questions.

4) How do you know that God doesn’t exist?

The same way I know Big Foot doesn't exist, I have no evidence of it despite all of the claims made by those who truly believe it exists. Every time I have been shown "evidence" for a god claim, it has failed to actually be evidence that the god claim is valid. 

What typically happens is that people will give me evidence of what they believe, but not that what they believe is true. You might believe that mushrooms are the perfect pizza topping, but telling me that doesn't make it so, nor does it mean I will accept your opinion as fact. 

To pick a religious example, people often cite miracles as "evidence" of their god(s). When someone cites a miracle, they are literally saying "here is a phenomenon that happened and no one knows why it happened, but because I believe in a god(s), I choose to believe it was a supernatural occurrence and therefore a miracle." In order to cite something as a miracle, you'd have to actually show me that it is a suspension of the natural order and could only have occurred if a god(s) exist(s) and is capable of interfering in our universe. Assuming that must be true because you and/or others can't conceive of a natural explanation for something, is the definition of an argument from ignorance. (which is something I have already described, but didn't formally name. Not knowing an answer to a question, does not mean any given assumption is true by default)

The reason this is a logical fallacy, is because one cannot prove the nonexistence of something that does not and has never existed (nor could one prove that a nonexistent event didn't occur). By definition, something that does not exist (or an event that did not occur), will have no evidence to demonstrate its existence. So, all one could do is point to a paucity of evidence for its existence in support of an argument rejecting it. You can't find positive proof of nonexistence, that is a contradiction. What evidence would prove Big Foot is impossible? I mean, we can point to people who have clearly fabricated evidence and show that the only "evidence" of Big Foot is suspect, but that doesn't disprove the concept of Big Foot. It might very well still exist because an absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. There are a lot of species (both extant and extinct) that have certainly not yet been described by scientists. They must exist, even though we've no evidence of their existence. All we can do is discuss them once we have the evidence of them. Until then, they remain unknown and therefore appear to us to not exist. I have never seen any such evidence to show a god(s) is even possible. I have seen evidence that there are species that exist that we don't yet know about, because we literally describe new species every single year. No evidence has ever been put forth to show any gods are possible.

5) What is the origin of life?

Our second redundant question. This does not differ from questions 1 or 3. Again, atheism is not synonymous with science.

6) Where does our morality come from?

Morality is a fascinating subject and probably should have its own blog post. So, I'll be brief here. Morality is something I see as subjective, and something that evolves at both the individual and societal level. I'd define morality as a social behavior similar to altruism where people collectively agree upon a way of living with one another without harming others involuntarily so as to attain a mutually beneficial relationship. We obviously don't all agree on everything, nor do our morals remain static through time. This doesn't make an action in the past immoral by default for that instance in time it occurred, even if we'd deem it to be immoral by today's standards. That's what makes certain examples so interesting, because we can clearly see examples where people are pointing out the immorality of an action or belief, but society isn't ready to give it up yet. Slavery is one such example. It's pretty easy today to find people who agree that slavery is immoral, but you'd have found people on both sides of the fence in the mid-1800's. By today's moral standards, those arguing in favor of slavery would be deemed wrong. By the moral standards of those advocating against slavery at the same time, they would have been deemed wrong. The defenders of slavery saw themselves as being morally just, but their arguments were not universally convincing, nor were they objectively correct. As such, that immoral practice has been left in our past. 

7) If you had evidence of God, would you become a Christian?

Let's assume that I have evidence that shows that the Christian version of god, specifically, exists. Sure, I'd probably become a christian again. As I have said previously, I've never seen such evidence and as a former Christian, I have certainly looked. 

8) Why are there no observable transitional forms in the present?

As a paleontologist, this question almost infuriates me. Literally every species that has ever existed, is a transitional form between its ancestors and descendants (unless it is a species that left no descendants because it went extinct). Some are more obvious as they contain adaptations and morphological structures that demonstrate direct ancestral relationships, and subtle evolutionary changes. 

I could list a ton of fossils here, but I'll limit myself to 3 examples

1) Tiktaalik: a lobe-finned fish that shows the transition from fully aquatic fish, to increasingly more terrestrial habitats as the ancestor to amphibians, reptiles, and mammals is a fish. In a certain sense, we are all still fish.

2) The evolution of horses from small (dog-sized) forest-dwelling animals with 3 toes, to larger 2-toed species, to the modern single-toed horse that prefers grassy plains (although interestingly, modern horses still have the remnants of those toes: https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/laelaps/long-lost-horse-toes-found/)

3) Whales show a transition from a terrestrial/semi-aquatic ambush predator (similar in shape and strategy to an alligator) with 4 legs that could walk on land, to fully marine species with severely reduced hind limbs and no ability to walk on land or even support their own weight out of the water. 

9) Do you live according to what you believe or what you lack in belief?

I live according to what I believe, and that has nothing to do with my atheism as "atheism" only describes what I don't believe with respect to god claims. The label of "atheist" has become necessary due to the commonness of religious beliefs. This is a subject I discussed in my "Why atheist?" blog post. 

10) If God does not exist, will you not lose your soul when you die?

Since souls are also not real things, no. Nothing can happen to something that doesn't exist. When I die, I will cease to be. My body will persist for some amount of time after my death, but it too will eventually be completely destroyed and the elements that comprise it will be recycled back into the surrounding environment. No part of me will survive my death, because that is how death works.