On the internet there are many challenges posed by Christians to Atheists. Some are genuinely curious while others are unintelligent and offensive (take that stupid atheists!). Most are questions that Christians genuinely can’t see how Atheists can answer and are meant to open a debate or even attempt a conversion (some examples here, here, hereand here). So I decided to collect some of the better questions and answer them here. I have deliberatively omitted the worst questions (why are atheists evil? Is it because you worship the devil? If we came from monkeys why are there still monkeys?) In case you think I’m making that up there are some examples here and here. A downright offensive one here and a parody here . I have paraphrased the questions to make them as strong as possible. Interestingly, I have noticed that most questions are usually about evolution, implying their argument is with science not Atheism. I’m not going to repeat those questions here because evolution is a scientifically recognised fact beyond question and it only discredits Christians (most European ones have accepted evolution).
1. How Did You Become an Atheist?
This is usually a question out of curiosity rather than a challenge or a debate. Like most people in Ireland, I was raised a Catholic (not that I had a choice in the matter). I was an altar boy and I even went through a religious phase when I was about 13 where I would say a decade of the rosary every night before bed. Gradually I began to see Mass as a waste of time. It was boring and never seemed to have any relevance to anything. Also the Catholic Church is one of the most disreputable institutions in Ireland. It caused enormous damage to the country, promoted narrow minded sectarian stagnation and committed horrendous abuse. I stopped going to Mass when I was 16.
It was until I was 20 that I became an Atheist. Essentially, I set myself a logical challenge based on the problem of evil, lack of revelation and the absence of proof. I then decided that the only logical explanation was that there was no God. (This is a very short version. I discuss my loss of faith in full in another post, How I Became An Atheist).
2. What happens when we die?
Nothing. That’s the short answer. This shouldn’t be shocking or disturbing, after all everything must end. Even the best book or film has an ending. Nothing can last forever, that’s what makes life so special. If it was eternal it would become meaningless and dull. When we die, that’s the end, we don’t feel or think anything. That’s why we cry at funerals.
3. What if you’re wrong? And there is a Heaven?
Well then I’ll feel pretty stupid. Then again what if a Catholic dies and finds themselves in Lutheran heaven? Or Muslim heaven? Or finds that any one of the thousands of other religions that have existed is actually the correct one?
Honestly I’d also be pissed off and have a few words to say to God or Saint Peter. Why all the secrecy? Why did he hide? If he wanted to believe why didn’t he put any effort in it? Why did he not provide any evidence? Are you telling me the creator of the universe couldn’t do any better than a 2,000 year old book that is full of contradictory nonsense as well as violence, brutality and injustice? Was the Catholic Church really the best spokesmen for him? Imagine if I was to find out that God could have stopped the Holocaust or famine but didn’t? (This is basically Pascals Wager which I discuss here)
4. Without God, where do you get your morality from?
The same place everyone gets it from, their family, friends and society in general. No one actually gets their morality from the Bible. After all, the Bible says that homosexuals should be stoned to death. But not even the worse homophobe would argue that. Why not? If the Bible is the source of morality, then if the Bible says something it must be right. What about stoning adulters to death? Or executing a man because he collected sticks on the Sabbath? As an Atheist, I think all of these things are wrong and unjust, but if I took my morals from the Bible I must conclude that they were right and just. Clearly no one actually bases their morals on the Bible.
5. If there is no God, can we do what we want? Are we free to murder and rape? While good deeds are unrewarded?
This question suggests that the only reason you don’t murder and rape is because God is watching you, but if he turned his back you would do it. This implies you have little morals or conscience. I once heard that character is what you do when no one is looking. If the only reason you don’t steal is because you’re afraid of punishment, then you’re little better than an actual thief. Likewise if you only do good because you want to be rewarded then you are fake. Being a good person means doing the right thing not because you will be rewarded, but because it is the right thing.
6. If there is no god, how does your life have any meaning?
Since when was God the only reason for living? What sort of miserable empty life do you have if God is the only meaning in your life? What about your family, friends, career, hobbies? If God is the only meaning for existence then shouldn’t we all become monks and spend our lives living in a cave and praying the God? (I can’t possibly imagine a worse life)
What’s my meaning in life? Be a good person, enjoy myself and help others. These may not be the most amazing reasons, but I can hardly be blamed for not knowing the meaning of life. One thing I am sure of, the reason for life lies in other people.
7. Where did the universe come from?
This is one of the most common Christian arguments, but proves very little. All they are saying really is “I don’t know what created the universe, so I’m going to presume it’s God.” At least scientists are trying to find an answer by doing tests and experiments, whereas religious people base their argument on ignorance of facts and winning by default.
Even if God created the universe, this proves incredibly little. It doesn’t mean the God of your religion is real nor that he can hear your prayers. It doesn’t prove that there is an afterlife. It doesn’t even prove God’s existence, because he could have created the universe and then died. (I discuss this in full in God and the Creation of the Universe).
8. What about miracles? What all the people who claim to have a connection with Jesus? What about those who claim to have seen saints or angels?
What about those who claim to have seen ghosts or aliens? We don’t take these people seriously so why should we take those who claim to have witnessed miracles. Why are so many magicians Atheists? Because they know how easy it is to trick people into thinking they saw things that didn’t happen. Tricks of the light and the power of suggestion can make people believe in magic. Likewise with miracles. Ever noticed that appearances of saints were very common up until the invention of the camera, whereupon they died out? Or that miracles always happen among uneducated religious people? Why do they always appear to the converted? How come Muhammad has never appeared before Catholics and Mary never shows herself to Protestants? Isn’t it awful convenient that Hindu Gods only appear before Hindus?
9. What’s your view of Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris?
Christians seem to think that these guys are the holy trinity of Atheism and that we all love them. Honestly, I think they get more attention than they deserve. Sure they’re good, but they’re not that great and I leave the hero worship to religions. I became an Atheist before I even read anything by these three (though I did watch a lot of Hitchens videos). When I did I wasn’t hugely impressed. Hitchens is my favourite and a great debater, but he’s more of scrapper, better at crushing an opponents argument than convincing them. Dawkins is very intelligent and the God Delusion is probably the best thought out of the three, but he can often come across as arrogant and condescending. I found Harris quite poor and The End Of Faith frankly dreadful. It lacked focus and was prone to obscure philosophical digressions and lumped all religious people together as though they were all the Taliban.
I leave the uncritical devotion to religion.
10. If there is no God, then why does every society have a religion?
Religion served an original purpose. Thousands of years ago, scientific knowledge was non-existent. People longed for answers about the world and so they created religion. To every hard question religion was the answer. Where does thunder come from? Why do the crops grow sometimes of the year but not others? Why do people get sick? God(s), angels and demons became the answer. As science advances and finds the real reasons for this things, religion has declined.
Religion provides a second service, that of comfort. People grieve at funerals and religion provides comfort that the deceased aren’t suffering or in pain, but actually enjoying themselves. Likewise, there are many dangers in the world and religion provides the comfort in the belief that you and your loved ones will be protected from harm. Parents always pray that their children will be safe.
So those are my 10 Atheist questions and my answers. What do you think of them? Too soft , too hard? Were they good challenges? What other questions have you been asked? What are your answers? If any Christians read this, what questions would you ask an Atheist? Seeing as I answered questions today, I think I’ll follow up with 10 Questions For Christians.
Update: A Christian website has reposted these questions but without any of the answers and claiming that Atheists cannot answer them (despite the fact that I have). There is a good Reddit discussion where dozens of Atheists give their answers to the questions.