The Basics

“You’ve gone very wide, so I’ll be very shallow initially.”

Question from Matthew:
I don’t have any friends who claim to be atheist and I simply like to understand the position better. If you have any other input in addition to these questions I would appreciate it. Thanks.
1. Do you believe that a personal God exists? Why or why not?

2. Do you believe that Jesus Christ was God incarnate? Why or why not?

3. What is the purpose of human existence?

4. How do you know what is right and wrong?

5. What happens to a person at death?

Answer:
I assume you know the answers to some of those, but I appreciate that you want to hear it from the horse’s mouth. You’ve gone very wide, so I’ll be very shallow initially. If you want more detail, comment and ask for it, and/or better yet read through some older questions.

1. An atheist does not believe that any god exists, let alone a personal capital-G God. The reason is generally lack of evidence or convincing arguments supporting the existence of such a god, and that’s the case with me. Check out The Great Big Arguments #1-#6, consisting of most of the early pieces on this new site, to see why the well-known arguments you might be in the habit of using have not proved convincing.

2. If one does not believe in gods, why would one believe despite this that Jesus was the incarnation of a specific god?

Leaving the basic position of atheism aside, the claim that Jesus was God does not stand on its own merit. The New Testament was written by people who all wanted people to believe it, whether or not it was true. The prophecies supposedly fulfilled by Jesus were available to his chroniclers, making them candidates for #5. Made to Order (in my terminology) on the list of explanations that must be considered besides the false dilemma of pure chance and true prescience. Surviving extra-Biblical documentation of Jesus, for instance that passage by Josephus, has its own issues.

3. Since the human race developed on its own and needed no creator, there was no external purpose for its emergence. The reason for the existence of humans is that life arose on a planet saturated with its building blocks, and then competed with itself over billions of years. During this demanding competition, more and more complex forms became the standard until we were the next evolutionary step.

If you mean to ask why we bother to keep existing now, it’s because we want to. There isn’t much of an alternative that we know of. As for giving purpose to individual human lives, humans can do that themselves.

4. From many different sources – the law, historical precedent, varying philosophies (including religious ones) formulated over the centuries, common sense, simple concepts such as fairness and the minimisation of harm, etc. – we have built a very good picture of what is right and wrong to humans. Obviously we don’t agree on everything, but we do agree on most things.

Any of the above sources could be wrong, and any could be challenged, but they’re there and each one tends to be consistent. The alternative is to appeal to an absolute morality, one independent of humans, which may not even exist and simply cannot be tested. I don’t need the whole universe to agree with me that what I do is right, but if most of the human race agrees based on real concepts that can be reasoned through, then I literally have a reasonable basis for my actions.

5. At death, a person ceases to exist. The person’s condition is often described using that rare and fascinating antonym of “existence”, namely “oblivion”. What happens to a person after death is therefore not worth considering, because after death there is no longer a person for anything to happen to. There is only a body. We have one life. Good thing it’s an interesting life.

Chew on that lot and speak up if you’d like to explore anything.

SmartLX

4 thoughts on “The Basics”

  1. I can’t help to think that if atheists turn out to be right and there isn’t a god, how smart you guys are. But if your wrong how stupid all these arguments are.

    That wasn’t suppose to sound rude, Atheists in general are very smart, and most of the ones I’ve encountered are actually quite endearing.

    I simply just mean if God is out there how futile all these arguments will be? Now we can turn that around and I will admit if you turn out to be right, I’d say “those crazy damn atheists were right all along, what a dumb ass I am”. However whats weird is that I like the idea of the Christian God and like the idea of trying to live a life like Christ did. So I don’t think I’ll be terribly disappointed.

    You still da man, feeno

  2. Arguments can still be good arguments if their conclusions are wrong, Feeno, because they can be justified based on the information at hand. As you brought up elsewhere, arguments for atheism might seem considerably less justifiable in the here and now if God (existed, and) showed His hand a bit more, or a bit more unambiguously.

    See my answer to number 5 above? If I turn out to be right, you won’t even find out that there isn’t a god. Like the rest of us, you’ll die and there will no longer be a you to discover anything.

    On the other hand, if we both turn out to be wrong and there’s a god but it isn’t yours, I’ll be in roughly the same boat as if your God existed (maybe better off, who knows?) but you’ll have a lifetime of misplaced worship to explain to the real (and maybe jealous) deity or deities.

    Really, the whole “what if you’re wrong” idea strikes me as less frightening to atheists than to believers in one specific deity out of the infinite possibles. This is Pascal’s Wager territory, so here’s my full piece on the subject.

    You don’t have to be Christian to use Jesus as described in the Bible as a role model. Richard Dawkins once suggested that there could be a group called “Atheists for Jesus” which extols the virtues of his teachings while rejecting the idea of his divinity. He was promptly sent a T-shirt from one such group which already existed.

    Cheers mate.

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