Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Eight Questions Atheists Must Answer. Really?


My friend Larry Tanner over on his Textuality blog had an interesting post up which replied to the Discovery Institute denizen Michael Egnor’s 8 questions to Atheists. I thought I’d give it the good old college try.

1) Why is there anything?
2) What caused the Universe?
3) Why is there regularity (Law) in nature?
4) Of the Four Causes in nature proposed by Aristotle (material, formal, efficient, and final), which of them are real? Do final causes exist?
5) Why do we have subjective experience, and not merely objective existence?
6) Why is the human mind intentional, in the technical philosophical sense of aboutness, which is the referral to something besides itself? How can mental states be about something?
7) Does Moral Law exist in itself, or is it an artifact of nature (natural selection, etc.)
8) Why is there evil?

My Non-Answers to Egnor’s questions:


1)Why not?
2)  2)Something or nothing. Both equally valid choices—since we simply DON’T KNOW.
 3) Because.
4)  4) That’s two questions actually. The pragmatic response would be to say whichever of them are applicable, not which is real, therefore apply where necessary.
5)  5) Probably because our perceptions are restricted by our senses and therefore subject to our brain’s interpretation. You have a brain don’t you? Interpret that!
6)  6) It’s called neurology—look it up.
7) Again, two questions, unless you assume it is (actually) natural rather than magical metaphysical and therefore have answered your own question. Congratulations!
8)  8) Why is there good or evil at all? Could it be we made up such terms to better describe our experiences of unjust suffering and the problem of pain? If not, then why indeed?

Allowing for a certain level of sarcasm and rhetorical question begging, the truth of the matter is Michael Egnor’s questions have all been thoroughly answered by professionals in the respective fields which focus on these very subjects. Whether it be cosmology, psychology, neuroscience, philosophy of mind, philosophy, ethics and moral theory, physics, etc. etc. most of these questions have answers. Except for the ones that don't.

What annoys me about these “theist metaphysical monologues” in which believers feel like sharing their profound thoughts, all I can say is—please don’t. If you want to know the answers to these sorts of questions, then I suggest you do what I do, look it up. Read a book! Reading rainbow! Stop wasting your breath and do the research yourself for a change.There's a novel idea!

Now just to clarify, I’m not saying theists should stop asking questions. Asking questions is good! More than this, it’s vital! It’s how we learn. What I am saying though, is it would help to actually put some thought into the questions before you ask them. One of my pet peeves is when people ask stupid questions they know their opponent can’t answer just to feel superior to them. The problem is when a theist asks these sorts of questions you know goddamn well they’re not going to investigate them and follow them to any reasonable conclusion—their minds are already made up. Which makes such question sessions little more than sophist monologues with stuck up know-all-know-nothings because they want to ‘engage’ atheists. This is all a smokescreen for proselytizing, evangelizing, witnessing to you the greatness of their God and all the wonders he can explain that you can’t. And if you don’t take them intellectually serious then they cry snobbery and blame you for intellectual elitism. I guess the best thing to do would be just to ignore them and let them embarrass themselves (and their entire faith) by flexing the muscle of their ignoranity.

Ignoranity = 1) ignorant to the point of saying or doing insane things normal people would not say or do; 2) being woefully ignorant—so much so that it actually causes others pain and drives them to the brink of madness with your stupidity; 3) credulous to the point of inadvertently sponsoring puerile nonsense. 

Update: Mike D over at The A-Unicornist has taken a stab at the 8 questions as well. Check it out!

Advocatus Atheist

Advocatus Atheist