BornAgain_Believer recently posted a number of questions directed to atheists ostensibly to “understand the atheist stand point more”. The questions are fair I believe, and because I prefer not to post the reply as a string of comments I have uploaded this short document.
I actually appreciate the opportunity to answer these questions because I feel that much of the “dialogue” that takes place on this forum on both sides of the debate comes in the form of personal attack, which in the end doesn't serve to edify either side.
To start, I would consider myself an agnostic, because I believe that it is impossible to prove conclusively that something does not exist. I am, however, an atheist in the sense that I do not believe that there is a God, personal or otherwise, and consequently feel qualified to attempt to answer these questions
Where do you come from?
By this question I assume the author is alluding to what he considers to be my “spirit”. The question is based on his assumption that there is a spiritual entity separate from my body that existed before I was born and will continue to live after I die. As an atheist I don’t make that assumption. I believe that my mind’s ‘I’ is a product of my brain. It began when my brain started to function, and will cease to exist when my body dies and my brain stops functioning. So, in that sense, the immediate answer would be my parents.
However, because my DNA is ultimately a product of all of my ancestors, I am a product of the living past.
What is your purpose on earth?
That’s like asking “What is the purpose of an elephant?” or “What is the purpose of rain?” Things, including myself, have no innate purpose. Things are assigned purpose by beings that use them. For a chimpanzee the purpose of a twig is to retrieve termites from a termite nest. For a seagull, the purpose of a rock is to break the shell of a clam.
Does life have a meaning?
Life, like everything else in the world, has whatever meaning one assigns it. That, however, does not mean that one’s life must be meaningless or purposeless.
I have a wonderful family whom I love deeply. It gives me great joy to see a film that my daughter has made, or read one of her poems or listen to one of her songs. It means a great deal to me that she is happy and successful. For many years my main purpose was to provide a loving and safe home in which she could grow up; and to work hard to give her the best education possible.
What is just and fair for you?
I believe that everyone should be treated fairly and equally under the law, regardless of race, religion, age and sex.
I do not think it fair to children to teach them to believe that they will be punished eternally for not accepting a particular religious belief. I also do not think it fair to children to teach them that creationism (ID) and science are equal in any respect. And I also do not think it either fair or just or necessary to beat a child, ever, for any reason.
God forbid, if your child is murdered and the person is never caught and brought to justice, how would you handle it, seeing that life has no meaning and we are just here on earth to live and die. Where would you get justice from?
Sometimes there simply is no justice. Justice, although preferred, is not a requirement in my world view.
An intelligent, thinking child brought up by atheist parents becomes a Christian how do you respond? Oh and becomes preacher and starts a new church, would you say your child has a problem?
The question is ambiguous. On one hand the author is talking about “an intelligent child”, but then refers to “your child”. However, for me, the answer would be the same. I believe that when children grow up they should be free to make those kinds of decisions for themselves.
What about all the injustice in the world that goes by unreported, where must everyone else get justice from?
This is a similar question to one asked by atheists regarding the issue of suffering in the world. An atheist (at least I, as an atheist) accepts the fact that there is both suffering and injustice in the world. Many crimes have gone unpunished and will continue to go unpunished. There has always been suffering and there will always be suffering. Guilty people suffer, but just as often, if not more so, innocent and good people suffer. Life is not fair, but that’s ok.
How do you answer your own child that is searching for meaning and purpose in life?
I never raised my daughter to be an atheist. I tried to instill in her as many of the human virtues that I was able (I’m far from perfect) but gave her no religious training. She has grown up to be a lovely, responsible, intelligent and compassionate person. She makes documentary films concerned mostly with social issues and the empowerment of the poor and oppressed. She works with underprivileged children in high school by teaching them documentary film making as a way for them to tell their stories. She will never have a lack of meaning or purpose in her life. She, as I do, enjoys life very much.
Why does research, discovery, diplomacy, art, music, sacrifice, compassion, feelings of love, or affectionate and caring relationships mean anything if it all ultimately comes to naught anyway?
It’s a loaded question because it assumes that an atheist believes that “all ultimately comes to naught”; which is definitely not true. All of the virtues of humanity are a legacy that gets passed down from generation to generation and are the building blocks of civilization. Virtues like compassion, love, loyalty and honesty have been a part of humanity since long before Moses, much less Jesus. These, among others, are essential parts of a civilized culture. Without them a culture would not survive for very long. They did not come from religion, although they were later absorbed by religion as yet another means to bind the culture together. Belief in God is not a necessary ingredient for a culture. Buddhism is essentially atheistic, but as a philosophical system that perpetuates human values of compassion and selflessness it underpins much of Asian culture.
Is death the end of life?
This, or course, relates back to the first question. By definition, death is the end of life.
I hope these answers go at least little way to refute what I feel are undeserved allegations by people of faith that atheism is hateful and nihilistic.