Ask the atheists: Answershttp://www.asktheatheists.comLatest AnswersenTue, 17 Mar 2015 12:17:19 +0200Blaise on 'Why do jokes about religion make me uncomfortable?' <p>In most cultures, children are conditioned to regard religious beliefs as something that may not be criticized. It&#8217;s sort of like religion&#8217;s immune system. Whether it&#8217;s done intentionally or not, this conditioning tends to stick with your mind long after you&#8217;ve thought your way out of being religious.</p> (Ask the atheists)Tue, 17 Mar 2015 12:17:19 +0200 on 'At what age did you realize you didnt believe in God?' <p>I was 25 when I realized that I did not believe in Christianity. However, I was troubled about it for many years before I finally realized that.</p> (Ask the atheists)Mon, 29 Dec 2014 09:38:57 +0200 on 'Do you think religion will ever end?' <p>Well, at some point in the distant future we will go extinct. I can&#8217;t be sure, but I&#8217;m inclined to think that the last human to draw breath before a dying sun will suspect that Jesus is not coming back.</p> (Ask the atheists)Mon, 29 Dec 2014 09:34:37 +0200 on 'Is the universe convenient for life?' <p>I do not think the universe was created with showers and computers in mind, since in fact showers and computers were created by us to deal with (or optimize) the way the universe just happens to be.</p> <p>I think the real question is why it&#8217;s possible for this universe to exist at all, and whether we &#8220;lucked out&#8221; and got this universe out of all the other possibilities that do not contain consciousness, reasoning, showers and computers.</p> <p>I for one do not know the answer. But if it turned out that our universe was vastly improbable, and that it nonetheless came about (I&#8217;m not sure how you prove this, but supposing it anyway), what then? If that were the only trace God left of himself, it would be just as if he weren&#8217;t there.</p> (Ask the atheists)Mon, 29 Dec 2014 09:32:10 +0200 thomson on 'Is the universe convenient for life?' <p>You might say that Evolution by Natural Selection works by throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks. Most of &#8220;it&#8221; doesn&#8217;t stick, but since the experiment is repeated <em>ad infinitum</em>, it all adds up over the millennia. If the universe was &#8220;different&#8221;, how would we know? We have only this universe, no other universe for comparison. </p> (Ask the atheists)Tue, 19 Aug 2014 20:37:14 +0200 thomson on 'Why do jokes about religion make me uncomfortable?' <p>Another reason is that many religious folks identify very strongly with their religion and take any attack on it as a personal insult. Those of us who study ideas rationally learn to separate ourselves from the ideas. &#8220;I&#8217;m offended&#8221; would make rational debate impossible. But when it comes to friends and family, we&#8217;re reluctant to say anything that would appear offensive, even if it isn&#8217;t offensive by academic standards. </p> (Ask the atheists)Tue, 19 Aug 2014 20:34:16 +0200 on 'Why do jokes about religion make me uncomfortable?' <p>You were conditioned to believe from an early age, and that conditioning is at an emotional level. Even though you no longer believe in a rational sense, you still have emotional baggage. Over time, it will fade. </p> (Ask the atheists)Tue, 19 Aug 2014 06:26:24 +0200 on 'Do you think religion will ever end?' <p>Take a look at Sweden or some of the other less religious countries. Something like 75% don&#8217;t believe that god exists, and religion is pretty irrelevant in their society. </p> (Ask the atheists)Tue, 19 Aug 2014 06:21:34 +0200 on 'Is the universe convenient for life?' <p>We know that for life to be possible, the universe must be conducive to life, so it&#8217;s no surprise that our universe is like this. That&#8217;s the anthropic principle. We have one example of a universe where life is possible.</p> <p>What we don&#8217;t know is what &#8211; if anything &#8211; controls the way a universe behaves. We might be the only universe. Or there might be countless universes, each with different physical constants. Or maybe all universes must be exactly like ours. </p> <p>We don&#8217;t know, and I&#8217;m okay with that. I don&#8217;t see any reason to posit some sort of designer.</p> (Ask the atheists)Tue, 19 Aug 2014 06:10:42 +0200 on 'Is the universe convenient for life?' <p>It seems like you already know the answer to this question, since you mentioned Adams&#8217; puddle. Maybe you just need to follow it through a little bit more.</p> <p>Like the puddle, you seem to be assuming that nature might have been designed so that the laws we&#8217;ve developed to describe and take advantage of it would be true. Of course, that&#8217;s the exact opposite of the fact of it. There is no ideal set of physical laws for a universe. Our technology and observations come from the way our universe <strong>happens</strong> to be, not the reverse. If we lived in a universe with different laws, we, our science, and our technology would be radically different, because all would have evolved and been developed under that different set of laws.</p> <p>So, in a sense, I suppose it <strong>is</strong> convenient that our tools and tech use the laws we have to work with, and it <strong>is</strong> by design, but it&#8217;s by <strong>OUR</strong> design, having created them to take advantage of the laws we have discovered exist!</p> (Ask the atheists)Thu, 31 Jul 2014 20:17:33 +0200 on 'How to deal with death' <p>Firstly, congratulations on being an atheist at 13. You beat me by many years: I wasn’t a proper atheist until I was in my twenties or thirties.</p> <p>Isn’t it a bit soon, though, for you to be thinking about death? But now you’ve started, you’ve got plenty of time to come to terms with your own mortality. Perhaps you could try to be a bit less intense about it, given that you’ve got the wonderful gift of living to enjoy for many, many years. And you are healthy; please make the most of your good health by looking after your body. </p> <p>I once read an article by someone well-known, written just before he died. Although he did not allude to his forthcoming death, he said that he had never worried about things that he couldn’t change. Of course, we all wonder about things: what it would be like if we could fly like birds, or be someone else who we’re not. Similarly, it is not unreasonable to wonder what death would be like. But the important thing to grasp is that there is no escaping death – that we will all die cannot be changed. The trick then is to learn to accept it and you’ve got plenty of time to do just that. </p> <p>You can start by observing very old people. They may be having wonderful lives but you will notice their increasing frailty, their slowness, awkwardness of movement and – sometimes – mental confusion. As their deterioration continues, there will come a time when they would want to go, perhaps to escape pain or just in te hrealisation that they will never regain their prized faculties. Meanwhile, why can’t you personally get all the joy you can from being alive now? </p> <p>Death is a natural part of life but, when you are young, the end of your life should seem so very far away. Shouldn’t you really be concentrating on getting the most out of life, instead of being frightened? I’ve never much liked going to the dentist but I recognize that it’s necessary and I’ve come to accept the discomfort for my greater health. There are many things that you’ve been able to accept, too, no doubt. You’ve obviously accepted that you were born; being born and dying are part of the same process. It’s almost necessary that some things have to die so that others can be born and live.</p> <p>I am at a time of my life when, because of my age and various complaints, I am prepared to drop off my perch any moment. It isn’t that I want to go; it’s more that I have accepted the relationship between life and death and I accept my death as inevitable. Of course, if I were in growing pain from an incurable illness I’d want some help to go. But having long ago spent time pondering the problem, I’m getting on with enjoying life; I hope you will, too. </p> (Ask the atheists)Tue, 06 May 2014 18:30:43 +0200 on 'When I die where will i go?' <p>You have answered your own question, quite neatly, I might add: <em>... i feel like if i now am “back being unborn” i will be in an unescapeable void of darkness in which i have no notice or thought of.</em></p> <p>The reason it is hard to imagine what it means to be unborn or dead is because of the pesky consequences of having a conscious self, a self incongruously sandwiched inbetween the before and after of our lives. As far as we know, we are the only species to have this kind of mind, a mind that insists, hey, we have a self, how could it at one time not be and then be and then once again not be?</p> <p>All the evidence points that the human brain gives forth the human mind. As this very mind can cause anxiety when perusing its own mortality, this same mind can also understand fully that it, itself, is temporary.</p> <p>Mindfulness allows the embracing and accepting of what may seem a paradox, a perspective that is also encouraged by society, that humans are so special because of this very consciousness. Yet if a bat or an ant or a lion could talk, I think we would realize that humans are just another 'special&#8217; species, and like all of them, we are mortal. We just have the hubris to think otherwise.</p> <p>This hubris often gets in the way of being at peace with reality while being alive. Religion, though it bandages this festering wound of non-acceptance, fails. Gracefully acknowledging your temporary nature which is shared by every single other living thing is the solution. In addition, because of genetic duplication, others&#8217; memories of us, and the elemental material of our former selves, bits of us do remain. </p> (Ask the atheists)Fri, 25 Apr 2014 12:26:19 +0200 on 'Are atheists against making animals work?' <p>Without the Biblical assertion that humans have &#8220;dominion&#8221; over all other creatures, this issue does require a bit of thought. </p> <p>The difficulty is that work is an almost exclusively human concept: the idea of regularly performing an action for another creature which has no direct benefit to oneself, but will be rewarded later in a physically unrelated way. There are some practical relationships in the animal kingdom where one animal appears to be working for another (e.g. the birds eating insects off a hippo), but in all the cases that come to mind the action is itself beneficial to the &#8220;workers&#8221; (the insects are nutritious).</p> <p>So, when an animal works for a human we try to apply human standards to the arrangement. The critical question from your perspective is, therefore, does it seem more like employment or slavery? One is voluntary and gainful, the other is forced and unrewarding. One doesn&#8217;t raise any major ethical questions, the other is a moral outrage.</p> <p>Rather unsatisfyingly, the answer depends heavily on the details of the situation. Looking at all of history, there have been and still are plenty of deplorable cases where animals are whipped, starved, placed in extreme danger and killed as soon as they outlive their usefulness. In other cases, the animals are bred and raised not just to be good at a particular job but to <em>love</em> it. They&#8217;re well fed, praised, looked after, given days off and live to a ripe old age in relaxing retirement. It&#8217;s hard to begrudge them that because of some lofty idea that an animal without the intelligence to understand an employment contract cannot fully consent to work. They do the work willingly and come home happy at the end of the day. That&#8217;s downright enviable.</p> <p>Taking all of this into account, my opinion on working animals hinges almost entirely on the welfare of the animals themselves. If they prosper and rejoice in their day&#8217;s activities, it&#8217;s fine. If they suffer, it&#8217;s not fine. There&#8217;s nothing intrinsically ethical or unethical about an activity or arrangement that produces such varied quality of life.</p> (Ask the atheists)Wed, 02 Apr 2014 01:32:32 +0200 on 'How to deal with death' <p>This is a <strong>really</strong> complicated topic, so I&#8217;ll just take one piece. If you want to know what it will be like after death, think about what it was like before you were conceived. How you felt about the second is how you will feel about the first.</p> <p>Non-existence is nothing to fear. There is no thinking, no feeling, no suffering, no regret; There&#8217;s just nothing. At its worst, this means you don&#8217;t get to experience the things you liked any more. At its best, you have escaped experiencing the things you hated any more!</p> <p>Also, try not to confuse a fear of the <strong>way</strong> you might die with being dead. Eventually being dead is nothing to worry about. We all get there one day, and it doesn&#8217;t hurt or anything. Lots of people confuse that with the fear or pain they imagine coming <strong>when</strong> they die. There&#8217;s no way to know how the end will come, so there&#8217;s no reason to believe it will be anything else besides in your sleep, peacefully, at a very old age&#8230;</p> (Ask the atheists)Thu, 27 Mar 2014 16:36:35 +0200 on 'Government and Religion: separate?' <p>Separation of church and state is actually much trickier than most people believe. It isn&#8217;t just about taking 'god&#8217; out of the pledge and off money. </p> <p>People will act (if they act morally) as their conscience dictates. In the case of a religious person, that conscience is theoretically guided by religion. You can&#8217;t tell such a person that they aren&#8217;t allowed to promote their opinions if their religion motivates them, as that would constitute forcing religion (or non-religion) on them, which would, itself, violate separation.</p> <p>The best we can hope for is to create a government where &#8220;because this is what I believe&#8221; is accepted as a valid position, but &#8220;because my religion says so&#8221; is treated as verbal diarrhea. Romney should be welcome to display his own bigotry and ignorance with god &#8220;in his heart&#8221; and as &#8220;bestower&#8221;, but if the only reason for a political action is because &#8220;my religion is right&#8221;, it should be disallowed.</p> <p>However, on the other side, it is clear that all official <strong>recognition</strong> of any religion (or of religion itself) by government is odious and inherently prejudicial. Coins, seals, flags, pledges, courthouses, and textbooks must be devoid of religion&#8217;s mention <strong>except</strong> as a topic of education/acceptance/tolerance&#8230;</p> (Ask the atheists)Wed, 14 Aug 2013 20:28:40 +0200