Answering More Questions for Atheists

Michael Egnor, a creationist working for the Discovery Institute, has posted a list of questions for atheists (HT: Sandwalk). Ironically, the post which contains the questions has comments disabled, so it’s impossible to answer Egnor directly. This is probably another piece of evidence for whether whether creationists actually want answers to the questions they ask.

Be that as it may, I’ve decided to write answers to Egnor’s questions. He does say “I want to learn more about what New Atheists really believe”, and I see no harm in taking him at his word, at least for now. The original questions are in bold, followed by my answers.

Why is there anything?

Although this sentence is syntactically valid, I’m not convinced it expresses a meaningful proposition.

What caused the Universe?

The universe as we presently observe it began with the Big Bang. The cause or causes of that event are a subject of active, ongoing scientific research; there are several hypotheses which are consistent with what we already know about cosmology, but we don’t currently have enough evidence to conclusively accept or reject any of them. I advise checking back in a few years.

Why is there regularity (Law) in nature?

The existence of law-like regularities in nature is a prerequisite for the existence of intelligent entities such as ourselves. If the universe were completely chaotic, we would not be here, and hence we would not notice that fact.

Granted, the point of the question may be what caused these regularities to exist in the first place, not merely why it is that we observe them. In that case, I’d have to repeat my first answer: this is an ill-formed question. Any principle I could possibly invoke to explain the existence of law-like regularities at all would itself be another of those law-like regularities. I dislike the philosopher’s term “necessary existence”, which is usually just a linguistic placeholder for our ignorance, but this may be a case where it’s unavoidable.

Of the Four Causes in nature proposed by Aristotle (material, formal, efficient, and final), which of them are real? Do final causes exist?

All four of Aristotle’s causes are “real”, though not necessarily all in the same sense of that word. Physical substances exist (material cause) and have distinct compositions and arrangements (formal causes). These substances interact in patterns of cause and effect (efficient cause). Final, i.e., purposive or teleological, causes exist, but only with reference to the actions of intelligent beings whose minds consciously represent them. In an analogous sense, final causes exist with reference to the products of evolution: evolution is an unintelligent and non-foresightful algorithm, so it does not genuinely have purpose, but acts “as if” it had purpose by shaping adaptations that make species better suited to their environment.

Why do we have subjective experience, and not merely objective existence?

We have subjective experience because we are capable of introspection, i.e., our minds possess sufficient complexity to recursively observe their own functioning. (We can examine ourselves examining ourselves examining ourselves… and so on.) I tend to think that qualia or something like them are a necessary outcome of this process.

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?

Mind is an evolutionary adaptation whose purpose is, as Daniel Dennett says, to “produce future”, i.e., to allow an organism to represent and thereby predict events in the external world faster and more efficiently than blind trial and error. In that sense, all minds are intentional by definition. Mental states are “about” external objects in the sense that they create a simulation or representation of those objects, such that perturbations of the simulation accurately track the behavior of the external object.

Does Moral Law exist in itself, or is it an artifact of nature (natural selection, etc.)

I don’t know what it means for a moral law to “exist in itself”. I believe that morality is objective, in the sense that questions about morality are ultimately empirical questions that have right and wrong answers. However, I don’t believe that moral law has some kind of separate or independent existence in its own right. Morality is an abstract concept, like mathematics, language, or music, and like those other abstract concepts, it exists in virtue of the fact that human beings instantiate it in our minds.

Why is there evil?

Evil in nature (disease, tidal waves, earthquakes, etc.) exists because natural laws are not constructed with reference to human needs and desires. This explanation is also true of human beings, at some level – since our brains are also physical objects operating in obedience to natural law, and could have been engineered to be morally better than they are now – but it’s more informative to say that human beings do evil to each other because they’re ignorant of the moral truths that should lead them to treat each other with more concern. One of the major culprits in this regard is religion, which teaches people to value belief in the unknown and the unprovable more highly than the well-being and happiness of their fellow human beings.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • http://twoangryvoices.blogspot.com Aegis

    Comments disabled? That’s not ironic, that’s retarded and cowardly.

  • 2-D Man

    evolution is an unintelligent and non-foresightful algorithm, so it does not genuinely have purpose, but acts “as if” it had purpose by shaping adaptations that make species better suited to their environment.

    You do realize this is the Dishonesty Institute you’re dealing with, right? If Engor reads this, you are so going to get quote-mined:

    [E]volution…acts “as if” it had purpose… -Ebonmuse

    See how easy that is?
    Also,

    I dislike the philosopher’s term “necessary existence”, which is usually just a linguistic placeholder for our ignorance, but this may be a case where it’s unavoidable.

    But here you need a linguistic placeholder for ignorance, rendering “necessary existence”‘s existence necessary. (That was too fun to say to resist sharing.)

  • Ysor

    I am surprised that you actually bothered to answer all the questions. It is obvious that they are just another Gish Gallop deceptively phrased in question form. Especially I don’t see how question #4 has any relevance to atheist’s position at all.

  • Monty

    Love your response to the first question. I may have to use that one in future debates.

  • Stephen P

    It’s generous of you to expend effort answering Egnor’s post. Frankly I hardly think it worth answering.

    He reports on Larry Moran’s post, says that no argument satisfied Moran, and then leaves it hanging to give his readers the impression that this is Moran being unreasonable. But come off it Egnor: is there one argument in that thread that should satisfy anyone? I’ve been through it and I certainly couldn’t spot one.

    Egnor gets sillier when he starts whining about some “old atheism” being pretty profound but asserting that there should be separate arguments for “new atheism”.
    It was Egnor’s lot that started this daft distinction in the first place, and now he’s trying to get us to justify the distinction! Let’s see Egnor lay off the pointless temporal adjectives and actually deal with the profound arguments for atheism.

  • Thor

    Anyone else notice a strong tendency of questions to understand “what atheists think” to be gotcha questions? It usually feels like the whole point is to lead people to the conclusion that only the existence of god could possible explain these things. Of course, the fact that god violates everything we know about the universe, that is, he breaks every natural law we are aware of, the existence of such a being raises much more difficult questions than it could possible answer. That, and accepting the easy answer with out any real predictive or explanatory power is just intellectually lazy. These questions are nothing more than a form of a god of the gaps argument.

  • Mark C.

    Why is there regularity (Law) in nature?

    This question just baffles me. Maybe I’m being too reductionistic here, but I see only two options for a universe with multiple “objects” in it:
    1. Things of the same type behave differently or
    2. Things of the same type behave the same.

    “Things of the same type” is a little ambiguous, so I’ll explain. Consider two jointly isolated (to reduce outside influence) objects consisting of one and the same chemical element, and let them be in exactly the same condition (i.e. same temperature, same atmospheric pressure, same net charge, same electro- and magnetic fields, etc). That is, they could reasonably be said to be the same on the atomic level, and exactly the same on the subatomic level. The given question seems to me to call into question why these two objects don’t interact in completely different ways with other objects. If they did, it would be ludicrous. Their behaviors are PART of their properties, and so if they behave differently, they ARE NOT the same thing. These essential regularities result in the laws of physics (maybe with the exception of some things in quantum mechanics, though…). So is the question really equivalent to either “why is there more than one thing?” or “why do some things have exactly the same properties?”? Or am I completely off my rocker here?

  • Willie G

    I for one appreciate your respectful answers to the questions. So many who are stepping up to this simple challenge are using it as an opportunity to ridicule and demean. Regardless of the motivation of the asker, there is no harm in taking it as an opportunity to create honest dialogue.

    Cheers

  • Reginald Selkirk

    … and so on.) I tend to think that qualia or something like them are a necessary outcome of this process.

    I tend to disagree. Qualia are a medieval concept which will not fare well under modern scientific inspection. What does a bacterium “feel” when it’s chemorecptors pick up a nutrient and signal its flagellum to propel it in a certain direction?

  • Stephen P

    @Willie G: if you haven’t met Michael Egnor and the Discovery Institute before, I can imagine you find some of the responses harsh. Let’s just say that their past acts, coupled to the points I raised above, are quite sufficient to justify a fair amount of harshness. Honest dialogue is certainly not what they are looking for: the simple fact that they disable comments on a post explicitly asking for comments could signal that to you.

  • DSimon

    Qualia are a medieval concept which will not fare well under modern scientific inspection.

    I disagree; qualia is still a useful concept, in that it’s a name for something that’s interesting and definitely exists, but that we haven’t got a good explanation for yet.

    What does a bacterium “feel” when it’s chemorecptors pick up a nutrient and signal its flagellum to propel it in a certain direction?

    Probably it doesn’t feel anything; one of the few things we do know about qualia is that it seems to require a fairly sophisticated neurological system.

  • http://peternothnagle.com Peter N

    “just a linguistic placeholder for our ignorance” — I love it!

    Really, just a few generations ago (in the grand scheme of things), Egnor’s ancestor could have been asking “Okay, smartypants, what causes solar eclipses then?”

  • http://www.shadowmanor.com/blog/ Cobwebs

    The “moral law” and “moral truths” thing feeds back into evolution, so in that sense they probably are an artifact of nature. Humans evolved to be social creatures. To succeed as social creatures, all the members of the tribe have to have certain rules about what’s “right,” and the ones that follow the rules best tend to function best. So “morality” is pretty strongly linked to “behaviors that made us evolutionarily successful.”

  • Wednesday

    Since they’re asking these questions but disabling comments, it reminds me of those inane email forwards full of questions like “Why do we park on driveways and drive on parkways? If we evolved from monkeys, why are there still monkeys? How happy is a pig in a poke, anyway?”

    Regarding their last question, are they trying to use the Problem of Evil backwards to get us to admit there must be a (single, male-gendered, human-focused creator) god? Or do they just feel that it’s somehow worse for things like cancer and natural disasters to be the result of dispassionate causality that operates without malice or prejudice, rather than a divine being whose plan for the universe apparently requires precise sufferings of specific individuals?

  • Penguin_Factory

    What always baffles me about this strategy is the underlying assumption, that atheism (or evolution, in the case of creationists) cannot provide an answer, but theism/creationism can. Rarely if ever is it ever explained how.

  • jack

    Wednesday,

    are they trying to use the Problem of Evil backwards to get us to admit there must be a (single, male-gendered, human-focused creator) god?

    I wondered that, too. Understanding evil and meaningless suffering isn’t a problem at all for atheists. We obviously have the simplest, most rational and clearly winning argument on that one. Maybe Egnor’s point with this question is not to suggest the “Goddidit” answer, which presumably is what he has in mind for the others, but instead to suggest a “Satandidit” answer.

    Ebon,

    You handled these beautifully. I have only one thought to add. I would venture that none of the implied reasons for God’s existence embodied in these questions has anything to do with why Egnor believes in God. All of his questions miss the real point, which is that Egnor imagines that his God loves him, watches out for him and his family, answers his prayers, etc. He says he wants to know what atheists really believe. The answer is simple: we believe those things that reason and evidence compel us to believe, and no more. God doesn’t make it onto the list.

  • http://sacredriver.org Ash

    Good answer on the “moral law” thing…I would have pointed out that there is no “moral law” as such; rather, we have complex moral systems arising from a combination of biological and cultural evolution. The harm of religion would be greatly reduced if adherents would recognize the reality of this and let go of the iron-age delusion that there is a single set of moral laws proscribed by a supernatural law-giver.

  • Alex Weaver

    Why do we have subjective experience, and not merely objective existence?

    We have subjective experience because we are capable of introspection, i.e., our minds possess sufficient complexity to recursively observe their own functioning. (We can examine ourselves examining ourselves examining ourselves… and so on.) I tend to think that qualia or something like them are a necessary outcome of this process.

    Qualia and other subjective experiences are probably just a way of simplifying extremely complex data sets to a level where our brains can process them efficiently. Think of it as a lossy compression format.

  • Alex Weaver

    So is the question really equivalent to either “why is there more than one thing?” or “why do some things have exactly the same properties?”? Or am I completely off my rocker here?

    To the extent the question is coherent at all, it may be closer to “why does one thing have the same properties from one moment to the next, generally speaking?”

    Which isn’t much less stupid, frankly. >.>

    I mean, why would you expect it not to?

  • Mark C.

    To the extent the question is coherent at all, it may be closer to “why does one thing have the same properties from one moment to the next, generally speaking?”

    Which isn’t much less stupid, frankly. >.>

    I mean, why would you expect it not to?

    Exactly! Honestly, assuming your interpretation of the question, I can only come away thinking that Egnor is one of those people who thinks that God is necessary as a sustaining force — that nothing exists at time t without God also existing at time t. An acquaintance of mine has such a belief in the following form: We all exist in the mind of God. I suppose you could say that this also entails that God IS existence. Oy, I hate it when theists go there… makes me want to bang my head against the wall.

    Thanks for providing an alternative interpretation. But you’re right: none of the three we came up with make a bit of sense.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    It seems to me that “Satandidit” is simply “Goddidit” stopping one step short.

  • Dan L.

    Qualia and other subjective experiences are probably just a way of simplifying extremely complex data sets to a level where our brains can process them efficiently. Think of it as a lossy compression format.

    This is pretty close to my thoughts on the subject, although there is one caveat. In compression, you’re trying to reproduce the original as closely as possible, whereas qualia don’t seem to resemble anything in particular. So in a way, it’s more like compressing a big text file (or better yet, a file of unknown type) into a jpg. Image compression works as well as it does because we’ve been clever to set it up that way, but that doesn’t seem to be the case with the mind. The internal compression/representation system seems to have developed through evolutionary processes without anyone actually figuring out what sort of scheme would be needed to usefully represent the environment. Which suggests to me that the representation system is probably arbitrarily constructed (compared to the environment being represented) but is good enough in most cases. That view seems to be borne out by empirical data.

    I think a slightly more precise way to think about it is that the “presentation layer” of your mind has primitive commands that allow it to represent colors and shapes (and sounds and smells, etc.). Most of our sensory experience is built up of huge composite structures of these primitives (phonemes might be the auditory primitives out of which a verbal utterance is composed). The primitives are the qualia, but people call the composite structures “qualia” as well, which I think may actually be more misleading than helpful. On the other hand, I’m not sure there’s enough data from cognitive neuroscience to tell the difference between a quale and a composite of qualia.

    There is a little bit, though. For example, English speakers have trouble distinguishing between a hard L and a soft L, but experiments suggest that babies of English speakers below about 7 months old can distinguish the sounds just fine. Similarly, Chinese speakers can have difficulty differentiating between L and R (not being racist, it’s a fact about the world), whereas their infants can differentiate them much more consistently. So our space of interpretable phonemes — the qualia
    corresponding to our primitive elements for representing language — seems to be actively constructed by infants in the process of language acquisition, and this construction seems to be mediated by developmental processes.

    It’s trivial to prove qualia are real. I can tell apart two colors that my color blind friend cannot. The only variable is the subjective representations of the colors of the two objects, so the difference in outcome must result from differences between those subjective representations. Those representations are examples of (compositions of?) qualia.

    So is the question really equivalent to either “why is there more than one thing?” or “why do some things have exactly the same properties?”

    The way I’ve been thinking about this question is to say: “Imagine we lived in a universe with no regularity. Would mathematics be an abstract art?” It’s not exactly an argument, but I think it at least provides a glimmer of the absurdity in supposing there is a possible universe with no regularity. Imagine even trying to hold a conversation in such a place. To understand someone, you have to hear the sounds they’re making, interpret the sounds into words and phrases, and then interpret the words and phrases into a narrative. Of course, this is already presupposing that people have bodies with which to make sounds, and that it’s possible to make sounds. But in chaos-world, that’s all impossible too.

  • Dan L.

    Qualia and other subjective experiences are probably just a way of simplifying extremely complex data sets to a level where our brains can process them efficiently. Think of it as a lossy compression format.

    OK, only after writing the TL;DR above did I actually realize my problem with this way of stating it.

    It inserts too much teleology. When we talk about compression, we’re talking about a top-down process in which an original is represented as closely as possible through some algorithm which was designed for that very purpose.

    But the evolutionary view suggests that just the opposite is true of our subjective representations. Rather than starting from the top and paring down, evolution started at the bottom — representing one tiny element of the environment on which it was relatively easy for evolutionary processes to get a handle. For example, our visual system’s origins are in “eyespots” that could represent at best the intensity of light incident on the spot.

    The analogy to “lossiness” is also flawed, mainly because in the bottom-up evolutionary view, it’s not clear what parts of the representation are informational and which are noise. When I see a rock, for example, my subjective representation is of a discrete object, the rock in question. But in reality, there’s no rock, there’s just a composite of silicon and oxygen atoms (and impurities). To my knowledge, there are no lumps of silicon dioxide that possess properties like “is a discrete object” or “is a rock.” If our subjective representations were supposed to be accurate (which is the criterion for compression) then I shouldn’t see the rock as an object, but as a composite. But it’s clearly more useful for my survival as an organism to see the rock instead of the undifferentiated lump of atoms.

    So rather than lossy compression, I think the way to think of qualia are as the degrees of freedom in our internal models of the world. Evolution has added* degrees of freedom to the extent that new degrees of freedom increase utility rather than accuracy. Inaccuracies may be added where the inaccuracy is useful. Degrees of freedom that would increase accuracy without increasing utility probably would not be added (this would be why we don’t see in infrared in addition to the visible spectrum). The important point is that utility is the constraint rather than accuracy. Experiments with inverting the visual field suggest this as well — subjects wearing a pair of goggles that inverted their visual fields have trouble walking for a few days, but then adjust completely. Apparently, their internal representation of the visual field “reinverts” after a few days. When the goggles are removed, they once again have trouble walking and need a few more days for the representation to “deinvert.” The subjective representation changes according to what’s useful to the subject, not what accurately represents the data incident on the retina.

    Please understand, though, I’m not trying to beat up on the idea of qualia as artifacts of lossy compression so much as using it as a springboard for my own thoughts. I thought it was a great comment.

    *Please read figuratively.

  • Alex Weaver

    You’re overthinking the analogy.

  • Petrucio

    Morality is an abstract concept

    class TMorality {
    virtual void Sin() = 0;
    };

    it exists in virtue of the fact that human beings instantiate it in our minds

    namespace OurMinds {
    TMorality *morality = new TMorality();
    }

    Error – cannot instantiate abstract class

  • Dan L.

    You’re overthinking the analogy

    Whatever, dude. Analogies are useful for pointing us in the right direction, but they’re not literally true pretty much by definition. Your analogy pointed me in what I thought was a good direction. Thinking about where analogies go wrong is one of the best ways (at least for me) to dig deeper into a problem and to understand it better. That’s exactly what happened to me here.

    Do you really have a problem with me taking your idea and developing it further? Or was this just the wrong place for it?

  • ex machina

    Why is there regularity in nature?

    I’ve got a take on this that I think few people think about: because it’s inherent in the concept of ‘regularity’. Regular things perpetuate themselves, plain and simple.

    For example: a tree grows and then produces seeds. Some of those seeds will grow into another tree. This gives us a regenerative cycle of tree growth. Orderly and regular, right? So why don’t we see trees that, say, produce no seeds or that don’t produce a cycle of growth? Well, we don’t see trees of that type because they didn’t produce any seeds or have otherwise failed to produce another tree for me to observe. What would an Earth with these non-cyclical trees look like? Just like ours; cyclical trees would easily crowd them out.

    Another example: Why don’t we have a universe with matter that blinks out of existence? Well, let’s say we did have such a universe, one that had equal parts disappearing matter and ‘orderly’ matter, what would that universe look like? Again, just like ours; all the ‘disappearing’ matter would be gone and we’d be left with the matter that behaved itself.

    To me, the universe is like a tangled set of Christmas lights. You might wonder why they are tangled together at all given the amount of possible states they could be in. But you’d be forgetting that the whole concept of ‘tangled’ implies that it’s a difficult condition to move out of. If the lights are in a condition that’s easy to move out of, well, they’ll move out of that position until they reach one that’s difficult to move out of: tangled.

  • bbk

    It’s not worth answering his questions if he doesn’t want his readers to see the answers.

    I think the questions are probably earnest, in the sense that he probably tried to throw in the most profound “smart people” questions that puzzled him his whole life. Questions that would trip up Einstein, no less! “Why is there anything?” Obviously, it’s so that we can have a better appreciation for the empty spots where there is nothing.

  • Alex Weaver

    “Why is there anything?” Obviously, it’s so that we can have a better appreciation for the empty spots where there is nothing.

    Michael Egnor’s brain, for instance.

    (Okay, cheap shot, but c’mon, you were thinking it too).

  • Tacroy

    What I’d like to see are Egnor’s responses to these questions. I imagine they’d go something like this:

    Q) Why is there anything?
    A) Because God.

    Q) What caused the Universe?
    A) God.

    Q) Why is there regularity (Law) in nature?
    A) Because God eats fiber.

    Q) Of the Four Causes in nature proposed by Aristotle (material, formal, efficient, and final), which of them are real? Do final causes exist?
    A) The ones that prove God is real, and yes because it proves God is real.

    Q) Why do we have subjective experience, and not merely objective existence?
    A) I don’t even know what I just asked but the answer involves the necessity of God.

    Q) 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?
    A) I actually just pulled this one out of the Dada Engine, but I’ve got “God” written down on my answer sheet.

    Q) Does Moral Law exist in itself, or is it an artifact of nature (natural selection, etc.)
    A) Yes, because God is the Moral Law – if God told you to rape that child, doing so would be moral. Totally makes sense.

    Q) Why is there evil?
    A) Because of humans, obviously. Women in particular. It’s like the way your toilet clogs because you’re a horrible, dirty, fallen human being who needs to be absolved of your ablutionary sins through Jesus Christ, not because the plumber who installed it is incompetent.

    And oddly enough, he left out the single most important meta-question you can ask yourself:

    Q) How do you know that the above answers are true?

    If he can give an answer to that which doesn’t boil down to “because I want them to be true”, I might gain some respect for the man. I won’t hold my breath, though.

  • Alex Weaver

    Do you really have a problem with me taking your idea and developing it further?

    Not on rereading in less of a hurry, no.

  • DSimon

    Error – cannot instantiate abstract class

    class TMorality {
    virtual void Sin() = 0;
    };

    class DSimonMorality : public TMorality {
    void Sin() { eatBeef(); }
    };

    TMorality* m = new DSimonMorality;

    So, yeah, we can instantiate abstract morality, provided that we first reify the abstraction to something specific.

    Programming metaphors win again! Mwahahahech*cough*cough*ow*.

  • Eurekus

    What really amuzes me about creationists is this. Despite all the money they raise from church goers, and despite all the christian apologists they employ as a result, their arguments are easily brushed aside by even an amateur atheist. However, as we can see, Ebon’s type of atheist doesn’t just brush them aside but blows them to pieces. Christ being called a ‘lamb to the slaughter’ in the bible is more accurate than the writers could have ever imagined.

  • http://thechapel.wordpress.com the chaplain

    I don’t believe that Egnor is the least bit interested in “learning more about what new atheists believe.” His use of the term “believe” strikes me as an attempt to frame atheism as one more alternative religion among many alternatives. Nonbelief in gods – the refusal to draw conclusions in favor of god-hypotheses until sufficient evidence for such hypotheses is proffered – is not an alternative form of god-belief.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    Anyone else notice a strong tendency of questions to understand “what atheists think” to be gotcha questions? It usually feels like the whole point is to lead people to the conclusion that only the existence of god could possible explain these things.

    That’s an excellent point, Thor, and I concur. Despite what Egnor says, I don’t think he posted these questions because he’s actually interested in learning about the views of atheists. On a reread, they’re obviously apologetics in thin disguise, meant to “lead” atheists to the conclusion he obviously intends (does that ever work?).

    This is confirmed by a new post of Egnor’s, in which he addresses Larry Moran’s (very brief) answers to his questions, and doesn’t acknowledge anyone else’s. Egnor also posts his own answers to his own questions; basically, they’re just an excuse to recite Catholic theology. Nothing even remotely interesting or new.

  • bbk
  • kennypo65

    Adam, of course there is nothing new. Egnor’s “answers” are just the same BS theists have been trying to get us to swallow for the last two millenia. I may not know for sure what the answer is for certain, but I’m pretty sure that I won’t find them in a book of mythology. Goddidit is never going to be the answer, it’s just intellectual laziness.

  • http://www.failingtheinsidertest.blogspot.com/ Jeffrey

    >Why is there regularity (Law) in nature?

    Suppose there was an exception to this regularity, and something happened that did not align with what we think natural laws are. We have a name for an event like this: miracle. So to rephrase:

    Q: Why don’t miracles happen?
    A: There is no god.

  • noel44

    Caveat: This is just one atheist’s answer to these questions.

    1) Why is there anything?
    -While I too doubt that the question expresses a meaningful proposition, I prefer to answer the gist of the question by saying see the answer to question #2.

    2) What caused the Universe?
    -The answer is unknown. The big bang may be the beginning of the universe but I think you would ask what in turn caused the big bang. The problem is that it may in fact not even make sense to attempt to apply the term “cause” to the universe as a whole even though it may apply to its constituent parts.

    3) Why is there regularity (Law) in nature?
    – The answer is unknown. Physicists like Michio Kaku think we may one day be able to describe everything in the universe using a single equation. Being a manifestation of a single phenomenon may help explain some of the regularity in nature but this would leave us with a similar question with regard to that equation.

    4) Of the Four Causes in nature proposed by Aristotle (material, formal, efficient, and final), which of them are real? Do final causes exist?
    – I do not know enough about Aristotelian philosophy to say. However, I doubt the categories used by the ancient Greeks are the best framework for understanding/classifying “cause” today (especially given that science has identified some phenomena that are uncaused).

    5) Why do we have subjective experience, and not merely objective existence?
    -I’ve seen this question posed before with its unstated supposition that subjective experience would not be a product of evolution. I’m still at a loss to understand why someone would think that. Scientists in the fields of neurology, psychology, and so forth have not found the mechanism(s) which give rise to subjective experience but their preliminary findings all suggest that all our experiences are ultimately tied to the physical nervous system.

    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?
    – I do not know enough about the technical philosophical sense of aboutness to say. Nor do I understand the question which follows.

    7) Does Moral Law exist in itself, or is it an artifact of nature (natural selection,etc.)?
    -Moral Law does not exist. On the other hand, morality does exist and has a strong social component which was likely shaped by nature. There is such a thing as a moral sense but it is not an infallible road map to either justice or decency.

    8) Why is there evil?
    – I’ll skip over the sense of the question that could be interpreted to ask about disease, infirmity, and natural disasters because the unstated question is “Does evil exist?” vis-a-vis human behavior. Theists constantly bombard atheists with the trope that morality cannot exist without god/religion/the existence of moral absolutes. The stated repercussion is that an atheist has no reason to call something evil.
    The main problem with this tack is that god/religion/moral absolutes are human contrivances and as a consequence any appeal to a special moral certainty conferred by them is baseless. Even the mere act of following them absolutely does not result in an absolute morality: complete adherence to what is ultimately an arbitrary authority does not render an infallible code.
    A relativistic morality does not imply a free-for-all. External codes are set aside for complex, comparative judgments with an eye toward various outcomes tempered by deontic shorthand rubrics. I don’t need an absolute notion of “Evilness” to say that something is evil anymore than I need an absolute notion of “Blueness” to label something as blue. Whats more the comparative judgments allow me to recognize some acts as more heinous than others and the deontological shorthands allow me to label some behaviors as intrinsically evil and never acceptable under any circumstances.

  • Ritchie

    I believe that morality is objective

    Really?

    You think morality is an objective property? Acts carry moral values which would exist as a brute fact with or without an audience making moral judgements?

    Curious. How do you detect these moral values, exactly?

    Tacroy – LOL!

  • Ritchie

    Oooh, just noticed there’s a debate on objective morality going on in another thread…

  • Alex Weaver

    Really?

    You think morality is an objective property? Acts carry moral values which would exist as a brute fact with or without an audience making moral judgements?

    You know, he mostly answered this in the rest of the sentence quoted.

  • http://uncyclopedia.wikia.com/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    Ebonmuse “On a reread, they’re obviously apologetics in thin disguise, meant to ‘lead’ atheists to the conclusion he obviously intends (does that ever work?).”
    I disagree. In “apologetics in thin disguise” the keyword is “apologetics”. As such, they are less meant to “lead” atheists to orthodoxy (in the sense of “correct theistic belief”) than they are to keep theists there. Apologetics, therefore, don’t have to be good; they just have to be good enough.

  • Ritchie

    Alex – you’re right. Ignore me; skim reading…

  • colluvial

    Isn’t Egnor’s goal just to show that he can construct questions that can’t be answered definitively? And if atheists don’t have all the answers, then there must be a gap for god, right? Whereas he can always answer every question that goddidit, without having a clue as to what the question even means, if it means anything at all. He’s just supporting the only essential skill of a theologian, to spin a web of unfalsifiable fantasies.

  • BJ Marshall

    I’d like to address the first question: Why is there anything? I think he really means “Why is there something rather than nothing?”

    I think the short answer is that there can’t BE nothing. Nature won’t allow the complete absence of everything.

    I’m reading the newest book “The Grand Design” by Hawking and Mlodinow, and they talk about a no-boundaries theory of the universe. The basis for the no-boundaries theory of the universe seems to be set in the Uncertainty Principle. If there was absolutely, posi-frakkin-tively nothing in the universe, then the universe would have completely determined position and momentum: zero and zero; the uncertainty principle does not allow this. Hence, you have the vacuum energy of space – even the “nothingness” of the vacuum of space actually has energy – where virtual particles (that have actual, measurable effects) spring into existence!

    I guess it isn’t enough to say that nature abhors a vacuum. It’s more like nature abhors absolute nothingness.

  • http://atheistwiki.wikispaces.com Jon Jermey

    I would argue that ‘laws’ are just observed regularities. Where we observe a regularity, there we hypothesise a ‘law’, and go on doing so until we don’t observe the regularity any more.

    As for the question ‘why are there regularities?’ I’m not sure it even makes sense. You would have to show there is something anomalous or counter-intuitive about regularities in order to show there is anything wrong with the answer: ‘There just are‘.


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