Responding to Christians' Questions

A lot of Christians offered their questions for me on my friend Rachel Held Evans‘ site, and my answers are now posted there.

If you think your responses would have been better than the ones I gave, feel free to leave them on her site.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • http://manintheskies.blogspot.com/ Anon

    Great answers, very eloquent! In the middle of reading one of your answers I caught myself thinking “heck if reading this won’t make the christians atheists then nothing will”. But that’s only possible I suppose if these christians have never faced opposition before, which I assumed most of them haven’t. But perhaps I’m wrong on that.

  • Heidi

    From the comments over there:

    …I am on the fence about my faith-based upbringing and this really did help me finally “man” up (I’m a woman) and admit that I don’t need to believe in a god just because my family did. It’s true there is no evidence of the supernatural and it feels like a weight off my shoulders to take the next step away from faith.

    I… wow. Hemant, you are mighty.

  • DKeane

    I absolutely loved the Snopes reference!

  • Lefty

    Anon: But that’s only possible I suppose if these christians have never faced opposition before, which I assumed most of them haven’t.

    If they are asking about Pascal’s Wager, it seems like a good bet.

  • The Pint

    Sigh. 31 comments in and there seems to be quite a bit of nitpicking about what Hemant means by “evidence.”

  • Vahdrok

    Probably because they don’t understand what it is themselves.

  • Ali

    I loved reading your answers. I always feel like I learn from articulate arguments posted by atheists.

    But, honestly, I’m really tired of hearing Christians’ response to them, mainly seeing the word EVIDENCE and PROOF in quotes. I know that’s probably how they feel about us. Our reasons just don’t penetrate into their brains unless they’re already on the fence. So it seems kind of pointless sometimes.

  • http://silveroutlinedwindow.wordpress.com/ Shannon

    Awesome – as always I’m inspired to do more because of your words.

  • Michael

    My answer to Pascal’s Wager is always this:

    If you were God, would you rather be lied about or ignored? Would you rather someone say “I don’t know who Hemant Mehta is” or “I have a personal relationship with Hemant Mehta and he tells me we need to drop Steve from the basketball team because Steve looks funny and Hemant Mehta hates people who look funny”?

    The bible, and I suspect most holy books, has contradictions. Things which cannot all be true. So it’s a gamble, which is worse? Accidentally pass on a lie, or admit not knowing?

    I would expect that admitting you don’t know is probably asking for less trouble than jumping in and getting it wrong. Rather like a conversation in an elevator, it’s often better to just not converse than to give the wrong impression.

  • JulietEcho

    Many Christians have a different standard for what they consider “evidence” and/or “proof” and it’s a difficult conversation to sort out those differences.

  • sven

    There seems to be a lot of critique that Hemant did not answer ‘better’ questions.
    What ‘better’ questions?

  • Daniel

    This post is making ChristianMingle.com banner ads appear on the site. #AdPlacementFail

  • Lefty

    JulietEcho: Many Christians have a different standard for what they consider “evidence” and/or “proof” and it’s a difficult conversation to sort out those differences.

    It can actually be pretty simple. Just ask them if they consider those forms of “evidence” (old books, revelations, etc.) to be convincing when presented for other religions, such as Hinduism.

  • Kelly

    I loved the Snopes reference! I frequently feel this way about emails some of the people I know forward. Also, I enjoyed reading the questions and very well composed answers, well done!

  • Annie

    Nicely done. I also appreciated that the questions were very thoughtful and contributed to a healthy dialogue.

  • http://manintheskies.blogspot.com/ Anon

    @Sven – Like the Pascal Wager question, if Hemant would’ve been able to choose his own question he would probably have a better question which would have increased the understanding for atheists.

  • Lefty
  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff P

    Hemant,

    I think you did a good job with the answers to the questions.

    I added my 2-cents worth over at that site.

    Science is a methodology to find patterns in nature that are reproducible from a third-party perspective. This methodology was invented/discovered to try to bypass the problems with subjective experience and bias. Notions of God, though, are mainly subjective and are difficult to examine from a third-party perspective. A third-party investigation of God would require God to participate in the investigation by basically agreeing to do cosmological parlor tricks. With everybody watching, say “Hey God, to demonstrate your existence, please move that particular star up there over 5 degrees from our perspective here on Earth”. God then moves the star. We are all amazed. Skeptics become believers. More questions like this are asked. God complies. More skeptics become believers. The problem is that nothing like this ever happens so either there is no God or God for some reason doesn’t want to demonstrate His existence in this way. Skeptics prefer the null-hypothesis (that there is no God) until evidence is provided otherwise.

  • Slider33

    Those were very good answers, nicely done!

  • http://notanygods.blogspot.com/ Miss Coconut

    Overall, I like the stuff you put, but, since you asked, I will mention my differences or ‘problems’:

    On a side note: To everyone who asked about Pascal’s Wager, you could’ve answered your own question by Googling “Pascal’s Wager,”

    I don’t think the Christians actually used the term ‘Pascal’s Wager’, they probably didn’t know that term existed, at least most of them.

    Atheists are also the most distrusted religious minority in America as well as the people you’d least like your children to marry. So we’re up against all those awful stereotypes.

    But atheism isn’t a religion! Maybe ‘group of people’ or something would have been better here.

    Several people wanted to know what evidence or experience (if any) would cause you to believe in God?

    If you experienced a miracle, how would you know it couldn’t be explained by science if our science hasn’t advanced as far as this ‘miracle’ yet?

    From Liz: Do you say the Pledge of Allegiance? (“one nation under God”)

    As a high school teacher at a public school, it’s said over the intercom in my classroom every day. I never say it, but my students are free to do so.

    The Pledge was ruled unconstitutional in 2002, so it really shouldn’t be said in a public school at all….

  • Charles Minus

    I liked what you said about Google. Don’t these people ever think to just run their questions in Google? The reason they don’t is because the questions are rhetorical, the questioners are really not interested in answers. The answers to all these questions are readily available to anyone with a little curiosity and an internet connection. I have no patience for those who ask, “Well then, what happened before the big bang?” Or, “Evolution is just a theory.” I just say, “I found the answers to these questions; why can’t you?”

  • Tim

    @Michael

    I hope your answer about Pascal’s Wager does not always reference Hemant. First, because most you would be having the discussion with wouldn’t know who you’re talking to. Second, because your explanation may cause them to investigate further, beginning with the question, “Who’s this asshole, Hemant Mehta, and what does he consider funny-looking?”

    8)

  • Alex

    If I witnessed a miracle then it has it’s causes in the natural not supernatural world.

  • Anna N.

    while I love most of your questions, the answer to the question of when in your opinion christianity becomes harmful is sad. really? not being able to marry (which is an outdated concept) is the worst problem? how about the no-condoms rule killing all those people in Africa? (or undefunding of healthcare, denying women basic care etc etc.) the generally homophobic treatment and misogyn treatment the church brings on.. I can see how the examples you name “hit close to home” but the church has done worse.

  • Michael

    :)

    No, Tim, the name is always the name of someone I’m speaking to at the time.

    I like the attitude that Spitting Image took to God, which was not to deny his existence, just to pity him for having followers who believe such strange things about him.

    I remember one sketch had him caught sunday shopping.

    Fanatics: But the Lord worked for six days, and on the seventh day he rested!
    God: Well, I’d had a busy week.

  • Claudia

    Liked the answers. I also like the Christians. Remarkably few facepalm moments (except for one woman claiming gay married couples in CA have more rights than straight ones. Yes, really) and a lot of thoughtful, interesting questions. Most of them seem really genuinely interested in knowing more about atheists. It’s a welcome change of pace, given that we usually deal with the most unevolved (ejem) of the Christians on the net.
    [edit]: I nearly forgot. I’m continually shocked that Pascal’s wager is given the time of day even by otherwise thoughtful people. It’s such a terrible argument, I wonder how it could have possibly made it into this century, let alone into the more enlightened circles of theists.

  • http://www.twitter.com/WCLPeter WCLPeter

    Whenever someone asks me the “Evidence / Miracle” question I usually answer with something like “If God is all knowing he knows what I want to see…” and just leave it at that.

    Though if I’m pressed I’ll say, “For me to believe in God is must never rain or snow on any asphalt, concrete, or refined stone ever again. This way people will never have to worry about driving / walking in unsafe road conditions, think of all the accidents that’ll be saved, and old people won’t have to kill themselves shovelling all that heavy snow. You’d never have to worry about bringing an umbrella or getting sick from walking around it wet clothes.

    I’d also like it to always be sunny, even when its raining, and between 20 – 25 degrees Celsius with low relative humidity, about the temperature of your local mall, so that people with Asthma and other breathing impairments won’t have to worry about the hot humid weather potentially killing them.”

    Because its so very specific and so incredibly unlikely to happen ever that usually shuts them up pretty quickly. ;-)

  • Norickayer

    Overall I thought Hemant did very well in answering the various questions, but I do have one bone to pick: he makes several generalizations about atheists that might not be true.

    “Atheists believe in discovering the truth whenever possible”

    Atheists are not necessarily a group of people who make decisions based on logic and evidence as opposed to faith. Isn’t a Scietologist just as atheistic as Hemant himself?
    The commenters on this blog are a convenience sample of atheists (and others) who are perhaps more rational than average. The fact that we tend to be informed, tolerant and logical does not mean that all or even most atheists are.
    While I understand the urge to only associate with the best of our community, I think it is to our detriment to misrepresent the actual atheist demographics (see “Black Atheists of Atlanta”).

  • http://godconfusion.blogspot.com/ Xanthe Wyse

    Was an interesting read. What a great idea to have such a discussion in a civil manner.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Miss Coconut: The Pledge was ruled unconstitutional in 2002, so it really shouldn’t be said in a public school at all

    What?

  • http://annainca.blogspot.com Anna

    I admire their willingness to learn more about people with whom they disagree, but I’m disappointed by the comment section. Most people are being friendly, but it’s clear that the vast majority are so in thrall to supernaturalism that they simply cannot understand our point of view. So many of the commenters simply assume that the supernatural exists, that their favorite ancient book is evidence of it, and that it takes just as much “faith” to be an atheist as a believer. Maybe Hemant should have focused more on the basics of atheism.

  • Miles McCullough

    I left a few score comments and got a couple dozen replies, yet depressingly I’m not sure I changed a single mind. Que sera sera.


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