Are you smarter than a 13th grader?

I get a lot of email from college students – on a wide variety of subjects, anthropology, psychology, political science and philosophy. One time I was even alerted to this brain-stabbing, and military-backed ‘angel healing’ college. This time, I’m visited by a young college freshman in a comparative religion’s course.

willy wonka meme youre in a class on world religions

Hi, my name is Siara. I am a 17 year old girl from Georgia. I am currently taking a Worldview college course and my current assignment is to interview 3 people all with different worldviews. If you could please answer 4 questions for me I would completely appreciate it! I haven’t interviewed an atheist yet so PLEASE take a few minutes out of your time. I am in a bit of a bind because all interviews are due Wednesday! I am going to enclose the questions for you, they are not questions to in any way offend or direct a point to prove one thing or another. It is simply to get the opinion and worldview of another to contrast how differently people think.

I’ve actually gotten this assignment quite a few times. I’ll be linking any further students here.

1.)   Does God exist and what is God like?

The gods of all Earthly religions past and present can safely be discarded – in the same manner that each of them recommends towards the others. It’s impossible to know if the ‘philosopher’s god’ or the ‘deist’s god’ or the ‘Last Thursdayism’ god exist – therefore one should reject giving them any serious thought or credibility.

God is like dividing by zero. It doesn’t mean anything to ‘know’ anything about a creature that by definition exists outside of the natural world. It’s undefined. Human societies have (multiple, overlapping) systems of ethics that exist outside of the atheist / theist debate. There is no moral action that a theist CAN do that an atheist can’t (good, bad, and the ugly). Unfortunately, people’s actions carried out in the name of a particular god are often gruesome. On the contrary, agnostics and atheists have never carried out atrocities in the name of atheism / agnosticism.

2.)   What’s wrong with the world and what is the solution to the problems of this world?

The world is not perfect, but it’s beautiful. If you want advice on what to do about problems of the world, it’s simple: do whatever you can do.

3.)   How can a person become right with God?

Since god is a concept, and each person makes their own ‘god concept’… get right with yourself. Then get right with your fellow humans. Improve upon the golden rule, use the platinum rule when you can.

Karl Popper:  “The golden rule is a good standard which is further improved by doing unto others, wherever reasonable, as they want to be done by”

4.)   What happens to a person after death?

Their heart stops beating. Their brain stops making electrical chirps. The machine ceases to function. Other people start saying all of the things they really should have before the person died. Later, those people die too and the cycle begins again.

Whatever you imagine happening to an animal, insect, tree, bacteria etc. after their deaths… that’s what happens to humans too. That doesn’t trivialize life. We’re fucking amazing – and I’m a huge fan of being alive. The molecules in our bodies are made of atoms that were forged in the furnaces of supernovae from alien suns that exploded billions of years before the first multi-cellular life-forms evolved on Earth. The particles in our bodies will continue their cosmic journey until protons decay.

To put it in more aesthetically pleasing way, I’ll have to borrow from singer/songwriter Jeffrey Lewis – ‘To Be Objectified’.

I left a trail of myself every place that I’ve been through/ 

And going bald is the most manly thing that I’m ever gonna do /

I tell the earth, “thanks for the hair, thanks for the skin, thanks for the bone”/

 Though I now slowly give it back I still appreciate the loan.

www.youtube.com/embed/AUkREr_4w0M?

Bonus aesthetics:

MelodySheep – Science is the poetry of reality:

www.youtube.com/embed/9Cd36WJ79z4?

How would you have answered?

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  • FormerlyNavy

    Sounds good to me.

  • http://intwaste.blogspot.com Dale
  • Robert B.

    1.) Does God exist and what is God like?

    God is an idea that people invented, a way to make the universe seem good. I think that many people, maybe all people, have a deep emotional need for the universe to be good. That’s rough for us, because there’s a lot of crappy stuff happening all the time. One way to deal with that is to roll up your sleeves and say, “Okay, so we make the universe good. It’s an infinitely tough job, but somebody has to do it.” But that’s the hard way. Another way to deal is to make up a story that explains why the universe is supposedly good already, or how we can get to perfect goodness without having to change the whole world. And that’s God, more or less. The imaginary easy way out.

    (It’s possible, of course, to do both – to imagine a God and to do one’s utmost to improve the world. But a lot of people don’t bother with the hard way when they think they’ve already got an easy way. And frankly, a big wrong idea you won’t let go of – like religion – is dangerous to everything else you do.)

    2.) What’s wrong with the world and what is the solution to the problems of this world?

    Well, there’s a large question. I certainly don’t have an exhaustive list. But here’s a few: The death of thinking beings is wrong: we ought to live forever. Oppression and war are wrong: no one should need to control or hurt someone else. The finity of human power is wrong: we should all be smart and wise enough to accomplish anything we can imagine.

    And the solution? Well, there can’t be just one, and I don’t completely know any. Each of those three “problems” I listed is actually a million different problems, and like I said, I didn’t cover everything. But whatever all those solutions are, they all have the same first step: understand the truth.

    3.) How can a person become right with God?

    Loaded question, there. God is imaginary, a dead-end wrong turn on the road to truth, as I explained above. When people think of God, they are thinking of their own idea of a perfect universe. So to make the question make sense, I would rewrite it: “How can a person become right with their own concept of a perfect universe?” And the short answer to that is, “do good.” The medium-length answer is “Act so as to maximize the total power of sentient beings.” The long answer is a few hundred thousand words of ethical philosophy.

    4.) What happens to a person after death?

    The question doesn’t obtain. Sadly, death is the end of a person. Once death has occurred, there is no more person for anything to happen to.

    On the other hand, there’s no particular reason that there has to be death. It’s just that we haven’t figured out how to prevent it in all cases yet.

    Also, it’s worth pointing out, information is never destroyed. The world will be different forever because you were in it. What the difference will be is up to you.

  • Bruce Gorton

    1) Does God exist and what is God like

    God does not exist. As a nonexistant being, there is nothing one can say about what an actual God would be like, however my experience is the conceptual God worshipped by religious people is simply their platonic selves.

    It is the side of themselves that says what they ought to do, and their innate moral sense.

    The trouble with this is, once you invest your platonic self with the concept of perfection, you will hurt the people around you in ways you could not anticipate. Even your platonic self can be incredibly wrong.

    2)What’s wrong with the world and what is the solution to the problems of this world?

    In the 1980′s America had Nazis more or less in control of their Saturday morning cartoons. And I mean Nazis, just look at Gargemel and how Brainy smurf was always wrong. They taught a growing generation that the complainer is always wrong, enforcing group-think as a childhood value when it is one of the worst flaws an organisation can suffer.

    The American fundementalists are not actually the worst people in America. The worst people in America are the ones calling out any two sides of an argument for being “Fundies”.

    These are your political centrists who are more interested in appearing to be “above the fray” than actually engaging the issues, these are your “agnostics” who argue that atheists are just as bad as the fundementalists, these are your people who go on about greenies because evidently having a planet to live on is less important than “having a life”.

    In gaming these are the people who argue that gamers are whiny and entitled for demanding quality from the developers.

    To paraphrase Penny Arcade, these are the people who should be eaten, because they have not done enough to distinguish themselves from food.

    The only way to put an end to this is in yourself, live with passion and explore your interests. It doesn’t matter what those interests are, be passionate about them, because in that passion you are alive.

    3.) How can a person become right with God?

    You shouldn’t be right with God. You shouldn’t be right with any authority figure. When you see a church billboard saying Jesus is king, note that we live in democracies.

    You are a human being, with a human mind, you are geared by millions of years of evolution to survive and to learn. Doubt is hardly a sabre-tooth tiger, explore it and find your own path, because nobody is going to find it for you.

    4.) What happens to a person after death?

    Decomposition. All you leave are your achievements, and a mouldering corpse. This may seem grim, but it is also why life is so precious – you only get this one chance to experience it, so try to make the best of it because life is short.

  • Stan Brooks

    For myself I loved the answers you gave, and thanks for turning me on to JL&J and MS, great songs!

  • Yoritomo

    Minor quibble: Most of your atoms were not formed in a supernova. Carbon, oxygen, nitrogen and iron are normal fusion products that were produced before the star went supernova; hydrogen even predates any precursor star it may have been part of. Off the top of my head I don’t know about the other elements, but I expect many of them were also not formed in the explosion itself.

  • kantalope

    As I understand it – you can get elements up to iron: #26, Fe on your periodic chart – in the star itself. Anything past 26 has to be formed in the super nova explosion.

    The iron stops the fusion process, which causes the star to collapse, which leads to the star rebounding in a spectacular explosion.

  • http://www.facebook.com/EDGECRUSHR michaelfedo

    1) Does God exist and what is God like?

    For the sake of respect to you and your beliefs, I will capitalize God and refer to Him in the proper pronouns you would expect.

    I do not think that God exists. I’m sorry that your question is leading, as saying “no” means I cannot answer the last part of what He is like. I would imagine that, being there are lots of books and writings on the matter dating back some eons, that if there was a God, and He really did create us in His image, he would be us. We are Him, He is us. So either He’s got a tremendous amount of patience having to deal with the people in this world, or there is no Him, and He’s busy taking a vacation somewhere in the neighborhood of Beta Crucis A.

    2) What’s wrong with the world and what is the solution to the problems of this world?

    What I feel is the most pressing thing wrong, is too many people worried about problems they cannot control. Christians trying to convert non-Christians. Muslims trying to convert non-Muslims. Anyone caught in the middle is fair game If people-and I’m talking just a billion or two-minded their own business and stopped worrying about who is doing what with who, or what is different about us instead of what is alike, we would have more peace. Once people stop looking over others’ fences, we might progress to where we should be right now. Which should be somewhere where we all get jetpacks.

    3) How can a person become right with God?

    Would the better question be “How can a person become right with themselves?” As with the other question, people should spend time worrying about themselves and things they can effect a change upon. Finding your own peace, finding your own happiness, and not exerting time trying to appease not just someone else, but an invisible “else”? The question really leads, as over 80% of Indians are Hindu-more than the population of the US, UK, Canada, and Montserrat combined (and more!). The Indians alone are not monotheists, so how would a person get right with Gods? It just gets complicated, so instead of trying to appease everyone-again, just make you happy. Find your within, become right with yourself. For something that may appeal more, in Luke 17:21 it says “Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.” So to become “right” with God is to become right with yourself.

    4) What happens to a person after death?

    First, how many stars are there in the universe? Write a 10. Then put twenty seven zeros after it. You might be close then! So, of those, how many of them have planets? Our galaxy alone has somewhere around one hundred and sixty billion. Even if only one out of a hundred did, or maybe one out of a million? Still many, many zeros after that ten. How many of those planets could support life? One out of a thousand? Million? How many could support life and have life there? Lots of zeros, numbers too big to comprehend without putting it in front of you. My answer is: the universe is too big and too expansive to say our little Earth is unique and special and was created by the Old Testament God. Or that Brahma makes and re-makes it. I don’t think Allah said “Be!”. I have myself died and come back, so it’s clouded to me what happens. However, it was because of that event that I stopped pretending to be religious and started being myself. I truly believe that what happens to a person after death, is we go back out there, to the 10 with twenty seven zeros after it. We become a part of the universe once more.

  • Steve

    @Yoritomo

    The Big Bang may have produced boron (atomic number 5), but everything else from carbon up to iron was created by fusion of lower elements (hydrogen, then helium, carbon, neon, oxygen and silicon). Silicon fusion ultimately produces iron. However, iron fusion is an exothermic process, which means that if a star has enough mass to attempt it. it will quickly contract and shed its outer layer in the process: a type II supernova

  • Besomyka

    1.) Does God exist and what is God like?

    God as a real external thing doesn’t exist. God as an idea does, though, and it’s just as real as our concept of money. The idea of god has just as much power to influence people as we want to give it.

    Unlike money, however, people refuse to acknowledge it’s artificiality. We understand that a dollar is at least some way the same as a pound, or a rial, or a euro. Because I have dollars, I don’t insist that the pesos from mexico are fraudulent and not real money.

    I think a lot of the problems with faith and God that we have comes from that fundamental miscomprehension as to what God really is: man made.

    2) What’s wrong with the world and what is the solution to the problems of this world?

    Same answer to both: people. We are what’s wrong, in how we treat one another, and how we allow our biases to blind us to the suffering of others. But we are also the solution. We still get to make decisions and act. Our flaw do not need to doom us. Our recursive, introspective, empathetic minds can change us.

    3) How can a person become right with God?

    Well, since God is just a concept, that would depend on your concept of God. Like in a dream, you just will it and it is so. Hollow victory, though, since it doesn’t matter to anyone else in the least: there’s no external reality to it.

    4) What happens to a person after death?

    Life is a verb, and when we die we become inert nouns. We are no longer people, we are no longer we. There is nothing. We have stopped being. We all become as we were before we were born: nothing.

  • mandas

    1. To which god are you referring?

    2. Too many people believe things which are demonstrably untrue. Can be fixed with better education.

    3. Refer to question 1.

    4. Some people are buried, some are cremated.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1468751142 Kevin

    1. Does God exist?

    No.

    1a. What is God like?

    See above.

    2.What’s wrong with the world and what is the solution to the problems of this world?

    Wide disparities in fundamental access to food, water, shelter, education, etc.

    More and better science aimed at correcting those deficiencies, and a political will to encourage the over-fed to care about the under-fed.

    3. How can a person become right with God?

    See 1. You can’t “get right” with an imaginary creature. If you’re talking about conforming your behavior to the expected norms of a particular group — well, go ahead and do that, if that’s your wish. But that has nothing to do with “god”.

    4. What happens to a person after death?

    Decomposition.

    There is no mechanism by which anything called a “soul” can access energy or be coherent in any way. It does not exist in the exact same way that “god” does not exist.

    When you die, you rot.

  • quentinlong

    1. Does God exist? What is God like?

    God—any God—is a fictional character, so She/He/It/They don’t exist any more than Superman exists. What God is like depends on which God you’re talking about, and which Holy Book about that God you’re reading. Assuming you mean the Xtian God, and the Holy Bible, God is a murderous, petty, vicious, genocidal, insane, vindictive, omnicidal, authoritarian, psychopath.

    2. What’s wrong with the world and what is the solution to the problems of this world?

    Assuming you mean the planet Earth when you say “world”, nothing is wrong with the world. It’s a 5.9-sextillion-metric-ton hunk of iron with various impurities, it’s spent the past 4.5 gigayears trundling along in its orbit just fine, and in all likelihood it will spend the next 4.5 gigayears trundling along in its orbit just fine.

    If you actually meant that subset of Earth which is inhabited by human beings (among other life-forms), what’s wrong with it is… a number of things, most/all of which fall into the broad category of “not giving a shit about other people”.

    3. How can a person become right with God?

    How can a person become right with Superman?

    Don’t worry about becoming right with God. Worry about becoming right with other people.

    4. What happens to a person after death?

    Nothing. Or perhaps “nothingness“. Once the brain dies its final death, that’s all she wrote; the person that existed in that brain has ceased to exist, and never will exist again.


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