Take the Unbelief Test!

I was looking at an ad on the Amazon site for Daniel Keeran’s book If there is no God, and I saw this blurb for the book:

“Atheism is more than a belief in no god or gods. Take the unbelief test. Do you believe: 1. humans have souls? 2. there is an afterlife? 3. humans have greater intrinsic value than other life forms? 4. objective free moral choice exists in humans apart from genetic or instinctual factors? 5. sexuality has moral limitations beyond mutual consent? 6. a child in the womb has as much intrinsic value as a child outside the womb? 7. there is accountability after death? 8. there is objective meaning to human life?”

There were no directions for scoring your responses to the “unbelief test,” but I took it anyway. Here are my responses:

Do you believe:

(1) humans have souls?

I’m not even clear on what a soul is supposed to be or what work the concept is supposed to do. To say, as my American Heritage Dictionary defines it, that the soul is the “Animating and vital principle in human beings, credited with the faculties of thought, action, and emotion and often conceived as an immaterial entity,” is not terribly helpful. To say that the soul is immaterial only tells me what it is not, not what it is. Further, possession of a soul, so defined, clearly explains nothing. To say that I am alive because I possess an “animating and vital principle” is clearly no better than saying that opium puts you to sleep because it possesses a dormative potency.

(2) there is an afterlife?


(3) humans have greater intrinsic value than other life forms?

Which humans and which other life forms? I think some humans are more valuable than some other life forms, but if I had a choice between saving a lifeboat of cats and saving a lifeboat filled with TV preachers, right-wing radio pundits, and Karl Rove, I’d save the cats and sleep like a baby that night.

(4) Objective free moral choice exists in humans apart from genetic of instinctual factors?

Huh? Is the question asking whether I believe that humans have free moral choice or that all our apparent choices are genetically determined? If this is what it means here is my answer: Of course we have free moral choice. My decision, mentioned above, to save the cats and let the preachers, pundits, and prick drown would be a free moral choice. It would be based upon my beliefs, and my values, and would not be constrained by any other external or internal conditions. Therefore it would be a free choice. However, since my beliefs and my values were not chosen by me, because what seems true or right to me is not under my control, then the fact that my choice is free is compatible with it being causally determined.

(5) sexuality has moral limitations beyond mutual consent?

Of course it does. “Consensual” sex with a child is rape. What about consenting adults? Well, if one or both adults has made a solemn vow of sexual fidelity to a third party, a spouse, say, then that would be a limitation too. Maybe if one or the other is a priest or nun, and so has taken a vow of celibacy, that would be a limitation too. What about two single, unattached adults who mutually, freely, spontaneously, and with full awareness consent to have sex? Is that OK? Sure. Why not?

(6) A child in the womb has as much intrinsic value as one outside the womb?

Of course it does. If it is a child. But that is exactly where there are strong disagreements. Also, a child in the womb, even one with intrinsic value, is inside the body of another person of intrinsic value, and she gets to make decisions about what is going on inside her own body.

(7) there is accountability after death?

See answer to #2.

(8) there is objective meaning to human life?

What is meant by “objective” meaning? I believe, as Aristotle argues in the Nicomachean Ethics, that by living a life of virtue and reasonableness in community with other human beings we achieve our highest well-being (eudaimonia) as human organisms, and that is an objective fact. If “objective” meaning means something bestowed by a “higher power,” then I don’t think so.

What is the point of questions like these? Do they indicate that religious people think that atheists must answer “no” to each of these questions? Do they think that only religious people can think that life is meaningful or valuable? What is the best way to disabuse people of these fatuous notions?

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