Eight Questions for Atheists

The Discovery Institute’s Michael Egnor has posted eight questions as a challenge to New Atheists.  I’ve been a little overwhelmed for the past two weeks in rehearsals for the production of Iolanthe I’m co-directing, so I’m going to adopt these questions as a new posting sequence while I’m in rehearsal, and I’ll be answering the questions out of order, depending on how much time I have each day.
Eight Questions for Atheists

  1. Why is there anything?
  2. What caused the Universe? (plus bonus content)
  3. Why is there regularity (Law) in nature?
  4. Of the Four Causes in nature proposed by Aristotle (material, formal, efficient, and final), which of them are real? Do final causes exist?
  5. Why do we have subjective experience, and not merely objective existence?
  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?
  7. Does Moral Law exist in itself, or is it an artifact of nature (natural selection, etc.)
  8. Why is there evil? (and Part 2)

Here’s the text of Egnor’s challenge:

What about arguments for New Atheism? Casual perusal of New Atheist discourse reveals recurring themes.

The New Atheism Cliff Notes:

  1. There are no gods
  2. Theists are IDiots
  3. Catholic priests molest children.

Surely there’s more to New Atheism. Some old atheism (Epicurus, Lucretius, Hume, Russell, Quine) was pretty profound. New Atheism should be even better. Reason, Modern Science, Brights, etc.

I want to learn more about what New Atheists really believe. So I’m asking Moran a few questions, although other atheists (Myers, Coyne, Novella, Shallit, etc) are invited to reply on their blogs…

I’m not expecting a treatise on each. Theists don’t have all the answers. I don’t expect New Atheists to have them either. But each metaphysical tradition — Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Islamic, Buddhist, animist, old atheist, heck, even Scientologist and Raelian — has addressed at least some of these questions, for better or worse. How do New Atheists address them? Just a few coherent sentences for each question that will begin a conversation. If any of the questions are too hard, say so and skip them. Soon, I’ll post my answers as well. No peeking.

The rules:

  1. Answers can’t be limited to the shortcomings of theism (e.g. ‘So who caused God?’). I’m looking for an exposition of New Atheist belief, not a criticism of theist belief. Mutual criticism will come once all beliefs are on the table. If New Atheist belief can only be expressed by negation of the beliefs of others, just say so.
  2. Myers’ “Courtier’s Reply” gambit is fine. If you think that a question is nonsense, say so.
  3. No changing the subject. New questions are welcome, once the old questions are addressed.
  4. The Law of Snark Conservation applies; thoughtful courteous answers get thoughtful courteous replies.

I want to learn more about what New Atheists really believe.

My posts in this sequence will tackle each of the eight questions, and I’ll try to tack on a round up of some other responses by atheist bloggers.
Eight Questions for Atheists

  1. Why is there anything?
  2. What caused the Universe? (plus bonus content!)
  3. Why is there regularity (Law) in nature?
  4. Of the Four Causes in nature proposed by Aristotle (material, formal, efficient, and final), which of them are real? Do final causes exist?
  5. Why do we have subjective experience, and not merely objective existence?
  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?
  7. Does Moral Law exist in itself, or is it an artifact of nature (natural selection, etc.)
  8. Why is there evil? (and Part 2)

Pick up your pencils and open your books.

About Leah Libresco

Leah Anthony Libresco graduated from Yale in 2011. She works as an Editorial Assistant at The American Conservative by day, and by night writes for Patheos about theology, philosophy, and math at www.patheos.com/blogs/unequallyyoked. She was received into the Catholic Church in November 2012."

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03543293341085230171 Eli

    Yeah, this one is kinda research-intensive, isn't it?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04746612189094458441 Lukas

    I don't think #1 is a good question – I think for both atheists and theists ought to believe in an unmoved mover or necessary being. #2 is a good question. #3 is a very good question, and I have never heard a decent atheistic explanation. Check out John Leslie's book, Universes, for more on question #3. As for #4, I think atheists can coherently believe only in efficient causes. I'm not sure whether #5 is a problem for atheists: David Chalmers argues convincingly that the the existence consciousness disproves physicalism, but he's an atheist. #7 is impossible for an atheist to answer: see Richard Rorty's introduction to Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03543293341085230171 Eli

    Lukas, surely you jest. Why would morality be any trickier for atheists to construct than physics or math or logic?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16496144988509668275 Leah

    I don't know if you'll be satisfied with my answer to #3, Lukas, but it's up now, and I'm interested in your thoughts.

  • Pingback: Give Me (and Javert) a Firm Place to Stand


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X