Four Questions Atheists Won't Address!

Scott is a Christian who sometimes comments on my facebook wall.  He’s a good dude.  I like him.  Sadly, being nice does not save him from being frequently wrong or from asking me for answers it would take literally 5 minutes (max) to google.

On a recent status he was having a discussion with someone else when he said…

would you like me to give you a list of problems atheist won’t listen too or attempt to explain?

Unable to help myself, I responded…

Yes. Please. Pretty please with sugar on top. This will be the most enjoyable blog post I’ve ever written.

Scott did not disappoint!  So throughout today I will be answering these problems so daunting that even the bravest atheists won’t even touch them!  Are you ready for them?  I’m warning you now, these questions are harder than a priest at a daycare.  Even if you aren’t ready, it’s time for baptism by fire!

1. If rationality and goodness is instilled in people based on evolution, then why do people go against the very survival-striving instincts we have and behave the opposite (both as individuals and regarding humanity as a whole). I’ve yet to meet anyone who has successfully lived up to THEIR OWN standard of goodness.

2. If truth is a concept that was achieved by naturalistic processes such as evolution, then truth must not be actually true but only functional. When it becomes more beneficial to believe a false idea for survival, then that idea MUST win out over what is truly true, or naturalism is false. If this is true, rationality is not reasoning to find truth but rather to survive, and truth will cease to exist when humans cease to exist.

3. Atheists and religious nut-cases read the Bible with extremely similar hermeneutics.. please explain. (ex: applying Israelite law code that to a non-Jew/Gentile follower of Jesus while totally disregarding Christ’s exposition of Old Testament law. OR taking a parable of Jesus way out of context to say we should kill people who disagree with us. Most atheists I’ve experienced handle the Bible in a more pick-and-choose way than almost any Christian I know who has studied his/her Bible.. and I agree that most claimed Christian don’t study their Bible. It seems disingenuous to tell people to not pick and choose from their religious text, but then to read the Bible in such a way that ignores any explanations to difficult texts, and they are difficult).

4. What to you is your understanding of the good news of Jesus Christ as understood by the Christian faith (you recently said eternal punishment was good news.. which again reveals an extremely fundamental misunderstanding of basic Christian thought). If you only mock this question, as usual, it reveals you really simply don’t understand it.

That should give you enough fuel to blog for awhile. I’m truly interested in your responses, especially to number 2. I’m sure 4 won’t get far, and 3 is more for you to think about when you approach a Biblical text. It takes a lot of work to properly exegete a text. 1 might be more simple than I realize. Thanks for the time.

Intimidating though they are, I shall do my best.

About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.

  • Carly

    I patiently await your answers.

  • Rey Fox

    Um…is 4 even a question?

  • Ubi Dubium

    Oh BOY! Fun Fun FUN!

    Seriously, has this guy ever had a real discussion with an actual atheist? I was hoping that he would actually have hard questions.

  • Art Vandelay

    I don’t even know where to begin. Truth is a concept that was achieved by naturalistic processes such as evolution? What the fuck does that even mean?

  • Ben Crockett

    I feel a strong urge to answer these myself. Mind if a fellow atheist contributes his own responses? Sort of like a second atheist’s opinion?

    • JT Eberhard

      Wait, you mean there’s another atheist bold enough to tackle these questions? Surely not! These questions are questions that atheists have never before addressed! You might die!

      By all means. :) That’s why I posted them.

  • Another Scott

    Regarding question #2:

    I wonder if the Scott mentioned in the blog knows of any creatures (hominids, I guess) that relied on un-truths to survive.

    The only example I can think of is people confessing belief in their religion to avoid lynching, stoning, burning , shunning and/or Inquisition.

    Regarding # 3: Any atheist can just say, “Sure, other atheists might cherry pick and misinterpret the Bible/Koran/Bhagvad Gita, etc. But I don’t. At least I try not to.”

    That’s so easy to respond to. Is this Scott dude for real? He seems disingenuous.

    Regarding # 4: “God so love the world that he gave his only begotten son that . . . might have everlasting life. John 3:16″ Ellipses added because I was boring myself.

    Another easy one.

    Too easy. Does this other Scott guy delude himself into thinking he’s an intellectual?

  • had3

    I’ll start w/#4 cuz it’s so short: the good news is that you have the ability to escape this mortal coil. That offer is so seductive that the fact it isn’t reality based is easily lost. This is not mocking .

  • davidct

    Have fun making sense out of theist word salad for 1 and 2. At least now you know what atheists think now that Scott has been kind enough to tell us. Where would we be without someone to explain our beliefs.

    I am guilty of a pick and choose approach to the bible. I pick it up in one place and choose another place to set it down. Like most true theists I don’t bother to actually read the damn thing.

    Not being a christian I don’t know much about the good news of some Jesus guy. I have been told that I am going to hell and that it is even hotter than Texas. Maybe that is the good news.

  • Richard

    Well, not to defend the questions, but to hopefully crack open the terminology.

    Number two has a large series of issues. Truth, rationality, irrationality, these are all separate concepts. Somehow, he has them all twisted up to try and make some point that christianity has truth and evolution has a flaw, or something like that. However, the world is very irrational, religions large and irrational spanning the globe, kinda flubbing up the whole argument.

    In three words: argument from irrationality! *facepalm* Ends with a modified argument from fear, but death is scary. I offer hugs.

  • Jeff van Booven

    I believe the correct answer is to just hand him a text on post modernism.

    1. Misses the point that there’s also an element of cultural construction. Ironically he complains about context in the fourth question, but misses context in the very first one. He seems to desire a very, cut and dry, unalterable set of rules handed down to him; sounds kind of familiar actually. What he really seems to miss is that there is a difference between what a culture constructs as its moral code–which has so many different influences that it’s nigh impossible to systematize–and how a person arrives at what is considered good. Even a cursory glance at ethics demonstrates that with the various systems like utilitarianism and deontology, et al.

    2.Truth is an abstract concept, not a product of evolution. True things would be true in a lifeless universe. Gee, that was easy.

    3.It’s kind of a strawman, but if we’re supposed to examine the best case of Christians, then they should examine the best case of atheists–as in ones that have actually read the whole Bible and studied it. To be honest, very few people have even done the first part, much less have the academic training to do the later. He might as well complain about the education system.

    4. As far as I ever gave a damn to care, it’s his message about redemption, but I’m a little skeptical that each denomination has the same exact view on this issue, considering I’ve seen it mostly couched as the good news of the Lord and not specifically Jesus.

  • Camels With Hammers

    JT, I just clicked on the facebook link to your first answer and it sent me to a 404.

  • John K.

    I can’t resist.

    1 & 2) Evolution by natural selection is in no way a flawless process. There are frequently many attempts at survival that fail and variations that do not aid in survival, or are even detrimental. The frequent failure offset by occasional success is what natural selection is. If there were no failures, we could not say that natural selection was occurring.

  • John K.

    3) If we are to believe that a religious text is of divine inspiration, it stands to reason that lowly humans should have a hard time finding flaws in it. Thus, any questionable material erodes the idea that a religious text is a credible divine authority. For example, even if JC changed the rules in the New Testament, why in the first place does the creator of the universe consider working on a holy day punishable by death? Ect.

    Also, if certain parts of the Bible must be taken as metaphor since they are incompatible with what we have discovered about the world we live in, it is only logical to consider all parts of the Bible metaphorical until they can be corroborated by outside sources.

  • John K.

    4) Ah, the “good news”.
    The creator of the universe has some strict laws he wants all human beings to follow. These laws are so difficult to follow completely that hardly anyone is able to adhere to all of them over the course of their lives. Moreover, one of the worst rules to break is to not believe in or fail to worship him. Optionally, our earliest ancestors broke one of god’s commandments, so he is very upset with all of us from the moment we are born.

    “Fortunately”, the creator of the universe will be satisfied with our transgressions so long as we can accept that his son suffered terribly as a punishment for our crimes. If we are willing to agree to this loophole, worship him, and do our best to follow all the rules, then we can have an eternity of bliss worshiping him after we die, instead of an eternity of torment and torture.

  • Ganner

    Question 2 is incoherent. I wouldn’t know how to answer it because it isn’t really even a real question. You may as well ask, “Explain why mountain dew tastes purple when it’s really green?”

  • chaos-engineer

    1 – This is a badly-worded question. I think it means, “If we evolved the ability to survive and act morally, then why do people sometimes act self-destructively and immorally?” The answer is that evolution isn’t perfect. For example, we’ve evolved a tendency to procrastinate, and to be inattentive, and to get addicted to things like tobacco and alcohol…even though these are all self-destructive. Evolution doesn’t lead to perfection, it leads to “good enough on average to survive”

    (I should probably emphasize that most human behavior is the product of cultural evolution and not genetic evolution.)

    2 – This is a statement, not a question. I agree with it. (On the other hand, facts aren’t isolated from each other – if you believe one false thing, then you’ll need to believe other false things that are a consequence of that. It’s possible that eventually you’ll run into a contradiction, so that it’s no longer beneficial to believe the original false thing.)

    3 – I think atheists only use literalism when they’re arguing with literalists. If they use it when they’re arguing with non-literalists, then they should stop doing that and you can tell them that I said so.

    4 – I have no idea and no plans to find out. Christianity is one of the religions that claims that there’s an all-powerful, all-knowing being that is interested in me as an individual, and wants me to live my life differently. That’s obviously false; if a being like that existed, it would know to communicate with me directly instead of using crooks and con-artists as middlemen. Crooks and con-artists are constantly coming to me with “good news”, and lately I don’t even bother to keep track of what wild promises they’re making.

  • Compuholic

    1. The question is very formulated very badly so it is hard to answer it. What does rationality and “goodness” (whatever that exactly means) have to do with “survival-insticts”? “Instilled” is a very unusual term to use for a trait in evolution. Natural selection only favors certain properties of of an organism or selects against them.

    I would doubt that evolution actually favors rationality (but then I’m not a biologist). “Goodness” is a very unspecific term. If you mean cooperation then evolution clearly favors it (check out Game Theory).

    Nevertheless evolution doesn’t completely pre-program ones brain. Our brain is very adaptable. So our previous experiences also make up a big part of how we act.

    And that people do not live up to their own standard of goodness: People are messy and do things that they consider bad all the time. Like smoking or eating fatty foods. They know that it is not good for them and they do it anyways. Most decisions and are not made rationally and even our behavior is largely controlled subconsciously. There are very interesting experiments with people that had their 2 brain hemispheres surgically separated that support this.


    If truth is a concept that was achieved by naturalistic processes such as evolution[...]

    Parse Error. I can’t even figure out what this sentence is supposed to mean.
    There might be philosophers who will debate on what truth actually means. But most atheist subscribe to the scientific idea of “truth” which has proven to be the best method to distinguish between fact and fiction. In Science there is no absolute truth. One can only discard a hypothesis or theory as untrue but it will be very hard (if not impossible) to prove it positive. One can only improve the level of confidence in a hypothesis/theory.

    3. Nobody is saying that the bible doesn’t contain good parts. But when atheists pick the bad verses it is usually to show that the bible also contains a lot of horrible parts, bad advice and often outright false claims. It takes only one counterexample to prove a claim wrong. Most Christians claim that the bible is the word of god. So they cannot pick and choose. Because we are giving counter-examples where the bible is immoral or plain wrong we don’t need to see the bible in its entirety.

    But all this doesn’t matter. The bible is just a book to us and unless someone can give us a good reason why we should care what is has to say about anything we put it in the same category as Lord of the Rings.

    4. Not even the Christians can agree what “the good news of Jesus Christ” means. some say we can have our sins forgiven if we repent. Some say that we can have our sins forgiven by baptism alone some say it’s a combination. Some say salvation is by the grace of god some say it’s by the works. Ask any 2 different christian churches and you will get 2 different answers. So why should it be the job of atheists to come up with something? Usually it works like this. You propose an idea and you supply the reasons why you think the idea correct and then I can say if I agree with you.

    • Alexandra

      Please don’t insult Tolkien! He’s a damn good writer, and even his longest, most convoluted sentences are better composed than most of Leviticus.

  • Alix

    Thanks, JT. Any hope I had of remaining sour all day just disintegrated with 2 whole minutes of falling on my ass laughing at “harder than a priest at a daycare.” I’m am so mad at you for amusing me. Also, cannot wait to read all of these.

  • Hercules Grytpype-Thynne

    I rather suspect question #2 is a reference to a point I’ve seen made by (IIRC) William Lane Craig. He has the rather outré notion that we have no reason to thing that natural selection will have outfitted our brains to accurately interpret the outside world, because (and I’m not making this up) out ancestors could have had a will not to live, in which case a brain that misidentified what’s a threat to survival and what’s not could have in fact have been adaptive.

    The lengths to which theists will go.

    • Hercules Grytpype-Thynne

      no reason to thing

      out ancestors

      . . . no reason to think . . . our ancestors . . .

      Natural selection has obviously not outfitted me with fingers that type accurately.

  • Marnie

    1. Firstly the assumption that evolution produces ideal results is flawed. Evolution only allows for mutations that are adaptive in some way, to win out over the less well adapted alternative. This means that while our eyes may work great, they still aren’t perfect and they could still be better.

    But beyond that, “goodness” is a relative term. What is “good”? Who is defining it? Is war good or bad? Are taxes good or bad? Can it ever be considered good to murder? How about in self defense or to defend your child? As to the second criteria, we absolutely cannot ascribe any root of rationality to religion. Humans have many irrational traits that religions preys upon. If this argument is a setup to claiming that religion is better at imparting rationality onto humanity, some evidence needs to be provided that accounts for the many horrible acts done not just by religious people but in the name of religion.

    It’s like testing the effectiveness of a medication, you can’t say that, for instance, beta blockers don’t prevent all deaths, therefore beta blockers are not effective treatments for heart disease, you compare beta blockers to alternative treatments and no treatment at all. If beta blockers perform better than no treatment and better than alternative treatments, or if they perform as well with fewer adverse reactions, then you consider beta blockers the best option for this disorder at this time. If you compare secular laws to religious laws, the latter MAY come up some good rules but it does so with, shall we say, the side effect of being biased towards a particular limited group. Religions already make judgement calls about which rules get applied and which don’t. Most nations with largely christian populations don’t allow for slaves nor polygamy. But where a religious group must battle their own inherent dogma to make these judgement calls, a secular alternative, based on evaluating the actual impact of policies on real people, is far more effective and equitable.

    2. The assumption that there is absolute truth is a religious one and one that is hypocritical since even evangelicals struggle to stick to a strict interpretation of their religious texts. The question has no meaning. We have understandings based on currently available information and technology but those understandings are subject to change and improvement over time.

    3. So, in short, if you don’t read the bible too carefully or at all, you are better at being a christian? Alternatively, maybe the point is that you can either read religious texts and take them at face value or admit that they are completely irrelevant as moral codes and look at them strictly as anthropological tools, in which case, I think this person should consider atheism. I’m not sure I even understand what is being asked.

    4. My understanding is that people believe that god created humans, put them in a garden and told them not to eat from the tree he put there. Then he allowed satan into his garden to tempt the humans and they ate from the tree, eternally damning all humanity regardless of how good, kind, ethical and caring those people are. He then impregnated a virgin with his son who is also himself and killed his son/self so that humanity would be forgiven for their sins but only if they believed in a being they had never met and had no evidence for and who conflicts with the teachings of countless other religions and who is understood to have different expectations depending on the myriad denominations you choose to follow. He would rather invite someone up to heaven who had spent a lifetime acting horribly and recanted on his or her deathbed than someone who had heard of jesus, saw no evidence for his existence but lived a life of kindess and charity.

  • Leo Buzalsky

    1. Not trying to repeat Marnie here, but, yeah, there seems to be an assumption that evolution produces perfect rationality and goodness. It doesn’t. Evolution is an imperfect process and produces imperfect rationality and goodness. Really, the “question” starts of with a conditional that is not true, so it can be rejected flattly on the false conditional. (I’m a software programmer, so I deal with if-statements all the time.)
    2. Another conditional. Another conditional that is false. Truth is truth. If all humans ceased to exist tomorrow, the earth would be just as old, plus one day, as it is today. The only difference is that no one would be around to care how old the earth is.
    3. This one is frustrating. Not that it’s a difficult “question,” but that it misses the point of why atheists “pick-and-choose” from the Bible, which is often done, in my experience, to challenge theists to explain why they pick-and-choose. Like, how do you explain an all-loving God sending 2 bears to rip 42 children into shreads in II Kings, etc? Because, in actuality, I do not pick-and-choose from the Bible. I find that most of it is made up, and if there is any of it that is true, I’m going to “pick” the true parts based on evidence (such as archiological) from outside the Bible.
    4. OK, so, yeah, it’s hard to do anything else but mock this one. Like, why would an all-loving god sacrifice himself to himself in order to satisfy himself so that he could allow people into heaven? And, yes, there was no concept of hell (or at least not officially, though apparently the concept may have been gaining ground after the exile in Babylon) in the Jewish tradition before the “good news,” so it is correct of JT to point that out. I could go into this further, but I have places to go and things to do, etc.

  • James C.

    Question 2 looks a lot like Alvin Plantinga’s evolutionary argument against naturalism. Wiki it.

    Plantinga seems to assume that a huge set of gross delusions that are easily disproved yet somehow allows people to survive in reality is no less likely than a set of mostly-true beliefs. That is, he seems to believe that insanity is not maladaptive. I find that rather bizarre, and perhaps self-defeating.

  • John Boylan

    No atheist could possibly, rather, rationally explain how the material referenced in this note just accidentally happned to be. Needless to say, if you believe the Lord inspired His Holy Word, the Bible, you might want to also know the fact that He embedded the comment, ‘the anointed Messiah is Jesus i.e., Yeshua’, within the content of the text of the story of the creation which is which is located in Genesis. Have a look for yourself at the website . I appreciate you reading this note.

    • Marnie

      Your comment is illogical. As an atheist, I don’t think the creation story is the inspired word of any god or gods. I believe it is a story made up by men.

      If you spend your time looking through any long text, you can find something that appears to be an obscured message. This is why when people listen to songs backwards, some believe they find hidden messages.

      If you are just spamming for your site, you appear to have chosen your audience poorly.