Correspondence with an atheist/skeptic

I started an email correspondence with a coworker of mine a couple months ago.  We are friends and have a good relationship to this day even after the dialogue!  It might be a little hard to follow but I will try to explain how to. I originally sent a message, which they responded to.  I then sent a final response and have yet to hear back from them regarding my response.  Notwithstanding, there is no awkwardness between us at work and I respect them. The person is very kind and we have a cordial relationship.  I welcome any response or challenge that they might want to give at any point. I broke it up into 24 separate sections in order to make it a bit easier to follow.  However, keep in mind it was originally an email that I sent, which they responded to below my questions and then i responded under their responses. THEM) Stands for their response to my initial message and questions. ME) Stands for either part of my initial post or my response to their comments. EMAIL CORRESPONDENCE: I am interested in topics such as how, why, the universe is here and why we are here etc… and I am assuming you at least want to know why we are here too since you are watching “cosmos”.

  1. ME) I don’t really know what your worldview (agnostic, religious, atheist, skeptic, or a combination of worldviews, etc…) but I am interested in hearing your perspective on something. I have heard you talk about religious people a couple times and how you hate how some of them are “mean”.  I think I know what you are talking about and I agree that jerks are jerks, no matter what their worldview is!  However, what is your definition of “mean”?  Are they being mean by telling someone that they are right and the others are wrong? Are they mean by saying that someone is not going to heaven?  THEM) Yes, I do think it is mean to tell someone they are not going to heaven because of their personal choices. I also think it’s mean to tell people that their personal choices are wrong (aka why they won’t go to heaven). If these personal choices are not hurting others, ie sexual orientation or other lifestyle choices, then let that person continue on being a good person and not harming others. Isn’t that the goal? ME) If you think there is a goal to life then I agree with you.
  2. THEM) Isn’t that what we should all aim for? ME) I believe that there is no “should” if there is no God. THEM) Live life and do good unto others.
  3. THEM) Wouldn’t this ‘doing good’ also include not degrading their character and shaming them? ME) I agree! Don’t degrade others but if someone is wrong you should disagree with them and humbly show them their error as you and I do daily in our jobs (we both work as college admissions counselors and much of our job includes encouraging and keeping students accountable to their goals. Sometimes they don’t want to hear it).
  4. THEM) Further, who cares if someone who follows these general guidelines of being kind to others, being honest, being charitable, etc. prays to your God or a different God? ME) The definition of “God” according to both atheists and theists is the greatest conceivable being. If you are praying to something else, that is not God.  Many people perceive God differently and it is the goal of comparative religions and theology to decide which religion has the best explanation based upon the information and evidence we have.
  5. THEM) They are following the same general game plan, right? ME) Psychologists say that we are hardwired and preconditioned (game-plan) to believe in God and that our morals are also something that is innate to all people. Atheists can use this claim to discount the actual existence of god. However my question is, who hardwired us that way? The “game plan” that you speak of could be written on our hearts. ALSO, If you believe in free will it is either an illusion or it is actually real.  If free will is not real, there is no way to prove that it is not (at least not rationally or by using your cognitive faculties.. because what you posit as your argument is predetermined by biological evolution (we are geared to believe things that will help survival of our species but not necessarily to think rationally or believe what is true) and social conditioning). You used rationality in your answers on this email, which tells me that you are at least deluded to believe that you have reasoning power.  If you can argue for or against atheism and believe that your reasoning is thoughtful and logically coherent that implies there is free will (personal agency and the ability to choose things) in our being and we are not purely physical entities.  I think this is good evidence for a soul (an irreducible entity that is not identical to the brain). If this is true, it is plausible that there is an immaterial mind (God) that created all space time, energy, and matter in the universe. If a god exists we should not dismiss the idea of god and truly seek to know who it is.
  6. THEM) Does it matter what their coach’s name is? ME)  It absolutely matters what the coach’s name is. For example, Buddha does not postulate a beginning to the universe and never even postulated a god/gods. Part of becoming enlightened requires getting rid of all desire in your life. Desire is the root of suffering.  How can one get rid of desire without first desiring to get rid of it? That seems to be internally inconsistent. Also, from what I have read, the first biographies of Buddha’s life were not written until, at the earliest, about 400 after he was dead. So what we know about him might not be very accurate. Compare this with biographies about Jesus, which were written within decades of his death by those closest to him as well as historians in the same century he lived.  In Islam, Allah, is someone one only loves those who submit to him and hates all others.  The Koran also says that Jesus was not actually crucified, even though the crucifixion of Christ is one of the most historically agreed upon events among new testament and historical scholars.  in Christianity, God loved us before we loved him and came down and suffered and died in our place for our all our sins and he forgave those who killed him. Hinduism postulates that we are reincarnated into a certain caste or class (lower class, animal, upper class, etc…) based upon how we lived our previous life (that can be negative for “social justice” if your lot in life is something that you deserve, how can anyone have compassion on someone in the lower class as they were probably evil in a previous life and therefore deserve what they get? India has historically had a bad approach to social justice because of this) many Hindus also believe that this life is illusory including pain and suffering. What do they think of the holocaust then? Was that an illusion? it absolutely matters who your “coach is”.  And certain religions have inadequate explanations of reality compared to what we actually observe empirically.  PART OF MY INITIAL QUESTION FOLLOW: Are they arrogant and therefore wrong?  Since I am interested in studying various religions and worldviews I have come to notice that not all of them are equal. In other words, they do not all believe or propose the same doctrines regarding things like, why is there pain and suffering? Who/what is god? Did the universe begin or is it eternal? What is salvation? Why are humans here?
  7. THEM) I think humans are here because we evolved from earlier life. ME) I should have asked, “why is anything here at all?” modern physics and cosmology tells us that the universe began a finite time ago. Why did it start at all? Can nothingness cause everything? Can something cause itself to exist? When scientists posit nothingness, that does not mean a vacuum or space or fluctuating energies. Before the “big bang” there was literally nothing, no time no space etc… Further, once the universe began, how did life start? The conditions of the universe had to be very fine tuned in order for life to start at all anywhere in the universe.  this is agreed upon by most modern physicists and biologists..   This does not even begin to address the problem of how a conscious being emerged from a single strand of protein or a cell.  It has never been replicated and cannot happen by itself.  The vehicles of natural selection and random mutation along with the law of entropy show that conditions could never have popped us out without some type of intervention.  Science alone cannot definitively answer that but metaphysics and philosophy can assist.
  8. THEM) To say that we are here for a greater reason is vain and, yes, pretty arrogant. ME) Most humans throughout human history have believed in some type of god or another. The atheist is a relatively newer phenomenon and a product of western thinking. By saying that it is arrogant for people to think that we are not here by accident is a fallacious and ethnocentric assertion.    It is fallacious because you are attacking the character of those people instead of the argument that “god exists”, which does nothing to discount their argument.  It is ethnocentric because essentially you are saying that everyone is wrong except a small minority in a certain place and time of human history.
  9. THEM) Why am I different from a whale (don’t answer that!!)? ME) hahahahahahahahahah! I love that question! On atheism, we are no different than animals! And to think that we are is to commit “speciesism”.  In all honesty though, I truly hope you don’t really think that you are not any different than a whale or an animal. This reminds me of that 1980’s song “we aint nothing but mamals”.  The truth is that animals and humans are very different.
  10. THEM) Why should I have more purpose than a whale? ME) If there is no God, we do not have purpose, meaning, or value and everything that we try to fill our life with is ultimately pointless. In fact all of human history is pointless and in the long run, the sun will burn out and all life permitting variables in the universe will cease to exist, meaning that all of our efforts for social justice and all our great accomplishments will amount to nothing. L
  11. THEM) Maybe I’m just part of the food web, like the whale. The whale has no greater importance than the other animals, but that doesn’t make it unimportant. It makes it equally as important. ME) If a lion kills a zebra, it is not committing murder. If a male shark forcibly copulates with a female shark, it is not raping her. Charles Darwin stated that if man were reared under precisely the same conditions as a bee hive, our unmarried females (worker bees) would consider it their sacred duty to kill their brothers, and mothers would kill their fertile daughters and no one would think of interfering. (Darwin, “the descent of man and selection in relation to sex”). I am a proponent of taking care of the earth and animals.  However, that is because I believe that it is my requirement to steward the earth and I believe that theists have a good reason to do so. However, on atheism, nature is survival of the fittest and most of the universe is cold and dead.  The earth has been spewing noxious fumes into the atmosphere for millions of years and raping the land.  A locust swarm feels no obligation to not consume an entire field of crops to save some for other animals.  It makes more sense to take care of the earth for theists. The problem that we, rightly, see that humans are intrinsically morally valuable when compared to animals.  We also understand that we are (for some reason) supposed to do what is right. Consider the following argument: (the argument below is a variation of William Lane Craig’s moral argument. more can be read at http://www.reasonablefaith.org/)

The following deductive argument takes the formal structure of the logical rule called Modus Tollens and the conclusion naturally follows if each premise is more plausible than their negation (opposite):

1. P -> Q

2. (NOT) Q

3. Therefore, (NOT) P

Which premise/premises would you disagree with?

1. If there is nothing supernatural/no God, there are NO objective values and duties AND humans have no intrinsic value or worth when compared to animals (animals are not moral agents, held morally accountable)

2. There are objective moral values and duties AND humans do have intrinsic value and worth when compared to animals

3. Therefore, the supernatural/God exists

If you disagree with premise 1, on what basis are humans intrinsically valuable when compared to animals if all that exists in nature and natures laws? AND to whom or what are we obligated to morally?

If you disagree with premise 2, was the holocaust morally acceptable even if the Nazis succeeded in winning the war and brainwashing everyone or killing those who did not agree with them.  Or was it okay for the Catholic Church to go on the crusades or to cover up when priests molest boys?

Hard questions, interested in your response

I have heard it said (Craig) that in the absence of some overwhelming defeater or reason to not trust our moral perception, we have adequate grounds to believe the fact of moral truths.  Just as we do not disbelieve or dismiss the physical world around us because there is no reason to do so. Physical reality is objectively true. Our moral perception as an individual and collectively may be fallible and slowly revealed just as human’s perception of the physical universe has been fallible and slowly revealed over time, that could be the same way with our moral beliefs. ORIGINAL EMAIL QUESTION FROM ME) What is morality? etc…  Someone who is an atheist might claim that all religions are equal.  However, if they are saying this, they are actually saying that all are equally false.  The informed atheist knows that the major religions of the world teach very different things.  To the atheist all religions are equal in the sense that they are based on subjective feelings and religious experiences that people have and therefore are all false.

  1. ME) Most of the time, when I hear someone say that they are against Christianity, for example, they claim that the religion is unfair because it traditionally posits a very narrow way to heaven. THEM) Here is a big reason why I’ve strayed from the Christian religion in which I was raised (Roman Catholic to be exact): I believe in good people having a “good” after life-whatever that may look like for them personally. ME) Atheism does not allow for life after death. Should it bother an atheist if they are told that they will not enjoy their after-life? The only way everyone gets what they want (your above statement, “whatever that may look like for them personally”) is if our fantasies about what we all think the afterlife is like actually comes true. The only way for that to happen is if our thoughts live on after we die and somehow we live in our own illusion forever. That seems implausible.  As alluded to in the argument for moral values above, I believe that if there is no God,, then there is no such thing as good or bad in people. There just is people. The problem is that we both know that there are good and bad people, why?  This is not to say that atheists cannot be good. It is also not to say that people cannot formulate an ethical code of conduct or moral system while not believing in God.  It has nothing to do with what they believe. It is just saying that without God there is no basis from which we can discover what is good and bad.  Again, good and bad exists so that means that God also exists necessarily.
  2. THEM) For me to have to listen to anyone in this religion (leaders of the church and members of the church) tell my cousin- whom I love dearly and who grew up serving the church- that he is going to burn in hell for choosing to love someone with the “wrong” parts is simply unbearable. I cannot do it and I do not agree with it one bit. ME) I have also had very bad experiences in my family’s past with the church (I’m protestant… sorry J) People have used religion to mistreat and abuse me when I was a child and this has caused a partial rift in my family. Needless to say, it took me a long time to trust organized religion again and I am still very cautious. It took me a long time to understand that I cannot blame God for what people do. After all, people have free will and if they did not, they could never truly love God.  Christianity is full of people who fail every day. We do not lean on our own abilities or “works” to save us but on the grace of God who saved us on the cross.  That is one of the practical differences between Christianity and other works-based systems of salvation.  No amount of good works can save me. Any good works that I do are from a grateful heart because of receiving the free gift of grace from god.   All the good works in the world could not counteract my guilt before God. Rather it is simply through the death and resurrection of Jesus that I am able to have hope. I let myself down on daily but what Jesus did is for all time.
  3. THEM) So, I can lie, steal, and cheat, but if I go to confession after and do my penance I can go to “heaven?” ME) I have known many people who left the Roman catholic church after being disillusioned by how people act. How can someone claim to know God but then go out and sin all the time? This question is not a direct argument against God but rather against a powerful centralized church that is run by human tradition and power.  It is interesting to me that the Christian church (people who profess Christianity) is actually growing very fast in countries that are non-white and non-western (there are more Christians in china than in America and western Europe).  China and Africa or examples of how Christianity grows better when unfettered by centralized powerful rule.
  4. THEM) But if my cousin never does any of these terrible things and happens to love the “wrong” people, he goes to hell? ME) Did they say, since you love someone you are going to hell?
  5. THEM) Did you know that homosexuality exists in nature? ME) What do you mean by this? Do you mean that a dog or primate has a psychological sexual attraction to another dog or primate for the sole reason that they are the same gender? Or do you mean that these animals are stimulated sexually and behave in ways that we call homosexual? A dog can mount another male dog or a shrub or a pillow. Does that make them homosexual in the same sense as a gay woman is when she is no longer sexually attracted to men?   THEM) Just saying, we are whales (hehe, remember my whale comments?).
  6. THEM) Other animals do this and we are animals-so we do this. ME) Do you think that we should draw our morals or ethics from what we see in nature? Do you know that there is genocide in the animal kingdom every day? They eat their own young etc… If we are to argue that because animals express homosexuality, then it is morally permissible and right for us to do as well.  That same principle applies to say that it is immoral and not right for homosexuals to adopt children.  After all, it is not natural (genetically) for two gay men to be able to procreate so it should not be considered moral. What do you think?
  7. THEM) Why is it hurting priests, the pope, me, or you for men to love men and women to love women? ME) I think they would argue that it is not hurting them personally but that it goes against God’s command.  Being gay does not send people to hell just like being straight does not send people to heaven.  What matters is who or what the lord of your life is. Who do I serve? Myself? God? My nature? It’s not. Let it be.  They are not telling you who to love.
  8. THEM) they are not saying what they are doing is right and what you are doing is wrong. ME) I would say that they are saying that priests are wrong in what they believe. THEM) they are doing it because it is right for them.  ME) For the atheist, this should not matter, because to them, there is no such thing as the afterlife or eternity.  However, sometimes it does still bother them.  Conversely, someone who thinks that there is such a thing as truth and eternity and life after death might be open to different ideas that may offer a reasonable answer to the questions above.
  9. ME) Some “truth-seekers” tend to take the shopping cart approach to religion and take bits and pieces of different religions that they like and make their own religion.  In my experience, these types of people don’t want to be told that they are wrong or that some are wrong and others are right.  Why is this?  THEM) Because how does anyone know what’s right and wrong? No one has an absolute proven answer to these questions of spirituality, after life, morality. ME) No one has absolute proven answer about anything. This is where faith comes in.  An atheist has faith that what they believe is true and they are betting their life on it.  It is the same for someone who believes in God.  Even though you can’t prove that there is an actual computer that you are reading this email off of (we could be laying in the matrix and this could be an illusion) we trust our perceptions and are justified in believing that what we see on the screen is real based upon thought and experience. Our perception of the natural world can be distorted e.g. mirages but that does not mean that we should not believe it exists.
  10. THEM) So, let me have my way. If it does not interfere with your way just let it be. I want you and everyone else to have their own way as long as it’s not stomping on what I would like to do with my life. ME) I totally agree! I love the I amendment to the constitution that says, congress shall make no law regarding the establishment of religion or the free exercise thereof. And I love it that we have free speech and press! People are free to believe and act on their beliefs without government interference as long as we don’t let them interfere.
  11. ME) The following is an example of what would happen If this line of thinking (that there is no ultimate truth, and others should not share what they think is truth). THEM)  I think people should be free to share their opinions. That’s fine. I welcome that. I do not welcome when it is not posed as an opinion because that’s what it is. If someone’s opinion varies, let them have their own truth. ?  ME)  It sounds to me like you are saying that “it is absolutely, never right to say that someone is wrong”  this could be restated, “it is wrong for you to say that someone else is wrong”  this truth statement infers that you believe that there are true things and false things.  A moral relativist could never say that.  A relativist will say “there absolutely is no such thing as truth” that statement, however, is self- contradictory. In other words, if the statement is true, it is false, and if it is false, it is false.  I think truth gets muddled down because of a term used called tolerance.  Today it means that you have to not only accept others beliefs but also endorse them.  However, no one is truly tolerant in the traditional sense because in order to tolerate something, you first need to disagree with it.  How can you tolerate something you agree with? Tolerance should not be totally accepting every viewpoint as equally praiseworthy.  For example, it would be inhumane to say that extermination of a minority, or bigotry, or hatred is just as acceptable as peace, care, and love. Everyone has a viewpoint that they think is true. We should be tolerant of people but not of ideas.  In other words, how we treat a person is important but it is imperative that we disagree with bad arguments and poisonous thinking.  When we are intolerant of bad ideas, we need to be able to make our case for our own beliefs by presenting evidence and reasonable assertions.  It is okay to disagree with someone!  In fact it is better for the world to disagree and to work out differences through argument and persuasion as opposed to shouting and name calling.  Everyone is going to be wrong from time to time and needs to be humble enough to admit that fact.  However, that does not mean that there is not truth out there to find.  This is why I love the United States! We have the freedom to disagree with others and express our opinions and worldviews openly. This is seen every day. Try having this conversation in china, Pakistan, Russia, or several other countries!
  12. ME) to others) were to be carried out in other aspects of life: Suppose a building is on fire and in danger of collapsing and someone is laying down below the smoke on the 20th floor trying to find a way out. A fireman finds the person and says to them, “follow me, there is only one way out of the building! If you try to go any other way, you will not make it!” The building is structurally unsound and the firemen outside the building have tried surveying the situation and see that every possible exit is blocked accept for one that they made by knocking down one wall of the high rise.  The person stuck in the burning building could tell the fireman “thanks, but there are an infinity number of ways to get out of the building” and “I can go any way I want to and I will get out alive”.  THEM) So, here’s why this is different-the other firemen can and have actually looked at the other ways out and can definitively tell you that there is NO OTHER WAY out of the building to save your life. No religion, to the best of my knowledge, can actually say “We have tested all of the possibilities and this is the only way and you can clearly see that because of the following physical evidence:” Not a one. ME) How do you know that people have not tried out all other religions? I have researched diligently into others and still do so in order that I am not missing something.  From what I have seen, Christianity, since it is 100% based upon what jesus did on the cross, is the only way that someone can be confident in what will happen when they die. All other religions require the person to DO things in order to gain acceptability to god or to make up for what we did wrong.  How can anyone ever know if they did enough good to make up for the bad? Also, what just judge (if god is judging our deeds in life) would not hold a criminal accountable for a crime if the criminal said that he also helped an old lady across the street?  The criminal would still be guilty of all crimes even if they did nice things to people after the crimes or before.  Furthermore, the truth or failure of Christianity hinges upon the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. If he is who he said he is and we cannot find his body, then Christianity would have to be correct.  We have the physical evidence in Palestine.  Are we to only believe or trust in something when we have 100% proof of it or know everything about it? This would not allow us to fly across country if we did not know everything about aeronautics, or not use a computer because we are not software engineers, or not get on the elevator because we don’t know the person who built it or how it works.  This type of skepticism is unlivable.
  13. ME) Is the fireman being intolerant by telling the person that he is wrong and that there really is only one way? THEM) No because he actually KNOWS this to be true. He does not BELIEVE this to be true. He is not making this decision with his opinions and emotions. It’s a fact, right? There is literally only ONE way out of the building. Religion…we just don’t know.  ME) When you say “we just don’t know..” you are not asserting that we CANNOT know. Rather you are asserting that we do not know.  This is true.  If an atheist and a Christian die the same day either they will both know who was right or none will know.  We can only have the information available to us, which in this day in age is a lot!  We can access the best information now due to internet and the spread of information. In my opinion, this means that we should not be ignorant of what is out there and understand our worldview well enough to defend it.  ME) Is the fireman arrogant for thinking that he knows the only way out?  Suppose further that the fireman is ACTUALLY an arrogant AND self-centered individual and is a very mean person in and outside the job.  Does the fact that he is a jerk make the fact that he knows the way out of the building wrong?

I know that this email is loaded. But I like these types of topics! Interested in your thoughts

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