Answering 10 Questions for Atheists

It will probably not come as a surprise, but I watch atheist and theist content on YouTube in addition to blogging. One video that I’ve seen covered recently is by Braxton Hunter of Trinity Radio’s 10 Questions for Atheists.

Many of these videos are meant as “gotchas” for their own audience and not really meant to start a dialog but Braxton claims up front that this is not such a video. Watch it for yourself but I’m going to go through each of his questions here and provide my answers.

1. What facts about reality that you and I agree are real facts about the way the world is does your worldview account for but my Christianity doesn’t account for (or at least doesn’t account for well)?

At least he follows this up immediately with a clarification that atheism is not a world view and instead asks the viewer to use their own personal world view that happens to include atheism. He then goes on to claim that Christianity accounts for evil, suffering, the existence of other religions, supernatural events in those other religions, science, and differences among different denominations. He piles on free will, morality, near death experiences, beauty, the “rapid expansion of the early church,” the life and death of Jesus, and humanity’s “shared longing for purpose and meaning.”

Interesting choice to use “account for” in this question. He doesn’t clarify what he means by that so there are a couple of ways this could be interpreted. If by “account for” he means “claims to explain” then sure, Christianity can claim to have explanations for anything. Does that matter if you haven’t proven it’s true? Any other religion, philosophy, or world view could make the same unsubstantiated claim. If instead, he means “provides a true explanation for” when he says “accounts for” then I would say Christianity hasn’t provided a true explanation for anything. In either case, this doesn’t seem to work. A methodological naturalist world view that includes the best scientific models currently available to us given the facts we agree on can provide strong, evidence-based explanations for morality, near-death experiences, beauty, and so on. I don’t think free will actually exists so an explanation for that would first necessitate a demonstration that it does, nor do I agree that humanity “shares a longing for purpose and meaning.” I certainly don’t.

2. If your definition of atheism is merely that it’s a lack of belief in god, and you’re just waiting to be convinced, but then you speak of him as though he’s in some way synonymous with Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, or fairies, doesn’t that at least send the message to your listeners that you actually believe that there is no god?

He adds that since these are beings that the viewer likely believes do not exist, it is an implication that they believe god does not exist either. He then claims that anyone who says they merely lack a belief in Santa Claus and are not yet convinced he exists are being disingenuous.

Braxton is mixing two issues here. I am an agnostic atheist because I am not currently convinced that any gods exist. However, I do actively believe that the god of the bible does not exist. The other issue here is with the nature of the claims. The Santa Claus claim is that he lives at the North Pole–well, we’ve been to the North Pole, and he isn’t there. To make this analogous, you’d have to modify the Santa Claus claim to say that he was there, thousands of years ago, that the elves were his chosen people and he could show himself to them and not to us, and that we can tell Santa is real because of the presents we get at Christmas. Then you have to reject any evidence that the presents were put there by human beings and say “well, I just have faith in Santa Claus.” It seems ludicrous, doesn’t it?

3. When atheism becomes a part of someone’s world view, they typically change their positions on other issues like abortion, sexual morality, and a number of other things… Do you at least understand why those moves could send a message to people [that you became an atheist just so you could sin]?

I’m splitting out the non-sequitur of his question here where he “has several videos well known atheists saying that there’s nothing wrong with prostitution and that they hope they’re children don’t save themselves for marriage.” He goes on to say that these videos also include atheists saying that “sex workers should be up on a pedestal no different than the military.” Strangely, he then says “I didn’t use those here because I didn’t want to seem combative [to those individuals]” even though he just brought them up.

Yes, I think when people let go of the baggage of divine command theory (that is, god telling us what is right and wrong) and instead evaluate the issues for themselves, they often change their mind. Does Braxton understand why that sends a message that the god of the bible is immoral? He would need to demonstrate why prostitution is wrong, why LGBTQ people shouldn’t have the same rights as cis hetero people, and so on. When people leave a faith they often realize there is no good reason to believe those things.

4. If it’s a lack of belief sort of atheism, what is it? Is it 50/50, 60/40, 75/25? At what point do you feel disingenuous saying that you merely lack a belief as opposed to leaning towards a belief that god does not exist?

What a weird question! How much don’t you believe that bigfoot is real? What about alien abductions? People are either convinced or they are not. Being 95% unconvinced and being 5% unconvinced are the same–you are not yet convinced. If you are not yet convinced, you don’t believe it. I think this is really trying to back into a different question. That is, “how open are you to the possibility?” As a skeptic, I am always open to the possibility that I’m wrong and, if provided with evidence sufficient to convince me, I would change my views.

5. Doesn’t it bother you a little bit that when we come to talk about the origins of the universe [or multiverse] that the only real options you’ve got besides god is a past infinite universe–which is impossible–or the universe coming to exist uncaused out of nothing, or something even less clear than that?

He precedes this question with “I know we’ve all got our talking points, but I want you to struggle to be as sincere with yourself as you can right now.” Aside from being incredibly condescending and implying that anyone who disagrees with him is just lying to themselves, it’s a tactic called poisoning the well and not something an honest interlocuter should be doing. He goes on to claim that atheism has a massive blind spot and all attempts to answer the question seem desperate and far less likely than theism. He doubles down on this with “doesn’t this issue destabilize you a little bit?”

The short answer here is, no. It doesn’t bother me at all. I don’t have a complete explanation for the origins of the universe, and neither does Braxton. The difference is I am honest enough to say “I don’t know” when there isn’t any evidence. There’s also a false dichotomy here (and then an equivocation) that it’s either god or a misunderstanding. Science doesn’t claim that the universe comes from nothing–it makes no claims at all about what happened before the Big Bang (if such a thing as “before time” is even sensible). I am quite comfortable with the evidence that the universe was a singularity of energy approximately 14 billion years ago and that we have no reason to hold a belief about anything before that.

6. Of the arguments for god’s existence, is there one that to you seems more interesting that the rest? Is there one that for you actually does weigh in favor of theism? Which one?

He lets this question stand on its own, with no additional commentary. Are there arguments that are more interesting than the rest? Sure. It’s interesting to watch the mental gymnastics of people trying to deduce god a logical necessary. It’s interesting to see people misunderstand evolution and use debunked arguments like the watchmaker. There isn’t any argument that actually does weigh in favor of theism for me as none of them have been rational or evidenced.

7. Most atheists I’ve met humbly admit that they don’t think they can have absolute certainty about much of anything but what they want from a Christian is a demonstration that god exists or that Christianity is true. When we do offer the reasons to believe that we do have, those are typically deemed not good enough. So what sort of evidence (if any) would be enough to convince you?

Well, we’ve completely given up on his claim of not trying to push any “gotcha” questions, haven’t we? This is clearly meant to set the stage for them to say “well god has provided that to you, so why don’t you believe?” regardless of your answer. Again, he doubles down as says “let’s take experimental reproducibility off the table since that’s not always necessary for science.” I’m sorry, what?

He knows that if I respond that experimental reproducibility could convince me that there’s no way he could provide it. Any time Christian (or other religious) claims have been put to the test, they’ve failed. Claiming that experimental reproducibility is “not always necessary for science” is trying to get out of this on a technicality. There are sciences where experimental reproducibility is not necessary to form a hypothesis–but from that to move from hypothetical to a scientific model there must be experimental reproducibility and testable predictions.

Matt Dillahunty has provided what I think is the best response to this. “I don’t know what would convince me but god is supposed to, so why hasn’t he provided it?” I know many Christians will claim that “he has but you don’t want to accept it” but that’s just them pretending to know what is in my mind. Regardless of the evidence presented, there would be an uphill battle as Christianity is so in conflict with demonstrable reality that any single piece of evidence provided would not be enough to convince me. It would need to demonstrate a consistent model, explain how the evidence to the contrary is not correct, and provide testable predictions to verify my assessment with experts in the fields it is overturning. Again, if god is all powerful and all knowing then he both knows what would convince me and could do it–but he hasn’t.

8. To what extent did social and moral issues start you down the path toward your atheism? That is to say, the typical Christian or religious views on sexuality, gender rights, and acts and commands of god in the old testament.

This time he adds that “it seems many deconversion stories online begin with or at least include LGBT issues, purity culture, or hell as instrumental in the deconversion process. It strikes me that what should matter the most is the truth and not what we might prefer the truth were.” Wow. As readers of my blog will know, what started me down the path toward atheism was reading the bible. I do think that the acts and commands ascribed to god in the old testament are immoral and unwise now, but when I started on my journey, I assumed that they were moral because they came from god. Instead I wanted to know things like “what happened to all of the people between Adam and Jesus? Are they in hell?” I went looking for answers to justify my faith and have never found them.

9. Can you name the last three academic books you read by theists on the subject? How long ago did you read them or is most of your understanding of apologetics and atheism from non-scholarly internet sources, pop level books, and (let’s face it) YouTube videos?

The projection continues. He adds a better question to this. “Are you getting the best from the other side?” I’ll humor him, though. Lee Stroble’s The Case for Christ, J. Warner Wallace’s Cold-Case Christianity, and C. S. Lewis’, Mere Christianity. I don’t know if Braxton considers these to be “scholarly” sources or not but the first two are from professional apologists. I’ve read several other books by scholars as well– Bart Erhman’s Forged and Did Jesus Exist are two recent ones. I wonder which scholarly works critical of theism Braxton has read lately? Did any of those change his mind?

10. If you found out today (to your satisfaction) that Christianity were true, would you accept god’s authority, repent of your sins, and trust Jesus as your king?

At least this one has a simple answer. No. I wouldn’t. If I found out today that the bible was true then I would know for certain that the god of the bible is a moral monster and I would choose not to worship him.

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