moonOn its web page What if the cosmos is all there is? Christian Answers is challenging skeptics to answer a set of 11 questions. (Christian Answers is one of many web sites dedicated to Christian apologetics.)

If you are an atheist, a materialist, a pantheist, or a naturalist, try to answer the following 11 questions:

birdsNote the loaded nature of the challenge: while not impolite, it’s not objective, either. Then again, I doubt there is any attempt at objectivity, and it’s certainly well within the author’s right to lack objectivity. It may be inaccurate, but it’s easy to imagine a chip on the shoulder of this believer.

fictional spaceI have decided to answer the questions, but it sure won’t happen in a day. This post will be expanded gradually as the questions are answered. I encourage readers to answer the questions in their own words and publish the entire Q&A as part of the overall effort to encourage more people to apply critical thought to their religious beliefs (and political opinions, too).

Please scroll down for our answers to these questions, keeping in mind we may not have answered all of the questions yet…

Nature of questions: Broad, philosophical, hypothetical scenarios

church steepleLittle, if any, of this content deals with specific Christian fundamentalist beliefs; the material covered by these questions and their answers is really more philosophical than religious in nature. That being said, this is more of a sideline than a highlight of our ongoing Search for Truth.

We are more interested in examining issues relevant to fundamentalist beliefs and then showing that it makes more sense to let go of the fundamentalist view in favor of a more realistic, helpful view.

random transitionReaders, if you come across similar lists of fundamentalists’ questions directed toward skeptics that are more relevant to our mission, please let us know via comment.

Be sure to check out A. Weaver’s answers and counter-questions to the same set of questions.

  1. If all of life is meaningless, and ultimately absurd, why bother to march straight forward, why stand in the queue as though life as a whole makes sense? (Source: Francis Schaeffer, The God Who Is There)
  2. If everyone completely passes out of existence when they die, what ultimate meaning has life? Even if a man’s life is important because of his influence on others or by his effect on the course of history, of what ultimate significance is that if there is no immortality and all other lives, events, and even history itself is ultimately meaningless?
  3. Suppose the universe had never existed. Apart form God, what ultimate difference would that make?
  4. In a universe without God or immortality, how is mankind ultimately different from a swarm of mosquitoes or a barnyard of pigs?
  5. What viable basis exists for justice or law if man is nothing but a sophisticated, programmed machine?
  6. Why does research, discovery, diplomacy, art, music, sacrifice, compassion, feelings of love, or affectionate and caring relationships mean anything if it all ultimately comes to naught anyway?
  7. Without absolute morals, what ultimate difference is there between Saddam Hussein and Billy Graham?
  8. If there is no immortality, why shouldn’t all things be permitted? (Dostoyevsky)
  9. If morality is only a relative social construct, on what basis could or should anyone ever move to interfere with cultures that practice apartheid, female circumcision, cannibalism, or ethnic cleansing?
  10. If there is no God, on what basis is there any meaning or hope for fairness, comfort, or better times?
  11. Without a personal Creator-God, how are you anything other than the coincidental, purposeless miscarriage of nature, spinning round and round on a lonely planet in the blackness of space for just a little while before you and all memory of your futile, pointless, meaningless life finally blinks out forever in the endless darkness?

General observations about the eleven questions

spiral galaxyFirst, we should all thank Alexander Weaver for posting his answers to these eleven questions and also for giving others the rights to republish his answers under certain, very reasonable conditions. Thanks, Alexander Weaver!

Based on the nature of some of the questions, I’m guessing the asker is a born and raised Christian — that he’s always believed that his relatively conservative, fundamentalist flavor of Christianity is the equivalent of reality.

As a born-again (into reason) skeptic, I find some of his apparent beliefs to be particularly confusing and irrational. I may or may not respond to each of the eleven questions with the same level of detail; the questions relating to more personally interesting material will probably be addressed more closely.

For instance, his apparent belief that morals, and perhaps good behavior in general, has no basis outside of the Bible is particularly odd to me.

Question 1: If all of life is meaningless, and ultimately absurd, why bother to march straight forward, why stand in the queue as though life as a whole makes sense? (Source: Francis Schaeffer, The God Who Is There)

Why would anyone even begin to associate negative terms like meaninglessness with the notion of a universe free from the rule of a wrathful, judgmental deity? To many of us, the truly absurd version of existence would entail religious fundamentalism and literal scripture interpretation, for one.

Question 2: If everyone completely passes out of existence when they die, what ultimate meaning has life? Even if a man’s life is important because of his influence on others or by his effect on the course of history, of what ultimate significance is that if there is no immortality and all other lives, events, and even history itself is ultimately meaningless?

Everything is connected. Each of us exerts some seen, but mostly unseen, influence on everything around us. It’s too bad that you consider your own influence to be relatively meaningless; we don’t.

It is as though you equate meaning in life with some sort of eternal existence. Concepts such as eternity cannot even be grasped by the human mind; why should man worry about such things? We cannot think of a reason to concern ourselves with such things, apart from the enjoyment some of us get from philosophizing about these and other existential matters.

Question 3: Suppose the universe had never existed. Apart form God, what ultimate difference would that make?

Apparently, very little careful philosophical thought went into the formation of this question — either that, or we failed to grasp the meaning of your question. All attitudes and opinions re: “making a difference” happen only within the mind of an individual. Without a universe, there would be no individuals to consider the issue. If the universe had never existed, then why would anything matter, anyway? What would there be? Probably nothing; certainly, not us.

Question 4: In a universe without God or immortality, how is mankind ultimately different from a swarm of mosquitoes or a barnyard of pigs?

Although we abide with great love for all of nature, we believe that mankind has differentiated himself from mosquitoes and pigs with creations such as art and science, deeply meaningful emotions such as love, tolerance, and compassion, amazing advances in technology… and especially, blogging! (This list could go on ad infinitum…)

It sounds as though the author (of these eleven questions) despises his own existence as well the existence of those around him; I truly hope our grim assessment is wrong!

Question 5: What viable basis exists for justice or law if man is nothing but a sophisticated, programmed machine?

If man has free will, and we believe man does possess a substantial amount of free will — then we cannot be compared to programmed machines, the choices and decisions of which would be completely predictable & never irrational.

Justice and law are mechanisms or tools of an intelligent, ordered society without which anarchy and chaos might prevail. Many of us see no need to connect law, order, and justice with supernatural belief systems. One is not a cause or enabler of the other. What do supernatural beliefs have to do with justice in the first place? Absolutely nothing, as far as we can tell.

The honest & objective student cannot deny that Western civilization has been built in part upon Christian principles; after all, they’ve exerted significant influence on the way we Westerners have lived for the past 800 years or so. However, this is completely unrelated to the issue of whether Christianity or Biblical principles in general are an absolute requirement for justice and law.

Angle 1
The only proof one needs that Christianity is not a prerequisite to justice and law is to provide records of a society that was not led by Christians or comprised of a Christian majority. The existence of lawful societies outside of Christian fundamentalism would thus show the latter not to be the foundation of justice and law. Numerous societies ancient and modern, Hindu to Taoist to Buddhist to no religion whatsoever, have had justice and law as features.

There is absolutely no basis for believing that the Bible (or Christianity) is in any way a requirement for civilized and/or moral society.

Angle 2
It is not difficult to demonstrate that the teachings of Jesus are in fact a reflection — a virtual paraphrasing — of the Buddha’s teachings. In this vein, one could argue that ancient Eastern spiritual traditions are in fact the basis for all justice and law.

Resources: Law and justice outside of Christianity

  1. Aspects of Justice in Ancient India, by Frederic B. Underwood
  2. Judeo-Christian and Buddhist Justice – Winston King,Professor Emeritus, Vanderbilt University
  3. Christian Morality, Restorative Justice and the Law, by Jim Consedine
  4. State religion – Wikipedia
  5. Religions of the world: Information about 40 organized religions and faith groupsReligious Tolerance
  6. Declaration Toward a Global Ethic: Parliament of the World’s Religions (PDF)
  7. Religion in Europe – Wikipedia
  8. The Ancient Mysteries and Secret Societies: Which Have Influenced Modern Masonic Symbolism

Background: The 11 questions
A fellow named Alexander Weaver viewed this list of 11 questions as a personal challenge: he answered them well, posited counter-questions, and also made every effort to ensure the folks at ChristianAnswers.net read his response. We deeply admire the time and effort Andrew expended on this project. A. Weaver has kindly made his answers to these 11 questions available for republishing. Given that the mission of Search for Truth includes encouraging critical thought about religious belief systems, we decided to republish the questions and answers in a dedicated blog post:

Answers to 11 Questions for Atheists, by Alexander Weaver

Notes

[1] Atheists
I am not an atheist; more accurately, I’m a Taoist-Deist-Secular-Christian-Tree-hugging-Humanist-Perennial Philosopher. It is my belief that when properly understood and/or interpreted, world religions and spiritual paths generally agree in their advice that humans follow basic, universal spiritual principles from a more or less secular perspective. Arriving at this view was not easy and certainly didn’t happen by accident, but it’s definitely among the most beautiful things I’ve ever come to realize.

Resources: Answering the eleven questions posed to skeptics at Christian Answers

Related resources

  • Constantine: Pagan Thug Makes Christian Emperor — Constantine did not make Christianity the official religion of the Roman empire, though this is often said of him. What he did was to make the Christian church the most favored recipient of the near-limitless resources of imperial favor. (Richard Fletcher, The Conversion of Europe, p19)

Content removed/set aside for now
I’ll go along with the asker’s wild jumps in logic, beginning with the outrageous assumption in question #1 — that all of life is meaningless, and ultimately absurd for atheists.[1]

Perhaps visions or ideas some have about society as a lawless mobocracy without Bible God’s watchful eye[1]…