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?” –Francis Schaeffer, The God Who Is There
AW’s answer: I do not believe, and most atheists do not believe, that “all of life is meaningless, and ultimately absurd.” I simply see no convincing reason to believe that “meaning” is imposed on life from above by any supernatural being, and several reasons to believe this is incredibly unlikely to be the case (the theory of quantum mechanics, which holds that all events have a fundamental component of irreducible chance, comes to mind, as does the lack of any discernable pattern in the distribution of good or bad fortune among living beings beyond that dictated by physical circumstance – i.e., people living in coastal areas get hit with tsunamis and hurricanes much more often than people living in highlands). Furthermore, I see several convincing reasons (the existence of suffering first and foremost) to believe that no meaning could possibly have been imposed on the universe by a being which is simultaneously omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent, which I understand your religion posits God to be; the nature of our universe necessarily precludes the existence of such a being. I am not sure what Mr. Schaeffer means by “marching straight forward” or “standing in the queue,” as a literal reading is patently absurd. No atheists and very few theists, to my knowledge, actually advocate that people should live their lives in a mechanical or otherwise identical and systematic fashion, irrespective of the presence or absence of God.
Counter-question: If all of life is preordained according to the unknowable whim of an omnipotent deity, why march in any direction or stand anywhere in particular? Anything God wishes to happen will happen, and we are powerless to affect it. The fact that our choices are apparently meaningful and necessary suggests that no such being is imposing meaning or order on the universe, and that it is up to us to decide what meaning life has for us, personally and collectively. This is the position of all atheists, agnostics and pantheists, and a significant number of liberal theists, with which I am familiar.
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?
AW’s answer: The simplest way to answer this question is with a parable, cited by several of my previous-generation relatives, in which a man is walking along a beach. The beach is covered with starfish that have been beached by the tide and are dying from exposure. He finds another man walking in the opposite direction, picking up the starfish one by one and tossing them back into the water. The first man asks the second, “Why are you doing this? You can’t possibly save them all, so what difference does it make?” The second man replies, “To the ones I do save, it makes all the difference.” Much like the first man’s incredulity, this question seems to be based on the implicit postulate that there is a certain threshold or minimum standard of significance actions must meet to be meaningful, expressed in the parable as saving all of the starfish, and nebulously expressed in the original question as “ultimate difference.” This is an unwarranted assumption and one which to my knowledge is not posited by any atheist, and is furthermore not posited by many theists. From a nontheist’s perspective, actions are significant to the people they affect. There is no need to compare an action to some nebulous “ultimate” standard of meaning for it to be significant.
CQ: If all events unfold according to God’s plan, then of what significance is any action humans may take? If God wishes something to happen, it will happen; if he does not, it will not happen, and we are powerless to affect this. The common understanding of “meaning” implies the necessity of choice; if one’s actions are preordained, no meaningful choice is possible. Conversely, if choice is possible and meaningful, then actions cannot be preordained, but if an omnipotent and omniscient being exists then they must necessarily be so, and as such the most reasonable conclusion is that no such being exists. (This is, essentially, a reiteration of the point made in CQ1, a fact of which the author is perfectly aware and a consequence of this question being very similar in essence to Q1).
Q: Suppose the universe had never existed. Apart from God, what ultimate difference would that make?
AW’s answer: The answer varies depending on what precisely is meant by “ultimate difference” (specifically whether a physical/objective, moral, or other sort of difference is intended; the usage is not clear from the phrasing of the question). Obviously the objective differences between an existent and a non-existent universe are substantial and arguably categorical. Since the question implies that there would be no difference in the relevant sense, objective differences must be discounted, and hence the relevant sense of “difference” must be in moral or other terms. In any case, as objective differences have been discounted, the relevant difference must be of a subjective nature, and as such, no universally satisfying or objective answer can reasonably be given (by the definition of “subjective”). However, this question is little more than a red herring. The universe clearly does exist, and the hypothetical “ultimate difference,” in the absence of God, between a hypothetical non-existent universe and the clearly existent real universe is completely irrelevant.
CQ: Supposing that the universe had never existed, and that God does in fact exist, what ultimate subjective difference would that make? In either case, what occurs is by definition God’s will, as an omnipotent being’s will could not be thwarted. To put it another way, since the available options here are “If: the universe exists Then: God’s will is done” and “If: the universe does not exist Then: God’s will is done,” what difference is there between the two, given that the outcome is identical? (This is especially true if the question is phrased in terms of moral difference, since by the tenets of Christianity God’s will is the standard of morality.) And if the outcome is irrelevant, then what can be understood by the question of “what difference would it make?”
Q: In a universe without God or immortality, how is mankind ultimately different from a swarm of mosquitoes or a barnyard of pigs?
AW’s answer: It is true that humans and pigs, and to a lesser degree humans and mosquitoes, are very similar genetically and in many aspects of basic function. The average genetic difference between humans and chimpanzees is roughly two percent, and the maximum genetic difference between humans and other organisms (humans and cyanobacteria unless I misremember) is around fifty percent. Nevertheless, there are numerous physical and behavioral differences between humans and mosquitoes, pigs, or any other animal species, and so I am inferring that this question refers to moral difference. The answer is simple: humans are morally different from mosquitoes or pigs because we have capacities for reasoning, comprehension, perception, and emotion that far surpass theirs. Our mental capabilities exceed theirs in that we are capable of functions such as inductive generalization and organized, systematic thinking that other animals display only to a much lesser degree or not at all, and our emotional capabilities include empathy and cooperation unmatched in many respects by any other species (humans, for instance, appear to be more or less unique in extending empathy and consequent compassion to members of other species). As such, we are capable of suffering in a way that other animals cannot (at an abstract level, rather than simply in response to the effects of immediate stimuli on our physical or mental perceptions), and are motivated to address suffering in others in ways that other animals could not be. The concept of suffering vs. happiness is the root of nontheist (and most liberal theist) morality, and as such the greater capacity of humans to suffer and alleviate suffering constitutes a significant moral difference. Much more could be said on this topic (the capacity for abstract reasoning as it relates to ambition and “dreams” in the figurative sense, for instance), but the singular moral significance of humans can safely be considered established at this point.
CQ: In a universe with God as traditionally defined, how is humanity meaningfully different from a swarm of mosquitoes or a barnyard of pigs? One of the core tenets of Christianity, especially the fundamentalist variety, is that God is morally perfect and that humans, by contrast, are not merely imperfect but so imperfect as to be morally worthless, such that “all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags” (Is. 64:6) in God’s sight. If our moral condition compared to God is so abysmal, then even assuming that we are morally different than pigs or mosquitoes, such a difference must surely fade to insignificance when compared against the moral perfection of God. What value could we have then other than that which God arbitrarily assigned to us? And even this would not truly be our own, nor should the assignment of such value be a source of comfort of hope, as God might change his mind at any time. Should the reader be tempted to respond by citing any of the differences mentioned in my answer to the original question, let me remind them that according to traditional Christian doctrine, all morality proceeds from God’s will and the Bible (which mentions none of these things, to my knowledge) is considered the supreme authority on the nature of that will, so any appeal to a moral standard beyond God’s will or the Bible by a traditional Christian is tantamount to blasphemy.
Q: What viable basis exists for justice or law if man is nothing but a sophisticated, programmed machine?
AW’s answer: To my knowledge, the vast majority of atheists and metaphysical naturalists do not consider a person to be “nothing but a sophisticated, programmed machine.” If one insists on putting these words or the spirit thereof in the mouths of the general nontheist community, justice and law still have a viable nontheistic basis: if one regards humans as programmed machines, the observed behavior of humans both contemporary and historical demonstrates that they must surely be imperfectly programmed machines, and as such justice and law can be understood as a sophisticated (though still not perfect) error-correction mechanism to minimize behaviors likely to “damage” the individual machines or the collective “machine system.” However, the basis for justice and law as understood by all nontheistic ideologies with which I am familiar is that they are chiefly created to discourage and redress behaviors by individuals which cause others to suffer, and to guide the members of society to live and work together in order to minimize suffering and give some reasonable opportunity for our efforts to bring about the best possible result. Experience has shown that when law and justice are absent or deficient, the result is an enormous increase in suffering and a conspicuous general absence of happiness, and as such, the establishment of effective and functional government, which can accomplish the aims outlined above with a minimum of negative “side effects,” must be considered a moral and practical imperative.
CQ: What viable basis exists for justice or law if the universe is subject to the will of an omnipotent being? Whatever occurs in such a universe must necessarily be according to God’s will, and efforts by humans to establish laws, judicial systems, and other means to counteract harmful actions of other humans or the environment are tantamount to defying God’s will. Furthermore, to set up such systems in such a universe is to implicitly claim to know better than God how the world should be, which in the traditional Christian worldview is the pinnacle of sin. Doesn’t the Bible say to trust God’s plan? And yet virtually all religions teach that law and justice are necessary and right – the Bible, in spite of its advice to trust God’s plan, contains specific instructions on how to set up earthly systems of justice and law. If any of them are inspired by a god such as the one defined by traditional Christianity, this should not be the case, and yet it is.
Q: 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?
AW’s answer: I am not completely sure what is meant by “it all ultimately comes to naught,” since I am reasonably certain that few nontheists believe these things to be worthless or inconsequential. I can only imagine that what the author of the question is getting at is the fact that individual instances of these things will not endure indefinitely, as discoveries can be surpassed, forgotten, or disproved by subsequent research, objects of art and records of music will eventually deteriorate, actions and relationships may in time be forgotten, and emotions and other mental states do not survive (directly, at least) the death of the brain in which they reside. All of this is true; indeed, as the character Max Chen in Deus Ex observed, “the only enduring work of man [is] that which is born again with the next generation.” However, the finite duration of these things does not make them any less wonderful, noble, delightful, or meaningful here and now. Much as the enjoyment of children building sandcastles on the beach is not diminished by the knowledge (if they stop to think about it at all) that their creations will inevitably be destroyed, the nontheist is not robbed of the pleasure, happiness, inspiration, and respect stemming from these things by the knowledge that someday they may cease to exist. Why must something last forever to be meaningful?
CQ: Why do any of these things mean anything if they all unfold according to the will of a perfect, omniscient God? Even assuming that somehow some meaningful choice is involved, why try to create or accomplish anything, when before the universe even existed God must have already known exactly what you were planning to create, how it would turn out, and an infinite number of different and better ways to accomplish it? What meaning or pleasure is there in not only copying someone else’s ideas but failing miserably to realize their full potential? And what significance or value is there in the kindness or company of other humans if most of them will be damned to hell and those who are not will be compelled to approve of God’s decision in this matter?
7: Without absolute morals, what ultimate difference is there between Saddam Hussein and Billy Graham?
AW’s answer: First and foremost, it is important to realize that absolute morals are not a unique property of religion, and that in fact many nontheists do believe in a form of absolute morality: as previously stated, the basic tenet of nontheist morality is that actions which increase suffering or decrease happiness are wrong or evil, while actions that do the opposite are right or good. Saddam Hussein bears responsibility for the deaths of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of Iraqi civilians and citizens of neighboring countries, the use of chemical weapons against his own people, the continued poverty and backwardness of Iraq, and a brutal, repressive authoritarian regime. As such, he has been responsible for an enormous amount of needless suffering, cruelty, and injustice. While I am not sufficiently familiar with Mr. Graham’s practices and teachings to form a judgement about his specific moral character, televangelists in general are also responsible for a substantial amount of suffering, in that they perpetuate and encourage a belief system which causes its adherents vast amounts of needless guilt and worry due to its threats of eternal punishment and erodes their self-esteem with its claims that humans are morally worthless simply for being human. Furthermore, the reactionary Christianity advocated by televangelists often causes others to suffer by encouraging war and conflict as necessary for the Kingdom of God to be established on earth, discouraging promising medical research as “going where God never intended,” attacking social progressivism and efforts to correct inequality and injustice in law and society, and lobbying for laws which force their own personal moral views on the entire nation. Finally, televangelists bilk an enormous amount of money from their followers, money which could be used to reduce suffering through various practical charities, but is instead squandered on preaching to the faithful, or in some cases increasing the personal wealth of the televangelist in question. From most nontheists’ perspectives Mr. Hussein would be morally worse than Mr. Graham, but they would both be reprehensible.
CQ: In much the same vein as CQ4, what significant moral difference is there between Saddam Hussein and Billy Graham, since both of them, being human, fall so vastly short of the moral perfection of God? Surely, if humans are so evil and depraved that “all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags” in God’s sight, the relative moral difference between their actions must fade to insignificance when compared with God. Furthermore, it should be noted that while reactionary Christians generally consider Mr. Graham to be a moral person, Mr. Hussein has committed no atrocity or “evil” act (aside from things that weren’t technologically possible at the time, such as chemical warfare) that is not also attributed to at least one of the great “heroes” and kings of Israel in the Old Testament, who are nonetheless considered to be generally righteous and admirable by traditional Christians. What does this say about traditional Christian morality and intellectual honesty?
8. If there is no immortality, why shouldn’t all things be permitted? (Dostoyevsky)
AW’s answer: Certain actions should not be permitted because experience and common sense indicate that they will cause others to suffer, whether directly (as in the case of murder or robbery) or indirectly (as in the case of a man whose negligence of his house creates a substantial risk of a dangerous fire that may harm his neighbors). The nonexistence of immortality is plainly irrelevant to this, and I am baffled by the question’s implication to the contrary.
CQ: If there is immortality, why shouldn’t all things be permitted? There will be an eternity in which a person can learn from their mistakes and atone for their misdeeds, so why should they or anyone else be concerned with the immediate effects of their actions? This is especially true in the case of the Heaven posited by traditional Christianity. Why should one take immediate action to prevent or end the suffering of another person if all their tears will be wiped away in a blissful eternity? In fact, since Jesus’s teachings in the Gospels and other passages from the New Testament suggest that the happiness of a person in Heaven will be inversely proportional to their happiness here on earth, why shouldn’t we deliberately inflict as much suffering as possible on one another, so as to increase our neighbors’ rewards in heaven? Why shouldn’t we kill our neighbors as soon as they repent and are “saved” so that they can get to Heaven as soon as possible? In fact, carried to its logical extreme, Christian doctrine indicates that we should kill babies immediately after baptizing them, or children immediately after they are “saved,” so that they will not have the opportunity to jeopardize their salvation. Yet this proposal is universally reprehensible to Christian and non-Christian alike. How can this be, if we all “know in our hearts” that Christianity is true?
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?
AW’s answer: There are many nontheists who do not regard morality as “only a relative social construct.” While some ideas about what is or is not moral are clearly a product of particular societies and their prejudices, the basis, as previously stated, of nontheist morality is that actions which increase suffering or decrease happiness are wrong and should be avoided or prohibited, while those with the opposite effect are right and should be encouraged. Apartheid, female circumcision, and ethnic cleansing all have the effect of needlessly and greatly increasing suffering, and as such it is morally imperative to prevent these practices and others like them. Cannibalism is a slightly different case: killing other humans in order to eat them is certainly immoral; eating the flesh of people who die unintentionally or unpreventably, while distasteful to most and presenting significant health risks, does not cause those eaten to suffer any further, and as such the morality of this practice, in absolute terms, is debatable (though the potential for disease transmission arguably forms a strong basis for discouraging it).
CQ: As previously stated, if God is omnipotent, then nothing can happen without his willing it. If the standard of morality is the will of God, then, assuming humans do have a meaningful choice in their actions, what basis could or should anyone ever move to interfere with cultures which engage in these, or indeed any, practices? To do so would be tantamount to defying the will of God, and to asserting that one knows better than God how the world should be. Who are we to interfere with God’s plan? And yet most people recognize the moral imperative of preventing these and other practices which cause people to suffer. If Christianity is true, and we all know this in our hearts, how can that be?
10. If there is no God, on what basis is there any meaning or hope for fairness, comfort, or better times?
AW’s answer: The meaning of fairness, comfort, and the like should be obvious enough: these things represent or create a significant impact on people’s lives, as they generally tend to increase happiness and decrease suffering. I imagine that the “meaning” component of this question is directed at the fact that, in this world, these things are not absolute or eternal, with the implication that they must be so in order to “count.” Apparently, there’s just no pleasing some people… In all seriousness, why must the fairness, comfort, and better times we experience be rejected or discounted simply for not being perfect in nature or infinite in duration? This is certainly not the perspective of any nontheist I have ever known. If one insists on setting one’s standards of what is “good” or even “adequate” so impossibly high, then one must be miserable in this world, but with a more reasonable perspective, enjoying and valuing these things becomes not merely possible but a given.
The other part of the question, the “hope” part, I interpret to mean something akin to “without God, how can things ever get better?” The answer is simple, and quite obvious to anyone who does not assume that humans are utterly worthless and evil: things can get better because of the efforts of humans. Things have gotten better because of the efforts of humans, and so long as human civilization refrains from destroying itself, they show every sign of continuing to do so. Science and technology have greatly enhanced our quality and length of life through discoveries ranging from vaccines and proper sanitation to computers and the internet, while compassion, dedication, education, and intelligent planning at every level of society and government are helping to extend these benefits to the entire world (albeit much more slowly than they might be). A full description of the improvements we as a species have made is leagues beyond the scope of this response; however, there is almost unlimited hope for fairness, comfort, and every other aspect of “better times” so long as we are willing to struggle and sacrifice to achieve them for ourselves and our fellow humans.
CQ: If there is a God, as traditionally defined, on what basis is there any meaning or hope for fairness, comfort, or better times? In a similar vein as what I have argued previously, if all events are preordained according to his will (and if God is both omniscient and omnipotent they must be), then why should we believe that things would ever change? God clearly wills the world to be this way; otherwise it would be different. While it is debatable whether an omniscient and omnipotent being could ever change its mind about something, it would make no sense for it to do so, since it would already know what opinion it would hold. Furthermore, if God’s will is the basis of morality, there is absolutely no reason why things should change, whether or not they will change. And isn’t hoping for things to change in essence an assertion, even if merely a mental one, that one knows better than God how things should be? Such an assertion would be blasphemous under the assumptions of Christianity. As a side note, how comforting can it really be to believe in a god who is so monstrously unfair as to condemn the overwhelming majority of human beings to lives full of suffering and, eventually, eternal torment, and all other living things to lives full of suffering and eventual annihilation, based on the supposed transgressions of a single human couple?
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?
AW’s answer: Perhaps I’m not. What’s your point? I’m a big boy – I tie my own shoelaces and everything – and if this were true I would be mature enough to accept it. However, I do not believe this to be true as stated. I do not reject the factual statements in the above question. I consider it a true fact that there is an irreducible component of chance associated with every event that affects me, including those leading to my existence. I do not believe that I was intentionally created (except in the very earthly sense of being a planned birth) or that I have a purpose imposed on me from above. The planet is indeed rotating on its axis as it orbits the sun, and in turn the whole solar system orbits the galactic center, and the entirety of the universe may orbit around a central point, while at the same time my body fluids are circulating and the atoms that comprise my body, and the constituent particles thereof, are spinning as well, so in a sense I am “spinning round and round” as I write this. I have no evidential grounds to, and do not, believe that my consciousness will survive the death of my body, and ultimately I do not expect to be remembered indefinitely, though I hope that my writing will outlive me by a significant margin (assuming I ever manage to put the words to paper). However, both my lifetime and the human memory of my lifetime are emphatically dwarfed by the scale of cosmic and geologic time, much as my physical size is dwarfed by the physical scale of the earth and the universe. As I said, I do not reject the factual propositions in the original question; however, the question contains not merely factual propositions but a concentration of loaded language rarely seen outside of late-term campaign ads.
The use of terms like “miscarriage of nature” and “lonely planet in the blackness of space” is clearly intended to inspire an emotional reaction which is plainly and simply irrelevant to any of the facts involved – to make the proposition seem unappealing when the writer cannot establish it as untrue, which is unfortunately a very pervasive tactic in these questions. I have tried to be patient with this – but enough is enough. Let me say right now that while I accept the facts with which they are entangled in the above question, these emotional connotations in no way describe my view of my life or the universe as a whole. Let me also point out that the use of loaded statements like “futile, pointless, meaningless life” in what is already a rather blatant attempt to emotionally manipulate the reader actually tends to detract from its effectiveness. At any rate, I do not consider my life futile, pointless or meaningless simply because I do not have a divine hand pulling my strings and arranging my life – I am something other than a “coincidental, purposeless miscarriage of nature, spinning round and round on a lonely planet in the blackness of space for just a little while before I and all memory of my futile, pointless, meaningless life finally blinks out forever in the endless darkness” because I consider myself to be something other than this, and because I choose to live according to what I consider meaningful and significant. In my view, human beings would be diminished, not uplifted, by having their purposes and lives preordained by an almighty creator, especially when their ultimate purpose is in most cases to suffer eternally for being as their creator made them – imperfect – or, for the lucky few, to spend eternity praising this same creator – to serve as a sort of celestial “canned applause” while many of their friends, loved ones, and relatives are suffering. I am very glad that the evidence overwhelmingly supports the nonexistence of any such being.
CQ: With a personal Creator-God, as traditionally defined, how are any of the choices and decisions we make anything but meaningless, pointless, and futile? If God is both omnipotent and omniscient, then nothing can happen if he does not will it to, and anything he does will to happen will happen regardless of any action on our part. In this situation how are we anything but mindless, superficial puppets? And how can an eternity spent singing the praises – literally or figuratively – of a being whose past actions as depicted in the Bible, and present actions as evidenced by the world around us, are utterly incompatible with both the formal and common definitions of “good,” possibly be a prospect worth looking forward to?
These questions are without exception calculated to appeal to the emotions of the reader. Riddled with loaded language and inaccurate stereotypes about non-theist beliefs, they are intended to make metaphysical naturalism seem unpalatable. However, disliking a proposition or its consequences does not make the proposition untrue. I can think of many propositions which I find disturbing or downright appalling which are nevertheless demonstrably true (the persistent influence of belief systems derived from the superstitions of long-dead desert nomads on Western society and government tops the list). Furthermore, as I have repeatedly noted, many of these questions do not attack actual beliefs held by a significant number of atheists (and in most cases couldn’t poke such beliefs with a ten-foot pole) but instead attack prejudicial or outright comical stereotypes about atheists held by Christians. In other words, considered as a criticism of the materialist position, these questions are simply one huge straw man. Whether this is due to simple ignorance of the beliefs of real live atheists or reckless disregard for those beliefs in an attempt to mislead readers, while perhaps a morally significant issue, does not really matter for the purpose of this exercise. However, I am willing to be proved wrong, hence my question: what relevance do any of these questions have to the issue of whether or not atheism is true?
Note: The astute reader will note that my counter-questions are also concerned with the desirability or significance of life under theism rather than its truthfulness; this is a deliberate attempt on my part to respond in kind. There are many, many unanswered questions which shed substantial doubt on the assumptions of theism in general and Christianity in particular; however, a full discussion of these issues is beyond the scope of these responses. The reader is strongly encouraged to investigate the positions of real live atheists, which is most readily accomplished by browsing some of the major websites “about atheists, by atheists.” I highly recommend www.infidels.org (comprehensive with numerous contributions from various authors) and www.ebonmusings.org (fairly comprehensive, well-written, and very accessible).
The original questions are copyright 2004 Daryl E. Witmer, to the best of my knowledge, and are employed here in a manner that is consistent with any reasonable definition of fair use. The responses, counter-questions, and the rest of the message are copyright 2005 Alexander Weaver. The main body of this message may be freely distributed in its entirety and in its original form so long as this copyright heading is retained and it is not sold for profit. It may be quoted in a faithful and non-misleading fashion so long as proper credit is given, either in the footnotes or preface, or according to any formal system of citation. It may be paraphrased so long as such paraphrases are explicitly marked as such and are not misrepresentative of the author’s clear intended meaning.
Note: In my responses I use the terms “metaphysical naturalist,” “atheist,” “nontheist,” and some others, more or less interchangeably; this is chiefly an aesthetic decision aimed at introducing some variety of word usage into my responses. Please note that these terms do have specific definitions and connotations of their own, and should not necessarily be considered generally interchangeable.