Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Don't believe in a Supreme Being? This is YOUR posting.

Attention all atheists (AE, LNM this means you). Mind if I ask you some questions that I've always wanted to ask an atheist? Answer whichever ones you like. Tag your atheist buds if you like. I am so curious...I would really love to hear what you think. When you comment, please mention how you were originally raised (Catholic, Ortho Jewish, etc.)

1. What do you think happens to you when you die? And as a second part of the question, is there any value to mourning? Update: I am asking if there is value in mourning to the deceased, not to the mourners. If you believe that people just disappear when they die, why mourn at all? Should mourning be standardized, as in Judaism (sitting shiva, covering mirrors, saying Kaddish), or should people just do whatever they feel is important? Any point to a funeral?

2. If someone commits an amoral act and no one ever finds out about it, are there any consequences to that person?

3. What do you do if you are in a questionable moral situation, and there are no completely good (or completely bad) solutions? How do you decide which choice to make?

Some examples:

Your brother needs a kidney. Your brother is an evil, Hitler-like person, but you've always gotten along, and despite who he is, you love him. Do you give him a kidney? How do you decide? What if there is a chance that giving him the kidney might endanger your life?

Your landlord is sort of a jerk. He didn't fix the toilet when he said he would and you had to deal with a broken toilet for a week. You are moving out and it would be possible to skip out on the last month's rent with no consequences and frankly, you need could use the money (but so could he and you owe it to him). Do you not pay the rent money that is owed to him?

You saw Friend A steal from Friend B. No one else saw. Do you rat out Friend A? You don't really like Friend A that much....does that make a difference? OR, you don't really like Friend B that much....does that make a difference?

How do you decide moral questions like this? What's the process? Update: I'm more interested in the process than in answers to the specific situations. How do you decided which road to take? Is it based on how you feel at the time or something else?

4. Do you think there is any chance whatsoever that you may be wrong about the non-existence of a higher power, or a creator? Is there like maybe a 1% or 2% chance that you might be wrong? Or are you absolutely, 100% positive that God doesn't exist?

5. What is thought? Is it just neurons firing? Can anyone (or anything) else access your thoughts except for you?

6. Same question for dreams.

7. Do you believe in extra-normal things like esp?

8. In what way are human beings "above" animals? Why do human beings get to rule over them, use them, eat them, wear them, etc.? What makes a person more important than a dolphin or a dog?

9. What do you think the evolutionary value of music is? In other words, is music important to the evolution of our species?

10. Any chance that any part of evolution theory is wrong or are you 100% certain that it is correct?

11. Do you think the world would be a better place if religion disappeared? Do you think the world would be better off if no one believed in God?

12. Should people honor (not love, but honor) their parents if their parents are unfair to them? If so, why?

13. Do you think marriage should be restricted to only two people? What if three or more people want to marry each other (in one marriage)? Do you think that would be okay?

14. Is suicide ever okay? Should suicide be the right of the individual? Would the age of the person make a difference?

15. Do you believe that late-term or partial-birth abortion should be legal? Do you think it's moral?

16. What does "being spiritual" mean to you? How do nurture the part of yourself that is spiritual without belief in God (or do you)?

17. Any difference between the world's major monotheistic religions? Are Christianity, Judaism and Islam basically all different versions of the same fallacy? Is one of these religions any better than the other two, do you think?

18. Who wrote the Tanach (aka Old Testament)? Was the history recorded in the Tanach (i.e. the Exodus from Egypt) made up?

19. Is the land of Israel any different or more important than any other place, like say, Spain or Chicago?

20. Is capital punishment wrong? Are there ever any circumstances under which it is right to take a human life?

21. Is it ever okay to cheat on your taxes? Is it ever okay to cheat on your taxes if you are certain there will be no consequences to the cheating?

22. Why is voluntary incest wrong? Or is it? By voluntary, I mean, two consenting adults, who happen to be brother and sister, having a loving, consensual sexual relationship. Take children out of the equation....assume they've decided never to have children. Is it wrong? What about a half sister and brother? If it's wrong, why is it wrong? "Because it's icky" is not a good answer, btw.

Thanks. Again, if you have no time or think these are stupid, no worries. Answer whatever you feel comfortable answering. I'm so curious as to how intelligent atheists think and deal with stuff. I just can't get my head around atheism.



abandoning eden said...

wow that's a lot of questions. I'll try to answer some now, and maybe some more later during a break at work or something. Oh and I was raised orthodox jewish.

1. I think when you die, you die. Like, it's over. Nothing happens, you don't go to heaven, you're just dead.

As for mourning, I think there is a lot of value to mourning- not for the person who died, but for the people who cared about that person and didn't die. You mourn cause you're sad that person is gone...I don't get why you wouldn't mourn if people didn't go to heaven and would mourn if they did?

I think judaism's mourning practices are actually one of the better ones out there...you are forced to take some time off of work/whatever and confront your grief (and not just go on as if everything is normal), and a lot of people come visit you and talk about the person who was lost, and then there's a stepwise program to dealing with your loss over the next year. It's pretty nice actually. I do think people should do whatever they feel is important though.

The point to a funeral is also for the people who did not die, so they can gather and say goodbye to that person (even though the dead person can't hear their goodbyes- again I feel like funeral and mourning stuff is for the mourner and not the dead person).

2. I don't know? If someone shoplifts a watch, and no one ever finds out about them, they have still gained a watch, and the store they stole it from has lost the money from that watch, even if they never realize it. So yeah, there are consequences. The person also has to live with the knowledge that they stole that watch, which may make them feel bad about themselves and how they can't afford a watch, or guilty about taking that watch from someone else. So there can be consequences. But that part only works if the person who stole the watch thinks stealing is amoral, as different people may have different standards of morality.

I don't think there will be consequences like some higher power will strike you down or something.

3. The way I make decisions is I try to imagine what the situation would be like if I did either thing, and then see how I feel about that imaginary situation.

hmm I'm going to skip the brother one for now, cause that would require a lot of thinking. The landlord thing..well my landlord was already paid last month's rent when I moved in, and a security deposit. But yeah, I would pay the rent. Unless I had to pay for the toilet to be fixed or something, in which case I would deduct that money from the rent I paid him.

Friend A stole what? A beer? A car? A pen? A necklace? It depends on what they stole..if it was something small (beer, pen), I wouldn't say anything. If it was something larger, I would first ask friend A if Friend B knew friend A had taken that thing to make sure it was actual theivery. I would then try to encourage friend A to give it back, so no one would be the wiser. If not, I would tell friend B. I guess if I didn't like friend A I would probably be quicker to just skip to telling friend B, and if I didn't like friend B I would try harder to convince friend A to put the thing back so I wouldn't have to talk to friend B....

I guess when I make decisions that have to deal with morality, I try to put myself in the place of the other person and act the way I would want to be treated. Or the way I think is most fair to everyone. As a teacher, I often have to make decisions with how to deal with special case students, and I try to figure out what would be fair for everyone involved (the special case student, and the rest of the students in the class).

4. Yes, I think there may be a god. Maybe a 2% chance. But I'm 100% convinced that if there is a god, there is no religion that has it right. I'm more partial to conceptions of god that think of god as the life-force that imbues all living things.

5. ooh that's a tricky one. I have no idea actually. I'm sure it involved neuron's firing in some way. But don't we also (to some extent) have 'free will'? What controls which neurons fire at which time? I think it's some combination of conditioning and genetics I guess...but there may be something more, that's more than the 'sum of it's parts'.

Arn't they trying to develop thought-controlled computers and stuff for paralyzed people who can't talk? I think if we gain enough scientific knowledge about how the brain works, it may be possible to look at a super sophisticated live brain scan thing and see what people are thinking, theoretically. I don't think we are anywhere near that point yet.

6. I think dreams are when your body erases your short term memories from the day, which involves jumbling them up and then making some (dream) sense of the jumbles, and that what you dream are a combination of those short term memories, and longer term memories that are triggered by those short term memories, all mixed together in a somewhat random fashion, that your brain starts interpreting along certain lines that it has been conditioned to interpret things. This may or may not be based on any scientific theory, just a theory of mine :)

7. no, but I believe there can be things that we would currently define as outside of the realm of scientific possibilities that are in fact possible, but we just don't know it yet.

8. In the same way a cheetah is "above" a warthog it just ate....in that we are at the top of the food chain (usually). In that we have the intellectual fortitude to control, breed, domesticate animals, and they don't have the same ability to do the same thing to us. I don't think it's a matter of who is more 'important' it's a matter of who is more able to control the other. On the other hand, I do value human life over a cat's life, but that's probably cause It's in my evolutionary best interest to favor my own species over other species.

more to come later today...

YM said...

As an adjunct to #18, I would add: How, if the Torah was made up, did they convince people in the time of Ezra* that millions of people** witnessed the giving of the Torah? After all, if it was made up, there couldn't have been a tradition that this was true? The point has been made before that no other religion makes a claim of mass prophecy like this.

*when even advocates of the documentary hypothesis agree that the Torah existed in its current form

**600,000 men over 20, women, children and a mixed multitude

WebGirl said...


While I appreciate the thought that went behind your comment, I don't mean to argue or debate atheism here. I really want to hear what intelligent people think. I'm not throwing down the gauntlet. That's way too big for a post like this.

Atheists, if you feel like taking up this challenge, fine, but it's not really what interests me that much. I am curious about what makes you tick and how you approach life.


abandoning eden said...

ok here are some more:

9. I think this is a really interesting question, and I'm not sure what the answer is. But the question kind of assumed that everything in human society serves some kind of evolutionary purpose (known in sociology as the "functionalist" perspective). My short answer is; maybe music serves the purpose of encouraging group solidarity, and group solidarity is essential to survival?

10. I'm sure there may be parts of it that are wrong. That's why it's called a 'theory' and not a 'fact.' :) I think darwin might have had the general gist of it right.

11. I don't know. I think personally my life would be better if no one believed in god, but religion also serves a purpose- that whole group solidarity thing. And many people may need the idea of rewards/punishments in order to do the right thing, so without religion maybe society would just descend into chaos. It's impossible to know.

12. depends on the age of the person, and the degree of unfairness.

13. If people are genuinly polygamists, and not polygamists for the sake of controlling women, then I think it's ok. I also think open marriages are ok, as long as both partners agree to it. I personally am a fan of monogamy, but if other people feel differently, and find a partner (or two) who agrees with them, then I'm ok with it

14. Yeah, it's ok if someone doesn't want to live anymore. I would prefer them to have gone through therapy first, and not to do it on a whim, and to be maybe over 18. but ultimately it is their right- and it's not a right you can ever take away, cause people can just kill themselves whether you want them to or not. I think it sucks though, and I hope no one is killing themseleves hoping they will be better off in heaven or something...

15. Well the word "Partial birth abortion" isn't really a medical term, and that specific proceedures shouldn't be banned. I think it should be legal. I do however think it is immoral to have an abortion after the fetus has "quickened" (~3 months), unless in case of medical reasons or because the kid will have downs or it was incest/rape and she didn't realize she was pregnant...well there's a lot of caveats. It's not a black and white thing. Which is why I think it should be legal.

16. I guess it means being more myself, being clear headed (like at the end of a yoga class when you lie down for 10 minutes) not being distracted by silly things, beingin tune with nature maybe...the most 'spiritual' I have felt is while camping on a mountain with a crazy thunder storm approaching, which was one of the most beautiful/scary things I've ever experienced.

The only time I've geniunly felt something I would describe as 'spiritual' is when I was on drugs.

17. nope, I think they are all equally wrong.

18. ezra maybe? and probably other people for the later books?

I don't think it was definitely made up, but at best I think it was passed down orally for many generations, and majorly twisted/exagerated in the written story. Me and B just had a long conversation about the exodus story, and how their might have been super low tides that they used to cross the sea a natural plague may have been intepreted as the work of god, etc. B was saying something about how a volcanic explosion would have explained a lot of the story...like for instance, first borns slept on beds while other kids slept on the floor, so would have been more affected by smoke/ash/sulfer. It would also explain hail that was on fire, and the days of darkness..

19. Israel is a pretty cool place cause of the history. I like that you can go around and see ruins everywhere. That being said, at this point I would prefer to go to countries that I haven't been to yet (ie, every country that's not israel), and i don't think it has any spirtual significance other than that a bunch of people died there and a bunch of religions fight over it.

20. Yes it's wrong. A "kill or be killed" circumstance would be ok with me (so if the only way to not be killed is to kill the person)

21. No. No.

22. The incest taboo is one of the only universal taboos. It probably developed for evolutionary reasons and social reasons. Evolutionary-wise, having sex with your siblings will probably result in genetically inferior children. Social-wise, marriage evolved as a way of establishing ties with other families, so as to enhace group cohesiveness (by establishing ties with other tribes/families, peopel were more likely to be assured safe passage, cooperation, etc.). So that's my sociological explenation for why it's icky :) So it's probably morally wrong in that it makes society a worse place if a lot of people do it, both in terms of genetics and group cohesiveness.

WebGirl said...

AE, THANKS for your amazing honesty...great stuff.

Can you go more into why incest is bad if you completely take having children out of the picture? Extreme, possibly not so icky example: if an adult brother and sister are raised apart, meet each other and fall in love, really fall deeply and honestly in love, and it is known that they are genetically siblings, and the woman medically cannot have children ever, why is that a bad thing? Is it a bad thing?

For me, I would turn back to my religion for that answer. It's just a no. No real thought required for religious people...it says it in the Bible that God said: Big Giant No. No no no.

Why would you say no? Or would you? I'm asking a purely moral question here. Maybe in this particular instance only, it's not wrong? Whatcha think?


Glenn said...

re Q22: I have often wanted to show up to a party with a hot girl on my arm and make sure that everyone knew she was my girlfriend - especially the gay people - and then when they asked how we met, we would both laugh and I'd say, "Well, she's my sister!"

(What? What's wrong? We DO love each other ya know...)

Lubab No More said...

Lot's of good, sincere questions. I will answer them... but not at the moment as it is an ungodly (har, har) hour.

YM said...

My additional question is motivated to see how people answer it. On the net, the only answer I have seen is "it was originally understood as a myth, then they came to believe it"... ...which isn't such a good answer, in my opinion. (from Failed Messiah and Dov Bear, who address this question in their blogs)