I found a link via Twitter to this post. It asks atheists eight questions aimed at having atheists explain life, presumably to replace religions’ own explanations.

Part of the post is completely lost on me (as are some of the questions) particularly the definition of “new atheist.” I just define myself as a garden variety atheist, I guess. Anyway, the label is irrelevant. I’ll do my best to answer the questions posed.

The Questions

1) Why is there anything?
2) What caused the Universe?
3) Why is there regularity (Law) in nature?
4) Of the Four Causes in nature proposed by Aristotle (material, formal, efficient, and final), which of them are real? Do final causes exist?
5) Why do we have subjective experience, and not merely objective existence?
6) Why is the human mind intentional, in the technical philosophical sense of aboutness, which is the referral to something besides itself? How can mental states be about something?
7) Does Moral Law exist in itself, or is it an artifact of nature (natural selection, etc.)
8 ) Why is there evil?

The Answers

1) Why is there anything?

This question has always been a puzzler for me—not because of the answer but the question in the first place. Does this question need to be asked, or ever answered at all? I would argue that it does not because it’s moot.

Regardless, it’s a philosophical question that atheism isn’t intended to address. My view is that atheism address one thing: deity. It’s not a social guideline for living or a moral philosophy. Asking an atheist “why” is like asking an apple what ennui is.

Asking why implies there’s a reason beyond the physical, which there isn’t. But what is the physical? Segue to…

2) What caused the Universe?

Short answer: We don’t know.

Likely answer: quantum mechanical interactions in the multiverse that initiated conditions necessary for the Big Bang.

Long answer: The latest book by Hawking, The Grand Design, addresses how the universe can be created from nothing. He’s famously noted for saying that science has eliminated the need for a god (especially regarding the origin of the universe). There’s no need to deflect the question by saying a god did it. Instead, we have actual formulaic theories for how the universe may have been created spontaneously. The math is beginning to check out.

But how can something come from nothing? Another book that’s very good at offering a foundation for such quantum mechanical principles, and is an easy read, is From Eternity to Here: The Quest for the Ultimate Theory of Time which has my highest recommendation (it’s much better than Hawking’s book). I would also recommend The Cosmic Landscape: String Theory and the Illusion of Intelligent Design by Susskind which explains this in more detail but is slightly harder to follow.

We don’t have every exact answer buttoned up but the salient point is that every decade brings us substantially closer to answering the mechanical specifics of how the universe came to exist—and none of them require divine influence.

3) Why is there regularity (Law) in nature?

This question is akin to the first one, asking a why, but at the same time there is some validity to it if one looks past the philosophical. What is the opposite of regularity? That would be chaos, yes? If one were to posit that our universe could’ve come into existence in an utterly chaotic state without any regularity—there could still be the universe of what we see today.

Here’s how: Even in a chaotic system there would still be pockets of regularity, merely because if you have infinite possibilities one of those possibilities has to be stable. One may have to wait an extraordinary amount time to see it, but it’s inevitable that in a universe of infinite possibilities it will create a system and one of the systems within it will be stable.

It’s also worth pointing out that there is a shocking lack of regularity in the quantum scale, but I don’t think this question was necessarily addressing such a fine point.

4) Of the Four Causes in nature proposed by Aristotle (material, formal, efficient, and final), which of them are real? Do final causes exist?

I had to look this up, and I was reluctant to do so because there would, I should think, be little that a BCE philosopher could add to modern science. Not to say the subject is uninteresting, the history of anything is interesting because it’s history.

Anyway, after reading the wikipedia entry on this matter I must say I don’t understand the question. In particular, I’m not sure what’s meant by a “final cause.” The entry, for example, says: ‘For a sailboat, it might be sailing.’ Unless it’s not. So…what difference does this make to anything at all? I’m confused. Which of them are real? Um. The sailboats, I guess?

This is probably a philosophical question which, like I mentioned, is not for atheism to address.

5) Why do we have subjective experience, and not merely objective existence?

The question is moot: We have both. There are objective events, as well as things experienced purely subjectively, and a combination of the two.

Is the question asking why people have subjective reactions to the same data? I suppose the answer would be because we’re not a hive mind.

6) Why is the human mind intentional, in the technical philosophical sense of aboutness, which is the referral to something besides itself? How can mental states be about something?

That answer is best addressed by a neurobiologist and that’s well outside my area of interest. It’s far enough outside that I don’t understand the phrasing “mental states be about something.”

7) Does Moral Law exist in itself, or is it an artifact of nature (natural selection, etc.)

I should think the answer is obvious: it’s a human construct. The fact that morals are culturally, socially, and locally variable directly describes how there is no “law” to it, only local guidelines that change over time and distance.

8 ) Why is there evil?

This is an entirely philosophical question atheism isn’t intended to address.

 

There you have it. Comments welcome!

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