Questions about the Atheistic Worldview
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27-09-2015, 06:32 PM (This post was last modified: 27-09-2015 06:39 PM by Atothetheist.)
RE: Questions about the Atheistic Worldview
(08-02-2015 05:07 PM)NotAnAtheist Wrote:  Hello members of TheThinkingAtheist,

I have a project for school for which I am to interview someone outside of the Christian faith. I figured this website would be a good place to look. If anyone could take the time to answer the following questions, it would be greatly appreciated. Keep in mind that I am not here to argue with you. Instead, I am offering you a constructive platform to present your worldview. As such, I ask that you please try to keep your answers in an objective tone and abstain from profanity as much as possible (this is a school project). Thanks again for your help.

Hey, friend! Are you by chance at a catholic school in Indiana? I just recently (around the time this was originally posted) had a project similar to this, but being an atheist, I had no need to interview so much as be my own personal megaphone.

I'll answer you're questions now, though I assume its too late for the project, not neccesarily for your benefit, but for mine so I can link people to something. I will do my best (though swearing is a bit difficult for me) to adhere to your rules.

It must be noted (as I am sure others did before me) That the atheistic worldview is a bit of a misnomer. Atheism is not a worldview. Its a stance on one position (The God position in terms of belief). Other than that, atheists can vary. I wrote a post discussing the variability in the atheistic movement here (There was a harassment scandal going on at the time, but any moral diversity can easily be transferred over to philosophical or belief diversity).

Quote:1. How did we get here? (Origin) How do you explain the existence of human beings on this planet? How do explain the existence of the planet itself?

I will break this response down into three parts that will hopefully tackle your questions and anyone else's in their entirety. Bare with me, because this is going to be a long one (though I will use spoiler tags for space management).
Evolution
Well, talk about a hard question. As far as I know (and as far as the scientific method and research has taken me and my fellow mammalian primates) we are here through evolution by means of random mutation and natural selection. I'm sure you are generally familiar with the theory, so explaining it fully would just detract from it, but I will do you the courtesy of dropping a few helpful resources to at least get a more in-depth look than what I will briefly summarize for you:

Evolution works (generally) like this: Our offspring, or any living organisms offspring essentially copy the genetic information from their parents (be it one or two) and sometimes, these copies are imperfect and produce tiny changes in the genetic code. These changes of genetic code are called mutations. Now, these mutations, depending on the severity could either help, hinder or have no effect on the survivability of an offspring. Also, its worth noting that (in general) the faster and more that an organism reproduces, the more of a diverse range of mutations occur as well as with more frequency (This helps explain why cells seem to be super "fine-tuned" in comparison to us who have a slower reproductive cycle). Now, some mutations in the genes are overtly negative, and kill you regardless (which is what most people think when they hear mutation), but the changes in the genes (mutations) fall into the three usually by the selection pressures that the environment puts upon the organism.

I'll give you an example (though this one and others like it has been overused), lets say you are looking at a population of mice that live in the dessert, and eventually (time is an important factor by the way. Evolution doesn't happen fast (except in terms of punctuated evolution [If you are interested, see Stephen Jay Gould's work] and thus requires billions of years.) there is a mutation that gives the mice a coat of fur that resembles more closely to the sandy color ground and environment in which they live. This mutation makes it harder for prey (birds,etc) to spot them, and thus these mutants have a greater chance of survival and increase chance of reproduction, which will pass down this beneficial mutation (This is called being "selected for". While the sandy mutants are thriving, the population of mice that don't have the mutation are getting picked off by the birds in greater number (this is what evolutionists call "being selected AGAINST"). Eventually, with the passage of time, the sandy mice will dominate while their inferior ancestor dies out.

Notice, though that if the mutation was any other color (lets say deep brown, or any color that contrasts more starkly with the environment), that this mutation would be selected against (and in actuality, depending on the color, more severely than maybe those of the normal color and thus the mutants would be wiped out faster. This works in the opposite. If the Mice had developed a lighter color, or one that was fractionally less contrasting than the original, it would have a fractionally better chance at surviving, reproducing, and (also this needs to be noted), creating more mutations that could further benefit its decendants). Now, how could this mechanism produce the abundance of life we see today? Well, the answer is time. Life has been around for about 3-4 billion years (our earth is aprox 4.5 billion yrs). Life's beginning was probably a primordial cell of somekind that was nowhere near as complex as the cells of today (think about a primitive prokaryote). However, if we assume (which I argue is not unreasonable in the slightest) that this cell has a short, and frequent reproductive cycle, there could be an abundance of variability (mutants, so to speak) that could rapidly become more complex and efficient, because the environment "selected for" more efficient cells and weeded the inefficient ones out. Eventually, through millions of years, cells began to make up other life forms which were subject to an even more macro-environment (the environment of the cell doesn't necessarily hold up when we scale up) and thus new things are selected for and against.

Also, evolution works kind of like a family tree, not a strict line of progression. Multiple mutations may stem from one species of organisms, and these different mutations, if subjected to different environments respectively (which is possible through migration, separation from parent organisms) or more genetic diversity (inflow or outflow of genetic material via same species of different populations moving in and reproducing with another population or bottleneck events). This can cause speciation (and branching off of organisms that can no longer produce viable offspring because of their great genetic differences caused by mutations and time). The principle species other organisms evolved from would then be termed a "Common Ancestor." Which is part of the Common Descent part of evolution. If this were true, we would be able to make a prediction about our common ancestry and we would be able to predict (making predictions is central to what makes a good scientific theory) that we might see common ancestry in our DNA. In fact we do (more on that at the bottom).

One must mention that there are many different ways that an animal can achieve that state that the environment selects for, there is no one way (I hate people that are proponents of evolution as a "only one method survives mentality") to be favored by natural selection. This is why bats and birds exist. They have evolved separate ways to achieve the same desired function.

This process, combined with time, is the current prevailing theory (a scientific theory, because there is a different from the normal colloquial definition) as to how we came to be.

Here is some evidence that ties in ( I will spare you the explanation of this for brevity's sake): DNA (also, on that page is a bunch of other evidences for common decsent, check them out)
Fossil evidence does collaborate with evolution.

Observed instances of evolution (Throwback to a thread I created back in 2012)
and many other things (I suggest maybe reading up on some of these things because evolution is a beautiful mechanism).

Before I move onto the age of the earth, it must be noted that some people believe that evolution is completely compatible with God. This might be true (I have my reservations). Some people look at the mechanism and see the finger of God in this process. There is no evidence to disprove this in its entirety (Though there is vestigial structures which makes it seem like God wasn't intelligent when employing this method of creation). There hasn't been any convincing irrefutable evidence that were was a designer either that can't be explained by natural selection. The theory of evolution works without the need of a God. This makes me employ Occam's Razor here. If he isn't necessary, and if there is no way to prove that he had any hand in it, you are assuming his involvement. It is therefore reasonable that you cut-out that assumption until there is evidence for such an idea.

Age of the Earth
I am a prospective Evolutionary Biologist, which is why the evolutionary category is so in-depth. I will have to defer my category to this Wikipedia article that discusses this in-depth and have only this to say: It is unreasonable to believe that the earth is not older than what the Bible reportedly states (6-10 thousand yrs). We have plants that are far older than 6,000 and fossils that are older than 10,000. Peruse the article for more in-depth assessment on dating methods used. However, the same argument is applied, philosophically as was in the evolutionary topic.

The evidence we have for the creation of the earth does not at all make it obvious that some divine being created it, in fact the current theories we have devised have no need of that concept. Thus, because there is insufficient evidence (something proposed with no evidence can be dismissed without evidence), and the evidence we do have explains it without the need of God, we must, logically cut out the assumption. The inclusion and exclusion of God does not affect any legitimate scientific model.

Now, you didn't touch upon it, but I will make one statement about the origins of the Universe. The Laws of the Universe that we have today will, if you calculate it back far enough, (our nearest estimate is about 13.72 billion yrs ago) breaks down. This is what is called a singularity. Now what does this mean? Well, it means that we CAN'T use the laws we have presently to predict the cause of the expansion of the Universe, or what there was before it. This makes nonsense of the Kalam Cosmological Argument which DOES use an observation (which is inherently dependent on a current Law of Physics ) to try to prove that there must be a First Cause or Unmoved Mover (see also, special pleading). There are other refutations, including one that I encountered on this forum that I still currently champion. However, this isn't the place to talk about them. I encourage further reading.

Quote:2. Why are we here? (Purpose) What are humans supposed to do with their lives? What is our purpose?

This is where you might find the most diversity among the atheistic fore. I can only speak for myself, but I believe that this question has to facets.

There is our physical purpose, and then there is our meaning, and our meaningful purpose (meaningful in this context not to cast any less light on our physical purpose).

Our physical purpose is to survive and reproduce, that is shown through us by means of natural selection and science.

The meaning you give to your life is intrinsically your own (I am an existentialist in that sense).

and likewise the meaningful purpose is again something self-prescribed. Mine is (and hopefully yours might be too) to leave this world in a better state than when I found it.

This mindset is illustrated beautifully in DLJ's signature and I think that it should be accepted. Now, why isn't it? Personally, its my belief that people expect more by society, and thus can't accept the reality that we aren't given more, and thus have to make it for ourselves.
Quote:3. How do we know what is true and what's not? (Truth) How do you verify the truth of a statement or claim? What sources do you seek for wisdom, knowledge and information?
Truth: That which is consistent with reality.
Delusion or non-truth: That which is inconsistent with reality.

You can verify the truthfulness of a claim by seeing how consistent with reality it is by running tests, experimenting, or thinking about it logically.

I'm sorry to say that there is no proof of an ultimate standard, nor do we need one. It might be nice if there was one, but its an assumption because people want more than what reality has given us. Most people, I've observed, want concreteness, they want absolutes. I'm sorry to say that it is very likely that there are none in the ways of truth. Reality itself is an assumption (albeit a reasonable one). It can't be proven to be a fact. And thus all information from it is subject to that realization. However, that also means all the evidence that you have gathered about God (this evidence must be, by definition, in the scope of the reality we live in) is also subject and contingent on this reality being concrete. In essence, in order to accept the evidence of God (If there is any) you have to assume reality is real.

In other words, you are in the same boat as the rest of the world, some people just have the intellectual honesty of admitting it.

As to what sources do we trust? We trust those that stand up to the reality we live in, not the ones that stand up to the reality we want to live in.
Quote:4. Where does evil come from? (Morality) How do you explain the existence of evil in the world?
Evil is a concept that we have come up with. Whether its a valid one or not isn't something I have completely made up my mind. However, I take my cues from the Moral Landscape and say that what morality should be is a discussion about the wellbeing of conscious creatures.

Good: That which overall benefits the well-being of conscious creatures.
Bad: That which overall doesn't benefit the well-being of conscious creatures.

I bolded well-being to make note that I am not talking about just the physical, but emotional, and social well being along with many other derivatives.

To put it in evolutionary terms:

Good: That which overall enables and promotes a creature to thrive and reproduce.
Bad: That which overall disables and lessens the chances of a creature to thrive and reproduce.

The origin of evil is the actions and the perceptions that we have of said actions based on their consequences. The same of good. There is no need for an anthropomorphological being or avatar of the two. It works without that assumption or idea (occamn's Razor again).
Quote:5. How do we overcome evil? How can humanity improve and better itself? How can we achieve happiness? Is there a way to conquer the evil in this world?
We overcome evil by not perpetuating acts or values or beliefs that allow bad things to happen (in my opinion, religion is a belief that facilitates evil deeds more than good ones, and that there are better beliefs that are not based on religion that do the opposite).

Humanity can always improve, but its a matter of wanting to, and then actually striving toward that happy state. A matter of thinking not only of yourself, but of everyone.

Unfortunately, I do not think that evil will ever be eliminated. Some people revel in it, and want to inflict it on as many people as many different ways, whether for self-interest, sadistic tendencies or anything else.

However, what I think might help would be knowledge, the clear insight to what is real and what isn't. Critical-thought and open discourse. These are essential to finding out the causes of problems and helping to alleviate (even if you can't eliminate) them.

Quote:6. What happens when we die? (Destiny) Is there an afterlife? What is it like? How does one get there?

I believe that there is nothingness. That you revert back to the same state that "you" were in before you were born. When I realized that "I" had already been in such a predicament before (and presumably was unable to find a problem with it) I stopped fearing death. I no longer fear the destination, but I fear the journey towards it.

An afterlife is one of those things that is an assumption, and one that is made because people have feared death, and the nothingness that they can't wrap their head around. Rather than tackling it head on, and accepting the deal they've been giving and coming to terms with the fact that there might be nothing, people seem to want to stick their head in the ground, blindly wishing for it to never end.

What is more likely: That there is an afterlife, or that there isn't, but people want one to exist so they believe?

Furthermore, not only is it not reasonable, I believe that an Christian or any other relgion's similar afterlife is immoral. No finite deed deserves a infinite consequence.

If you want my ideas on the possible origin of such a concept, as well as further elaboration, click here

I'll leave you all with this video, because this video illustrates beautifully my point of view, and its more beautifully, poetically, and memorably phrased than anything I have been able to come up with:





EDIT: If I am mistaken in ANYTHING, will someone please speak up and educate me. I love learning and becoming more accurate. Thank you.

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Credit goes to UndercoverAtheist.
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