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Sep 20, 2011

The Best Answer

Invariably, atheists will be asked a question along the lines of:

"But how do you explain...."

What happens from here can vary. If you have a particularly (ahem) uneducated theist, the phenomenon warranting explanation will be one that does, indeed, have a readily explicable natural explanation.

But this is a pitfall and a trap that should be avoided.

Perhaps the most famous example of this is Bill O'Reilly's "The tides come in" Argument. It has since garnered meme status, as has the facial expression of the atheist (Dave Silverman) to whom this Argument was addressed.

Essentially, Bill O'Reilly's argument for God was the inexplicable nature of the tides. This, in and of itself, is probably enough to send many atheists' heads spinning. What's more, is that Dave Silverman's response did not address the obvious: the Moon causes the tides.

While there has been some criticism for this, I agree with his stance as he deliberately chose to address the core issue, one you will more directly and immediately experience by more educated Christians who ask questions which currently defy natural explanation: God is not a substitute for "I don't know."

Yes, there are a great deal of questions whose answers we don't know. That will always be the case. In the event you are presented with a question that does have a known answer, I call it a trap because it will simply result in regression till you get to a question that doesn't have an answer. Better to cut to the chase and address the fundamental flaw.

I don't know why reality is, that the universe began or if it did, how it began. I don't know why there are as many fundamental particles as there are, why they have the masses, charges, and spins that they do, or whether or not they are facets of some underlying simpler reality (a la String Theory).

I don't know if Free Will exists. I don't know if I have a Soul. I don't know if my being-ness will persist after biological/clinical death.

I don't know.

I'd like to know. I, like all humans, am curious about the world I find myself in. My curiosity, my thirst for knowledge, is not so strong that I must completely exorcise ignorance from my vocabulary. I wish to minimize my ignorance (where practical) but I am not distressed by its necessary existence in the body of knowledge I possess.

As such, I feel no compulsion to insert the non-answer "Because: God" for questions I have no natural answer to. Furthermore, I have genuine confusion over those that do, because it hints of an underlying hubris that suggests that not only are we capable of having all the answers but, for those that believe in God, they actually do have all the answers. This is odd, especially for a religion that ostensibly prizes humility.

Why do they do it?

I don't know. Sometimes it's the best answer.

1 comment:

Shripathi Kamath said...

Part of the privilege of theists is to believe that they can answer questions to difficult questions. The god of the gaps has been inculcated into their thoughts as the catch-all response. It is easy to remember, intimidating to dispute, and can always be supplemented with a "Yes, the tides are because of the moon, but god created the moon, so technically I am still right".

Ignorance scares most people, and if a solve-nothing non-answer is the best they can get, they'll take it.

We like our leaders to be "common men", because we do not like to think that the president is smarter than us, when in fact we should hope for exactly such a thing.

Like you say, "I don't know" is the only correct answer available at times, but providing that makes them feel inferior, especially when "Goddidit" has enjoyed no opposition through the ages. It deflects from their ignorance.

These days, I sometimes respond with "I did it". Because it immediately puts the emphasis of evidence back into the mix. And I press on past the initial guffaw of disbelief.

"Why do you think it is impossible for me to have done it?"

"What evidence would you need for accepting that I did it?"

...

"Why should I not then, expect the same sort evidence for your claims?"

Religion wants others to be humble, which is why debates with cretins like Bill O'Reilly end up with the atheist looking bad. He is too shell-shocked that idiocy is being proclaimed so loudly.

Which is why ridicule must be employed far more than it is. It is not arrogance to ridicule unintelligible propositions. Humility only encourages more of such behavior, which is why the religious push humility on others.

A common question at Republican debates always is "Who does not believe in evolution?" What is scary is that there are no penalties for people raising their hand. So much so that I suspect that they'll start asking the question at Democratic debates, and hands will go up