Ask a stupid question countdown... Two

TodayChristian.net posted a list of Ten Questions for Every Atheist. Since I count myself as one of the "every" and I'm far too snarky to leave rhetorical questions alone, I thought they would be interested in my responses. I'll tackle one a day, counting down from ten to one. I'll also be unpacking the questions so not only do I address them directly but also some of the hidden assumptions and fallacies behind them.

Before reading the answer, keep in mind that they have the rather absurd lead-in:

Some Questions Atheist Cannot Truly and Honestly REALLY Answer! Which leads to some interesting conclusions…

Someone out there imagines that no one ever thought to answer these, and I'm guessing from the general tone, they think they are unanswerable. So with my apologies for busting your bubble, here are honest answers:

2. What happens when we die?

This is a very odd question to ask to "an atheist". It reveals that they're not actually interested in the answer. You would think if you were honestly interested in knowing what happens at death, they would ask an expert - someone in the field of biology, medicine or neuroscience. Instead this approach of asking random people what they think, as if their opinion mattered

But since they asked, I'll give my answer by analogy. As the philosopher Daniel Dennett has pointed out, we can make large strides in understanding consciousness and the brain by learning about how computers work because while they are certainly far from identical, we have discovered many many things that minds can do which can be imitated successfully by computers. So treating a person as an uber sophisticated robot/computer can be instructive.

Imagine taking your old computer and doing something analogous to what would happen when a human dies. For starters, you would turn off the power. That means the computer is non functional, but large amounts of information are stored in memory so the computer can be reactivated in the future. But instead you simulate death further. You subject the computer to some kind of pulverizing process which breaks it up into many, many pieces and scatters the pieces. It's not correct to say that the computer was destroyed because all of its pieces are still around in other places, just as when we die, all our pieces are still around, either in boxes or as food for some small organisms. But our intuition, which I think is correct, is that there is nothing left of the computer; the computer is gone.

The same thing happens to us. All of our parts are broken down and go other places and there is nothing of us left. There can't be a heaven or hell for us to go to because there is no meaningful piece of us that is able to "go" anywhere.

Dementor

The contrary Christian position depends on there being some piece of us that escapes, usually called the soul. It's the thing that Dementors try to suck out of you and the thing that tries to sneak out when you sneeze. However we have a complete absence of evidence for the existence of soul as separate entities, not part of the normal periodic table or standard model. This is probably an accident of language and history since we always had separate words for "mind" and "brain" (and a strange notion that pops up constantly about the "heart" which seems to imply that the heart is more than just a muscle for circulating blood and actually does some kind of "thinking"... I've always been curious as to whether the people writing these ancient texts actually thought that or if they were aware they were speaking metaphorically). But we now understand that, in a fairly straightforward correspondence, the mind is what the brains doesIf you disassemble the parts of the brain, the mind ceases to exist.

We've also known since the time of Descartes that the transcendent soul of Christian substance dualism isn't even internally consistent. It's important to remember that absence of evidence is evidence of absence.

The general tone of the question makes it sound like this is a bad thing. If I don't get another eternal life after this one, what's the point of this one? These people never stop to consider that if that view of reality were correct than this non-eternal first life would not have a point to it and dedicated Christians would be rushing off to die in holy wars by the millions in as much hurry as possible to get this pathetic existence over with and get on with the good bits.

Quite the contrary; if you only have one life to live, then it's special... even meaningful. It's because there is only a finite amount of time we have, that makes what we do matter more.

Stay tuned for question one... this could take a while.