heaven

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.

Ask a stupid question countdown... three

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:

3. What if you're wrong? And there is a heaven? and a hell!

I'm not sure what you're hoping my answer would be, but it's not that interesting.

If I'm wrong, I'm wrong.

As I mentioned under question five, part of being a grownup means making decisions in the presence of incomplete information and living (or after-living) with the consequences.

When it comes to this sort of question, I have put my money where my mouth is and quite literally bet my life. If I'm wrong about all this Christianity-god stuff, when I eventually die I will be in hell. I mean, I'm a full blown heathen. I blaspheme, I work on the sabbath, I watch pornography, I praise the Flying Spaghetti Monster, I practice witchcraft, I sleep with men, I've made graven images and drawn pictures of Mohammed (hedging my blasphemy)So my level of confidence that the god-heaven-hell stuff is made up is really high and I've made some major life decisions based on that belief.

So why am I so confident?

Let's unpack all the things I'd have to be wrong about before this question had any credibility:

  1. A god (as yet undetected) exists
  2. This is a personal god and not a deistic god
  3. This is the god described in the bible (or possibly the Qur'an)
  4. The revelations from this god about how the world works have been accurately transmitted through two thousand years (in spite of hundreds of known errors and redactions)
  5. Heaven and hell are (as yet undetected and unvisited) actual places
  6. Humans possess an (as yet undetected) immaterial soul that survives the body at death.
  7. There is an (as yet undetected) mechanism for the soul to go from the body to either heaven or hell.
  8. The mechanism for deciding whether it's heaven or hell is one of the (mutually inconsistent) ones explained by one of the denominations of Christianity.

That's a lot of layers of "what if?"

Now for the sake of argument, say I grant all of premises one through seven. Eight is just about the maximum amount of absurdity it's possible to pack into a single belief.

First of all, none of the historical divine communication about how to get into heaven or what to expect when you get there is clear. I gather there's lots of praying and worship, but I'm not sure who that's supposed to be any fun for.

Some have said that it's the pure bliss that comes with being in the presence of god. Now I know me and I won't even get a tattoo because I know there's nothing I can get that I won't be sick of in three months. How long before that bliss wears off? Two thousand years? Five thousand maybe? After that, I'll be ready to move to the after-after life, I'll be so bored out of my disembodied mind.

And how exactly do I get into this wonderful place? By doing good deeds? By advancing the collective knowledge of mankind? NO! I have to believe that a man (who was also god but not entirely) was tortured and killed to make up for the sin of a pair of people (whose mere existence contradicts empirically established facts of biology) created by god with so little foresight he created them down the path from a talking snake advertising tree with fruit capable of cursing an entire species (because eating fruit changes the DNA you pass on to your offspring) because that was the best solution he could come up with, and he still managed to cheat his way out of it because he undid the killing of himself by resurrecting himself three days later all so we could be saved from the hell he created for us for when his plans screwed up.

If I'm not mistaken there's other stuff in there like engaging in symbolic cannibalism  for weekly brunch and having some water sprinkled on you at some point.

Wouldn't it be more likely that the way to get into Heaven was by leading a virtuous life of open and free inquiry? Why does my ability to trust untrustworthy books matter more than what I actually do?

I've kept my language rather tame through this series. But seriously guys... What the fuck?!? Could you please try to limit yourselves to threats that make sense?

Stay tuned for question two...