Clever Questions to Ask an Atheist, provided the Atheist is Very, Very Drunk

A LOT of Internet real estate is devoted to Christian zealots of various flavors claiming to have some sort of checkmate-level rebuttal to the steady increase of nonbelievers in the developed world.  One example in particular caught my attention.  I’m not sure where this list originated (I found it here), but its “cleverness” is, shall we say, overestimated.

The questions:

Dear Christians,
Here are some clever questions I have thought up for you to ask an atheist.  If you are on an atheist online chat, you can copy and paste these questions to ask them, or you can confront an atheist in public and ask the questions.  Just watch how they can never answer these questions:
Can you explain what happens when we die?
If we came from monkeys, then why are there still monkeys living today?
Is it okay to commit murders, rape, homosexuality, going to stripbars, looking at pornography, and other forms of rebellion if you think there is no God to guide you?
How can you explain the way a banana fits in the palm of the hand?
If Fox News is a dishonest channel, then why are the reporters such as Bill O’Reilly true Christians?
Did you know that there are biblical records of dinosaurs that were witnessed by men?
How did pond scum turn into us?
How did the eye form?
How did the Grand Canyon form?
If you call yourself an atheist in regards to God, then do you call yourself an atheist in regards to Santa and Bigfoot?
How did everything come from nothing?
If evolution is true, how come we never see frogs turn into birds?
Have you heard of the shroud of Turin?
Your’s [sic] in Christ,
Where to begin?  Most of these questions are veterans of the religious apologist circuit, frequently utilized in dishonest ways by prominent anti-atheist agitators like Ray Comfort.  While none of them is particularly clever, some of them require surprisingly interesting answers.
Can you explain what happens when we die?
1.       Dying is a process, not a singular event, like most phenomena in our world.  During the process of dying, various parts of the body experience a failure of cellular metabolism due to oxygen deprivation.   That deprivation might follow a loss of blood from an injury, poisons that interrupt cellular metabolism, interruption of breathing, or years of incremental wear-and-tear with which the body’s repair machinery can no longer keep up, but in the end, the result is the same.  Without oxygen, cells can no longer turn stored fuels into energy for rapid use, causing the cell’s processes to disequilibrate and shut down.  Depending on the cell and the intensity of the damage, the cell itself may lyse and break apart.  When this process reaches the brain, that organ’s functions are interrupted like any other’s.  In the brain, this is often accompanied by hallucinations as the visual cortex’s processes seize and eventually cease.  These hallucinations can be emulated with non-lethal oxygen deprivation.
Once the brain is dead, the person has no further experiences or memories.  The body will not survive much longer (assuming it isn’t already dead) without the autonomic control centers in the medulla oblongata, hypothalamus, and elsewhere maintaining heart rate and other functions.  It might be sustained artificially depending on the kind of damage that led to dying in the first place.
One thing is certain: people endure beyond this end.  Each of us leaves a mark on this world, for good or for ill.  Each of us leaves behind a legacy of lives touched by our actions, things built and efforts accomplished.    We live on in the millions of tiny and grandiose ways that the world is different for our having inhabited it, even as our minds moulder to nothing alongside our bodies.  The best is lost—but the rest endures.

If we came from monkeys, then why are there still monkeys living today?
2.       Oh, I don’t know.  If Americans came from British people, why are there still British people?  If you have a brother or sister, how come they’re not exactly 100% the same as you?
Biological evolution is best encapsulated in Darwin’s phrase “descent with modification.”  A given common ancestor can have many descendants.  Millions of years ago, a primate lived whose descendants in the modern age include the many lineages of monkeys and apes, including humankind.  At various points in time, groups of this primate’s descendants became isolated from one another, and evolved into distinct species, not all of which survive to this day.  In much the same way, despite starting from a common British stock and cultural tradition, the peoples of modern Great Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States are all different in detectable, noticeable ways.

Is it okay to commit murders, rape, homosexuality, going to stripbars, looking at pornography, and other forms of rebellion if you think there is no God to guide you?
3.       God is not necessary for morality.  Hunger, thirst, desire, happiness, contentment, sadness, love, and all other emotions and drive states know no religion.  Religion is not required to recognize that our collective well-being is influenced by our actions, and that our world becomes a worse place for us all if we commit murder or permit others to commit murder.  Without religion, we are free to evaluate whether any given action contributes to the greater good based on the effects we observe.  With that in mind, it becomes clear that, of the acts on that list, only murder is evil.  Homosexuality, attending strip clubs, and viewing pornography harm no one in and of themselves.  (If any given instance of these acts involves a non-consenting participant, then the equation changes.)  “Other acts of rebellion” are likewise judged individually, and without the authoritarian framework that would imply that all morality is an exercise in submission to authority.

How can you explain the way a banana fits in the palm of the hand?
4.       The banana as most people know it was domesticated between 5000 and 8000 BCE, with the modern Cavendish banana’s near-exclusive reign over banana displays in grocery stores beginning in 1836.  Domestic bananas, especially the modern form, have about as much resemblance to wild bananas as domestic dogs do to their wolf ancestors.  Wild bananas come in many species, almost all of which are much smaller than domestic bananas and full of cherry-pit-like seeds.  The seedlessness of the domestic banana was achieved by crossing two species with different numbers of chromosomes, leading to a failure of the seed-production process analogous to chromosomal abnormalities in humans that can cause infertility.  Thanks to this abnormality, domestic bananas have only very limited means of reproduction without human intervention—far from their “God-given” original state indeed.
So, the banana fits peoples’ hands as well as it does because people have spent upwards of 7000 years making sure it does.  And even with that effort bananas and hands are often mismatched.  Imagine that.

If Fox News is a dishonest channel, then why are the reporters such as Bill O’Reilly true Christians?
5.       Whether the personalities of Fox News often speak falsehoods is an empirical question that can be independently verified—and they frequently, frequently do.  The real question is, how can the Fox News personalities be “true Christians” if they lie so much?

Did you know that there are biblical records of dinosaurs that were witnessed by men?
6.       That’s not actually true, but what if it were?

How did pond scum turn into us?
7.       Pond scum didn’t “turn into” humans.  The process by which humans evolved resembles the general pattern of evolution given above, starting with microbes billions of years ago and incrementing in complexity through time.  Humans are but one twig on a vast and ancient evolutionary tree, sharing branches with more and more creatures as we trace our lineage back to the tangled roots.  The microbes at the start of this process might have resembled modern “pond scum” to an untrained eye, but they did not turn into us.  We are their descendants, billions upon billions of generations later, following a long series of small changes well documented by genetics, palaeontology, geography, geology, embryology, and every other field of scientific inquiry.

How did the eye form?
8.       Eyes evolved several times within the animal kingdom, leading to several distinct evolutionary paths with distinct results.  All of them begin with a patch of photo-sensitive cells, whose proteins react to light and can thus distinguish light from dark, but little else.  In some animals, such as mollusks, these cells were derived from the skin; in the lineage that led to vertebrates, these cells are nerve-derived.  After many generations, some individuals had these cells in a small depression, enabling this budding eye to detect the direction of light as well as its intensity.  Reducing the opening of this depression to a small hole creates a primitive camera eye, capable of forming blurry images.  Further sequential improvements, including adding a lens and muscles to control the size of various parts, lead to the eye as it appears in modern mammals.
It is true that removing parts of a fully-formed mammal eye leads to reduced or destroyed functionality of the overall organ.  Since the eye did not evolve as a series of discrete parts appearing out of nothing, but as steady, natural-selection-favored improvements over each previous stage, however, this is not an issue.

How did the Grand Canyon form?
9.       The Grand Canyon formed over at least 17 million years.  The Colorado River at the center of the canyon erodes the edges with the force of its flow.  Another site of particularly visible riverine erosion, including the flip side of the phenomenon—deposition—is the Mississippi Delta.

If you call yourself an atheist in regards to God, then do you call yourself an atheist in regards to Santa and Bigfoot?
10.   Yes.  Next question?

How did everything come from nothing?
11.   The current scientific consensus, while still the subject of serious inquiry, holds that the universe’s matter has always existed.  At the beginning of time, it was all concentrated into a single point, whose rapid expansion is known as the “Big Bang.”  This expansion drives the passage of time, such that there is no meaning to the notion of time “before” the Big Bang.   Indeed, it is religious believers who claim that something “came from” nothing, while simultaneously claiming that God has always been.

If evolution is true, how come we never see frogs turn into birds?
12.   We don’t see frogs turning into birds because evolutionary theory posits no such absurdity.  Evolution acts on a scale of generations and populations, not individuals.  In the fullness of time, a species of flying frog may yet emerge.  Incremental changes across numerous reproductively successful generations might improve this frog lineage’s toe webbing, enhance their musculature for flapping, and otherwise alter existing structures in a way that makes the frog species more airborne, provided each increment is advantageous, as with the evolution of the eye.  Such macroscopic changes require a great deal of time and are rarely rapid enough to be viewed directly within human lifetimes.  In any event, the frog would not “evolve” into some other, pre-existing creature, but into a unique species.
Evolution is visible on a smaller scale in bacteria and other microbes, where a few days contain sufficient generations to show selective change; and in island populations, whose isolation made more mutations advantageous and so led to rapid diversification of freshly arriving flora and fauna.
Either way, we won’t be observing creature spontaneously evolving into other creatures.  This isn’t Pokémon we’re talking here.

Have you heard of the shroud of Turin?
13.   Why yes, I have heard of the 14th-century fake believed by many to be the burial shroud of Jesus Christ, a surprisingly poorly-attested figure for someone who spent 30 years defying the laws of physics within one of the world’s most advanced empires.  But have you?
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Clever Questions to Ask an Atheist, provided the Atheist is Very, Very Drunk

7 thoughts on “Clever Questions to Ask an Atheist, provided the Atheist is Very, Very Drunk

  1. 1

    To be honest, I find debates with strict religious people to be pointless. Hanging-on to these myths and explanations have little to do with logic, and, in my opinion, more to do with a basic human need of love and security that has not been met.

  2. 2

    I don't engage in discussions like the one that comprised this post for the sake of the person to whom I'm speaking, unless I honestly think they are open to being convinced. Most of the time, my objective is to make sure that anyone who reads the original post is exposed to the alternative view, and not presented with the spectacle of this sort of thing going unchallenged. It's for the spectators, honestly. I aim to help zealots look foolish 🙂

  3. 5

    […] 1.       Bill Nye, are you influencing the minds of children in a positive way? Alas, I can’t speak for Bill Nye, so I won’t say whether Bill Nye thinks he’s influencing the minds of children in a positive way.  I, however, am rather a fan of Bill Nye’s work, and hope he continues to do what he does best: share science with interested laypersons.  Bringing the joy and wonder of our world, the amazing things that dedicated observers have learned about it, and the equally wondrous process by which new knowledge is gleaned from material happenings—we should all be so lucky as to be so influenced. 2.       Are you scared of a divine creator? Are you scared of the mokele-mbembe?  The toothfairy?  Ravana?  Fu Leng?  Fionn mac Cumhaill?  When you figure out why none of those names inspire fear in you, you’ll understand why your “divine creator” holds no threat over us. On a more serious note, asking why someone is “scared” of the idea you’re pushing says a lot more about you than it does about the person you’re accusing.  It says that you operate at the level of being terrified that this world actually might be a place of physical laws and physical solutions, a place where doing is infinitely more important than praying, a place that isn’t, from beginning to end, all about us.  That’s called projection. We are not afraid to consider your ideas.  We already considered them.  They’re crap. 3.       Is it completely illogical that the earth was created mature?  i.e., trees created with rings…Adam created as an adult… Does it seem likely to you that the entire universe burst into existence one second ago, and that all of our memories and recollections and sequential filing systems all emerged in that one singular moment with the appearance of having years and years of history behind them?  Does it seem likely to you that everything you remember about your own life, from your childhood up to the lunch you’re currently digesting, happened in a flash that somehow resulted in it looking, for all appearances, like it happened over a lifetime? To put it mildly, there is no evidence that this is the case, and defined in your terms there can be no evidence that our world is such a world.  You just described a universe that came about one way but whose every attribute, up to and including the strange old book on which you base your assertion, indicates that it came about some other way, meaning that there is no reason whatsoever to think that it didn’t arise gradually, even if we accept your preposterous assumptions. To put it another way: your own memories are a record of past events that you have experienced, indubitable proof that our universe is not static and changes over time.  We have records and evidence of changes that go back before our own lifetimes, records that grow slowly and then quickly scanter as we advance backward through the ages.  You are proposing that, at some point, going back further is pointless, because all signs of the past above a certain apparent age were included pointlessly by a capricious deity. You are proposing that your god is a liar, as a reason why I should base my views on its supposed words. 4.       Does not the second law of thermodynamics disprove evolution? The second law of thermodynamics, for the uninitiated, states that the entropy of a closed system almost always increases over time.  The “almost” there is for a handful of very extreme circumstances that are not relevant to the parts of the universe that support life.  The only closed system known to science at the moment is the entire universe.  Planet earth is what we call an open system: a system into which energy constantly flows.  That energy comes almost exclusively from our nearest star, the sun, which sends a stupendous amount of electromagnetic radiation our way, including the kind we know as visible light.  By using this energy, living things can build more complex and ordered structures, in seeming violation of this entropic principle.  However, in so doing, they dump heat into their environment, and the net effect on the universe’s entropy is positive. To dispute this is to claim that the entire field of physics, and by extension every single thing about the world that humankind has ever learned (including the second law of thermodynamics itself), is a conspiracy to make your god look bad.  Good luck. 5.       How do you explain a sunset if there is no god? Much more easily than you do with god-notions bouncing through your mind.  I don’t have to wonder why a benevolent creator god would condemn half of the surface of its chosen species’s home world to darkness at all times, when predators and injuries thrive in the dark.  I don’t have to wonder whether our benevolent creator would think that a display of pretty reds and oranges each morning and evening could possibly compensate for making the air that much more palatable to mosquitoes (humanity’s most dangerous predator) for so many hours every day. Instead, I can recognize that the sun is a floating nuclear fusion reactor around which a series of oblate-spheroidal planets orbit, and each of those planets is also spinning on an axis, and as the planet spins the half that faces the sun constantly changes.  At the edges, the angle of the sun’s arriving light means that, instead of scattering high-energy blue and violet light around the atmosphere as happens during the day, low-energy reds and oranges get scattered as the sun retreats below or rises above the horizon.  No god required, no god even helpful. 6.       If the Big Bang theory is true and taught as science along with evolution, why do the laws of thermodynamics debunk said theories? See #4.  The universe in the instant of the Big Bang would have been infinitely compressed in space, having the lowest entropy it could possibly have.  Universal entropy has been increasing since.  The theory is based on, rather than violating, the laws of thermodynamics.  Of course, modern physics has advanced to some degree past the Big Bang, so you might want to do some reading. 7.       What about noetics? Do you mean the branch of philosophy interested in what minds are and how they interact with the world, or the branch of sympathetic magic pretending to be philosophy that holds that people’s thoughts can alter the state of the rest of the world in convenient ways? Because one of those is a serious field of inquiry that is not at all threatened by minds being the product of evolution in the handful of species that appear to have them, and the other is bullshit with or without God. 8.       Where do you derive objective meaning in life? I like how you underlined objective, to emphasize that you don’t think the purposes people choose or make for themselves are legitimate.  Since it’s so important to you that the direction of your life be imposed on you from outside, might I suggest a life in the military?  Or North Korea?  You may find such a life far less terrifying than one where you’re permitted to choose what you regard as valuable, and what parts of your life you’ll reminisce on when you sort out your legacy on a palliative bed in your 90s. As for me, I recognize that I am here, and that that statement has no other intrinsic meaning than that.  I exist, and I’m entangled in this great framework we call “society” in a specific place and time, and I’m making of that reality what I will and what I can.  I value knowledge, fairness, compassion, truth, and empathy, I draw happiness from good company, stirring discussion, delicious seafood, and from being surrounded by flowing water and contented fish.  I am building a life based on that, a life protected by the fact that successful societies throw the proverbial book at people whose values and happiness come in ways that put the rest of us in danger.  That’s objective enough for me. 9.       If God did not create everything, how did the first single-celled organism originate?  By chance? I’
    m acutely aware that, when people like you say “by chance,” you mean “instantly with no obvious cause,” the irony of that being a far more accurate description of the creationist than the scientific version of things being totally lost on you.  With that in mind, no, the first organism did not emerge “by chance.”  It emerged out of a chemical environment that the actions of living things have since removed from this planet, wherein complicated organic molecules could form from simpler molecules via the input of enormous amounts of heat and electrical energy from lightning and in the absence of atmospheric oxygen.  Scientists are still studying the matter, so it’s not yet clear which of the various suggested precursor molecules is the one to watch.  What is clear is that proposing an entity more complex than any life form currently known to science as the source of all of the others does not answer the question of how life originated, but rather pushes it up one level—how did God originate?  And if God was always around or emerged on his own from a then-godless world, why does a similar idea about known life not content you? 10.   I believe in the Big Bang Theory.  God said it and BANG it happened! See #4 and #6. 11.   Why do evolutionists/secularists/humanists/non-God-believing people reject the idea of there being a creator God but embrace the concept of intelligent design from aliens or other extraterrestrial sources? What I’m about to tell you might blow your mind, but the belief that aliens designed life on earth in the manner that creationists assume God did is actually extremely rare.  Its most common proponents are Mormons, whose God is a physical being who resides elsewhere in the universe, and Raëlians, members of a tiny UFO cult who proudly call themselves both non-theistic and creationist.  The overwhelming majority of people who accept the fact of evolution do not believe that an extraterrestrial species somehow created life on Earth, though a larger number haven’t thought the issue through and remain “open” to that possibility. 12.   There is no in between…the only one found has been Lucy and there are only a few pieces of the hundreds necessary for an “official proof.” I take it you haven’t paid any attention to the field of Cenozoic palaeontology for the past 40 years.  Scientists have had a LONG time to add to the pile of prehistoric hominin remains on which we base our understanding of humanity’s origins, and they have amply delivered.  Your ignorance is not proof of their failure.  Not even “official” proof. 13.   Does metamorphosis help support evolution? Metamorphosis and evolution are very different things, common creationist strawmen and Pokémon notwithstanding.  I’m pleasantly surprised that you’ve made the distinction.  As metamorphosis relies on the implementation of developmental genes that, in other contexts, are the core of how evolutionary processes can shape the overall body plan of an organism, its existence provides a surprising bit of supporting evidence for evolution.  For the most part, however, it is a phenomenon that evolutionary forces are invoked to explain, with interesting results. 14.   If evolution is a theory (like creationism or the Bible) why then is evolution taught as fact? 15.   Because science by definition is a “theory”—not testable, observable, nor repeatable” why do you object to creationism or intelligent design being taught in school? Since these two are the same question, they’re getting one answer.  Since I had no idea what to do with those weirdly placed quote marks, they stay. “Theory” is a word that laypeople like to accidentally misuse and creationists like to deliberately misuse.  In science, a theory is a well-substantiated explanation of a natural phenomenon that has been repeatedly affirmed and demonstrated by a wide variety of supporting evidence from multiple sources.  Scientific theories spawn hypotheses, smaller-scale falsifiable predictions based on the theory, which can themselves be tested even when the theory is too expansive to test directly.  A successful theory is one whose subsidiary hypotheses themselves receive experimental support.  Unsuccessful theories get abandoned and replaced by successful theories. Evolution, particularly in its modern form that includes forces other than natural selection and which takes genetics into account, is a theory, and is one of the most abundantly-supported theories in all of science, let alone biology.  Creationism is not a theory, as it lacks the overwhelming body of experimental support that would make it such.  Indeed, since most versions of creationism are internally incoherent, non-falsifiable, and/or make no predictions whatsoever about what sorts of new information scientists might discover, creationism is not even a hypothesis.  It is a junk idea that does not belong in science classrooms except as an example of how to do science very, very badly, and as an example of deeply non-scientific thinking wishing we would treat it as though it were science. There’s a well-established place for such ideas in comparative religion, anthropology, political science, philosophy, and similar classes where the ideas of creationism and the movement thereof can be discussed for what they are, though. 16.   What mechanism has science discovered that evidences an increase in genetic information seen in any genetic mutation or evolutionary process? Who let you out, Dr. Meyer?  I thought the Discovery Institute kept you on a tight leash so that you’d stop embarrassing them with foolishness like this. Given that “genetic information” is a quantity that, like “irreducible complexity” and “genetic depth,” has never and will never be defined in a measurable way lest a competent biologist demonstrate that they don’t actually do what creationists say they will do, I shouldn’t dignify this with any response at all.  But since I’m feeling charitable, there’s a fairly obvious example of the amount of “genetic information” in a line of organisms increasing: the several gene duplication events that led from an early vertebrate with one set of Hox genes governing its body plan to more derived modern vertebrates with four sets, all independently mutating since the duplication, leading to more complicated internal structures. 17.   What purpose do you think you are here for if you do not believe in salvation? See #8. 18.   Why have we found only one “Lucy” when we have found more than one of everything else? See #12.  Also, the number of fossils of a specific organism has to do with how common that specific organism was, whether the area where it was found is well-excavated, and whether its body parts fossilize well, not with any parameters of interest to the evolution/creationism “debate.” 19.   Can you believe in “the big bang” without “faith”? “Faith” is one of those words that dishonest interlocutors like to use to shift goalposts mid-sentence.  All of science is provisional and subject to revision if new information demands it.  This level of empiricism comes naturally to the human mind.  You currently believe that your favorite socks are where you last left them, and you have every reason to believe that.  But, it’s possible that someone moved them without your knowledge.  That makes your knowledge of their location “faith-based” right up until you check.  And that’s a kind of faith, a faith synonymous with “uncertainty,” that all humans utilize.  In that sense, all of science relies on faith. But, the theist likes to turn that into the kind of “faith” that they have in their deity, which is based on no evidence at all and is often held despite evidence to the contrary.  That is not the faith of the scientist, and that is not the kind of faith required to understand the Big Bang theory as, for a few decades, humanity’s most well-supported idea for how the universe came to be. 20.   How can you look at the world and not believe that someone created / thought
    of it?  It’s AMAZING!!! It’s even more amazing if you understand that it arose without the efforts of a cosmic being who put us in this universe despite the overwhelming majority of said universe being instantly lethal to us, and who filled the one spot we CAN inhabit with bacteria that liquefy our intestines and flesh-boring worms that respond to people trying to remove them by kamikaze. This world is amazing, and attributing that wonder to a supernatural being is a non sequitur that shows a piss-poor appreciation for that wonder. 21.   Relating to the big bang theory…where did the exploding star come from? Relating to the God Did It theory…where did the god come from? 22.   If we came from monkeys then why are there still monkeys? Sigh. […]

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