20 Questions For Theists, Answered

I’m a theist, so I’ll answer them:

Why should it not be? More to the point, isn’t the description “unimaginably large” relative only to humans (and their imagination)? And what’s the point? Under either a materialistic or theistic explanation, the question is irrelevant: ie, the Universe is as big as God or the particular random structure of the initial matter and energy made it.
This seems to be asking “Why does God bother with Matter at all?” which is a subset of “Why did God create the Universe?” Ask Him.
  • Did Australopithecus have a soul? What about homo habilis? Homo erectus? Neanderthals? Why or why not? (HT: Keith Parsons)
This depends on what you mean by soul. If everything which is alive has a soul, then yes, and then we start making distinctions between plant, animal, and human souls. A human soul is generally understood to be a rational soul, which can perceive, conceptualize, and choose. We cannot, at this point, say whether the various hominids possessed sufficient rationality to understand the metaphysical moral questions which are the lot of Homo Sapiens. So your guess is as good as mine.
  • How do souls interact with physical matter? Do you have any answer that is not tantamount to “I don’t know?” (HT: Keith Parsons)
Do you? How shall I begin to answer how what is by defintion metaphysical interacts with what is physical? I don’t even know how it is that I think. Science says that the brain creates electrical impulses, but do these thoughts originate with the impulses, or the other way around? No clue.
  • Why would God use biological evolution as a method for creation? Do you have any answer that is independent of the scientific evidence for evolution?
Because God seems to like this matter stuff. He created it ex nihilo, and keeps it around for what, 15 billion years now, without getting bored? Maybe it was a mystery He intended us to explore, so as to better understand Him. Or maybe he just thinks sabre-toothed tigers are bitchin’.
  • Why are pain and pleasure so connected to the biological goals of survival and reproduction, but morally random? Is there some greater good that logically requires (or logically requires risking) that suffering be used to motivate animals to pursue the biological goal of self-preservation? Does some moral end make it desierable for suffering to continue even when it serves no biological purpose? For example, why do sentient beings, including animals which are not moral agents, experience pain or pleasure that we do not know to be biologically useful?
Methinks you’re cheating a bit with the whole “20 questions” framework.
Also, this seems to presuppose that “biological usefulness” is the highest good. I suppose that such is a natural consequence of atheism. But given that one species’ “biological usefulness” is not necessarily another’s, I have my doubts.
So perhaps pain and pleasure are not simply moral guideposts, but realities in themselves. What is of life is pleasure, what is of death is pain. Yet often the two cross and twist, so that answer is at best incomplete. So let’s put it another way: would you really prefer that the death of a person via terminal illness be pleasurable?
This is interesting. It represents the last of the “why matter?” questions, and the first of the “Problem of Evil” questions. Neat pivot there.
Matter is limited by definition. It exists under a specific set of circumstances (gold is made in supernovae, or so I’ve heard) Living matter ingests other matter to maintain itself, for a short time. All systems are subject to entropy, because nothing is infinite.
Given the above, exactly why would we be surprised about any of the circumstances in your question? The one thing we know about all life is that it ends. For some the end comes sooner than for others.
That’s Two Problem of Evil questions. Given how old the Problem of Evil is, you can hardly be surprised that I should come up with an old answer: Evil exists due to the separation of the World from its Creator, as defined in the Fall of Man. Human societies, built upon limited, finite human wisdom, fail to perfect man, because the social interactions of man are not where the problem lies. See the Bible and all human history for more information.
The second question is loaded. What are the basis for saying that glorious pleasure is “relatively little”? Perhaps you need to get out more?
Or maybe the answer is because relatively few humans have lived the right way to achieve glorious pleasure. Why that may be happening is a whole other issue.
  • Why does horrific suffering often destroy a person, at least psychologically, and prevent them from growing morally, spiritually, and intellectually?
Because sin will pluck on sin, as Shakespeare put it. In a world awash with evil, it does not surprise that suffering destroys. The deeper question is, what can be done to help them?
So this is like, 40 questions now?
Someone “discovered” that there was no God? How’d that happen? Did they sail on a starship to the place marked “Heaven” on the interstellar map, only to discover a screen with a continuous loop of Rick Astley?
Or do you mean that people abandoned the belief in God? That happens because humans possess rational souls and can choose to turn away from God.
As to the “nonculpable” business, when this argument looks like something other than a gussied-up version of the Argumentum ad Ignorantia, lemme know.
  • Why do some believers feel there is evidence for God’s existence on which they may rely, but in which God is not felt as directly present to her experience, and may indeed feel absent?
Christian mystics often consider such an experience the Last Temptation. St. John of the Cross wrote of the “Dark Knight of the Soul” under which the mystic hits hard cold wall of doubt, like “The Wall” that runners experience during a marathon, when nothing but the will propels you forward. After this moment, of course, is glorious dawn.
I should perhaps point out that mere belief that God exists does not constitute a life lived according to His principles, which might account for a lack of felt presence. Many believers are also great sinners. This could argue about the inherent falseness of religious belief, or it could argue about the moral depravity of humans. See all human history for further elucidation.
  • Why are there such striking geographic differences in the incidence of theistic belief? Why does
    theistic belief vary dramatically with cultural and national boundaries? For example, why does a population of millions of non-theists persist in Thailand but not in Saudi Arabia? And why has the global incidence of theistic belief varied dramatically over time, i.e., during the existence of the human species?
We’ve established that the material world has great variety in its environment. We’ve established that humans freely choose what they believe in. We add to this that human societies gel together based upon shared values, and voila! Religious variety.
  • Why do only some people have religious experiences? In particular, why is it that most of the people who do have religious experiences almost always have a prior belief in God or extensive exposure to a theistic religion?
Forgive me, but how do you know that? Perhaps when atheists have “religious experiences” (whatever that means), they assign them materialistic explanations according to their own confirmation bias. If you’re talking on your cell phone, wrapped up in your own little world, you miss the clown on the unicycle.
  • For those people who do have religious experiences, why do they pursue a variety of radically different religious paths, none of which bears abundantly more moral fruit than all of the others?
Upon what do you base that statement? Is it really your argument that the Monk who spends his life in the scriptorium, or the Sufi mystic who pours forth the poetry of his soul, does not bear “abundantly more moral fruit” than the crusader/jihadist? Once again, each human chooses what he does with his “religious experience”. Some of these will be St. Paul, some of these will be Torquemada. I know of no religion which teaches that the mere fact of belief, or of “religious experience,” prevents human error and wickedness. Indeed, the entire Bible is a list of those who knew God and failed to serve Him perfectly (save the one who was God).
  • Why do so many people report not experiencing God’s comforting presence in the face of tragedies?
Why do so many people who live in New York walk by the Empire State Building and never go up  it? Because they forget to notice it.
  • Why does the the relatively new discipline of cognitive science of religion support the claim that we have a Hyperactive Agency Detection Device (HADD), which causes human beings to naturally form beliefs about invisible agents? Considering HADD’s poor track record of producing true beliefs about invisible agents in general, why should we trust it when it produces a belief about one invisible agent, the God of theism?
If evolutionary pressure weeds out those elements contrary to survival, why would we have this HADD thing at all? Since no invisible agents, exists, it’s a weird perversion of evolution that this thought process continues to survive. It’s almost as though the ability to conceptualize the supernatural was necessary.
  • Why does God allow such confusion or disagreement among people, including theists, about what is morally good or bad and morally right or wrong?
See previous “Free will” and “Variety” answers.
  • If you believe humans have free will, why would humans have free will if God exists? Why are we able to exercise free will in some situations but not others?
Humans have free will because free will — the ability to choose — is the essence of rationality. So what you’re really asking is why God wants rational creatures. I don’t know.
The second question requires more detail. What situations are you talking about?
  • Why should we believe that, of the innumerable deities worshipped by human beings over the ages, yours is the one that really exists?  Why believe in Yahweh rather than Zeus, Odin, Marduk, Ishtar, Osiris, Quetzalcoatl, Madame Pele, Ahura-Mazda, etc., etc., etc.? (HT: Keith Parsons)
You shouldn’t believe in my God; you should believe in the God that is real. “Yahweh” is nothing but the name that God grants Himself in the Book of Exodus. It’s meaning – “I am who am” – testifies to God’s essential reality. The various pagan gods may or may not be reflections of an actual Divine Revelation gone wrong, or if you want to get freaky, tricks of various demonic agents seeking to create cults for themselves.
My argument for the God of Christianity is that He has a certain completeness to Him. He is both Beyond all Categories and Incarnationally Present. A fun mystery to unravel.
  • Why is so much of our universe intelligible without any appeal to supernatural agency?
Because natural agents have consequences, which are readily intelligible.
How much is “so much”? If this is a God of the Gaps argument, It needs better wording.
  • Why isn’t our universe teeming with life, including life much more impressive than human life?
It isn’t?
  • Why isn’t the universe saturated with auditory, tactile, or other sensory beauty?
It isn’t?
You do need to get out more.
  • Given that the universe has a finite age, why did the universe begin with time rather than in time?
You could also say that it began on time, if you want to play the preposition game.
Time is often described as a consequence of space, which is to say, space between existing bodies of matter and energy. which would render it secondary to said matter and energy.
  • The question “Why is there something rather than nothing” presupposes “nothing” as being  the normal state of affairs. Why believe that? Why can’t we flip the question on its head? In other words, why can’t it be the case that the normal state of affairs is for things to actually exist and nothingness itself would be weird?

Go for it. Define nothingness as weird. I will stipulate that the general state of affairs prior to the existence of time, space, matter, and energy was very weird indeed. This has nothing to do with the question of how and why that Nothing became Something, but I grant the point.

6 thoughts on “20 Questions For Theists, Answered

  • First of all I did not read the whole text because the first lines provide such weak points.
    I sounds more like u believe there is a god who exist and u are trying to convince yourself that there’s no such thing. I am not saying there is or there isn’t. What am wondering is whats is your point? Are you saying that all those who believe in some deity are being deceived?
    Or are u saying that you are smart enough to be able to dictate what a such a deity should or should not do?
    Maybe u should think again about this. Most people go searching for answers in space and so on. but the answer to this questions lies within us. We just have to be able to get to it.
    I’m not saying I believe in it or not or whatever. I am saying u cannot argue against it because we as humans know so little about it. As such we tend to go with what works for us. Doesn’t necessarily make them wrong. The differences we have is whats brings us together and that’s the beauty of humanity.
    In my opinion if u want people to make your point valid live what u are saying as an example, they’ll see it and c how happy or prosperous you are and come to u and ask u, “how do u do it”. Trust me!! Lots of people will.

    • To be clear: I did not come up with the questions. They are at the first link. I, who do believe in God, answered them.

      If you’re talking to the person who wrote the questions, then never mind.

  • Here’s a bonus question:

    How come every story and concept in the bible is a perfect allegory for astronomical/ astrological events which occur during the cycles of the day, year and precessional year as well as being perfect symbolic representations of the design and function of the human organism (ie the ‘Holy Land’)?

    And given that such knowledge is much older than Christianity (or any organised religion) surely it makes more sense that the bible stories are supposed to be taken as metaphors/ symbolic representations/ allegories of ancient scientific knowledge rather than as literal historical accounts?

    In this sense the literal interpretation of the bible is actually far more mundane than the allegorical/ scientific interpretation (‘scientific’ here means something far more encompassing than our current rigid and blinkered scientific establishment – with is in many ways just another form of organised religion).

    And given the capacity for some humans to be rather greedy and controlling doesn’t it make the most sense that this vast knowledge of ‘As above, so below’ has been split into two separate interpretations with (1) the initiated elite interpreting the knowledge correctly as scientific information encoded in allegorical / symbolic language, and (2) the indoctrinated masses (including most of the church presumably) mis-interpreting the information literally as a bunch of stories about women being impregnated by ghosts and giving birth to a baby in a manger who grows up to walk on water and be murdered on a cross and then come back from the dead etc….

    As we all know, “knowledge is power”. This deception has for centuries allowed the initiated keep the knowledge intact and to themselves, while the masses are kept totally ignorant, misinformed and easily controllable by the priest classes – willing to pay the church vast sums of money and willingly going off to fight religious wars whenever asked to do so.

    Doesn’t this make a whole lot more sense than what is taught in sunday school?

    • Sure. Because what is taught in Sunday School is meant for children. The problem is that people stop learning about religion when they’re children.

      With one caveat. While I can accept the origin stories and much of Genesis and Revelations as essentially symbolic and metaphorical, when it comes to the Gospels, I and my Roman Church are downright literal. It is an essential belief that this man a) really did live, b) really was the Son of God, c) really died a real death, and d) really rose from the dead. Really.

      Because without these factual truths, the Gospels are incoherent and pointless. As St. Paul put it “If Christ has not been raised then our preaching is useless and your believing it is useless…If Christ has not been raised, you are still in your sins…If our hope in Christ has been for this life only, we are the most unfortunate of all people.” (1 Cor 15:14, 15:17, 15:19).

      So let us not insist on shoe-horning the supernatural into our science. A little Joseph Campbell goes a long way.

  • It seems like you could have answered all twenty questions with one substantial paragraph. Nearly all of them follow the format, “Why is [insert glaring presupposition here] true?” For most of these questions, the burden of proof rests with the person asking the questions. I don’t understand why theists must accept outstanding claims (e.g. Darwinian Evolution) in order to defend the existence of a God.

    @akwae: Neither of us know if Andrew lives what he believes, so I wouldn’t be so harsh on him. 😉 Truth is not relative to the individual. It is absolute!

    • For the record, I am an old-fashioned guilty Irish Catholic.

      To your main point: you’re right. It’s a lovely stew of question-begging. I would snark about how empiricists must hate having to examine first principles, but these hardly qualify as the fruits of empiricism.

      However, I find the “burden of proof” hot-potato tiresome. We are not in a situation where absolute proof is available, hence rules of evidence are irrelevant. Trying to pin the “burden” on someone else has always struck me as rather a fallacy of relevance. But I may be alone on this.


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