Response: 20 questions atheists struggle to answer - part 3

Today we continue looking at the questions posed in this article - now for the questions 7 through 13

7.How do we account for the origin of 116 distinct language families?

We actually use an evolutionary model as an analogy. You have parent groups, speaking one language, who split up geographically, become isolated, then "evolve" in different directions.

For example, UK English initially spread over to the colonies back a couple hundred years ago. That turned into "American English", which itself diversified into different dialects like "southern".

Let this process percolate for ten thousand years all over the world, and you have a bunch of different languages. French, Spanish, etc, essentially arose from Latin, from what I understand.

I suppose it depends on how the author has defined "distinct language families", but that's splitting hairs about the numbers.

I'm not sure - what's the mystery here?

8.Why did cities suddenly appear all over the world between 3,000 and 1,000BC?

It seems odd to use the word "suddenly" to describe a 2000 year span. Second, the question is at least somewhat loaded. Part of the problem is that these claims aren't themselves justified. Did cities (however those are defined) start popping up "suddenly"?

When I look up a list, I'm seeing a bunch before 3000BC[1].

Again, let's try to grant the basis of the question. The answer could be .... because that's when humans started achieving higher technological achievements? We migrated all over the planet... word gets around. 

Actually, the vast majority of these cities appeared between Europe, the Middle East and Asia... you know... places without huge bodies of water blocking access?

I don't think it's necessary to appeal to magic. Again, I'm not sure what the mystery is.

9.How is independent thought possible in a world ruled by chance and necessity?

Why are these things incompatible? I'd think that independent thought would be crucial to navigating a world "ruled by chance and necessity". You need things... and the probabilistic nature of the world makes your goals difficult. You then sit down and think about how to mitigate risks, solve problems, etc.

I'm sorry, but the question itself doesn't make a lot of sense.

This goes back to a common problem that we have. We have many "facts" that are held as true by a person, and assumed that the second person also agrees... but are never communicated. The result is bizarre questions like this.

10.How do we account for self-awareness?

We have large, sophisticated brains. That's what they do. I think we romanticize this concept of "self-awareness" too much.

Beyond that fairly glib answer, I don't know. You'd want to ask a neuroscientist. 

I just don't think we need to appeal to much more than a sufficiently sophisticated biological computer program. No magic needed.

11.How is free will possible in a material universe?

It depends on what's meant by "free will". There's a "libertarian free will", that is a "first mover" of decisions, not based on any causal chain in "reality". I obviously reject this as true.

Others seem to mean the ability to make a "choice" is made, where a "choice" is deciding between two options, where some of those options you wouldn't otherwise choose.

I don't believe that exists either. Whatever your decision, it can be traced back to some kind of influence or determinant... even if that determinant is "I'll show these guys that I can make decisions I usually wouldn't make!" because your personality is a rebellious one - determined by your upbringing, life history how much coffee you drank today, and the fact the cashier at Starbucks flipped you off, putting you in a bad mood.

I don't believe "free will" is real. 

12.How do we account for conscience?

We're a social species. Part of our evolutionary past is getting along with each other. Cognitive processes that help us not fight each other, and smooth relations, helped us survive. We're talking about the development of morality, which is also present in many other animals, at one stage of development or another.[2]

Cooperation qualifies under the hideously bad phrase, "survival of the fittest". 

I don't see why magic is needed to explain this (I align with Determinism)

13.On what basis can we make moral judgements?

This will be a quick and dirty answer.

On a very prototypical level, pain and harm. Combine that with us being a social species with empathy, and we start to construct some philosophical frameworks for mitigating suffering and harm. Over time, we've developed higher, more abstract layers to moral considerations than merely suffering/harm.... but that's where it starts.

A big problem when trying to discuss morality, is that we have two sides with radically different definitions and requirements. 

I'm taking the approach of examining something demonstrably real in reality - suffering and suffering mitigation among those creatures with sufficient intelligence and empathy to figure out how. I'm labeling that "morality".

Many theists, as far as I can tell, start with the word "morality", and then insist that we provide the "correct" definition, as well as an absolute way of "proving" that it's the correct definition. Both requests are gibberish.

If I stub my toe and say that I'm in "pain", it'd be nonsensical for the person next to me to say, "Oh yeah? How do you know you have the right definition of pain? How do you know it's correct?"

They're doing it backwards. You start with observable phenomenon, and then label them. You don't start with a label, then try to figure out which phenomenon it could apply to.

So that's the basis of my version of "morality" - mitigation of harm. I care because my biology - established through evolution - caused me to care. It doesn't establish that I "ought" to do something. It establishes my pain receptors, and aversion to pain.

If that's not what you mean by "morality" (harm mitigation), I neither know, nor care, about what you're talking about, until you can establish a case for it.


On part 1 of this series, I was talking about the author saying he/she was not hearing "good" arguments, and comes down to having a difference in frameworks. The topic of morality is an excellent example, where our worldviews are so disconnected, it's nearly impossible for us to have any kind of useful conversation.

I don't think it's that dire. If I were to ask the author, "Why would it concern you if I was immoral? Is it merely because I'm not following arbitrary rules of some guy?", and the response is something to the effect of "Because I don't want you raping and pillaging" ...

Then congratulations, you also are onboard with my morality. I'm just not adding a mystical layer to it.


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