Response: 20 questions atheists struggle to answer - part 4

Today we continue looking at the questions posed in this article - now for the questions 14 through 20.

14.Why does suffering matter?

15.Why do human beings matter?

16.Why care about justice?

I'm lumping these together because they're similar in nature.

They don't "matter" in an objective, absolute sense. It's like "meaning". A rock doesn't have any intrinsic meaning to it. However, if you, as a kid grew up playing on that rock with your siblings and/or friends, that rock may have meaning to you, because you assigned it meaning. It's a similar mechanic to whether something "matters".

On a broader scale, humans have the opinion that suffering matters, because biology has programmed an aversion into us. We also have an aversion to the smell of dung and urine, because groups who were driven away by those smells were less likely to catch diseases.

Suffering-aversion keeps us alive, and reproducing to the next generation.

You can label that as "matters" or not, but regardless, it's what we do.

Similar can be said for whether humans matter or not. We are socialized and are raised to think that our fellow humans matter. That's trained into (most) of us. On an objective level, the world would probably be better without us.

Justice is, to a degree, mitigated revenge, based on emotions of anger, hatred and resentment. We still need to get along with each other as a group, but we can't go overboard with it. We play by the rules of our society, and when others don't, we want to see that corrected... and if there's too  much resentment, we can go overboard.

I just don't see the need to appeal to invisible magician(s) to answer any of these questions. God is not necessary.

17.How do we account for the almost universal belief in the supernatural?

Again, here's a quick and dirty rundown.

The human brain is a massive neural network[1]. Neural networks are great at pattern recognition. Unfortunately, they can be overzealous about it. We often succumb to false pattern recognition.

That's why we see faces where there aren't any - we're wired from birth to detect that pattern.

Combine false pattern recognition with Confirmation Bias, and you have a recipe for "superstition". A person wears a sweater when he/she won a scratch ticket. That's now the person's "lucky sweater", and in the future, further instances of fortune are attributed to the sweater, and any failures are ignored.

We don't just do this with things like luck. Like faces, we also falsely detect agency where there is none. We talk to our cars when they won't start, assigning them personality, arguing with them to "please start!". 

We apply this superstitious agency detection to reality itself, as though there's invisible people manipulating events around us. We see normal houses created by people. So what created the moon? Must have been a super-person! Why can't wee see that super-person? He/she is invisible!

Supernatural beliefs are inevitable, based on how our brains work. No magic needed.

18.How do we know the supernatural does not exist?

I should probably have clarified this in #17, but I don't think "supernatural" is a useful word. What does it mean? I primarily care about whether something is manifesting in this reality, and there whether we can investigate it.

Even if I was using a "standard" definition that was talking about angels, ghosts, magic, etc... my position is not that "the supernatural" doesn't exist. My position is that those people who assert it is real, have miserably failed to support their cases... so I have no rational basis for believing their claims.

19.How can we know if there is conscious existence after death?

Double or triple blinded experiments, I'd wager. The ethics of people dying for this experiment are dubious, though.

Out of body experiences are kind of a way of trying to demonstrate this claim, but upon investigation, they always fail to mundane mechanics. How do you tell the difference between someone hallucinating, as their oxygen-deprived brain dies, versus the person's consciousness actually existing past death?

It also doesn't help when people outright lie about such experiences[2].

20.What accounts for the empty tomb, resurrection appearances and growth of the church?

There's some loaded parts to this.

Please demonstrate that there was an "empty tomb". Also, maybe there were grave robbers, or zealous followers? That's a thing.

What "resurrection appearances" are you talking about? This is also something that must be demonstrated.

The growth of the church? Please read Darrel Ray's "The God Virus". 

The church grows because parents indoctrinate their children, and program those children to think it's imperative that their children are also indoctrinated. The beliefs spread a lot like a computer virus. Like the inevitability of supernatural belief, it hijacks human psychology, fear of death and fear of ostracization from community, to propagate from one generation to the next. It uses isolation from the outside world to prevent disinfection.

There's a myriad of reasons how religious beliefs can spread without needing to spend a single microsecond appealing to magic.

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