Posted Jul 05, 2022 by Michael L. Brown

If you consider yourself an atheist today, or if you considered yourself an atheist in the past, I’d love to ask you some honest questions. But I do not ask these questions to win a debate. Or to be antagonistic. Or to buttress my own beliefs by exposing alleged weaknesses in your position. To the contrary, I ask these questions so I can better understand your mindset as an atheist.

When my wife Nancy and I met in 1974, I was a committed believer in Jesus, with my life dramatically transformed in 1971. She was a staunch atheist, looking down on religious believers as weak. And her atheism was firmly entrenched in her life, having concluded when she was no more than 8 years-old that there was no such thing as God. Yes, it would have been great if He was real. But clearly, she concluded, He was not. (For the record, Nancy and I are both Jewish.)

Nancy had her own, quite unexpected encounter with God in 1974, but she has always rejected the idea that “there is no such as an atheist.” And over the years, she has helped me better understand how atheists think and how they view the world.

It is in that spirit of genuinely wanting to understand the atheist mindset better that I ask these questions.

First, would you say that you are (or, were) an atheist based primarily on intellectual study or based on experience? Or did you never believe in God at all?

Put another way, was it the lack of answers to prayer or failures within organized religion or some other anti-faith experience that first caused you to question the existence of God? Or was it something you learned in school or your studies that caused you to doubt? Or were you raised without belief in God and you’ve never found a good reason to question it?

Second, would you say that even as an atheist, you still have a sense of purpose and destiny in your life, a feeling that you were put here for a reason and that you have a mission to accomplish? Or is it primarily people of faith who feel like this, since we are simply the products of an unguided, random evolutionary process?

Third, would you say that you are 100 percent sure there is no such being as God – meaning, an eternal, all-powerful, all-knowing being? Or would you say that, for all practical purposes you have concluded that this God does not exist, although it is impossible to prove such a negative with absolute certainty?

Fourth, do you believe that science can provide answers for many of the remaining mysteries of the universe, including: how the universe began (including where matter came from and where the Big Bang derived its energy); the origin of life; and DNA coding?

Again, these questions are not intended to “stump you” or prove that science can’t answer everything. Instead, I’m genuinely wondering if you feel comfortable saying, “We may not be able to answer all these questions now, but over time, we’ll get the answers – and we won’t need a God to fill in the gaps.”

Fifth, have you had any experiences in life that caused you to question your atheism? Has something happened to you that seemed genuinely supernatural or otherworldly? Or have you been confronted with some information that shook your atheistic foundations, such as a scientific argument for intelligent design? If so, how have you dealt with such doubts to your atheism?

Sixth, are you completely materialistic in your mindset, meaning, human beings are entirely physical, human consciousness is an illusion, and there is no spiritual realm of any kind? Or are you superstitious, reading horoscopes or engaging in new age practices or the like?

Seventh, if you were convinced that God truly existed – meaning the God of the Bible, who is perfect in every way, full of justice and mercy, our Creator and our Redeemer – would that be good news or bad news? And would you be willing to follow Him and honor Him if He were truly God?

I understand that no two atheists are identical, anymore than any two believers are identical, and that everyone has their own unique story. I also understand that some of you who are believers today were once atheists and that others who were once believers are atheists today.

Either way, whatever your own story might be, I’d love to hear your answers to these questions, even if you choose to answer only a few of these seven questions.

And if there’s no way to leave comments where you’re reading this article, feel free to send your responses to info@askdrbrown.org.

To say it once more: I have no ulterior motives in asking. What you see is what you get.

Thanks for your time and interest!

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Comments

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Raging Bee posted a comment · Aug 17, 2022
Maybe God changed his mind and told him to go back to hawking supplements...
Vel Frost posted a comment · Jul 31, 2022
unsurprisingly, Brown has gone silent about this. Gee, I wonder why. Did he get answers he can't rebut?
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Raging Bee posted a comment · Jul 10, 2022
Dear Dr. Brown: Now that you've asked your "honest questions for atheists" and got at least a few honest and substantive answers, I'd like to ask YOU a question: when and where do you plan to publicly address, process and respond to the answers you've got? I ask this because for several decades I've heard many many Christians publicly asking questions of atheists, and never showing any sign that they've ever seen or heard any answers from anyone. The attention-grabbing headlines are either "Umpteen Honest and Sincere Questions for Atheists" or "Umpteen Important Questions Atheists Can Never Ever Answer (#5 Will Rock Your World!)". I know for a fact that many atheists have indeed been answering those questions, for about as long as Christians have been asking them; and yet none of those oh-so-sincere questioners have ever shown any sign of hearing any of the answers. In fact, you're the only questioner I've yet seen who even provides a space for us to post our answers; which is why I'm coming here to ask you: What is your response to our answers now that you've actually got them? I eagerly await your response. Thank you.
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gerald a posted a comment · Jul 08, 2022
@Vel Frost There are no Christian claims of “fine-tuning” of the universe. Most of the leading physicists say that. Christians just refer to their conclusions. For example, 'As Stephen Hawking has noted, "The laws of science, as we know them at present, contain many fundamental numbers, like the size of the electric charge of the electron and the ratio of the masses of the proton and the electron. ... The remarkable fact is that the values of these numbers seem to have been very finely adjusted to make possible the development of life."' In 1961, physicist Robert H. Dicke claimed that certain forces in physics, such as gravity and electromagnetism, must be perfectly fine-tuned for life to exist in the universe. Fred Hoyle also argued for a fine-tuned universe in his 1984 book The Intelligent Universe. "The list of anthropic properties, apparent accidents of a non-biological nature without which carbon-based and hence human life could not exist, is large and impressive", Hoyle wrote. This is a ridiculous statement: "What we do have is at any date claimed by a Christian, we can show that entirely different things were happening."
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gerald a posted a comment · Jul 08, 2022
@joeybladb No Christian beliefs came out of men bickering in a committee decades and centuries AFTER the supposed life of Jesus. I'm not sure what you're even thinking of. Maybe the Council of Nicaea that officially resolved a specific point of disagreement about Jesus. The council did not create any previously unknown belief.
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joeybladb posted a comment · Jul 08, 2022
1. I became an atheist via a long process both intellectually and via lived experience. The short answer is one day I tried to pray, and I realized that it was my make believe self who was answering back, not some inner voice connected to Jesus or whatever I had thought. Thinking maybe I lacked knowledge in God, I took a college religious history course which drove the nail into the religion coffin: all of my most cherished Christian beliefs and dogma were invented by men bickering in a committee decades and centuries AFTER the supposed life of Jesus. A decade of struggle later and I finally realized I was an atheist, and that was a very freeing realization. 2. Exiting faith I also had to lose the notion that the universe had any meaning, that life had any purpose beyond what we humans create. That's a downside of giving up fairy tales and magical thinking: you've got to put on your adult pants and accept life on life's terms. 3. I ascribe to scientific agnosticism. I can't prove that God or gods, as described by humanity's many thousands of religions, don't exist, but since there's NO evidence for any of it, I assign it a very small probability. 4. Science is a tool that humans invented to allow us to describe and understand the observable universe and our place within it. Science may one day give us an understanding about singularity events like the Big Bang, and it may one day describe the really hard problems: abiogenesis, consciousness etc. Science (and indeed the human species) is still in its infancy. A caveat: although scientists and mathematicians will admit that human knowledge has its limits, this can in no way be misconstrued as admitting that human religious traditions are therefore valid in both their conclusions and their thought processes. Science has such a better account of subjects like biology and astronomy than ANY religious text. 5. I have not had anything -- no supernatural revelation, no experience that I could not explain using empirical means -- that would deter my atheism. I would become a theist again if God actually materialized and explained his/her absence and invisibility despite theists' insistence that such a thing existed. I think I'll probably be waiting a long time for that. 6. I cannot say for certain that there is no spiritual realm. I engage in a thought experiment where I "reverse engineer" the deity. Like, how could a deity exist and have influence in the observable universe while not necessarily being "fully there" (e.g. invisible). I end up with the God of Spinoza, a weakly interactive compassionate center of the universe which is both the creator and the creation. But I have no need to be devout or engage in any kind of spiritual practice. 7. The God (or gods) described in the bible could NOT be classified as perfect. God created humans with massive flaws, and then God got angry at them for their flaws, and (if you take Noah's Ark literally WHICH YOU SHOULD NOT AS A GROWN ADULT) drowned all of them, apologized, and gave them a rainbow. What a psychopath! A God that will eternally burn its creation for not saying magic loyalty oath is a capricious, evil monstrous God, and cannot be described as "all loving", much less "unconditionally loving".
Vel Frost posted a comment · Jul 08, 2022
“First, would you say that you are (or, were) an atheist based primarily on intellectual study or based on experience? Or did you never believe in God at all?” Both study and experience. I was a Christian, read the bible, realized it was no more true than other myths. The fact that there is no evidence for any of the essential events in it is part of the reason I don’t believe the claims of Christians, including you (I find your need to claim you are a Jew who follows Christ amusing since the Jewish messiah doesn’t need a do-over per the prophecies. The website Jews for Judaism is a nice read). I also know that Christians don’t agree on much of anything about their religions, so there is no reason to not think you are making all of this up. The bible says true believers of this supposed messiah can do certain things and unsurprisingly, you can’t. After the question, you try to use some standard tactics to excuse why you religion doesn’t work, like blaming “organized” religion, which is just religion. You also try the “oh you were just angry because this god didn’t give you want you want” excuse to try to claim that atheists only realize that religion is nonsense because of emotional reasons. “Second, would you say that even as an atheist, you still have a sense of purpose and destiny in your life, a feeling that you were put here for a reason and that you have a mission to accomplish? Or is it primarily people of faith who feel like this, since we are simply the products of an unguided, random evolutionary process?” Yep, have plenty of purpose in my life. I make my own. Don’t need a “destiny”. I’m not that sadly needy to pretend I’m ever-so special. Alas, for you, I’m not here randomly. You show that you have no idea what evolutionary theory says. It isn’t “random” or “unguided” in the way you tries to pretend. When theists attack evolutionary theory, they should actually know what it is rather than choosing to intentionally lie or remain willfully ignorant. “Third, would you say that you are 100 percent sure there is no such being as God – meaning, an eternal, all-powerful, all-knowing being? Or would you say that, for all practical purposes you have concluded that this God does not exist, although it is impossible to prove such a negative with absolute certainty?” Yep, I am 100% sure that any god described by humans is entirely imaginary. These has distinct attributes that can be proven or disproven. There is no evidence for such nonsense. We have no evidence that any of the supposed events caused by said magical being happened. What we do have is at any date claimed by a Christian, we can show that entirely different things were happening. So evidence of absence and absene of evidence. Now, if you want to make up some vague and baseless claims as your god, then it becomes harder for you to show it exists at all. Can you? I’ll be waiting for an answer to that. “Fourth, do you believe that science can provide answers for many of the remaining mysteries of the universe, including: how the universe began (including where matter came from and where the Big Bang derived its energy); the origin of life; and DNA coding?” Here, your assumption is that humans will never do another bit of research so your baseless claims about your god will remain untouched. Even if we never figure out various things, there still is no evidence for your god. Most if not every religion claims that its god/gods were the creator, and gee, not one of them can show this, despite most of them claiming “look the universe *my* god did that”. And yes, I do think that humans will figure out most of these things. Then you and those like you will have to make up excuses yet again, with those gaps you need for your god growing smaller every day. You also seem to forget that DNA constantly screws up. This would make your god incompetent. You may try to claim that the “fall” caused DNA to screw up, but this would show that Christian claims of “fine-tuning” would be impossible to see if the “fall” screwed up reality. Dr. Brown, these questions stump no one at all, so don’t be concerned about that. “Fifth, have you had any experiences in life that caused you to question your atheism? Has something happened to you that seemed genuinely supernatural or otherworldly? Or have you been confronted with some information that shook your atheistic foundations, such as a scientific argument for intelligent design? If so, how have you dealt with such doubts to your atheism?” Nope, no magic exists so no magic experiences. I can pretty much guarantee that the supposed events you and your wife supposedly had are nothing special at all. It is notable you didn’t tell what they were, but just made vague claims. The argument for “intelligent design” is hilariously incompetent and not scientific at all. It is just creationism dressed up in lies. I live near the place where the Kitzmiller vs Dover court decision came from. It’s notable that the book that the creationists tried to use had a lovely misprint in it “cdesign propentists”, since their find and replace missed where they were trying to change creationist to “intelligent design”. Interesting when theists like you try to lie so poorly. “Sixth, are you completely materialistic in your mindset, meaning, human beings are entirely physical, human consciousness is an illusion, and there is no spiritual realm of any kind? Or are you superstitious, reading horoscopes or engaging in new age practices or the like?” Completely materialist. No evidence for magic. “Seventh, if you were convinced that God truly existed – meaning the God of the Bible, who is perfect in every way, full of justice and mercy, our Creator and our Redeemer – would that be good news or bad news? And would you be willing to follow Him and honor Him if He were truly God?” The god of the bible is no different from the other bronze/iron age gods of the time. This god is demonstrably not “perfect in every way, full of justice and mercy, our creator and redeemer”. I’ve read the bible so false claims from Christians are easy for me to see. Let’s look at what this god does in the bible. This god intentionally prevents Adam and Eve (A&E) from knowing what good and evil are. Then this god either allows evil in or can’t keep it out. This god then blames A&E, throws a tantrum and curses all mankind for the actions of two rather than explaining and forgiving. This demonstrates quite a lack of justice and mercy. And I’m not even out of Genesis yet. We also have this god killing children for no fault of their own; committing genocide and accepting girls as sex slaves; telling slaves to never seek their freedom, etc. A god so petty to need to kill/eternally torture those that disagree with it is a failure. I have far higher moral standards than those of this god. I might believe in it if there was evidence for it, but I’d never worship such a vicious ignorant thing. If I was going to be a theist, there are far better gods claimed to exist. Now, Dr. Brown, what would it take for you to not believe in the version of this god you worship?
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418 I'm a teapot posted a comment · Jul 07, 2022
Your questions appear to be sincere, but you make some assumptions, and some key terms are poorly defined. 1) Primarily intellectual study. But once the questions are asked, then the experience is reconsidered, and I have to say that I have never experienced a miracle or anything that would make me question the intellectual conclusion. I was raised a believing Catholic. 2) No, I do not feel that I have a sense of purpose that is transcendent or pre-determined. I get to choose my own purpose. Also, feeling that you have a sense of purpose is not good evidence that you do. How does a believer having the purpose of their chosen leader imposed upon them have any superiority? 3) I would not say I am 100% sure, but I am as sure as I need to be. Are you 100% sure that Santa Claus does not exist? Do you therefore go around insisting you are agnostic about Santa Claus? 4) Yes, I believe that science can provide many of the remaining answers about the natural world. There may be questions which science cannot answer, but that doesn't mean that the answers supplied by religion are correct; i.e. the religious do not win by default. There are many different religions with many different answers, which contradict each other. For example, we already know that many of the answers in the Bible are incorrect: that there was no global flood, that whales were not created before land animals, that the Earth is not flat, that the population of human progenitors never dropped to 8. Origins of life and DNA coding? Not a problem. I am a molecular biologist. Read up on the RNA World Theory. Learn that the catalytic core of the ribosome is an RNA enzyme. Here is the entire history of science in a nutshell: formerly supernatural explanations being replaced by natural explanations. It used to be that angels pushed the planets around in their orbits, before the work of Copernicus, Kepler, Newton, et al. If you are going to insist that God did something, then tell us _how_ he did it. Once we know _how_, we have always found that the _who_ is not a necessary part of the explanation. Always. 5) No. I have never experienced any miracle nor supernatural event. And intelligent design creationism is not a "scientific argument." Science is testable; tell me how I could test "intelligent design" in a way that would convince you it is not true. 6) Yes, I am materialistic. I do not go for horoscopes nor New Age practices. I am convinced that consciousness, human or otherwise, does not require a supernatural explanation. 7) Your question is confused. YHWH, the tribal god of the Jews, as presented in the Bible, is not perfect. He is not all-knowing. He is not all-powerful, and He is not all-good. The Bible says so. Also, readers are told in Genesis that YHWH is a liar (Gen 2:16-17) while the serpent tells the truth (Gen 3:4-5). The God of the Bible is petty, vengeful, jealous (In fact His name is Jealous Exod 34:14), is constantly screwing up His creation and needing to start over. A leader blaming his subordinates for his failures is always a bad indication, when the leader is allegedly perfect it simply is not an acceptable behavior. So I cannot answer your question as posed. There are seven billion people on the planet, and it seems that every one of them has their own definition of "God," so it is important to get the definitions right before starting the discussion. By specifying "the God of the Bible" you pin down your definition with a book that tells us bats are a type of fowl, rabbits chew their cud and insects have four legs. Other wobbly terms: "consciousness" is not well-defined. That you specify "human" consciousness is a bad sign. Human consciousness should be considered in the evolutionary environment which gave rise to it.
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HappyAtheist posted a comment · Jul 07, 2022
1. Both experience and study. I grew up in a christian home but never really believed, I had no real bad experience, and enjoyed quite a lot of the social aspects, but pretty much stopped going to religious things after the age of 14ish.... As I studied science / philosophy / history and psychology, it became clearer and clearer that these are just mythical beliefs like many of the other religions from the same region and other parts of the world. Once you look at these things outside the bubble of Christian belief, it's quite clear that it is all myth, massively influenced by the other religions in the same region. 2. I don't feel like I have a particular reason or mission, but I like to pursue all kinds of things that interest me. I certainly know other atheists who feel very committed to certain pursuits. I wouldn't describe things as "unguided/random", that would be a mischaracterization. The interesting thing is actually the structures and behavior that come about from systems that feedback on themselves. 3. I just don't believe in god/s, I'm not convinced. It is possible to "prove" a negative either through contradiction / evidence of absence, however, in order to do that you'd first have to demonstrate the possibility that the "something" could exist. Currently theists of various religions can't do that. So it is somewhat like asking can you prove that Blapatamous doesn't exist, which you can't because you don't know what it is to make such a determination, if I started listing traits like, well, its all powerful! that actually doesn't make any difference. Also, "100% sure of things" is not the standard, the standard is having a rational reason to believe something, i.e, some kind of evidence. So much like the many other god claims, I'm not convinced of any of them, and I think are much better explained by historical societies and cultures need for explanations of the world around them. 4. Science has pulled back the layers of religious claims over the years, I think it will reveal how life can start, not necessarily how it started on this planet as the evidence of that period of our planet is mostly gone, there was no real mechanism to preserve it other than what we find in modern RNA / DNA, we can piece together some of the history.... but I believe we will discover the general mechanics of how life starts, we know how we can end up with self replicating molecules ( which we can do in labs right now ), we actually understand quite a lot of the pieces already, what we can't really experiment with is the 100s of millions of years of generations of replication, but there may be some interesting things we can simulate on computers that will paint the picture, but who knows, we keep working out more and more every day, we have made significant progress in the last decade. As to pre big bang? I think we will eventually fill out explanations for dark matter, dark energy and a theory of quantum gravity, however, because evidence is the standard science lives by, we will likely have a lot of ideas of pre big bang but no mechanism to test those ideas against evidence. But that is speculation, there are some ideas out there that are theoretically testable, but we are many many decades away from being able to investigate any of that. But things like "energy" may have not come from anything, it's quite possible it is eternal. 5. Nope 6. I believe everything happens through natural processes, I don't think consciousness is an illusion, but I don't think there is a spiritual realm, our minds are defined by the operations of our brains. 7. It's a weird hypothetical... for starters I find the god of the bible highly immoral, I don't give that god the same properties that you are selectively choosing for him. To me this question seems to be saying "If you had the same delusion about god as me, would you live your life the way I think you ought to?". To me this isn't really a valid question.
OT posted a comment · Jul 06, 2022
“Why do we feel we have the authority to interrogate others? What another person believes -- or does not -- is really none of my business.” Skwh310 REALLY” Then Probably for the same reason you give yourself the authority to criticize, belittle, bemoan anyone who doesn’t think or walk like you ! Maybe you would be better served spreading your endless cheer somewhere else like the (OMA) orange monsters anonymous! Support group! : / Laters….
Swkh310 posted a comment · Jul 06, 2022
Why do we feel we have the authority to interrogate others? What another person believes -- or does not -- is really none of my business. Why is it any of Dr. B's? I hope any atheist who might happen to be asked any of these questions answers with a very polite, "None of your darn business!"