Difficult questions for atheists 

Over at Nate’s, there is discussion going on regarding questions UncleE thinks are problematic to an atheistic worldview.

First, I have been reliably informed by my friends atheism has no content other than a lack of belief in deities, whatever these are. This is to say, you should give a reason for any position you take. Being an atheist cannot be one of them.

With that introduction, the question posed by UncleE, can be dismissed as not being problematic to atheism. 

I will indulge UncleE though. His question

Do we have free will? If so, how? If not how can any choice be based on evidence rather than brain processes?

First, I will mention what Bob said the other day. We cannot have absolutist answers on questions that are not amenable to proof one way or another. I am a freewill skeptic and will remain so till I am convinced otherwise. 

I think the question is a false dilemma. Isn’t evaluation of reasonableness a brain process? And how are we to tell that a thing is not a brain process? 

This question is not a problem for atheism. To the best of my knowledge, Marvin is an atheist and a compatibilist same as Dennett. 

I am hoping UncleE will ask better questions in future. 

About makagutu

As Onyango Makagutu I am Kenyan, as far as I am a man, I am a citizen of the world

32 thoughts on “Difficult questions for atheists 

  1. persedeplume says:

    UncleE has demonstrated the difference between a question and honest inquiry. These “questions” are often framed to lead the conversation toward a predetermined conclusion, and like “belief” and “faith” are not a reliable method of determining what is true. They [apologists] also rely on the reluctance of atheists to expend the amount of energy necessary to go through what are usually answers of considerable length and breadth to rebut what they surmise is a “tug job” to begin with.

    Liked by 5 people

  2. Liberty of Thinking - Moshe Ben Yehuda says:

    I am ongoingly surprised by the amount of time wasted in my opinion in “solving” philosophical dilemmas, like anything besides one’s own anxieties would be affected. But having said that, isn’t anxiety worth a thought? People are literally fighting, offending and sometimes harming each other in futile attempts to actually impose their own anxious beliefs on others. I went from fundamentalism to ignorism when I realised that there’s no Truth without tangible Proof, and that Logic is the only tool worth keeping in one’s mental box.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Swarn Gill says:

    Agreed mak. The question is flawed and as persedplume says above, it is clearly asked in a way to attack atheism over honest inquiry. In terms of logical fallacies this would be called a “loaded question”. When one is forced to try and answer a flawed question like this, which claims the truth of two mutually exclusive choices (choice based on evidence and brain processes), the hope is that the person trying to answer the question will appear logically inconsistent. Which is quite possible if the person answering the question fails to recognize the loaded question.

    The reason why it is a ridiculous question requires us to go not further than the computers. Something that is able to produce output (conclusions) based on evidence without any need of consciousness or awareness of choice. Our brains clearly take evidence and make choices, and there is a delay in which our consciousness becomes aware of that choice.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Hey Swarn,

      I’m failing to see how it’s a loaded question. The existence of deities doesn’t depend on how a person’s brain works. The existence of anything doesn’t depend on how our brains work.

      Don’t get me wrong, I agree with you and persedplume that he might be trying to steer people to a “gotcha” moment, but I feel like that “gotcha” will be more like Monty Python’s unexpected Spanish Inquisition.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Swarn Gill says:

        I was referring to the last question asked I guess. The first two questions are benign, but the last question is where I don’t think they are being honest. “If not, how can any choice be based on evidence rather than brain processes?” This question implies that with free will our “choices would be based on evidence” as being a different option than without free will our “choices being a result of brain processes”. Which is ambiguous from the get go, but I am assuming he means some sort instinctual firing of neurons that doesn’t register in the consciousness. It doesn’t matter whether we have free will or not, we still would base our choices on evidence, and we would still be using brain processes. To me, that makes it a loaded question because it is saying that if you don’t think we have free will, then you must not be making decisions free of evidence. No such link has been established by the person asking the question, and no such link exists in literature that I am aware of. Since most atheists are fond of evidence, the claim here is that a denial of free will is contradictory to the evidence-based worldview most atheists claim they adhere to. Thus it is a loaded question because contradiction is assumed in the asking. By answering the question you are assumed to admit the contradiction. But the question itself is flawed.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Have you seen UnkleE’s comment on Nate’s post? According to that comment, he’s defining free will in such a way that it must include a supernatural component. That component by definition would contradict a naturalist view of thought, which is how he’s loaded his question.

          I think he’s begging the question here, though. In my other conversations with him, he has a tendency to drift towards that.

          Liked by 1 person

          • makagutu says:

            I haven’t gone back to the site but by including a supernatural component, the discussion becomes a groping in the dark. We have no way of knowing the supernatural, no way of telling their influence and adding that to a metaphysical discussion is as my friends would say, finding how many angels can dance on a pin

            Liked by 1 person

          • Swarn Gill says:

            I think we can both agree that he’s not being the most logical in his formation of this question. 🙂

            Liked by 1 person

            • We do agree. I’m just pointing this stuff out because it’s a similar pattern to other reasoning for religious principles. It will start off with a simple idea and then employ a bunch of informal fallacies to lead people in a meandering circular path.

              Liked by 1 person

              • Swarn Gill says:

                Indeed, which is what Begging the Question, Loaded Questions, and Red Herrings all do. Many of these types of informal fallacies go by unnoticed too, because they aren’t necessarily illogical in form, they are just simply misleading.

                Liked by 1 person

    • makagutu says:

      The question, I thought was flawed


  4. renudepride says:

    First, don’t we need a definition of “free-will?” What some may consider “free-will” others may think “instinct.” Are “survival skills” free-will or are they “inherent reaction?”
    A very interesting proposition, my Kenyan brother! Naked hugs!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. john zande says:

    And how are we to tell that a thing is not a brain process?

    We can test this by removing parts of the brain, then seeing if one can “think” about something.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. KIA says:

    I may be the slow one in class, but how would we ever really know whether we have free will or not?


    • persedeplume says:

      I don’t know that we can know with certainty right now about whether we have free will or not. Depends on who you talk to. I’m leaning toward the deterministic camp. I Like Swarn’s computer analogy of the brain. It’s apt in that a computer functions to the extent of it’s design. There are more and less complex computers and are all limited by their capacity. The brain is an organic computer and its design varies with genetics and nature/nurture and environment. It also functions to the extent of its evolution. Humans are capable of higher cerebral function than many others in the animal kingdom, and make more nuanced choices than say, non primates. We exercise what the philosophers call “moral liberty”
      [the capacity to discern and pursue the good, instead of merely being compelled by appetites and desires]. On the other hand, Brain scans reveal intricate networks of neurons that have lead scientists to reach broad agreement that these networks are shaped by both genes and environment and there’s also some agreement in the scientific community that the firing of neurons determines not just some or most but all of our thoughts, hopes, memories, and dreams. We know that changes to brain chemistry or physical structure can alter behavior, sometimes permanently.
      I don’t stress about the “free will” question as it relates to belief because I’m doing what I’m capable of, the maximal level of reasonable expectation.
      I hope that helps 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    • makagutu says:

      We would start by our definition but this reminds me of what Nietzsche wrote about truth. We describe/ define a mammal then we saw a goat and say that’s a mammal. It is all in the head I guess

      Liked by 1 person

  7. kritikagarg says:



  8. rautakyy says:

    Why, of course we have free will as we percieve the freedom of our own choises (and personal experience is “factual” to us, and it proves free will providing supernatural pixies have given it to us. Who dares to deny the existance of free will providing pixies any more?

    Wether we do have a separate “free will” from our brain processes or not, is totally irrelevant to the question wether any gods exist or not. Therefore this question has absolutely nothing at all to do with atheism. Even if we could determine we had “free will” somehow unnaturally indipendent from our electrochemical brain processes, it would tell us absolutely nothing about any gods suggested by mankind throghout history and pre-history. We would still somehow need to provide evidence, that these gods exist beyond our brain processes and an actual link between the freedom we experience to these gods, for them to be in the least bit plausible explanation to our “free will” existing. Once again, the honest person would have to conclude, that we do not know, what causes our ability to make choises, even if we could ever determine those choises are not the result of our brainchemistry.

    It is actually rather sad, that people stumble over such moronic questions and come to the conclusion, that a god is a warranted explanation, and that it proves a god or gods exist, when it obviously does not even discuss the issue of gods existing.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. […] last time we did this was a long time ago so I am happy to do this again. So before you read my not so clever answers jump over to Club […]


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