Monday, February 25, 2008

But if you don't believe in God, who do you think made you?

Q: But if you don't believe in God, who do you think made you?

A: Sometimes, when a man and a woman are very much in love, they ... no, wait, wrong lecture.

Seriously, most atheists would answer this question with "My parents." And that would be it. They do not believe that an almighty Creator was involved in any way, just regular old people doing that regular old thing. A god is as unnecessary to explain human conception as it is to explain the conception of weasels.

But just because an atheist is someone who lacks God-belief doesn't mean that all atheists believe in metaphysical naturalism (the idea that the physical, natural world is all there is). For instance, a Buddhist atheist might believe that there is a non-material component to all life, which we are unable to measure through our normal senses, but which accrues various amounts of karmic debt. This insubstantial essence lives on beyond us, and in fact incorporates itself into future iterations of the self. In that sense, such a person might reply "My parents, me, and the karmic nature of the universe."

Most atheists, however, would likely consider this sort of non-divine supernaturalism as claptrap and nonsense. By far the most common answer is that we are created by the same mindless forces of nature responsible for every other living non-human creature we have ever seen.

2 comments:

OJ said...

For an atheist, the question is not, "who made me?" but "how come I'm a human?" So far, evolution is the best explanation of how we came to walk the planet.

Evolution, contrary to what many theists would have you believe, says nothing about the big bang, etc., just about the development of life on Earth. The jury is still out on the question of the origins of the universe, but "God did it" is not the default answer for any big questions that we are yet to answer.

Jeff Hebert said...

Thanks for the many comments, OJ, I appreciate it.

In my experience, when a theist talks about "evolution", typically they really mean what we would consider metaphysical naturalism, the idea that everything in the universe is the result of unguided, blind "chance" with no divine intervention or intention of any sort necessary at any step along the way. That's part of why it's frustrating to follow debates between creationists and scientists, they're using the same word to mean two totally different things.

Still, I agree, "God did it" is ultimately the answer of every theist to every question about the physical world. Some think He did it with the undetectable delicacy of a master surgeon, others with the blunt force trauma of Jason from the "Friday 13" movies, but the answer's basically the same all the time.

I also think it's a bit of a dodge for scientists to use "abiogenesis is not part of evolution". It's technically true, but it's a subject that's at least very closely related to biological evolution (it has to start somewhere) and one I think we need to be confident enough to say "we don't know ... yet" to.