Friendly Atheist poses a set of common questions for atheists, with the injunction to keep the answers short and sweet.1

Why do you not believe in God? Define “god” and I’ll tell you. Every deity I’ve heard of is either logically incoherent, incompatible with the evidence, or unworthy of serious consideration.

Where do your morals come from? Evolution and socialization.

What is the meaning of life? A strange human obsession, to which the universe is totally indifferent.

Is atheism a religion? No. People only call it so in order to set up a false equivocation.

If you don’t pray, what do you do during troubling times? I can’t do better than what the Barefoot Bum said to this: Try to fix the trouble. (Add a Homer Simpsonesque “Doh!”.)

Should atheists be trying to convince others to stop believing in God? In general: yes. In particular: only if it’s likely to be worth the effort.

Weren’t some of the worst atrocities in the 20th century committed by atheists? And some were committed by men with beards. So what? None of them seem to have been motivated by their atheism…

How could billions of people be wrong when it comes to belief in God? Knowledge – justified belief – is not a popularity contest. Millions of people are wrong about evolution, and geology, too.

Why does the universe exist? If you mean “why” causally, we don’t (yet) know. If you mean it purposefully, that’s just that strange human obsession again.

How did life originate? We don’t know for sure yet, but it seems dumb to bet against the observed self-organizing powers of simple chemistry, coupled with lots of time, energy, lots of parallel experiments, and good old natural selection.

Is all religion harmful? Probably not – any more than all bacteria are harmful. But most of it is. As Dan Dennett has pointed out, we need to understand religion as a psychosocial phenomenon much better.

Is there anything redeeming about religion? Ultimately, no, I don’t think so.

Shouldn’t all religious beliefs be respected? Of course not. Respect should be earned.

Would the world be better off without any religion? Yes. The world is better for the fact that we replaced belief in demonic possession with the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness. Magical thinking is for entertainment, not for understanding.

What’s so bad about religious moderates? Ask an Episcopalian why s/he doesn’t rip the bits out of the Bible that endorse slavery, genocide, the subjugation of women, and stoning to death for trivial acts. Does s/he think that those ideas deserve respect?

What if you’re wrong about God (and He does exist)? Which god? If it’s Huitzilopochtli, we’re all screwed, aren’t we?

Are atheists smarter than theists? No – they’re just more realistic. (UPDATE: But there are good reasons why IQ tests might show a difference.)

How do you deal with the historical Jesus if you don’t believe in his divinity? Skeptically, of course. And since most of the New Testament is demonstrably false, there’s not a lot to go on.

What happens when we die? Recycling. First, organic chemistry; in the long term, stardust

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  1. Hat tip to the Barefoot Bum, who also provides a nice, but not so short, answer to the morality question.

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