So, this Q&A’s been doing the rounds a fair bit this week. My turn:
Q1. How would you define 'atheism'?
Believing that there are no such things as gods. But I’m not going to excommunicate people who define it as a mere lack of belief in god(s) – I think they’re more accurate etymologically, but we still need a word that means positive disbelief. Sometimes ‘antitheism’ is suggested, but that sounds too hostile – it’d have to cover people who like the idea of a god but think it’s untrue, and who have a broadly positive attitude to religion. Pesky words.
Q2. Was your upbringing religious? If so, what tradition?
Not at all. I had some hymns, visiting vicars and stuff like that at primary school, but nothing systematic – in fact my old headmaster used to give us morning assembly readings from Aesop’s Fables! – and nothing religious from my family. I believed in God for a while in much the same way I believed in the Tooth Fairy, even though my evidence base for the latter was much stronger.
Q3. How would you describe 'Intelligent Design', using only one word?
Q4. What scientific endeavour really excites you?
Neuropsychology. Infinitely richer and more fascinating than the notion of a ‘soul’.
Q5. If you could change one thing about the 'atheist community', what would it be and why?
The idea that there is, or should be, such a thing.
Q6. If your child came up to you and said 'I'm joining the clergy', what would be your first response?
“What do you mean? I don’t have any children!” More hypothetically, I’d be concerned to talk it over with them, and if they were sure it was what they’d really wanted, I’d hope they’d do really well.
Q7. What's your favourite theistic argument, and how do you usually refute it?
I call it the oncological argument, and it runs along the lines of: “My loved one got cancer and went into hospital; I prayed for them to get better and they did – thank the Lord!” But it comes in a lot of varieties, based on selectively interpreted personal experience. Unlike the ontological argument, which treats thinking of god as proof that he exists, this one treats refusing to think of any other explanation as proof that there isn’t any. I usually refute it by rolling my eyes ort, if really necessary, slapping my forehead.
Q8. What's your most 'controversial' (as far as general attitudes amongst other atheists goes) viewpoint?
Dunno really. Not sure what those “general attitudes” would be. Has someone done a reliable survey of us?
Q9. Of the 'Four Horsemen' (Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens and Harris) who is your favourite, and why?
I’ve never really read any Harris, and while I agree with Dawkins and Hitchens a lot, they often annoy me. Dawkins tries to do philosophy when it’s really not his field, and Hitchens at times often seems to have been overcome by his own – admittedly brilliant – rhetoric. Dennett is the most interesting, largely for his philosophy of mind work.
Q10. If you could convince just one theistic person to abandon their beliefs, who would it be?
I’m tempted to go with Ophelia and think of the person whose theism is causing the most suffering – she says King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia – but I think an atheist convert in such a position would be either sidelined or forced to play along. So maybe my hypothetical child. But I think there are far more important things to convince people of than atheism.
Is there anyone I know left to tag with this? I guess Anticant, David and Scribbles would be good value for money. Not that I’m offering any. But no pressure – as I say, there are more important things in life.