Tonight I had my second shift volunteering at the KySS/LAF Kentucky State Fair booth. It was a great evening, and there was lots of great conversations with both believers and unbelievers alike. Somewhat in contrast to last year, we have gotten less of the “drive by’s” (as described in my last post) and more Christians (and one Jewish guy) coming to chat and ask a lot of questions. I’m not sure if it is because we are doing something different a bit different this year or if the visitors at the fair are getting more used to our presence, but I have detected less hostility this year and a lot more of apparently honest and curious questions from the religious.
This is a sampling of the questions that fair visitors asked me while this year (and a brief version of my typical answer):
- Are you atheists?
Yes, we are atheists.
- Why don’t you believe in God?
Lack of any evidence or reasons to believe that such a person or being exists. This is not how I worded it, and I went into rather more detail in the booth, but it essentially comes down to this.
- How do you know what is good without God?
We define “good” in human terms. We don’t need a god to know what is good.
- So you believe the apes came first? (I had to pause a moment to avoid laughing at this one.)
Yes, I accept the theory of evolution as the best scientific explanation we have of how we came to be.
- What does he (referring to the Darwin statue) have to do with the rest of this (referring to the rest of the booth)?
Darwin was an agnostic atheist (during at least the later part of his life) who made great scientific contributions to the world. Our booth features atheists and freethinkers who have contributed to the sciences, arts, and the advancement of human rights.
- What do you think happens when you die? (I was asked this at least 4 times by different people tonight.)
I think that when we die we cease to exist, same as the state we were in before we were born. The only part of us that lives on is the change that we made in the world. And I am totally content with that.
- If there is no God then where did we come from?
Generally though natural scientific processes like evolution, but I don’t really have a quick and easy answer to that question. And I don’t need to have a quick and easy answer to that question. Just because we don’t know all the answers does not mean we should fall back on “God did it.”
- If there is no God where did the universe come from?
I don’t know. And answering a question that you don’t know the answer to with “God did it” is a very poor way of dealing with the question.
- Do you believe in the Big Bang?
I understand the Big Bang as the best supported scientific explanation so far of how the universe came to be. And then I explained some about the cosmic background radiation, expansion of the universe, the predictive power of scientific theory, and a bit about why scientists mostly accept the Big Bang today.
EDIT: Here are a couple of questions I was asked by a couple of Christian teenaged girls that found their way to our booth. (They also repeated some of the questions above.) I forgot to include these last night but that I don’t want to leave them out.
- Why are you here (that is, why do you have a booth at the state fair)?
Our primary reason for being here is to reach out other atheists and freethinkers who are surrounded by religion in their daily lives and may not know that there are other people in this state who see the world the way that they do. The social and psychological pressures on atheists can be enormous in a situation where we must hold our thoughts to ourselves for fear of judgment or worse, sometimes from people like parents and bosses who hold a lot of power over our lives.
- (As a followup to the question above) What was the reaction from your family when they found out you were an atheist?
In answer to this I briefly recalled the story about how my Mom found “infidels.org” in our computer history and asking me why I had chosen the “church of the infidel.” Yes, my newly-found perspective on the truth was not well received in my childhood home, though I know of others who have received much worse from going against the religious opinions of their parents. It caused a lot of tension until I finally moved out and got my own place, and it was helpful for me to find other people that I could talk to about it. Fortunately today I have a good relationship with my Mom and we generally avoid talking about our disagreements on religion.
In general these were nice, productive exchanges and I have a feeling that several believers left the fair with at least one positive experience with an atheist.