Question: Can a rational atheist extract any value from studying theology? Theology includes a mix of arguments for the existence of God, plus views on ethics, and more. It's the earliest form of philosophy. Can a person benefit by cherry picking ideas from theological teachings or does the mysticism and other faults outweigh any benefits?
Question: Should financial companies be permitted to offer financial products consistent with sharia law? Sharia Finance – meaning, investments that specifically conform with Islamic law – are growing in popularity and have been adopted by major financial companies like Citi. Should these private businesses be legally permitted to offer whatever their clients want to buy? Or should these investments be banned due to their connection with funding terror, oppressing women, and violating rights in other ways? Morally, should companies offer these investments? Should people protest or boycott companies offering them?
Question: How can I convince myself, deep-down, that God does not exist? I was raised Catholic, although I was never deeply religious. Now, many years later, a friend is showing me Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism. I can see its benefits, but my religious upbringing still lingers in the back of my head. So part of me still thinks that God exists, even though I don't really believe that any longer. It was just engrained in me from such a young age that I can't seem to let it go. Can I change that? If so, how?
Question: Can Islam change for the better? Many critics of Islam claim that the religion is inherently totalitarian, violent, and repressive – and hence, that change for the better is utterly impossible. An Islamic reformation or enlightenment will never happen, they say. Is that true? More generally, what are the limits of a religion's ties to its own scriptures?
Question: Are the Ten Commandments of value to an atheist? Are the Ten Commandments a useful guide to living a good life, even for people who are not Jewish or Christian? Should a rational person look to religious scriptures for ethical guidance?
Question: Is philosophy deduced from axioms? Often, I hear people claim that philosophy – particularly Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism – is deduced from axioms. Is that right? Personally, I don't see how that can be: How can anything be deduced from "existence exists"? But in that case, what's the purpose of the axioms?
Question: Is it wrong for an atheist to patronize religious businesses? Is it an endorsement of religion or failure of integrity for an atheist to buy goods or services from a religious business, such as hiring an explicitly religious (and advertised as such) plumber or joining the local YMCA?
Summary: Many Americans are woefully ignorant of the basics of evolutionary theory, even while they criticize or reject it. Biologist Monica Hughes explained the basics of evolutionary theory, including some fascinating examples of evolution in action. Then she discussed and dispelled some common myths about it.
Question: Does a doctor violate a woman's rights by refusing to perform an abortion? Many people on the left claim that a doctor who refuses to perform an abortion – or a pharmacist who refuses to dispense Plan B – is thereby violating the rights of the woman. Those doctors and pharmacists, however, claim that they're exercising their own freedom of religion. Who is right?
Question: Can the consistent practice of wrong ideas lead to mental illness? Often, the most consistent practitioners of an ideology – such as Naziism or Islam – seem to become increasingly unhinged over time. Does fully embracing a fantasy-based ideology entail or encourage mental illness, such as paranoia and delusions? If so, are such people then not responsible for what they say or do?
Question: Is it wrong for an atheist to refuse to attend a sibling's religious ceremony? I've decided not to attend the religious ceremony of my younger sister's upcoming Bat Mitzvah. I'm an atheist, and while I don't think attending would be immoral, I don't want to support any kind of religiosity or connection to religion. Other family members have criticized me for that decision, saying that I should support my sister and not pressure her into agreeing with my own views. Should I attend? If not, how should I handle the family dynamics?
Question: Should minor girls be required by law to obtain parental consent for an abortion? Normally, parents are legally empowered to make medical decisions for their minor children, and minors cannot obtain medical procedures without parental consent. How should that apply in the case of pregnancy? Should pregnancy and abortion be treated differently from other medical conditions? Should parents be allowed by law to force a daughter under 18 to carry a pregnancy to term or to abort against her will?
Question: Is "gay marriage" a valid form of marriage? Many people oppose gay marriage on the grounds that marriage is essentially religious, that procreation is central to marriage, or "traditional marriage" should be respected. Should gay unions be considered a valid form of marriage, legally or socially? Might civil unions be an acceptable alternative?
Question: How can an atheist teenager maintain his integrity in a religious school? A few years ago, I read Ayn Rand's novel "Atlas Shrugged" for the first time. After a year of struggling between faith and reason, I chose reason. Unfortunately, I am a teenager, and I am forced to attend church and a religious school. For a time, I was fine coexisting with religious people. However, in the next academic year, I will have to take a class entitled "Christian Apologetics" in which I will have to pretend to be a Christian theologian. Now my integrity is at stake. How should I confront my religious family about my atheism? How can I persuade them to enroll me a different school?
Question: Is happiness overrated? Recently, I had a conversation in which the other person told me that "happiness is overrated." Basically, the person claimed that people should spend less time thinking about their own personal happiness. Instead, people should focus on acting rightly, and then take whatever pleasure they can in that. Is that view right or wrong?
Question: Is atheism just another form of religion? I often hear from religious people that atheism is just another form of religion – and just as much based on faith as Christianity and the like. Is that right or wrong?
Question: Is the Golden Rule a valid and useful principle of ethics? In past podcasts, you've mentioned that you consider the Golden Rule – meaning, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" – as flawed. What are some of the problems with this rule? Does it have any value?
Question: Can a romance between an atheist and a religious believer work? What are the major obstacles? Should the atheist attend church or church socials with his spouse? Should they have a religious wedding ceremony? Should they send their children to religious schools? Do the particular beliefs – or strength of beliefs – of the religious person matter?
Question: Why isn't philosophy taught to young children? It seems that teaching philosophy to young children – as young as kindergarten – might result in much better reasoning skills, as well as greater willingness to think independently and question what they've been taught. So is philosophy not taught to the young just because some parents and politicians might not like those good results?
Question: What is mysticism? Is mysticism distinct from religion, faith, and belief in the supernatural? Can a person be non-religious but mystical? Can a person be religious but non-mystical?
Question: Does everything happen for a reason? When confronted with some unwelcome turn of events, many people tell themselves that "everything happens for a reason." What does that mean – and is it true? Is it harmless – or does believing that have negative effects on a person's life?
Question: Given the terrible state of the economy and culture, is it wrong to pursue your own personal values? Shouldn't we all be working full time at counteracting the terrible ideas that run rampant in our culture? Is time taken away from "the good fight" in pursuit of other activities merely a useless distraction, counterproductive, and possibly immoral – as some people claim? Or is the pursuit of your own values a moral way to enjoy one's life in spite of the grim state of the culture, politics, and the economy?
Summary: What are some of the most common mistakes that people make in thinking about ethics? Craig Biddle explained people's wrong ideas about ethics, including ethics of duty, pragmatism, religious ethics, collectivism, and more.
Question: Should an atheist refuse to have a religious wedding? I'm an atheist, but my fiancée is a not-terribly-devout Christian. My parents – and her parents too – are Christian. Everyone wants and expects us to have a religious wedding, but I don't want that. My future wife would be willing to have a secular wedding, but she prefers a religious one. Mostly, she doesn't want to argue with her parents over it. Should I insist on a secular wedding? Or should I just let this one go? What's the harm, either way?
Question: Do "blue laws" violate rights? Many communities have "blue laws" – such as prohibitions on selling liquor, or even cars or other goods, on Sundays. Are these laws violations of the separation of church and state?
Question: Is chivalry virtuous? In the Aurora Masacre, three men died in the process of physically shielding their girlfriends from the gunfire. Is that kind of sacrifice noble? More generally, does chivalry have any place in an ethic of rational egoism?
Question: Is criticism of and opposition to religion a form of bigotry? In its entry on bigotry, Wikipedia claims that a "bigot" is "a person obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices, especially one who exhibits intolerance and animosity toward members of a group," and that "bigotry may be directed towards those of a differing sex or sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, nationality, region, language, religious or spiritual belief, political alignment, age, economic status or medical disability." I hear the charge of bigotry bandied about, often reflexively, particularly by theists when atheists criticize their faith-based beliefs as irrational. Is open criticism of and disrespect for religion a form of bigotry? Or is "bigotry" a loaded concept to be used by anyone whose belief system is critically challenged?
Summary: Is your romantic relationship and sex life hampered by wrong ideas and bad habits? Are you inadvertently sabotaging your relationships? Find out how to stop holding yourself back with some simple tips.
Summary: Is objective morality possible or necessary without God? Can and should morality be based on observable facts?
Question: Is the United States a Christian nation? People often claim that the United States is "a Christian nation." What do people mean by that? Why does it matter? Is it true or not?
Question: Am I obliged to disclose that I am gay if I know that the person then wouldn't wish to do business with me? Let's say that I have a job that I enjoy, but I find out that my boss does not like gay people and would refuse to hire or would fire anyone that she knew was gay. Somehow, she doesn't know that I am, in fact, gay. Should I tell her knowing that she would want to fire me – a decision that I think is wrong, but nonetheless something she should be free to do? Assume that in every other regard I enjoy my work and job, and sharing her discriminatory view is by no means a requirement for my work.
Question: Should I mention we are atheists when interviewing babysitters? I am looking for a babysitter. The question is: How do I handle the fact that many of the candidates will be very very strong Christians? Should I bring up the fact we are atheists right away or would that be creating an issue when there could be none? I definitely have to set some boundaries like "No praying with my children," but what is the appropriate way to handle it?
Summary: Do you struggle with the temptation of "guilty pleasures"? How can you overcome them – or should you indulge them?
Question: What should I do when other people offer to pray for me? Sometimes my friends and family members offer to pray for me – whether because I've got some problem in my life or because they know that I'm an atheist. How should I respond?
Question: Are women subservient to men in Objectivism like in Christianity? The Bible and Christians teach that God made women to be subservient to men and not to be their leader. Ayn Rand seems to think that women are naturally subservient to men and should not be their leader. Aside from the appeal to God, what's the difference?
Question: What is the proper response of an atheist to requests for prayers? A relative of mine recently had surgery to have his appendix removed. I was asked by another relative to pray for the first relative, even though everyone in my family knows that I don't believe in God or the power of prayer. I tried to let it slide during the conversation, but she was insistent. How should I respond to such requests for prayers, particularly when I don't want to offend anyone or seem unconcerned?
Question: Is it wrong to use "faith" to mean "trust and confidence in a person"? Some people talk about having "faith" in their friends or in themselves – and by that, they mean that they trust and have confidence in those people. Is it wrong to use "faith" in that way? In other words, blind faith is wrong, but is all faith blind faith?
Question: Are some religions better than others? Do certain religions encourage rationality more than others? Do some promote better moral systems than others? I am curious both about different forms of Christianity (Catholic, Protestant, Unitarian, Mormon, etc.), as well as other religions (Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Baha'i, etc.). Should rational atheists respect followers of certain religions more than others?
Question: Should people boycott Chick-Fil-A for its hostility to gays? The fast food chain Chick-Fil-A is well-known for its promotion of Christian values. In recent years, the company has actively worked against gay marriage, in alliance with other organizations promoting the imposition of biblical commands by law. More generally, the company is hostile to same-sex couples. Given that Chick-Fil-A uses money from customers and shareholders to promote theocracy and other rights-violations, should people condemn and boycott the chain?
Question: How can I effectively explain my atheism to religious believers? When I discuss religion with believers – mostly Christians – I find that I can't easily explain why I don't believe in God. Should I appeal to the principle of the "primacy of existence"? Should I explain the problems with the arguments for the existence of God? Or should I try a different approach?
Question: Should rational people describe themselves as "ignostics" rather than "atheists"? By rational principles, no cognitive consideration should be given to arbitrary assertions. Since the concept of God is invariably a floating abstraction and incoherent in its definition, shouldn't the claim that God exists be dismissed as arbitrary and invalid – rather than being answered in the negative? If so, shouldn't rational people describe themselves as ignostics? In contrast to atheism, ignosticism is "[the] view that a coherent definition of God must be presented before the question of the existence of God can be meaningfully discussed. Furthermore, if that definition is unfalsifiable, the ignostic takes the theological noncognitivist position that the question of the existence of God (per that definition) is meaningless." [Wikipedia]
Question: Should I reveal my atheism to strangers when asked? I work at a hospital. One night a patient asked me if I'm religious. I answered yes. He then asked me if I believed that Jesus Christ died on the cross for my sins. I answered yes. Then he took my hand and prayed for me. Immediately, I felt guilty, because I lied in answering these questions. In fact, I'm an atheist. The next day, I told the patient the truth, and he thanked me for my honesty. What should I have done in answering his original questions?
Question: Why do religious fanatics seek to impose their beliefs on others? Most religious fanatics aren't content to practice their religion for themselves: they seek to impose it on others by law. Why is that? Why is that wrong? What can be done to combat it?
Question: Is working for a minister giving religion moral sanction? As an atheist, I once worked for an ordained minster who was the owner of a gallery. I became his manager when I made it clear that I was an atheist, but that I was a good framing manager. I don't think I gave him a moral sanction for his irrationality by working for him under those terms. What do you think?
Question: Should death be feared? Why or why not? Also, why do most people fear death? How can a person overcome that, if ever?
Question: Should circumcision be banned? Residents of San Francisco were supposed to vote on a ballot measure that would have banned circumcision, except in cases of medical necessity. (It was struck from the ballot by a judge due to conflicts with state law.) Since circumcision is an millennia-old religious rite for Jews and regarded as essential to their covenant with God, would a ban on circumcision violate the principle of freedom of religion?
Question: Why do some people of faith survive and even flourish? If reason is required for life, and faith abdicates reason, then how can anyone who has faith live and prosper? In particular, how do some devoutly religious people manage to be so productive and creative in business?
Question: Is it moral for atheists to perform religious music? I love to sing classical music, and that usually means performing with a group that does religious music, including Catholic mass and other religious songs. Some of these groups are secular and perform it for the artistic value alone, but other groups are explicitly religious, such as those affiliated with a church. Is it wrong for an atheist like me to join either of these types of groups?
Summary: In preparation for the release of the final Harry Potter movie, I interviewed
Question: Should atheistic parents encourage their children to explore religion? Why or why not? And if so, how?
Question: Does morality require God? Many devoutly religious people claim that morality requires God. They say that without a supernatural lawgiver, anything would be morally permissible. Is that right? Are relativism or subjectivism the only alternatives to religious morality?
Question: How can a conservative Christian also be a supporter of capitalism? Isn't the Christian philosophy diametrically opposed to the basic principles of egoism and reason necessary to fully support laissez-faire capitalism?
Question: Can an Objectivist believe in God? Can a person be a theist and an Objectivist? Or is that too fundamental a conflict? If so, why?
Question: My father and his side of the family are very religious while I am not. Is it moral for me to jeopardize my relationship with them to share the countless fallacies and inhumanities that is religion? If so, how does one go about this process?
Summary: What does a principled political candidate say and do? Stephen Bailey – the Republican candidate for US House of Representatives for Colorado's Second District in 2010 – gives us a good example in this discussion of his principles and prospects.
Summary: I discuss various Design Arguments for the existence of God, focusing on William Paley's Analogical Argument for Design.
Summary: I discuss Design Arguments for the existence of God, particularly objections to Aquinas' Teleological Argument and the Fine Tuning Argument.
Summary: I discuss Design Arguments for the existence of God, focusing on the Aquinas' Teleological Argument and the Fine Tuning Argument.
Summary: I explain the Ontological Argument for the existence of God, then consider three objections to it.
Summary: I discuss the major objections to the Cosmological Argument for the existence of God.
Summary: I present three variants of the Cosmological Argument for the existence of God.
Summary: With this episode, I begin a series of podcasts on philosophy of religion – particularly the arguments for the existence of God. Here, I introduce the topic by discussing its importance, the burden of proof principle, and the nature of God.