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This past week, I was in Indianapolis for two live Q&A events with my Christian pal Andrew Murtagh. One was at Theology on Tap, a Catholic young-adult outreach program; the other was at Crosspoint, a non-denominational evangelical church. Both had excellent turnout, probably around 150 people at each. Speaking before two overwhelmingly Christian audiences felt a little like going into the lion’s den, but they were unfailingly fair and polite – and besides, what better place to defend atheism could there be?

The audience at the ToT event submitted questions by hashtag, and there were some that we either didn’t get to or I didn’t get to answer in as much detail as I would’ve liked. I’m going to take the opportunity to answer at greater length:

This question assumes that the survival and persistence of a religious idea has some relation to its truth. I don’t accept that assumption, and even a Christian ought to be able to see why it’s problematic. The world has hundreds of religions, nearly all of which have survived for a long time in spite of persecution, warfare and all manner of external enemies and threats. (One of the stories I find genuinely impressive is the survival of the Baha’i, who’ve been horribly oppressed and harried throughout the Islamic world.)

If anything, persecution often makes a faith more tenacious. It gives its followers a stronger sense of why their religious identity is relevant, as well as a common enemy to rally against. This is a basic fact of human psychology, and it occurs regardless of whether those beliefs are true (which later generations of followers wouldn’t be in a position to verify anyway).

The reality is that there isn’t any historical evidence for how the apostles died, as even Catholic sources readily acknowledge. There’s nothing but a tissue of apocryphal legends and medieval tall tales, many of which contradict each other. For most of the apostles, we have no information at all other than their names – and sometimes not even that, as the gospels don’t all agree on what their names even were.

This is part of my argument for the non-historicity of Jesus. Any Christian ought to find it strange and troubling that the original twelve Christians, handpicked by Jesus Christ, disappear out of history as soon as they’re named. However, a mythicist who believes that Jesus began as a mythological being who was later read back into history can readily postulate that this process never fully extended to encompass other figures from the original myths.

The Shroud of Turin is a medieval forgery, carbon-dated to the fourteenth century (which is also the first time when we have any historical record of its existence). Around the time it first turned up, a local bishop said it was a known forgery and that the forger had confessed.

As far as “Eucharistic miracles” – most of these are medieval legends about the communion host miraculously transforming into actual flesh – I’d say, without a more specific example, that these are just more of the conflicting miracles that every religious faith claims. It’s no coincidence that stories like these decline in direct proportion to our ability to verify and test them.

I believe that morality is objective, not relative. My standard is human happiness and suffering, which are real quantities in the world that are reliably produced by individual actions and the larger structure of society. Everyone desires to be happy and not to suffer, and the conditions that give rise to this outcome don’t depend on any one person’s whims, but arise from the empirical facts about what kind of beings we are.

As I’ve written, morality isn’t a question of “who”, but of “why”. It is and can only be a set of principles which rational people freely agree to follow because it will produce the best outcome for all of them in the long run. There’s no superhuman authority handing down these principles – rather, through long and painful experience, we’ve learned what works and what doesn’t when it comes to promoting human well-being. Some of the ones that work are democracy, secularism, freedom of speech, and equal protection before the law. Doubtless there are more we’ll discover in the future, as our understanding continues to evolve and improve.

Religion is humanity’s earliest attempt to answer existential questions about the world. To the extent that it makes factual claims about what exists (gods, angels, demons, the afterlife, the efficacy of prayer, knowledge gained through revelation, the age of the earth, etc.), it treads upon ground that rightfully belongs to science.

Yes! I believe atheism is far more than the rejection of religious ideas. It’s a positive worldview in its own right, offering meaning and purpose, a strong morality founded in conscience and reason, a sense of the precious value of our fragile and finite existence, and the priceless freedom to steer our own lives and think for ourselves.

Construed strictly according to the dictionary definition, atheism means nothing more than disbelief in gods. But human beings aren’t dictionaries. Avowing one’s rejection of belief in gods and the supernatural leads inevitably to the question: then what do you believe? And I see only one answer: I believe in humanity, in its good and its evil, in all its fallibility and all its potential. This is no blind faith that everything will work out no matter what we choose, but the clear-eyed recognition that we’ve done great things in spite of all that holds us back, and that we have it in us to be greater still. Being an atheist and a believer in humanity means accepting the mission to do whatever I can to help bring that greatness into being.

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DAYLIGHT ATHEISM Adam Lee is an atheist author and speaker from New York City. His previously published books include "Daylight Atheism," "Meta: On God, the Big Questions, and the Just City," and most...