10 Questions with an Atheist: Luke Muehlhauser

Part of the 10 Questions with an Atheist series.

When Luke Muehlhauser was 19, he got depressed.

He confesses he probably got depressed because all he did was work at Wal-Mart, download music and watch porn.

Mind you, Muehlhauser is a pastor’s son. Born and bred under Christian parents, education and church services.

His struggle was honest and continued for the next 3 years through the help of his father, friends and an enviable bent to understand his Christian faith.

But ultimately, it just didn’t make sense.

Book after book and discussion after discussion, Muehlhauser couldn’t cling to his belief in the existence of God.

Muehlhauser celebrates his deconversion, but also relishes his 22 years as a Christian. In fact, he feels it allows him to “approach believers with true understanding.”

On his blog Common Sense Atheism, Luke makes a point of criticizing atheists as much as he does theists. A weak argument is a weak argument no matter who it comes from.

In addition, he maintains an impressive list–448 and counting–of debates on the existence of God.

Luke, thank you for your time. And thank you for your thoughts.

1. How would you describe yourself: atheist, agnostic or skeptic? Explain.

I’m a skeptic because the vast, vast majority of truth claims on any subject are false. I’m also a gnostic atheist because I “know” gods don’t exist the same way I “know” fairies don’t exist. I can’t prove the non-existence of either, but I’m pretty sure they don’t exist, having looked at the evidence. But all beliefs come in degrees (see: Bayeseian reasoning). A creator god is extremely improbable already, but an all-good, timeless, spaceless, magical god who sent himself to earth to sacrifice himself to himself to appease himself is even more improbable. In contrast, I’m pretty agnostic about the existence of Buddha, Jesus, Apollonius of Tyana, and Yeshe Tsogyal as historical persons: I just don’t know.

2. When did you know you were an agnostic skeptic? Did it scare you or was it a non-issue?

On January 11, 2008 I admitted to myself I could not believe in God. That decision came slowly, and it was terrifying. I’d been taught that without God, life was meaningless and miserable. I did everything I could to believe. For every atheist book I read, I read 5 books by the best Christian apologists (CraigSwinburnePlantingaMoreland…). But in the end I had to admit I had no better reason to believe in God than to believe in fairies. Only much later did I find out that there is plenty of joy and purpose without God.

3. Ever suffer persecution as an agnostic skeptic?

No.

4. What do you want to accomplish with your life?

Travel, learning, deep relationships. There are also some open issues in meta-ethics to which I’d like to contribute.

5. Who are your heroes? Why?

No heroes live up to the myths we create around them, but… Norman Borlaug saved a billion lives by studying how the world really works and applying his knowledge. Gandhi worked out the details of a radical option for human progress. Jon Stewart,Charlie Brooker, and Nassim Taleb are criticizing destructive systems in entertaining and successful ways.

6. What would you like to accomplish with your Common Sense Atheism blog?

I’d like to show why theism is nonsense, and why most of what is said by atheists is also nonsense. I criticize bad atheist arguments very often on my blog.

7. What’s your favorite part about being an agnostic skeptic?

That’s like asking, “What’s your favorite part about not believing in fairies?” So instead I’ll tell you what my favorite part about being a critical thinker is. I no longer fear the truth. I’m no longer worried that new discoveries will overthrow my dogmas – because I have none. I am always excited by the truth, even when it overthrows something that is precious to me.

8. Are there any Christian concepts that you respect?

Everything specific to Christianity is pretty bad. But I admire some values from earlier traditions that also make their appearance in certain flavors of Christianity: non-violence, generosity, love…

9. Does it irritate you when Christians try to share their faith with you?

No.

10. Were you ever a Christian? Would you go back?

I was a Christian for most of my life. I would go back if I found good reasons to believe.

Bonus question: What’s your take on Singer? Thumbs up or down? Explain.

Singer is popular for his work on animal rights, but he would be less popular if people knew Singer thinks it’s okay to kill retarded kids. At the meta-ethical level he defends evolutionary ethics, which is absurd and rightly dismissed by Christian apologists. At the normative level he defends preference utilitarianism, which is unworkable. I’m glad he gives so much to charity, but I say thumbs down. If you want to read a decent atheist ethical philosopher, try Alonzo FyfePeter Railton, or Geoffrey Sayre-McCord.

Luke, thank you for your time and your honesty.  I especially appreciate your openness.

Now, anybody have any comments or questions for Luke? Ask away. Looking forward to hearing from you.