Clever Questions to Ask an Atheist, provided the Atheist has a Severe Head Injury

A LOT of Internet real estate is devoted to Christian zealots of various flavors claiming to have some sort of checkmate-level rebuttal to the steady increase of nonbelievers in the developed world.  One example in particular caught my attention.  I’m not sure where this list originated (I found it here), but its “cleverness” is, shall we say, overestimated.

The questions:

Dear Christians,
Here are some clever questions I have thought up for you to ask an atheist.  If you are on an atheist online chat, you can copy and paste these questions to ask them, or you can confront an atheist in public and ask the questions.  Just watch how they can never answer these questions:
Can you explain what happens when we die?
If we came from monkeys, then why are there still monkeys living today?
Is it okay to commit murders, rape, homosexuality, going to stripbars, looking at pornography, and other forms of rebellion if you think there is no God to guide you?
How can you explain the way a banana fits in the palm of the hand?
If Fox News is a dishonest channel, then why are the reporters such as Bill O’Reilly true Christians?
Did you know that there are biblical records of dinosaurs that were witnessed by men?
How did pond scum turn into us?
How did the eye form?
How did the Grand Canyon form?
If you call yourself an atheist in regards to God, then do you call yourself an atheist in regards to Santa and Bigfoot?
How did everything come from nothing?
If evolution is true, how come we never see frogs turn into birds?
Have you heard of the shroud of Turin?
Your’s [sic] in Christ,
Where to begin?  Most of these questions are veterans of the religious apologist circuit, frequently utilized in dishonest ways by prominent anti-atheist agitators like Ray Comfort.  While none of them is particularly clever, some of them require surprisingly interesting answers.

Can you explain what happens when we die?
1.       Dying is a process, not a singular event, like most phenomena in our world.  During the process of dying, various parts of the body experience a failure of cellular metabolism due to oxygen deprivation.   That deprivation might follow a loss of blood from an injury, poisons that interrupt cellular metabolism, interruption of breathing, or years of incremental wear-and-tear with which the body’s repair machinery can no longer keep up, but in the end, the result is the same.  Without oxygen, cells can no longer turn stored fuels into energy for rapid use, causing the cell’s processes to disequilibrate and shut down.  Depending on the cell and the intensity of the damage, the cell itself may lyse and break apart.  When this process reaches the brain, that organ’s functions are interrupted like any other’s.  In the brain, this is often accompanied by hallucinations as the visual cortex’s processes seize and eventually cease.  These hallucinations can be emulated with non-lethal oxygen deprivation.
Once the brain is dead, the person has no further experiences or memories.  The body will not survive much longer (assuming it isn’t already dead) without the autonomic control centers in the medulla oblongata, hypothalamus, and elsewhere maintaining heart rate and other functions.  It might be sustained artificially depending on the kind of damage that led to dying in the first place.
One thing is certain: people endure beyond this end.  Each of us leaves a mark on this world, for good or for ill.  Each of us leaves behind a legacy of lives touched by our actions, things built and efforts accomplished.    We live on in the millions of tiny and grandiose ways that the world is different for our having inhabited it, even as our minds moulder to nothing alongside our bodies.  The best is lost—but the rest endures.

If we came from monkeys, then why are there still monkeys living today?
2.       Oh, I don’t know.  If Americans came from British people, why are there still British people?  If you have a brother or sister, how come they’re not exactly 100% the same as you?
Biological evolution is best encapsulated in Darwin’s phrase “descent with modification.”  A given common ancestor can have many descendants.  Millions of years ago, a primate lived whose descendants in the modern age include the many lineages of monkeys and apes, including humankind.  At various points in time, groups of this primate’s descendants became isolated from one another, and evolved into distinct species, not all of which survive to this day.  In much the same way, despite starting from a common British stock and cultural tradition, the peoples of modern Great Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States are all different in detectable, noticeable ways.

Is it okay to commit murders, rape, homosexuality, going to stripbars, looking at pornography, and other forms of rebellion if you think there is no God to guide you?
3.       God is not necessary for morality.  Hunger, thirst, desire, happiness, contentment, sadness, love, and all other emotions and drive states know no religion.  Religion is not required to recognize that our collective well-being is influenced by our actions, and that our world becomes a worse place for us all if we commit murder or permit others to commit murder.  Without religion, we are free to evaluate whether any given action contributes to the greater good based on the effects we observe.  With that in mind, it becomes clear that, of the acts on that list, only murder is evil.  Homosexuality, attending strip clubs, and viewing pornography harm no one in and of themselves.  (If any given instance of these acts involves a non-consenting participant, then the equation changes.)  “Other acts of rebellion” are likewise judged individually, and without the authoritarian framework that would imply that all morality is an exercise in submission to authority.

How can you explain the way a banana fits in the palm of the hand?
4.       The banana as most people know it was domesticated between 5000 and 8000 BCE, with the modern Cavendish banana’s near-exclusive reign over banana displays in grocery stores beginning in 1836.  Domestic bananas, especially the modern form, have about as much resemblance to wild bananas as domestic dogs do to their wolf ancestors.  Wild bananas come in many species, almost all of which are much smaller than domestic bananas and full of cherry-pit-like seeds.  The seedlessness of the domestic banana was achieved by crossing two species with different numbers of chromosomes, leading to a failure of the seed-production process analogous to chromosomal abnormalities in humans that can cause infertility.  Thanks to this abnormality, domestic bananas have only very limited means of reproduction without human intervention—far from their “God-given” original state indeed.
So, the banana fits peoples’ hands as well as it does because people have spent upwards of 7000 years making sure it does.  And even with that effort bananas and hands are often mismatched.  Imagine that.

If Fox News is a dishonest channel, then why are the reporters such as Bill O’Reilly true Christians?
5.       Whether the personalities of Fox News often speak falsehoods is an empirical question that can be independently verified—and they frequently, frequently do.  The real question is, how can the Fox News personalities be “true Christians” if they lie so much?

Did you know that there are biblical records of dinosaurs that were witnessed by men?

6.       That’s not actually true, but what if it were?

How did pond scum turn into us?
7.       Pond scum didn’t “turn into” humans.  The process by which humans evolved resembles the general pattern of evolution given above, starting with microbes billions of years ago and incrementing in complexity through time.  Humans are but one twig on a vast and ancient evolutionary tree, sharing branches with more and more creatures as we trace our lineage back to the tangled roots.  The microbes at the start of this process might have resembled modern “pond scum” to an untrained eye, but they did not turn into us.  We are their descendants, billions upon billions of generations later, following a long series of small changes well documented by genetics, palaeontology, geography, geology, embryology, and every other field of scientific inquiry.

How did the eye form?
8.       Eyes evolved several times within the animal kingdom, leading to several distinct evolutionary paths with distinct results.  All of them begin with a patch of photo-sensitive cells, whose proteins react to light and can thus distinguish light from dark, but little else.  In some animals, such as mollusks, these cells were derived from the skin; in the lineage that led to vertebrates, these cells are nerve-derived.  After many generations, some individuals had these cells in a small depression, enabling this budding eye to detect the direction of light as well as its intensity.  Reducing the opening of this depression to a small hole creates a primitive camera eye, capable of forming blurry images.  Further sequential improvements, including adding a lens and muscles to control the size of various parts, lead to the eye as it appears in modern mammals.
It is true that removing parts of a fully-formed mammal eye leads to reduced or destroyed functionality of the overall organ.  Since the eye did not evolve as a series of discrete parts appearing out of nothing, but as steady, natural-selection-favored improvements over each previous stage, however, this is not an issue.

How did the Grand Canyon form?
9.       The Grand Canyon formed over at least 17 million years.  The Colorado River at the center of the canyon erodes the edges with the force of its flow.  Another site of particularly visible riverine erosion, including the flip side of the phenomenon—deposition—is the Mississippi Delta.

If you call yourself an atheist in regards to God, then do you call yourself an atheist in regards to Santa and Bigfoot?
10.   Yes.  Next question?

How did everything come from nothing?
11.   The current scientific consensus, while still the subject of serious inquiry, holds that the universe’s matter has always existed.  At the beginning of time, it was all concentrated into a single point, whose rapid expansion is known as the “Big Bang.”  This expansion drives the passage of time, such that there is no meaning to the notion of time “before” the Big Bang.   Indeed, it is religious believers who claim that something “came from” nothing, while simultaneously claiming that God has always been.

If evolution is true, how come we never see frogs turn into birds?
12.   We don’t see frogs turning into birds because evolutionary theory posits no such absurdity.  Evolution acts on a scale of generations and populations, not individuals.  In the fullness of time, a species of flying frog may yet emerge.  Incremental changes across numerous reproductively successful generations might improve this frog lineage’s toe webbing, enhance their musculature for flapping, and otherwise alter existing structures in a way that makes the frog species more airborne, provided each increment is advantageous, as with the evolution of the eye.  Such macroscopic changes require a great deal of time and are rarely rapid enough to be viewed directly within human lifetimes.  In any event, the frog would not “evolve” into some other, pre-existing creature, but into a unique species.
Evolution is visible on a smaller scale in bacteria and other microbes, where a few days contain sufficient generations to show selective change; and in island populations, whose isolation made more mutations advantageous and so led to rapid diversification of freshly arriving flora and fauna.
Either way, we won’t be observing creature spontaneously evolving into other creatures.  This isn’t Pokémon we’re talking here.

Have you heard of the shroud of Turin?
13.   Why yes, I have heard of the 14th-century fake believed by many to be the burial shroud of Jesus Christ, a surprisingly poorly-attested figure for someone who spent 30 years defying the laws of physics within one of the world’s most advanced empires.  But have you?
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