Night Owl Mk. II

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Boldfaced statements are parts of the original essay (or a subsequent reply) to which the respondent has directed his comments.

Italicized/emphasized comments
prefaced by (R) are those of the respondent and are presented unedited.

My replies appear under the respondent's comments in blue text and are prefaced by my initials (MB).

This is the second of a seven-part reply. Select the "Go to next reply" link at the end of each part to read the next part of the reply.

(R) My basic premise is that God exists, and from there I go on to conclude that He created the universe, that science is part of creation, etc. This basic premise, that God exists, is the foundation on which all my other beliefs and my understanding of the universe is based. Think about what might be your basic premise, and about how you might go about proving it.
(MB) Your basic premise must be a statement of fact that can be supported by evidence if it is to be a legitimate basis upon which to draw a proper conclusion. If it is merely a statement of unsupported belief, then any following arguments and conclusions are nothing more than exercises in rhetoric and constitute nothing upon which a competent model of the universe can be constructed.
    My basic premise is that everything in the universe derives from the consequences of a finite set of knowable and understandable physical laws. The support for the conclusions drawn from that premise are found in the mountains of observational, experimental, and logical evidence which verify them and in the total absence of anything whatsoever that would dispute them. How are you going to go about proving your basic premise? And, don't say that you can't do so or that you don't have to do so and still continue to advance it as the equal of science. Our two premises must be subjected to the same measuring sticks if the relative superiority of either is to be established.

Still, there must be *something* concrete upon which such a belief is based -- something that can be observed, tested, analyzed and demonstrated.
(R) No, there isn't. It is a belief, nothing more.
(MB) Then it should not be advanced either as an alternative to science or as the equal of science. In which case, the only correct thing to do would be to withdraw that belief from further serious consideration.

If not...well, it's no more believable than any other good, but still fictional, story and one could just as well believe in the Great Green Arkleseizure.
(R) A belief in God which is used to build a philosophical concept of the universe is not fictional, any more than a belief that only physical phenomena exist, which is used for the same purpose, is fictional. The Great Green Arkleseizure is fictional by definition.
(MB) So is any belief that cannot be established or strongly suggested to be a fact. The God theory, by your own admission, must then be considered to be fictional and, by extension, no better than any other fictional story. Physical phenomena can be shown to exist and, therefore, do not fall into the realm of fiction.

They're only irreconcilable to those who refuse to submit all ideas to the same standards of proof.
(R) They are irreconcilable to those who refuse to acknowledge the validity of science, and to those who refuse to accept that not everything can be proved scientifically. Not all ideas can be submitted to the same standards of proof.
(MB) All ideas which purport to explain the same phenomenon must submit themselves to the same standards of proof if any of them hopes to gain general acceptance as a legitimate explanation.
    Anybody who exhibits the refusal behaviors you specified is doing little more than mental masturbation. It might make them feel good, but nothing of any non-trivial consequence can be accomplished.

I did answer your question. Just add up the number of people who have the views I listed.
(R) O.K. that would be about one out of ten.
(MB) How do you arrive at that figure? Are you trying to claim that only one out of ten believers actually believe in the reality of God's existence?

(R) This seems like a pretty small number on which to base a condemnation of everyone with religious beliefs. Do you normally give other groups the same treatment, i.e. condemn the entire group based on the actions of a few?
(MB) First of all, I'm not condemning everyone with religious beliefs. I am condemning certain unsupportable beliefs and the tactics used by those who promote them. I am condemning the attempt to make religion equal to (if not superior to) science. I am condemning the notion that religious beliefs are valid when the believers themselves can't even agree on what those beliefs are. I am condemning the implicit premise that Christianity is "right" while all other religious beliefs are "wrong" - especially when one considers that there are over 200 different (and often incompatible) versions of Christianity in the world.
    I will condemn *any* belief -- religious or not -- that uses the same methods of argument used by religious advocates and which has equally little to support it. If any group permits a vocal portion of its membership to speak on behalf of the group and does not take those individuals to task for what they say, then the group has given its implicit support to what is being said and must bear the mantle of responsibility for it. You say that my criticisms don't apply to all religious people. If that is so, I'd like to know where a church can be found that teaches its congregation that God is nothing more than a "personal preference".

You've completely missed my point again. First, I acknowledge that many, if not most, Christians are not fanatics.
(R) Thank you. Now, how about incorporating this thought into your essay on religion.
(MB) Why? One needs not be a fanatic in order to hold the same beliefs. A fanatic is one who is strongly involved in promoting those beliefs -- sometimes to the extent of using violence, threats, or other aggressive tactics that do nothing to further support the actual beliefs themselves.

However, they are also not the ones that cause the problems. They are the ones who have no problems with science. They have their beliefs because it makes them feel better, not because of any claim of providing all of the answers. They don't proselytize or get indignant over skepticism.
(R) I put myself into this category. However, I think just about any religious believer proselytizes to a certain extent, if only by trying to be a good example and by giving an opinion when asked. As far as getting indignant over skepticism, I don't. Saddened and worried is more like it. I do get a bit upset if someone attacks my beliefs as ridiculous, though.
(MB) Why would you be saddened or worried if somebody doesn't share your beliefs? If they were truly nothing more than personal preference, there would be little cause for concern. Same for getting upset with any attack upon them. If you are secure in your beliefs, you would be immune to criticism -- especially since they are just personal preference in the first place. Once again, it's not the belief itself that I critique. It is the conclusions and arguments that are developed from those beliefs. If one wants to believe in the Great Green Arkleseizure, that's his business and more power to him. If, however, he seeks to challenge science by claiming that his belief that the universe was sneezed into existence by such a being is equal to the theories of science, that's when I will take exception to it.

They don't lobby school boards to replace biology, physics, math, chemistry and other science curricula with Biblical creation myths.
(R) Because of the wall of separation between church and state in this country, a constitutional amendment would be required before any legislation of this nature could hope to stand up to the legal challenges with which it would be faced.
(MB) The facts are that there have been several state and local laws passed which have prohibited the teaching of certain scientific theories (usually evolution) in classrooms -- either outright or unless Christian mythology is given equal time and status. Many have, indeed, been struck down in the Supreme Court and none that have challenged have survived. However, they are not all yet off the books and there are still schools where science is still unwelcome even though it is "legally" permitted. Funny how the "equal time" argument doesn't apply in the churches of those communities, eh?

(R) Such an amendment has no chance of ever being ratified, because the people in favor of it are a small minority. This is as it should be, and I am wholeheartedly glad about it.
(MB) I wouldn't be so sure about that. While no Creationist-inspired law has yet survived a challenge in the Supreme Court, the votes have never been unanimous in striking them down. In the landmark case of Edwards v Aguillard (1987), the vote was only 7-2 against Creationism despite amicus curiae briefs filed by over 70 Nobel prize winners and despite Creationist witnesses contradicting each other and being thoroughly trashed during questioning. After this case, the Creationists were forced to change their tactics and try to position their beliefs as being "science" instead of "religion". If they are successful in getting enough people to believe that approach, new attempts at pro-Creationist legislation could not be attacked as violating the separation of church and state.

(R) Anyone who wants their children to learn creation science can always make the choice of sending them to a private Christian school that teaches it.
(MB) Yes, they can, but that's not good enough for them. They don't want anyone else's children to learn science, either. You see the same approach in the crowd who always protests the content of certain TV programs. Yes, they could choose to turn off the TV or to watch other channels, but they also feel the need to try to "protect" other TV watchers -- even those who choose to watch and enjoy those same programs.
    There's another issue here, as well. Are parents doing their children any favors if they force them to go to a school that teaches the myths of one particular religion in place of real science? Are the parents so afraid of how those myths would stand up to basic science that they feel they must prevent their children from getting a complete education?

(R) However, I also do not want the public schools to teach there is no God. It's fine to teach about the Big Bang and evolution, because these are valid scientific theories. Just don't teach that they prove there is no God, because they don't. The question of God's existence is a matter for parents, not the public schools.
(MB) Agreed. Schools shouldn't support or attack the question. Yet, most schools still do a lot of little things that imply support for God and/or Christianity and few even bring up the fact that other religions exist unless those religions were practiced by some nation or tribe that was utterly defeated in a war or was converted to Christianity.
    I know of no science courses that combine arguments against God with any study of evolution or the Big Bang. The theories themselves say absolutely nothing about the question. On the other hand, when I was in school and learned about the Crusades, it was taught from the perspective of "cleansing" the Holy Land from the invading, infidel Muslims. Of course, no mention was made of the rather shady nature of the Papacy in those days...*grin*

BTW, isn't "Religious Tolerance" a bit of an oxymoron like "Military Intelligence"?
(R) Military intelligence is only an oxymoron if you think everyone in the military is stupid.
(MB) Well, being a 16-year veteran does give me a little first-hand experience with which to make such an observation...*grin*

(R) Similarly, religious tolerance is an oxymoron only if you think all religious persons are bigots.
(MB) Give me an example of a religion that permits its adherents to consider competing religions and/or deities to be equal or acceptable. That tolerance is most certainly not present in any Yahvistic religion.

How do you know that prayer accomplishes anything? Is there a test which could conclusively prove that prayer caused something to happen that would otherwise not have happened?
(R) If you believe in God, it is perfectly reasonable to believe he responds to prayer. However, as I've said, this is an entirely different issue. Hopefully we can discuss it at another time.
(MB) "If you believe in God" and "if God exists" and "if he is all-powerful" and "if he is merciful" and "if he chooses to answer at all".....isn't this an awful lot of shaky speculation upon which to base one's life?

That, in itself, should say a multitude of things about how believable the God idea is. After several thousand years of trying, the idea still hasn't strongly motivated more than a very minor percentage of the population and hasn't produced a single piece of real evidence in support.
(R) Let's try the fact thing again, shall we? Nearly half the world's population belongs to the western religions of Christianity (32%), Islam (17%), or Judaism (about 18 million).
(MB) Untrue. Neither Islam nor Judaism fall under the heading of Christianity since neither accepts Jesus as being the Son of God. There are also several sects of Christianity which express doubts about Jesus being equal to God.

(R) These people not only believe in God, but in very nearly the same God, that of Abraham.
(MB) What do you mean "very nearly the same God"? Christians, Jews, and Muslims believe in the exact same God. Muslims call him "Allah" and many Jews still refer to him as "Yahveh". Some Christian sects refer to him as "Jehovah". The names may change, but the deity being worshipped is the same.

(R) Only 4% of the world's population are avowed atheists. Although 17% claim no religion (agnostics, free-thinkers, etc.), at least part of these have some belief in a supreme being. The remaining 30% worship a god or gods in some form, although I suppose you could argue that Buddhists (6%) don't technically believe in God. However, they do believe humans have souls, and so should be included with the religious majority.
    If the matter was put up for a vote, religious believers would win by a 4 to 1 landslide, and if you consider the non-religious 17% as a possible swing vote, the margin would be even higher. Of course, it is not a voting matter.

(MB) Correct, it's not. However, while religious may outnumber non-religious people by 4-1, that still provides no evidence for whether or not any deity of any kind actually exists. The percentage of people with religious beliefs in developing or non-technological nations is almost 100% and that group constitutes perhaps 2/3 of the world's population. That would increase the percentage of non-religious people in the "industrial" world -- and acknowledgement that one is non-religious has only become acceptable over the past few decades, so I think that it is highly likely that many people who now claim some religious belief will "come out of the closet", so to speak, in the future.

There's also nothing to rule out the Great Green Arkleseizure theory, but I won't place that one on the same level as science, either.
(R) I have never read "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," but I have read of it. The Great Green Arkleseizure it refers to is a fictional account of the ludicrous religious beliefs of the denizens of a fictional planet. I don't place that on the same level as a belief in God, either.
(MB) Why not? Fictional or not, on what basis do you call the Great Green Arkleseizure theory "ludicrous"? Both it and the God theory are equally unsupportable beliefs of creation. Just because one was written as satire (and satire is always based on some real human behavior) doesn't make the other any better. The point of satire is to highlight flaws in a given idea and Douglas Adams does this quite effectively for lots of human foibles. Also, by your own words, in the absence of any evidence which proves either of two competing theories to be true, they must both be equally valid. Do you still stand by that claim?

(R) You're the one who is arguing that because I can't prove my position, this somehow makes yours superior to mine.
(MB) I have been arguing not only that you can't prove your position, but that you won't even make the attempt to provide any evidence whatsoever in support of it. I have also been arguing that there is a great deal of evidence in support of my position -- which makes supernatural explanations of the universe completely unnecessary. In any argument, if one side has the overwhelming preponderance of evidence in its favor and the other side won't even bother to defend itself using the same standards it demands of its opponent, there is only one logical conclusion -- the supported side is clearly the superior view.

(R) Your entire argument about positive and negative positions, with the positive position bearing the burden of proof, is what's illogical. Any claim must stand or fall on its own merits. The only reason the prosecution has the burden of proof in a court case is because of common law precedents designed to protect individuals from tyranny. It's not because of some imagined inherent superiority of the defense.
(MB) The prosecution's inability to prove its case does not make the defense superior. It just means that the case has not been proven and that the defendant won't go to jail. This is how it should be. Any time something is alleged in court, that allegation must be demonstrated to be true or it can never be anything more than a groundless allegation.
    In the case of our debate, you are alleging that something (i.e., God) exists. Unless you want that to be anything more than a groundless allegation, you must at least make the attempt to demonstrate that it is the truth. Merely saying that it is so is woefully insufficient. The same would apply to any claim that anything exists -- whether supernatural or scientific. The God theory shouldn't be considered to be any different from any other idea as far as whether or not it requires some form of evidential demonstration. In fact, I would consider it a step forward if you could demonstrate how the God theory is better than any other religion's theory of creation. Once we've ironed out the conflicts within the framework of the world's religions, we can take the best surviving religious theory and match it up against science. Are you up to it?

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