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 third 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.

OK. We could start by having you postulate just exactly which emotional needs of mine are being satisfied.
(R) I don't know much about you and can't begin to guess what emotional needs your beliefs satisfy. However, I can state, based on my contacts with other atheists, that a determined belief there is no God generally has its roots in a need to justify some behavior. The individual engages in a type of behavior which they perceive as "wrong" in the eyes of God. The relatively painless and non-frustrating way to rationalize this behavior is to deny the existence of God.
(MB) I have no doubt that some might do this. However, for intellectuals a non-belief in God comes about as a result of an objective study of the subject which raises too many problems, paradoxes, and contradictions in the God theory for it to be acceptable. I should also point out that any scientific theory that is found to suffer from the same degree of difficulties is also discarded. This is as it should be.

(R) I have also found many atheists (perhaps 50 percent of those I've met) to have been subjected to a religious upbringing which can only be described as overly strict. In these cases, their atheism is in part a reaction against their upbringing.
(MB) Again, some might do this, but I doubt that it's in the numbers you claim. If the knowledge I gained from my experiences studying Islam during the time I spent in Turkey is any indication, a strict religion is far more likely to keep its adherents than is one that is less strict. Christianity is really a very lax religion that places few demands on its adherents. In such an environment, it is easier to question and to entertain alternative ideas.
    On a side topic, you claim a lot of first-hand knowledge about atheists. I wonder how it is that you know so many of them. Do you actively search them out? They certainly wouldn't come directly to you nor would they interject atheism into casual conversation. To be able to make any valid judgments about them, you must personally know a thousand or more (the number usually required to generate a statistically-valid survey) and I'll bet you don't personally know a thousand people of *any* religious or non-religious persuasion that well.

Imperfect, yes. Incorrect, absolutely not! Newtonian gravity, Darwinian evolution, and Einsteinian relativity are all imperfect, but are still close enough to be valid and allow us to make excellent predictions about the universe.
(R) Once again, excellent predictions are only possible with excellent understanding. The more imperfect our understanding, the more imperfect the predictions.
(MB) Which would then all but ensure that any specific statement in support of God must be so unsupportable as to be little more than completely wrong.

Correct. Science provides such knowledge in support of its theories. Religion does not.
(R) You are placing science and religion in opposition, but they are not.
(MB) They are in opposition when one invokes religion in order to explain the existence of the universe and does so in spite of any or all evidence to the contrary. They are in opposition when one upholds his religion as being the equal of science or as a valid alternative to science. They are *not* in opposition when religion embraces science as a valuable tool to increase our understanding of the universe -- even if it's only to use science to marvel at the "greater glory of God's work". Of course, there would still be the question of whether or not it was actually God's work and not that of some other deity (or of no deity whatsoever).

(R) Scientific facts describes the physical universe. They, in and of themselves, makes no statement on the existence or non-existence of God. Only mankind does that. The scientific evidence (indeed, science itself) does not support either position, it is entirely neutral.
(MB) Correct. Then, why is there so much consternation about science from certain factions within the religious community?

How can you say that if you agree that it is a black-and-white question? The Bible pretty much states that either you're for him or against him. You, yourself, have used the word "atheism" more than once to describe my views.
(R) Your statement was that religious believers call anyone who doesn't agree with them an atheist. This is untrue. The only reason to call someone an atheist is if they say they do not believe in God. I would not call a Moslem or a Jew or a Hindu an atheist. If I call you an atheist, it is because you have said you don't believe in God.
(MB) Again, you are limiting yourself to only considering the black-and-white issue of whether the God of the Bible exists or not (in addition to demonstrating a continued misunderstanding of the difference between agnostics and atheists).
    What if an all-powerful deity exists, but it isn't the God of the Bible? What if the truth is that there's actually more than one such deity? What if there's actually a whole bunch of less-than-all-powerful deities and each is in charge of his own galaxy or star system? Or, maybe the truth is of a nature that we have not yet discovered or imagined. By your own definition, anyone who holds any such beliefs would be "atheists" even though that would clearly not be the case.
    Your beliefs are very limiting. Mine are open to all possibilities -- maybe even the Great Green Arkleseizure...*grin*

When's the last time you went to a Christian church or read a Christian publication where the belief in deities other than God were tolerated?
(R) Yesterday? Toleration doesn't mean you accept their beliefs or think they're right. It means you accept the fact that they have a right to worship as they please.
(MB) Yeah, right. That's why you believe in a religion and a God whose First Commandment is "I am the Lord thy God. Thou shalt have no other Gods before me."? Is that how Christianity defines "tolerance"?

When's the last time you heard any Christian, no matter how strong his beliefs, state that "their God is just as good as mine"?
(R) Well, not too often, I have to admit. The general beliefs among Christians, excepting the very conservative, run more along the line of toleration as mentioned above. I prefer my own beliefs, however, I also admit my beliefs are not inherently superior to those of other believers.
(MB) "Toleration" is what believers demand of others -- not something that they are very willing to apply to themselves. It's not just Christians vs. Muslims or Buddhists or Hindus, either. In many places, there are Christian churches of one sect who would be highly opposed to opening their doors to a congregation of another competing sect. Even within sects, there are contentious factions (such as within the Lutherans -- my own experience). I have spoken with many "Christians" who view Catholicism as "anti-Christ". Do I even need to get into how such sects as the Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses and Seventh-Day Adventists are often treated? It's a pretty sorry state of affairs for a supposedly large group of people whose religious beliefs are commonly based upon the teachings of one man and the writings in one book.

This *IS* exactly true! Muslims consider themselves the descendants of Abraham through Ishmael. Jews consider themselves the descendants of Abraham through Isaac. Both Muslims and Jews worship the God of Abraham. Neither believes that Jesus is/was anything more than a man. The belief that Jesus is the Son of God rests solely with Christians.
(R) Well no, it's not exactly true, and you've touched on the reason why yourself. Both Islam and Judaism are monotheistic, that is, they believe in a single God. Christians, on the other hand, believe in a Holy Trinity of Jehovah, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit, who are three manifestations of the same God. Jesus Christ is not just the Son of God, He is God. The Trinity is a difficult concept, which I won't attempt to explain here. Suffice it to say that Christians don't believe in exactly the same God as Moslems and Jews, but close enough.
(MB) I understand the concept of the Trinity perfectly well. It is not different from monotheism and Jesus and God are not one and the same. Christians believe that Jesus is the Son of God and sits at the right hand of God. But, Jesus was not around "in the Beginning". At least, he played no part in the creation according to Genesis. Even Jesus himself refers to God as "my Father". He may be a part of an overall ruling troika, but there is clearly one and only one all-knowing, all-powerful God in all three major Yahvistic religions and that God is exactly the same individual entity.

Oh, really? How many "thinking" religious persons will say that there is any conceivable circumstance under which they would abandon their belief in God?
(R) If anyone could ever decisively prove there is no God, then thinking persons would not believe in one. Since such a thing can't be done, we won't ever be faced with that choice.
(MB) How convenient for you. What will happen when there are no longer any phenomena in the universe that are not explainable by science? In other words, what happens to your belief when there are no longer any circumstances that could conceivably require it?

No, it's not. One cannot reach a conclusion that has any chance of being correct by using a line of argument based on an illogical premise. But, when the whole supports the same conclusion, it makes no difference how many people are actively involved in promoting it. When no members of the whole are providing logical argument or compelling evidence, then the basic premise has no hope of being anything but discredited.
(R) What illogical premise? That God exists? It is just as logical as the premise that He does not, and can be used equally as the basis for logical arguments.
(MB) Wrong! A premise that God exists is only logical if and only if there is some basis for making such a claim that is more than just "personal preference". If no such basis exists, then the only logical premise is that he does not exist. Either something exists or it does not exist. Those are not equally weighted premises.

(R) I'm completely correct. The standard tactic in a courtroom when faced with a hostile witness is to attempt to discredit the witness, which can be done in many ways. But in a case in which there is unimpeachable eye-witness testimony, and either a lack of other evidence or other evidence which is inconclusive, eye-witness testimony is completely adequate for conviction. Like I said.
(MB) AH! The key word there is "unimpeachable" and the key condition is that there is no evidence to contradict the witness. Sure, if all those conditions apply, the testimony alone can be conclusive. However, those conditions do not apply in the case of trying to support the claim that God exists.

Finally, regardless of the type of evidence, if only one side in any case is offering any evidence, the other side is very likely to be in serious trouble.
(R) Very true. But if neither side has any evidence, the case would be quickly thrown out of court. Which is where we're at.
(MB) Absolutely not. You can not, by any stretch of the imagination, say truthfully that my side has no evidence.

You can't just "switch the words around".
(R) Sure I can. We don't have two side in a court case, we have two different claims, and each must stand on its own merits. The fact that I can't prove my claim means absolutely nothing in regards to your claim, and vice versa.
(MB) We're not in court, but you are still holding the positive position that God exists. You can't just *say* that it is so and make it a reality. Thinking people are not gullible. They just don't go around believing whatever story might sound interesting. There must be some evidence to back it up and it must be compelling enough to make the story more viable than any alternative. You have already admitted that you have nothing to offer in support of your belief. How then can you even begin to claim that it is viable, valid, logical, or truthful?
    Perhaps a quote from Ayn Rand can help drive this point home: "To rest one's case on faith means to concede that reason is on the side of one's enemies -- that one has no rational arguments to offer."

Believers that something exists espouse the positive position and must bear the burden of proof. Can you explain why the statement "God exists" is not a positive position?
(R) There is no such thing as a positive and negative position in an argument, except perhaps in regards to questions of right and wrong.
(MB) Nonsense. "X exists" is a positive position. "X does not exist" is a negative position. Substitute anything you want for "X" -- the concept does not change. The positions are also not equal. There are a finite number of things that exist. There are an infinite number of things that do not exist. Therefore, if only from a probabilistic standpoint, it is reasonable to assume that any given "X" does not exist unless it is demonstrated otherwise.

What if a real person believes that Harvey exists?
(R) If you mean someone who believes in Harvey as depicted in the film, that person is making a fundamental error of logic by believing to be real something which is by definition fictional. If you mean a real person who actually believes they are accompanied by a six-foot, white rabbit who talks to them, I would have to question that person's state of mental health.
(MB) Now, substitute "God" for "Harvey" and you will come up with the same answers. The only evidence for Harvey is in a film. The only evidence for God is in a book. Films can be documentaries of real events and characters or can be entirely fictional -- as can books. Neither a film nor a book can be used as proof of its own validity -- to do so would be circular reasoning. Such proof would have to come from an outside, disconnected source. No such authenticating source exists for either of the characters in question which are depicted in the film or in the book. Without this, it is reasonable to conclude that each could possibly be defined as fictional with respect to those particular characters.
    Consider two real people -- one who believes in Harvey and one who believes in God. Each believes that his character exists and talks to him. Neither can prove that his character actually does exist. It can be argued that there is also no way to prove that his character does *not* exist. You said you would have to question the mental health of the person who believes in Harvey. Why would you not do the same for the person who believes in God?

Those degrees of validity are directly proportional to the amount of evidence which supports them. If there's no evidence, there's no validity. Period. Merely wanting something to be true means absolutely nothing.
(R) In the cases involving physical manifestations, this is true. In those involving supernatural phenomena, there is no physical evidence, and these cases can never be conclusively resolved. Either position has equal validity, and it becomes a matter of belief.
(MB) If something has no physical manifestation, then it can not truly be said to exist. In that case, the question is resolved by default.

Why? Couldn't such things as ghosts exist without God?
(R) Well, I suppose they could, particularly if you're a Buddhist.
(MB) What difference would that make? Just because you are a Buddhist doesn't mean that ghosts suddenly become a real thing. Either ghosts exist or they don't. Individual beliefs can't and don't change that.

(R) But if you believe there is nothing supernatural in the universe, you'd probably believe in neither God or ghosts, and vice versa.
(MB) Correct. However, if either God or ghosts truly exist, then they must be a natural phenomena. If so, there will be some evidence that could demonstrate their existence.

If somebody selects an essay, they are interested in reading what I have to say. In effect, they are asking me the question, "What is your opinion on this issue?". The content of the essay comprises my answer to their question. I haven't forced my beliefs upon anybody who isn't interested in knowing them. I haven't interjected my beliefs into a totally unrelated situation. And, nobody hears any more about them unless they freely choose to read other essays and/or replies and/or choose to e-mail me a comment about them.
(R) Good rationalization. I don't buy it.
(MB) Why not? "I don't buy it" neither refutes nor explains anything.

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