Night Owl Mk. II

Return to "Religion" essay

Back to Philosophy page

Please feel free to E-mail me with your own comments on this issue or on anything else included in my Philosophy of Life section. Debate is good!

Please report any problems with this page to the Webmaster!


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 first of a three-part reply. Select the "Go to next reply" link at the end of each part to read the next part of the reply.

(R) The most effective method of proselytizing I know of is friendship evangelism, which is simply trying to make friends with people. Not with the sole purpose of "indoctrinating" them into your beliefs, but rather, with genuine interest and concern for them as fellow human beings. It is then possible to share your beliefs with them. Even if they don't agree, the friendship can continue, establishing a bond which might bear fruit at some future point. This type of evangelism certainly doesn't require any claim of perfect knowledge of God's plan, attitude, or beliefs. It requires love and a good example.
(MB) As well as an ulterior motive, it would appear. When I choose to make friends with somebody, it is for reasons other than overt or subliminal proselytizing of any of my beliefs. I can also be friends with people whose religious, political, social or other beliefs are directly opposed to my own. Your statement about "establishing a bond which might bear fruit at some future point" is, frankly, rather disturbing. That smacks of the male hypocrisy of "making friends" with a female primarily for the purpose of trying to have sex with her and dumping her if she never agrees.

(R) What about the Red Brigade, the Bader-Meinhof Gang, or any other of several dozen different Marxist terrorist groups? What about the IRA? You're not going to argue there's anything but political motives behind their acts of terrorism, are you?
(MB) Nope. I'm also not going to try to equate them with religious zealots. Their goals are rather different.

(R) What about Neo-Nazis, racial supremacists, or the Ku Klux Klan? These people are all totally committed in mind and body to their beliefs, and consider any action in support to be justified. They are definitely beyond reason and rationality.
(MB) Yep, but none of those groups worship a leader who is claimed to have created everything. None expect to gain eternal salvation through their beliefs. None support their ideas simply by claiming that they "can't be proven wrong". In fact, most of them try to use the Bible to support their own brand of nonsense. Scary. "Jesus, please save us from your followers."

(R) Anything you say about religious fanatics in the paragraph above applies equally to these people.
(MB) I think I have shown otherwise.

(R) Once again, I make the statement that religious persons, fanatic or not, have no monopoly on narrow-mindedness....or any other type of behavior.
(MB) While this is true, are you attempting to use this as some sort of justification for the behavior of the religious? I thought that those folks were supposed to occupy the "moral high ground" and show the rest of us poor wretches what being "good" is all about. They should be eschewing narrow-mindedness rather than perfecting it.

(R) Everything *can* be explained by saying God did it -- that doesn't mean we have to stop trying to understand.
(MB) Everything *can* also be explained by saying that anybody or anything else did it. But, what purpose does that serve? It provides no answers, it advances no understanding, and it just confuses the issue. Claims are easy to make. Claims without supporting evidence, however, are a waste of time and effort and are better off being ignored.

(R) My statement is the credo of someone who is not so conceited as to believe they can understand everything, or so arrogant as to think that if they can't understand something, it cannot be. It doesn't require me to stop trying to understand, it just acknowledges the obvious fact that its not possible for me to understand everything.
(MB) Why should our understanding be limited? Just because we may not know something today doesn't mean that we can't learn it tomorrow. When one puts limits on what they can or will understand, that just opens the door for nonsense to come in and fill the void.

They reason that since we can't hope to understand everything (or anything) that we should just abdicate our intellects and default everything to some supernatural cause.
(R) A belief in God requires no abdication of intellectualism whatsoever, nor does it automatically default explainable physical phenomena to the supernatural.
(MB) The belief doesn't, but the believers certainly do when they put forth an unsupported "God did it" and call that as good as any other explanation of anything in the universe.

That makes things easier for them to cope with and frees them from the effort of actually pursuing real answers. It also relieves them from having to answer "I don't know" when asked a tough question. Somehow they equate "I don't know" with "We never will be able to know". Even if that was true, why a bogus supernatural explanation would be preferable is a mystery.
(R) People from all walks of life, not just the religious, sometimes close their minds to facts and accept bogus explanations of one sort or another. History abounds with such behavior -- some of the myths surrounding the Civil War are perfect examples. Because an ill-defined few do such things doesn't mean all religious beliefs are bogus.
(MB) Once again, here's an attempt to justify the behavior of religious believers by bringing up similar failings of others. Can't their behavior stand or fall on its own merits (or lack of them)?
    BTW, none of the myths surrounding the Civil War involved placing the supernatural over and above reality and most had a legitimate basis.

True, but human behavior is not deterministic, nor does it follow any laws of science. It is essentially random. Even if we gain perfect understanding of the physical workings of the brain, we will still never be able to predict human behavior in all cases.
(R) Human behavior is still part of the physical universe, and the entire universe is essentially random. The fact is, that until we achieve perfect knowledge of the universe, we can't make completely accurate predictions about it. The more imperfect our knowledge, the less accurate our predictions. In many cases, our predictions are little more than guesses.
(MB) Here is a confusion of discrete objects in physical reality with the side-effects of the interaction of a subset of such objects. Behavior is not, in and of itself, a physical object. A star, for example, is such an object. We can't accurately predict human behavior, but we can accurately predict the life cycle of a star. Is there an implication here that divine intervention is required to explain that which can not be accurately predicted?

(R) Physics and chemistry are sometimes referred to as "hard" sciences, because of the strict laws you mention. Sociology and psychology, the "soft" sciences, are an attempt to apply the scientific method to the study of human behavior, and also have laws, though not so strict. Disciplines like economics and history (and biology, maybe?) fall in between, to varying degrees. Physics is perhaps the most pure of the branches of science, and can be used to explain much of what is studied by the others, but this doesn't mean the others are not worthy of the name.
(MB) OK, I'm confused. What's the point? Nobody will argue that science doesn't encompass a wide range of disciplines. However, they all use the same basic methods of inquiry, evidence, observation and experimentation to advance knowledge. None involve a need to invoke the supernatural.

The universe, however, is a much different case. It follows the strict laws of science. Its mechanics can be known and much about its future can be predicted with great accuracy. We can do this because we do possess an excellent understanding of its fundamental properties.
(R) Physics can predict the general outline of the universe's future accurately, but starts to have problems when applied to the component parts. The more complex a system, the more difficult it is to make accurate predictions about it. In the end, nothing but generalities can be stated with certainty.
(MB) Complex systems just require more detailed explanations. That doesn't make them less understandable or immune to accurate predictions. Because complex systems are composed of numerous parts -- each of which is simple in itself -- the main goal of physics is to understand the basics first. Once those are well known, the complex will fall into place.

Too many who argue against science try to make the illogical claim that imperfect knowledge somehow equates to no knowledge.
(R) Not me. You are, once again, attempting to discredit all those with religious beliefs based on a stereotype which applies only to a few -- and you're not even defining the few.
(MB) I said "too many", not "all". Why are you more concerned with the scope of the argument than with addressing the actual argument itself?

(R) I can think of only one name for such a tactic.
(MB) The proper name for it is "stereotyping". In today's politically correct society, people complain about it vociferously and figure that if they can focus attention upon the scope of an issue, that the issue itself might be softened or forgotten. They forget that stereotypes only exist because those issues are ones that actually do exist in significant numbers.

They use this to claim that we must then accept a supernatural explanation for the universe. How they can do this when the supernatural explanation involves far less actual knowledge than what they denigrate science for is beyond me.
(R) What it all comes down to is, which is easier to believe: that God created the universe, or that the universe occurred by itself. Neither can be proved and both are reasonable and logical.
(MB) It's easier to believe the explanation that has evidence to support it. "God did it" has no such support and is, therefore, neither reasonable nor logical. "The universe occurred by itself" does have such support. Why should "God did it" be easier to believe?

(R) My statement is not at all meaningless. Overall, the idea that things happen for a purpose has greater meaning than the idea they just happen.
(MB) Why? What "greater meaning" could there be? I'd say that the idea that everything in the universe follows a finite set of understandable and consistent laws has a great deal of meaning. It means that there is no limit to what we can learn and that our technological advancement is only limited by how much we learn.

When science says that something happens due to natural processes and then describes those very processes, we now have something with real meaning. The description may be right or it may be wrong, but at least it can be tested and verified.
(R) Only the physical process can be tested and verified, not its origin or reason. We can make fairly confident statements about how the universe functions, but our ideas of the reason behind the universe are unclear, if indeed, there even is a reason.
(MB) What difference does any such "reason" have? 1+1=2 and two hydrogen atoms still combine with one oxygen atom to make a water molecule in this universe no matter how the universe came to be here. Indeed, must there be a "reason" for the universe? Can it not just "be"? What is lost if the universe is truly here only by chance?

The physical facets correspond to reality. The supernatural ones correspond to ignorance.
(R) The physical facets correspond to physical reality. However, non-physical things do exist, including, perhaps, the supernatural, and they exist completely in tandem with the physical universe. Superstition, not the supernatural, corresponds to ignorance. It has nothing to do with the supernatural.
(MB) What is superstition if not an expression of supernatural beliefs? How are we to detect or evaluate something that has no manifestation in physical reality? How would such a thing affect anything in the physical universe?

If the supernatural has no explanation in science, then it rests outside of science.
(R) Because science is used only to explain physical phenomenon, it does not apply to questions involving the supernatural. But, the physical and supernatural facets of the universe exist in tandem, as do science and religion.
(MB) For that claim to make any sense, you will need to describe something supernatural and how we are to know that it actually exists.

To claim simply that "God did it" says absolutely nothing without some sort of evidence to support the claim. One could just as easily say "The Great Green Arkleseizure did it" and make just as much sense. Such claims do not advance our knowledge and are not necessary in any case.
(R) The Great Green Arkleseizure is a fictional invention, and it makes no sense whatsoever to claim it, specifically, as responsible for the universe.
(MB) The exact same thing can be said for "God", can't it? What's the difference?

(R) However, the concept of a supreme being who created the universe is widespread, and just as reasonable as a claim there is none.
(MB) Douglas Adams' "Hitchhiker's Guide" books have sold millions of copies. That should make the Great Green Arkleseizure a "widespread concept", shouldn't it? Of course, just because a claim is widespread does not make it valid, truthful, acceptable or reasonable. To correct those shortcomings, the claim must be supported by evidence. Nonsense doesn't become reality just because one believes strongly in it or shouts his beliefs loudly.

Created with Allaire HomeSite 4.0 .......... Last Update: 04 Jun 98

Earthlink Network Home Page