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 last of a three-part reply.

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.
(R) As I've said before, tolerance doesn't mean you think someone's differing beliefs are correct, or equal, or acceptable. It simply means that you recognize they have the right to worship as they please, without persecution.
(MB) That is the true meaning of tolerance. As to whether or not that is being practiced by organized religion, I have grave doubts. I'm still waiting for you to provide the example I asked for. If you can't provide contradictory examples, how can my opinions be "biased"?

(R) The freedom of religion guaranteed by the Constitution is religious tolerance in action. 90 percent or more of American Christians accept and support the idea of religious freedom and tolerance.
(MB) Which says almost nothing relevant to this debate. Would those same people also agree that freedom *from* religion is guaranteed by that same Amendment? And, there are still no examples of organized religions that actively support the ideal of complete religious tolerance.

(R) As far as Yahvistic religions go, Christianity is very tolerant, especially considering the basic teachings of Christ as presented in the Gospels.
(MB) Christianity is lax, not tolerant. It places no real demands upon its adherents. Because of this, it has evolved its hundreds of divergent major sects. There is no such level of diversity and confusion in any other religion.

(R) I don't know a lot about Judaism or Islam, but they do seem to be less tolerant, particularly Islam. Without further study of them, I can't say anything more.
(MB) Both Judaism and Islam have far more rigidly defined laws for their adherents. That is certainly why they have not diverged into as many sects as has Christianity. For Judaism, it has remained relatively intact despite its being several thousand years older than Christianity.

"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?
(R) The only two assumptions necessary are, that God exists, and that He is a loving God. The others you mention are part of these two.
(MB) What is so compelling about "God" that I couldn't substitute the name of any other deity into your two assumptions? What supports those assumptions such that they can be considered to be anything more than shaky speculation?

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) I said they are all part of the "western religions" of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, I didn't say they were the same thing. If you add the percentages together, you'll find that almost half the world's population adhere to these religions. What makes you say this statement is untrue? Should I draw you a picture?
(MB) You are essentially making them the same if you want to lump them together into a group to support a claim that almost half the world adheres to them and believes in their common deity. If not, why exclude other religions from the group? One could also look at the other side of the coin and say that over half the world does *not* adhere to that group of religions. Both of our statements are true. What's your point?

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) I don't wanted to argue about this here, as the question is covered in greater detail later in this discussion, so I'll just say O.K.
(MB) I can assure you that the facts won't change later in the discussion.

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.
(R) Absolutely.
(MB) Then, why even bring it up? Was there some larger point to be made?

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.
(R) In the United States, one of the most industrialized nation in the world, there are only 1.5 million avowed atheists. Another 23 million people are non-religious. Together, these two groups don't make up even 10 percent of the population.
(MB) That total of 24.5 million would be larger than the total membership of any sect of Christianity in the United States with the sole exception of Roman Catholicism -- who constitute less than 25% of the population.

(R) In comparison, 85 percent of Americans are Christian -- better than a four to one majority just on the basis of this religion alone. Consideration of other religions bring the majority in favor of God to more than nine to one.
(MB) And, the point of this numbers game is...? As I've said before, an idea is acceptable and valid based upon the evidence that supports it and not upon the number of people who believe it. As an example, would you try to say that astrology is valid just because of the high percentage of people who believe in it? At least astrology has evidence which attempts to support it.

That would increase the percentage of non-religious people in the "industrial" world -- and acknowledgment 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.
(R) Religious non-conformity has been acceptable at least as far back as the Enlightenment, which was in full swing by the beginning of the 18th century. Thomas Jefferson (a Deoist) didn't adhere to an established religion, but this didn't seem to have affected his popularity. After all, he served two terms as President.
(MB) Jefferson was a Deist. That's not the same as being an atheist or being non-religious. His reputation as the author of the Declaration of Independence, as a major contributor to the Constitution, and as one of the leading intellectuals of his time were the major factors in his election to the Presidency. It wasn't until Abraham Lincoln that politics started to get in bed with religion.
    Let's also not forget that accepting "religious non-conformity" only means that one could be free to change the way he worships or the doctrine he subscribes to. It doesn't mean the popular acceptance of the open expression of a non-religious point of view.

(R) Maybe some people are "coming out of the closet" about a non-belief in God, but at least as many others are simultaneous coming to a belief in Him.
(MB) It's becoming increasingly popular to profess being "born again" these days. However, that does not reflect a former atheist suddenly adopting religious beliefs. Almost all "born again" people are already believers. They are professing a great increase in the strength of their belief. Since such a declaration is popular with the masses, there's little doubt that some of those declarations are for the benefit of those who are listening instead of for the individual himself.

(R) There has not been, to my knowledge, a significant statistical change concerning the number of atheists in the U.S. over the last few decades.
(MB) Even if the percentage of atheists had doubled over that time, the change would still not be "statistically significant".

Why not? Fictional or not, on what basis do you call the Great Green Arkleseizure theory "ludicrous"?
(R) The idea that the universe is a blob of mucous sneezed out of God's nose is ludicrous, by any standard.
(MB) Nothing in the book says that the universe is a blob of mucus. It just says that it was sneezed into existence. In any case, it that more ludicrous than the story that Man was created when God lumped together some clay and breathed on it?

Both it and the God theory are equally unsupportable beliefs of creation.
(R) The belief that God created the universe is unsupportable, but so is any other belief in the origin of the universe.
(MB) Nope. The belief that it was created by the application of physical laws is supported by evidence and experimentation which verifies the theories. It is only the supernatural explanation that is unsupportable.

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.
(R) Satire can be used effectively to critique any idea. A bit which comes from the opposite angle is one of the classics of Russian literature, "The Master and Margarita," by Mikhail Bulgakov.
(MB) I haven't read the story, but I've read some discussion about it. It seems to have generated some controversy as to what it's actually about. It might be a conversion of the Faustian tradition to Russian life.

(R) This book is not about religion, it's about an artist's struggle. Bulgakov had the misfortune to live in Stalinist Russia, and though he was a prolific author who wrote numerous plays, short stories, and novels, practically none were published during his lifetime. I highly recommend "Master" -- it's hilariously funny and presents many interesting concepts. It should be available at any moderately-sized public library. I will warn you though, something bad happens to the atheist in the book.
(MB) I guess that means I shouldn't sell my soul to the devil? Of course, I don't believe there's such a thing as "the devil" in the first place.

The prosecution's inability to prove its case does not make the defense superior.
(R) Exactly. Just as my inability to prove my claim does not make your claim superior to mine, or vice versa. Glad to have finally settled that point.
(MB) Nothing has been settled, because we are not arguing a "guilty or innocent" issue. You say that God created the universe. I say that it arose through natural processes. I present evidence to support my claim. You present none to support yours and say that there is none to offer. You only dispute my claim by corrupting it into being merely "God doesn't exist". I'd agree that the point has been settled, but not the way you seem to think.

(R) In many instances throughout history, the burden of proof has been placed on the defendant. In these instances, any failure to prove innocence resulted in an assumption of guilt. The Sugar Act, passed by Parliament in 1764, moved cases involving smuggling in the American colonies to Admiralty courts, where the defendant was automatically assumed guilty, and his ship and cargo seized as contraband unless he could prove himself innocent. Very minor paperwork errors were often used to justify such seizures. This exercise of tyranny was one of the causes of the Revolutionary War.
    The only protection for individuals before the courts in the United States is the common law precedent of, "Innocent until proven guilty." This has nothing to do with imaginary positive and negative positions, or insupportable opinions about the superiority of one over the other.

(MB) Why you persist in mixing apples and oranges is beyond me and serves only to keep yourself confused. What do the abuses of pre-Revolutionary War England have to do with an unsupportable belief in God and a refusal to accept any of the consequences or responsibilities of arguing in favor of such a belief? Why must simple logic be suspended for that belief when it applies perfectly well to any other? What is so difficult about understanding that claiming that "something exists" is a positive position that requires evidence no matter what it is for which existence is being claimed? Why shouldn't beliefs about God be discarded as easily as any other belief for which there is no support?

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?
(R) I'm not exactly sure what you're referring to as the "God theory." Christianity, I guess.
(MB) You know perfectly well what I'm referring to. "God exists and he created the universe". Remember? You know...your basic premise?

(R) I can tell you why I, personally, am a Christian, but as far as arguing which religion is right and which is wrong, well, that simply can be done. Why is it necessary to even try? It is enough to say that none of these beliefs is inherently superior to any other.
(MB) No, it isn't. Not if you are trying to proselytize your beliefs or if you are trying to position them as a valid alternative to any other beliefs or as the equal of any other beliefs. There must be some reason for you to keep debating the point with me and it must be something far more substantial than mere "personal preference". If that's all it was, there would be no reason for you to care that much about what I think.

(R) This includes your own opinion, that there is no God, which is nothing more than another competing belief among the others.
(MB) Belief that there is no God is a consequence of the complete failure of any and all ideas that any supernatural entity actually exists.

(R) Gandhi had an interesting concept about "absolute truth." Imagine three bowls of water. The center bowl has comfortable warm water in it, the right has water so hot as to be scalding and the left, water so cold as to be freezing. If you dip your hand in the scalding water and then into the center bowl, the water in that bowl will feel cool, but if instead you put it in the freezing water and then in the center bowl, it will feel warm. The truth is like that. The way it is perceived varies greatly, depending upon the circumstances under which it is viewed.
(MB) That example only demonstrates the relative nature of disparate conditions. It says nothing about actual truth. Boiling water is always 100 degrees Celsius whether or not you dip your hand into a cold bowl of water first. In other words, how hot boiling water feels is relative. How hot it actually *is* is truth. The way to find that truth is to take a objective measurement, not to subjectively contrast that bowl with another one. Perception is *not* reality.

(R) You do not perceive the universe exactly the way Albert Einstein did, because you and he are two different individuals. There is no doubt an absolutely exact way to describe the universe -- Einstein was probably very close. Since there is a great deal of physical evidence about it, it is possible to come to a general consensus about the nature of the physical universe. Even so, there is no complete agreement, by any means.
(MB) True, but the disagreement is in the small details and not in the actual general framework of the physical description. For example, the current debate on the Hubble constant involves the details of its value and not on whether or not the universe expands. Creationists love to take debates over details and claim that they represent general dissention about the larger issues. Those who are influenced by Creationist arguments tend to adopt their ideas and tactics in their own arguments. A lack of complete agreement about all details of an issue does not, in any way, infer general disagreement about the issue itself.

(R) There is a total lack of evidence on the non-physical facets of the universe, so it is not surprising there is much less consensus in these areas. A lack of consensus means nothing, any more than a majority of opinion does. Otherwise, the 4 to 1 (minimum) preponderance of believers over non-believers would be something more than an interesting statistic.
(MB) A lack of consensus is not the same thing as a lack of evidence. If there is a lack of evidence, no amount of consensus is sufficient to validate a theory. If 80% of the people believe in nonsense, it's still nonsense.

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