REPLY #17c TO
are parts of the original essay (or a subsequent reply) to which the respondent has directed his 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
(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
(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
(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
(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
(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
(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
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
(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
(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
(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
(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
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
(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
(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.