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 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) We've already talked about the relevance of the differences between religions and sects in before, and I see no need to cover the issue again here. Contention seem to be a fact of human existence -- readily apparent in politics, religion, economics, education, science, and every other facet of our lives. Why you consider religious contention so significant, I have no idea.
(MB) It is significant for this major reason -- how is one to believe in the deity or doctrine of any religion when their believers can't even agree on what they are? Since none of those beliefs have anything to support them, how is one to choose between them? If God exists, then the question becomes one of ultimate importance.

I have spoken with many "Christians" who view Catholicism as "anti-Christ".
(R) My father was Catholic. I resent that.
(MB) As well you should. I dispute such assertions rather strongly when I hear somebody try to make them.

Do I even need to get into how such sects as the Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses and Seventh-Day Adventists are often treated?
(R) Often treated by whom? Aside from the early history of the Mormon Church, in which the persecution was perhaps brought on by the church members' actions rather than by their specific religious beliefs, I am unaware of any systematic discrimination against them, or the others you mention. Perhaps you can provide some examples.
(MB) Are you trying to tell me that you've never heard anybody (other Christians included) cut down members of those sects or criticize what they believe? If not, you really need to get out more.

(R) I have met at least twenty or thirty Mormons through the years, and though I certainly don't agree with much of what they believe, I have also almost never met anyone else who, as a group, is more loving, law-abiding, and family-oriented. I've got a lot of respect for them, and have never heard them criticized as individuals in any church I've attended. On the other hand, I've heard many people who don't go to church, who are basically non-religious, make Mormons the butts of all sorts of fun and worse, particularly in those cases where they've been in the same workcenter.
(MB) In the previous paragraph, you said that you were unaware of any discrimination against Mormons. Now, in this paragraph, you give a specific eye-witness example. Which one of your claims am I to believe?

(R) So who's intolerant, here? It strikes me that Christians are more likely to be tolerant than the non-religious.
(MB) As I said before (and if I can assume that you're telling me the truth), it strikes me that you need to get out more. To claim that Christians are more likely to be tolerant is the ultimate in naivety.

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.
(R) Well, the Bible is open to different interpretations, none of which is necessarily superior to the others.
(MB) If the Bible is the inspired word of God, how could this be true?

(R) However, there is wide agreement on the basic issues by the vast majority of Christians.
(MB) Given that basic issues are disagreed upon between Catholics and Protestants, your statement is incorrect.

(R) There is much more controversy in other areas of human endeavor, such as the study of history, in which there are just about as many different opinions as there are historians.
(MB) Nobody goes to war over disputes about history. Nobody is threatened with eternal damnation for refusing to believe in a particular account of a historical event. There aren't thousands of different and incompatible versions of any historical event with people who will claim that they are all equal.

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.
(R) This statement makes it completely clear that you don't understand the concept of the Trinity at all. Here are some of the competing beliefs:
1.) There are three elements to God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, but all are unified as a single God. They are just different names for the same substance.
2.) The Father is the God of the Old Testament, the Son is the God of the New Testament, and the Spirit is the God of the modern day. There is only one God, but He has manifested Himself in different ways in different times.
3.) The Father, the Son, and the Spirit are three different Gods. The Father has always existed; the Son is a created being.
4.) Jesus is the true spiritual God. The Jewish God of the Old Testament was an imperfect demiurge.
The first is the belief generally accepted by most Christians. As you can see, there is considerable room for conflict with the concept of monotheism, although Christianity is usually defined as such.

(MB) This rampant confusion among believers is supposed to demonstrate that *I* don't understand the concept? Which one of those incompatible views do you hold? Why? What is there to support it or any of the others?

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".
(R) Most Christians would disagree with you on this point. The opening of the Gospel of John states, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." The Word, as defined a few passages later, is Jesus.
(MB) You are forgetting John 1:18, which reads "No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared [him]". This is a clear statement that God and Jesus are not one and the same.

At least, he played no part in the creation according to Genesis.
(R) I'd be interested in hearing upon what you base this statement. To my knowledge, Genesis says nothing about whether or not Jesus was present at Creation.
(MB) It also says nothing about whether or not I was there, but it is safe to assume that I wasn't. Seriously, though, neither the concept of Jesus nor of the Messiah existed when Genesis was written.

(R) In the Book of Revelations, on the other hand, He says, "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end."
(MB) The beginning and the end of what? None of the four usages of this phrase in Revelation says.

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.
(R) Jesus is part of the Holy Trinity, which is three names attached to a single God, and is recognized as divine. This is the difference between Christianity and the other two religions -- in Christianity, Jesus is God. In the other two, He's not. Which is why I say all three religions worship nearly, but not exactly, the same God.
(MB) You would be accurate only if you said that "in certain versions of Christianity, Jesus is God". In some other versions, Jesus is a member of the Trinity, but is not the same as God. In still other versions, Jesus is not a divine entity at all. If Jesus and God are the same, why differentiate between them in prayers and/or doctrine?

(R) Is it really necessary to argue about this here? It doesn't have much to do with the basic point of our discussion.
(MB) Sure it does. It's a point of doctrine that is used to support a belief in Christianity. Unfortunately, it seems to be just as fraught with confusion as any other point.

(R) Why don't you take the question up with a chaplain, or the pastor at a local church, or do a web search on the subject, or something? The Ontario Center for Religious Tolerance has some excellent essays on this matter. You can report back on what you find.
(MB) If you have so many good sources of solid information on the subject, why can't you present any of it yourself? I've already done my homework.

Re: "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."
How convenient for you.

(R) Yes, it is, isn't it? However, you shouldn't be jealous, because you can say exactly the same thing about your belief.
(MB) My statement was not one of jealousy nor is it one that can be applied to me. It was meant to be a reaction to the absurd notion that one can gain any measure of satisfaction by believing in abstract nonsense only because "it can't be proven wrong". That is completely opposite from the intellectual view which says that beliefs must have evidential support before they can become valid and before we can gain satisfaction from them.

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?
(R) I think we've already reached the point where we understand the "how" of the universe quite well, although not perfectly. However, we will never understand the "why." At least not until Judgment Day, if there is one.
(MB) Thanks for, once again, not answering (or even understanding) the question. When we understand the "how", we will also understand the "why". When the "how" is shown to be completely natural and explainable by science, there will be no question of "why" that has any meaning. Are you ready for that?

Either something exists or it does not exist. Those are not equally weighted premises.
(R) When there is a total absence of any evidence whatsoever to indicate one way or another whether something exists or not, the two premises are weighted exactly the same.
(MB) Even if there was truly no evidence on either side, the two premises are not equal. There are attendant consequences to any premise that something exists. There are no such consequences if something does not exist. When you claim that something exists, you must also be ready to accept and support the consequences. If the consequences can be shown to be invalid or non-existent, then the basic premise itself is invalidated. There are a great many consequences that must be true if God exists, but none of them have been shown to have any evidence of reality. Because of this, the basic premise is invalid.

Absolutely not. You can not, by any stretch of the imagination, say truthfully that my side has no evidence.
(R) Sure we are. What evidence do you have which proves, or even indicates, God does not exists?
(MB) The fact that nothing yet discovered in the universe shows any indication of being created by anything other than natural causes. The fact that there are thousands of mutually-exclusive versions of "God" -- none of which have anything to support them. The fact that the individual religions devoted to Yahveh are internally and externally inconsistent. The fact that even the believers have to admit that they have no evidence to support their own beliefs.
    If any theory of science was as weak and vapid as the belief in God, it would immediately be laughed into obscurity and shame. What is so special about the "God" theory that removes it from the same fate?

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?
(R) In exactly the same manner as you claim your belief to be viable, valid, logical, or truthful. The only difference between us is that you can't admit you have nothing to support your claim.
(MB) You don't even understand what my claim *is*! My claim is not "God doesn't exist". My claim is that such a being is unnecessary because everything in the universe can be shown to be understandable and that is was created through the actions of a finite set of knowable laws of physics. There is abundant evidence to support my claim. Any statement that "God doesn't exist" is not my basic premise. It is a prediction that is derived from the consequences of that premise. Why can't you understand that? Probably because to admit it would be to admit that your belief is not equal.
If you want your beliefs to be equal, you will have to support them with evidence. If you can't, you'll have to withdraw them from serious consideration as legitimate alternatives.

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."
(R) Good quote. If it applies to me, it applies equally to you, because neither of us have any evidence to support our positions and we both hold our beliefs through faith.
(MB) As shown above, you are dead wrong. The quote applies only to your case.

(R) Here's another quote from Ayn Rand, which she used over and over in her opus, "Atlas Shrugged:"
"Contradictions do not exist. When faced with an apparent contradiction, check your premises, because one or more are wrong." (Note I paraphrased that, but I'm pretty sure I got it basically right. It been a few years since I read the book.)

(MB) Rand is right. Because there are contradictions between our respective premises, they must be examined. The only way to examine the validity of a premise is to check the evidence which supports them. Because your premise is the only one which has nothing to support it, it must be the source of the contradiction and must either be supported, modified, or withdrawn.

(R) At this point let me state, there is a fundamental contradiction at the very basis of your system of beliefs.
(MB) Oh? What might that be? Remember what my basic premise is?

(R) I'm quite familiar with the works of Ms. Rand, having read three of the four novels she authored. (I didn't ever read her first, "We The Living," which I understand is an autobiographical novel based on her exodus from the USSR during the 1920's.) I have a copy of "Anthem," which I've read several times. Incidentally, an album by Rush, called "2112," was inspired this novella. Good album -- I have it, too.
Although I agree with some of her ideas, I can't agree with them all. Her philosophy of Objectivism completely rejects altruism in any form, and I simply can not agree. I think she's correct in her emphasis on the importance of self-interest, which by the way, is not the same thing as greed or avarice. Self-interest is the instinct of self-preservation which keeps our species from extinction and serves as Adam Smith's "invisible hand" in driving our economy. But self-sacrifice has its place, as well.

(MB) Rand's philosophy changed considerably over the course of her developing fame. By the time she was at the height of her fame, her philosophy began to approach self-deification. Of course, if your followers are constantly telling you that you are the most intelligent and most important person in the world, it would be easy to start believing them before too long.

(R) Ms. Rand is also a strong proponent of capitalism, which is of course, the best economic system. However, there is an ugly side to capitalism. Unfettered capitalism can be just as great an evil as socialism, in fact, modern theories of socialism came about directly as a result of the gross capitalistic abuses seen during the 19th century. On this point, just as with the question of altruism, her philosophy displays a narrow, extremist insistence on a single answer to exceedingly complex questions. This is always a mistake. By doing this, Ms. Rand exposes herself to the same criticisms as those directed against her arch-nemesis, Karl Marx, whose fundamental error was his insistence that the only historical forces of any import were economic ones, completely ignoring the political, social, and yes, religious forces which also exercise profound influences.
(MB) Well said. Over-simplification of an issue is as much of a problem as is over-complexification. Thorough examination helps solve the former, while Occam's razor can help cure the latter.

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