REPLY #20b 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 two-part reply.
(R) As has been said efore, science explains the working of the physical universe, even down to the way it may have begun. But it makes no statements about the existence of God or the reason for the universe, even if there are none. People draw their own conclusions about these questions.
(MB) Such conclusions are nothing more that exercises in mental masturbation
since they have no relevance if there is no God. All people are really doing when asking "why" questions is trying to find some special meaning for their own lives. Why would it be so difficult to accept that human beings are no more "special" to the universe than the humblest dust mote?
(R) You say the universe "could have" happened by chance, if there were no God.
(MB) No, I said that "could have" explanations which have no evidence to support them are essentially worthless. If there is no God, then the universe *must* have arisen as a consequence of pure chance. If you have evidence to support a theory, but not enough to definitively prove it, then you essentially have a "could have" explanation -- albeit one that can rightly be accepted. A "could have" that is 99% proven is not the same thing as a "could have" that is 0% supported.
(R) I say it "could have" been created by God, if there is one. Both statements contain the "could have" fallacy, if that's what you prefer to call it. I say either statement is equally reasonable and logical.
(MB) And, you are sadly mistaken when you do so. Your "could have" has
absolutely no support. My "could have" has been supported to a high degree of
probability. There is no way you can possibly consider them to be equal in any
How? If I get no life after death -- whether such an afterlife actually exists or not -- how would I ever know (and possibly regret) the difference?
(R) Perhaps you wouldn't. Be kind of a shame to miss it, though, if it's available. To put it mildly.
(MB) Perhaps. But since I'd never know the difference, the difference is meaningless. I could just as well agonize over never finding the Fountain of Youth, Atlantis, Excalibur, or the key to the Dallas Cowboys' cheerleaders' locker room. If you can show me that an afterlife actually exists, then I'll begin to worry over whether or not I might gain it.
According to Norse mythology, the eternal glory of Valhalla awaits warriors who have served with honor. Since I am a soldier, should I adopt a belief in Odin and Thor on the remote chance that Valhalla actually exists and it would be a shame if I missed out on something that, by rights, could be mine to attain?
On the contrary, if one lives his life under the false pretense and influence of an afterlife and/or a particular deity and none actually exists, there is the great possibility that much of his life
will have been wasted.
(R) Wasted in what way?
(MB) Consider all the things one could have been doing to better himself, his
family, his neighborhood, or his society with the extra time and resources that he wouldn't have otherwise spent in useless worshipping of non-existent deities in church or in the pursuit of other religiously-based activities and ceremonies.
(R) By missing out on the avarice, materialism, lechery, and drunkenness (or drug use) that's passed
off as fun by the so-called sophisticates and intellectuals of our society? Such behavior brings despair, not happiness.
(MB) Talk about blanket, stereotypical and unsupportable claims! Do you truly
believe that non-religious people must necessarily practice all of the Seven Deadly Sins? Or, conversely, do you truly believe that religious people don't indulge in any or all of them? Can't somebody lead a "good" life unless they worship some deity or subscribe to some religion?
Until the existence of an afterlife can be demonstrated, I prefer to live my life freely and honestly.
(R) Your not saying only someone who believes there is no God can live freely and honestly, are you?
(MB) I can live freely because I don't subscribe to a religious dogma that
mandates certain behaviors and actions of me. I can live honestly because I am free to believe in whatever my own studies can support. I'm not a slave to somebody else's ideas of what's "right" or "wrong". While religion doesn't absolutely prevent those things, it certain stifles them to a great degree.
(R) I can't speak for all religions, but the entire purpose of Christianity is to live life free of guilt and to make an honest effort to do what is right.
(MB) Surely, you jest. Certainly, the practice of Catholic "confession" involves a lot of guilt. Religiously-inspired codes of morality are all about guilt. What is begging for salvation all about if not an expression of guilt? In fact, Christian dogma includes the concept of "original sin". In other words, we're all guilty even before we are old enough to have done anything.
As far as Christianity supporting honest efforts to do "right", it should be obvious that "right" is what is so defined by the religion itself. Doing otherwise, whether honestly or not, is "heresy" or "blasphemy". We all know what Christianity did to Galileo when he made an honest effort to do what was right concerning our knowledge of our solar system. Unless one can support the notion that Christian dogma is infallible, it must be considered
arbitrary and limiting.
Religious beliefs and believers are certainly far more responsible for more lives and "souls" than I am, but I don't see your concerns expressed towards them.
(R) Each of us influence the people with whom we have contact, regardless of our specific beliefs. The only question is, whether the influence is good or bad. Undoubtedly, some religious people have
a negative effect, but the overall impact of religion is positive.
(MB) In whose opinion? Obviously, the religion and its believers are going to
see it that way. That also assumes that none of the good that religion has ever done or sponsored would have occurred if there was no such thing as religion.
(R) At least this is the opinion express by George F. Will in the 22 Dec 97 issue of Newsweek:
.....given that religiosity and decency are correlated, and given
it is a reasonable surmise that the former causes the
latter....given the remarkable success of a religious-based
program like Alcoholics-Anonymous....given the evidence that
religious programs in prisons reduce recidivism.....
(MB) This uses the false logic of assuming that correllation and causality are
the same thing. For example, there is a famous case that shows a strong positive correllation between the number of Baptist preachers and the number of arrests for public drunkenness in America throughout the 1800's. Does this mean that Baptist preachers encourage drunkenness? Of course not.
Will's first example also overlooks the fact that "decency" is defined by the religion that supposedly causes it. Therefore, they should be expected to be linked. The second assumes that alcoholics can't recover without introducing religion -- or even that religious people can't become alcoholics. The third example assumes that it is religion and not incarceration itself that reduces recidivism. It also has no control groups of prisoners who
received training in non-religious or non-deity-worship belief systems such as secular humanism or Zen.
(R) I am, of course, extremely concerned when religion is used by any individual as a subterfuge to cover their pursuit of questionable personal ends. I am also very concerned when religion is used as an
excuse for intolerance in any form. But I am much more concerned about people who insist there is no God in order to prop up rationales for their own particular style of living and who try to influence others to do the same.
(MB) You make the invalid assumption that there must be ulterior motives for
non-belief in God or that non-believers have no personal morality. Do not
religious believers use their religion as a rationale for their own preferred
lifestyles and encourage others to do the same?
(R) A philosophy which states that there is no God and when you die you simply cease to exist, is unlikely to have a positive influence on anyone. I don't think it will convince very many convicted
criminals to change their behavior. As a matter of fact, such a philosophy is much more likely to encourage people to engage in harmful, self-destructive behavior. This is its real danger, and the
primary reason for my concern.
(MB) Again, this makes several invalid assumptions. It assumes that there is no
"good" without religion. It also suggests that people wouldn't do anything "good" unless they had the ulterior motive of trying to earn their way into heaven -- which smacks of blatant hypocrisy. It also overlooks the strong possibility that some non-believers might become anti-social as a result of the
constant criticism and rejection of the believers.
That last statement is similar to the theme of Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein". In the novel, the monster is not inherently evil. In fact, he is intelligent and wishes nothing more than to be accepted. He is driven to his horrible deeds, however, because people can't get beyond the fact that his appearance is hideous. Who is wrong here, the monster or the people who rejected him?
Consider, religious beliefs in a particular deity risk that deity not existing at all as well as the distinct possibility that another deity may actually be the one in charge of things. That other deity may not appreciate your believing in one other than him and may treat you accordingly after you die. You are locked in to your views since religion does not permit changing them. I, however, am free to accept
anything that is shown to be a superior belief. Frankly, I think you've got a lot more to worry about than I do.
(R) Well, let's see here. If I'm worshipping the wrong God, you are not even acknowledging He exists, so I hardly think He would treat me any more harshly than you. I think we have about the
same amount to worry about in this case.
(MB) Nope. You would be expressly violating his First Commandment, while I
would not be worshipping any other God. He would know that I'm still in doubt,
while he would know that you have chosen against him.
(R) If I'm right, and you're still not acknowledging God's existence, you've probably got a lot
more to worry about. So, on what do you base your statement that I have more to worry about than you?.
(MB) I have said that if God's existence was ever clearly demonstrated to me that I would have no trouble accepting him and becoming a believer. An all-knowing God would certainly know that and could hardly find fault with it.
(R) Also, on what do you base your statement that I'm locked into my beliefs. I'm very open- minded....much more so than you.
(MB) Just how do you define "open-minded"? You certainly aren't open to changing your beliefs. You've expressly decided to accept something despite a complete lack of evidence to support it rather than accepting or even acknowledging the mountains of evidence for alternative explanations of the universe. Is that "open-minded"?
I've said many times that I am completely open to anything which can be supported by compelling evidence. None of my beliefs are sacred or irreversible. That's my definition of open-minded. Believing something just because it "can't be disproven" out of nothing more than "personal preference" is anything but open-minded.
If he exists and if he what is claimed for him, then he will know my intentions and will treat me accordingly. If he allows others to be swayed by me, then he must have permitted that to happen, as well. If he permits such a thing, and then holds me accountable, is that "just"?
(R) Here you are rehashing the age-old argument that because God allows evil to exist, He is some how responsible for the evil which men do. This couldn't be more wrong. You make your own decisions and are responsible for your own actions. If you cause harm to others, yes, it is just that you be held accountable.
(MB) Nope. If God is all-powerful, your argument makes no sense. In a pre-ordained universe, everything -- including evil -- exists because God either allows it or wants it to be that way. If this is so, Man cannot be held accountable since he doesn't do anything -- good *or* evil -- on his own accord. If such a God truly despises evil, he could banish it completely with a mere afterthought and we would all be good and righteous. If evil exists despite God's will to the contrary,
then he not all-powerful and the religions that worship him must reevaluate their dogma.
I can say that I am free to accept any point of view or any theory of the universe. I am not predisposed to one "color" of reality. Nobody who bases their life around a particular religion or on faith alone can say that truthfully.
(R) Can you name a single idea, point of view, or scientific theory which you think I can't accept? The only color of reality which I am predisposed towards is one which recognizes that God exists.
(MB) You've just answered two questions. The first is that you can't accept a
theory of science that would lead to the conclusion that God does not exist. The second is that you are not open-minded enough to accept the possibility that he might not exist.
(R) I have never had the slightest difficulty in reconciling this belief with anything I have read, heard, or seen. How can you claim my beliefs are limiting? Or do you think I'm lying?
(MB) Nope. I'm saying that you (and most other believers) will rationalize
absolutely anything into a form that fits their own beliefs. This can be done because the belief is so important to them that logic, evidence and contrary ideas are ignored and internal contradictions that arise from their beliefs are simply brushed aside. The proponents of any strongly-held dogmatic belief act that way. It's not surprising that you would find no difficulty in reconciliation. That doesn't mean that the belief makes any sense, however. That will only come when there is evidence to
support the belief.
Just like the members of the Heaven's Gate cult?
(R) What does the suicide of these people have to do with my dying, hopefully many years from now and of natural causes? I'll answer that -- nothing. You just threw that in because you couldn't think of a reasonable way to refute my obviously true statement.
(MB) Nope. I mentioned it as an example which demonstrates that religious beliefs don't free one from dire consequences. It's also an example of the extreme problems that result from actions derived through unsupportable beliefs. When's the last time you saw a group of scientists kill themselves over some nonsensical supernatural belief?
(R) Cicero said that when you have no logical arguments to support your position, you should ridicule your opponent. I'm sure he was being cynical and sarcastic, as he was a great orator who was seldom at a loss for logical arguments. You, however, resort to this tactic frequently.
(MB) That is why Creationists have only ridicule to offer in their quest to overturn evolution. Certainly you can't say that I have had nothing but ridicule to offer in support of my own beliefs or in rebuttal to your arguments. Also, you shouldn't confuse unpleasant facts and logic for ridicule. To label them as such does nothing more than evade the issue at hand.
The consequences of one's beliefs are in what he influenced during his life.
(R) A person's words and deeds are important to both their legacy and their afterlife, but if there is an afterlife, it is of much greater significance than any possible legacy.
(MB) That's true if one is only selfishly concerned with his own personal well-being. How could it possibly benefit or hurt any of one's heirs whether or not there was an afterlife for him after his death? On the other hand, if I don't believe in an afterlife, then I am free to concentrate my entire life's efforts towards the betterment of my heirs and my society.
If he contributed towards ignorance and superstition, the negative effects will hardly be outweighed by any possible afterlife. If one contributes towards a better understanding of Life, the
Universe and Everything, then his legacy will be unaffected by any possible afterlife for that individual.
(R) People can contribute to understanding in many different ways, including philosophical attempts to understand God, the universe, and the meaning of life. They can also contribute to ignorance and superstition in many different ways. Some of the conspiracy theories and "urban legends" one hears are examples of non-religious superstitions.
(MB) There's a difference between superstitions based upon beliefs of the
supernatural and conspiracy theories based upon contradictory, fanciful or incomplete evidence surrounding a specific incident. The common ground between them seems to be ignorance. The difference is that urban legends can be quashed by evidence to the contrary while superstitions -- especially religious ones -- can not.
(R) Not all superstition is religious and not all religion is superstitious. Most religious beliefs are not superstitious in the least, but are based on careful, rational, logical thought.
(MB) Religions come into being as a set of rituals and practices based upon
worshipping or attempting to gain the favor of some sort of superior being, "god", or other supernatural entity or concept. If there's no evidence for the existence of the central figure or tenet of the religion, then the religion qualifies as superstition. I know of no religions that aren't based upon a
healthy dose of superstition.
(R) It is true that a person's legacy is unaffected by an afterlife. However, a person's legacy does not fully reflect every aspect of their life. Sir Issac Newton was a genius, who left behind a legacy
equaled by few men, but we know little of him as a person. He may have personally been a scoundrel, who did great harm to those around him. If so, this would carry more weight in determining his fate in Eternity than his legacy, impressive though it is.
(MB) We know much more of Newton than you infer, but it makes no difference. He
wasn't the most pleasant man one might ever know and was intensely private. He wouldn't have published much of anything if not for his contemporaries imploring him to do so (the result was the Principia). However, his personality matters not one whit in light of his legacy of achievement and discovery. He was a religious man, but there's no way any of us can ever know whether or not there is an afterlife of any kind for him -- and it doesn't matter. His legacy is exactly the same and his personal
religious beliefs are irrelevant.
And, until such time as the existence of such a being can be demonstrated, and until such time as anything in the Universe can be shown to require the existence of such a being, there is no need to believe in such a being.
(R) Certainly it is not necessary to believe in God, but until you can demonstrate anything which can't exist if God does there is no need to not believe in Him.
(MB) How about free will, true choices, belief in other deities (or in none), evil, imperfection, and any real hope of changing anything? Once again you are demanding that the negative position must prove its case or you will feel free to believe whatever suits you -- despite no evidence to support it and despite any and all evidence to the contrary. This is not an approach that can be
described as either logical or rational.
In fact, the requirements of such beliefs have always held back the progress of our understanding.
(R) This is a very questionable and misleading statement. Sure, there are plenty of instances of religious intolerance, particularly in medieval Europe, where discoveries were suppressed if they didn't agree with the church dogma of the times, but through the centuries, many other ideas have been suppressed for other than religious reasons.
(MB) Could you give me some examples of non-religious beliefs that have impeded our advancement and understanding to any degree that could even begin to be compared to that which has resulted from the ravages of religion? We lost nearly two millennia of advancement between the fall of the ancient Greek civilization and the onset of the Renaissance due exclusively to the prominence
of religion in Western society. Consider how fast our understanding is growing today and ask yourself how far along we'd be if we hadn't lost all those years.
(R) Additionally, there is much in our understanding which has been advanced by religious thought, including, most importantly, our concepts of the basic dignity and rights of each individual person.
(MB) Those derive from the majority opinion of a particular society and not from
any objective set of facts. In fact, those concepts are not ubiquitous among all human societies. If this is supposed to be an example of the influence of religion, it's hard to see how the resulting confusion can be rationalized as being a positive thing.
Do you have any examples of how religion has made any unquestioned contributions towards any level of understanding how the universe works? No, religion pronounces solely upon morality, and morality is defined by the religion. There are as many different moralities as there are religions. In addition, non-religious societies have their own codes of morality. "Right" and "wrong" would exist in our minds even if Man had never created God in any