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

Your position seems to be that you have no position. You say that it "fills your needs", but can't say how. One might legitimately wonder if you really believe what you're saying or if you're just being the Devil's Advocate in this discussion.
(R) I'll go ahead and state my position one more time. Maybe you ought to write it down on a 3x5 card and keep it handy.
(MB) I need no such card. Your position has been stated dozens of times previously and all are still posted in previous replies. Continuing to repeat it without offering anything additional (or, indeed, anything at all) in its defense does not answer any of my questions.

(R) "It is impossible to either prove or disprove whether or not God exists, there is no conclusive evidence to indicate one way or the other whether or not He does, it is equally reasonable and logical to conclude He does as it is to conclude He does not, and neither belief has any inherent superiority over the other."
(MB) I have already dissected this statement of belief at length and have no need to change anything here.

(R) I think it's pretty obvious how this fills an intellectual need, but if I need to explain it, let me know and I will.
(MB) If a meaningless statement fills your intellectual needs, I am at a loss to understand how. Yes, please explain it to me. Please feel free to be exhaustive and specific. Please detail the facts which support your belief. Please refer me to philosophical works which express the same belief in the way you have stated it or which support any of your arguments -- such as how neither side bears any burden of proof, how unsupportable views can be considered to be reasonable or logical, or how contradictory viewpoints are equal.

I'm only pursuing a point that you made to me by following up on a statement that your beliefs fulfill your intellectual needs. Was that statement in error? If not, then how are they fulfilled? (It doesn't have to be through Genesis or anything else in the Bible.)
(R) When I said my beliefs fill my intellectual needs, I said nothing about the Bible or the creation stories in Genesis.
(MB) I was merely suggesting a way that is commonly used to supposed to support such views. If your views find no support through the Bible and they find no support through facts or evidence, then just where do you find support for them?

(R) I'm not sure what your purpose was in bringing them up, perhaps as evidence that my intellectual needs are slim, but yeah, I guess you could say such a statement is in error.
(MB) Are you now saying that your beliefs do not fulfill your intellectual needs and are exclusively emotional in nature? I can accept that.

(R) As long as you stick to your statement you don't believe in God, you are an atheist.
(MB) Incorrect. I don't believe in the theistic version of God that you are defending. There are numerous other potential entities that could be referred to as "God" and each possesses its own qualities. One of these may well exist and might be compatible with a scientific view of the universe. Of course, there is no evidence for any of them, but the fact that the possibility exists and that it is not possible to refute all of the various permutations involved means that I cannot consider myself to be anything but an agnostic. I tend towards atheism and could rightly be considered an atheist if you narrowly defined the term as "one who does not believe in the theistic version of God". But, since that definition is too limiting to fit my views, I am more accurately described as agnostic.

(R) Yes, I have called you an atheist a number of times (sorry, it's because you are) but I've never protested I haven't, as a matter of fact, I have no qualms whatsoever about doing so.
(MB) Initially, you did protest it, but now you've come to embrace it. No matter. You can call me whatever pleases you -- I know what I am. It will make no difference to the course of our discussion.

(R) I believe in calling a spade a spade.
(MB) Or, in calling a shovel a spade if it suits the particular attempted argument. Again, no amount of name-calling will change any of the facts, evidence, logic or reasoning which will ultimately decide the question.

(R) What I've protested is your statement that religious believers always call anyone who doesn't believe as they do an atheist, which is absolutely untrue.
(MB) You have provided no evidence to support that claim and your own statements (especially in the immediately preceding paragraphs) have shown that I am most likely correct.

(R) You're right, the contradictions and errors in the Bible don't prove Christianity to be bunk, which makes one wonder why some people are so hard over on the question of inerrancy.
(MB) Because so many proselytizers hold up the Bible and refer to it as "the inerrant and inspired word of God" in order to give their claims whatever credibility they might have. One needs only to read some of the popular "Bible study" texts to see glossed-over apologies for the errors. For example, I once read in a Catholic Concordance that "...seeming errors and contradictions should present no problems for believers. Since we all know that the Bible cannot be wrong since it is the inspired Word of God, there is always a sufficient explanation." Of course, the Concordance doesn't bother to say what those explanations might be.

(R) I view the inerrancy of the Bible as a moot point. Even if it is inerrant, it is open to such wide interpretation as to make any such inerrancy irrelevant.
(MB) All that inerrancy proves is that the Bible was neither inspired nor written by God. If it was, it would be consistent throughout. But, if the Bible is not the inspired Word of God, then what is it? Simple, it is a collection of traditions, histories, and literature of the Jews (the Old Testament) along with the philosophy of Christianity (the New Testament). It is neither proof of God nor support for the existence of God. That leaves even less upon which to support such a belief.

Even if that was true, science is a self-correcting discipline. Religion is fixed and does not permit questioning and correction. It will continue to magnify its own errors in the course of defending itself.
(R) So your saying religion never changes? That modern Christianity is no different than Christianity in Luther's time, or in the 1st Century? That modern Catholics don't have different beliefs than Catholics did in 1850? Yeah, right.
(MB) Don't confuse core beliefs with changes in ceremonies used to express such beliefs or changes in the political leadership of the Church. What core beliefs of Christianity have changed in the last 2000 years?

(R) Here's a quote from Sir William Henry Bragg, an English physicist and Nobel Prize winner, which presents a much more intelligent opinion than yours:
(MB) "More intelligent" in the respect that it disagrees (or seemingly disagrees) with me, I assume. OK, let's see what Sir William has to say:

(R) "Science is experimental, moving forward step-by-step, making trials and learning through success and failure. Is not this also the way of religion, and especially of the Christian religion?"
(MB) I ask again, what core beliefs of Christianity have changed in the last 2000 years? For example, has the Gospel story of Jesus' birth been changed despite all of the evidence which shows that the story is dubious, at best?

(R) He goes on, "The writings of those who preach the religion have from the very beginning insisted that it is to be proved by experience. If a man is drawn towards honour and courage and endurance, justice, mercy, and charity, let him follow the way of Christ and find out for himself. No findings in science hinder him in that way."
(MB) Sir William is correct if one understands what he is referring to. He is speaking of the tenets of behavior and morality that are espoused in Christianity. However, all non-Christian belief systems also have codes of morality -- most of which promote much the same ideals. Secular humanism, for example, holds that moral standards are judged by their consequences. The only difference is that religions use their central figure as a definitive rallying point for the believers.

Don't Christianity and the Bible go hand-in-hand? If we were discussing Islam, wouldn't it be relevant to mention the Qu'ran? If we were discussing any other religion, wouldn't it be relevant to mention their holy books?
(R) Who said we were discussing Christianity? I thought we were merely discussing the existence of God, without drawing any conclusions about His nature.
(MB) Your previous statements about God have made it quite clear what we are discussing (as if there was ever any doubt). Since that is the case, it is valid to bring along all of the baggage that is associated with that subject. To disavow your God -- even to suggest the possibility that there might be another version of him -- is to break the most important of his commandments and risk his judgment. Is this what you are doing?

(R) I have to say I do get the feeling you'd like to be discussing Christianity, so you could attack it specifically. Why is that?
(MB) We *are* discussing Christianity in particular in the midst of a more general discussion of religion. To date, you have not introduced a single specific statement that suggests anything other than Christian beliefs on your part. We are playing on a clearly-defined field.

Few who worry about their own position are concerned over whether or not their views are aired publicly. They're not likely to change their minds no matter what the response might be. If the heat gets too high for them, they'll just move on to the next forum and start again.
(R) So you're saying you think that after I lose this argument, I'll simply quit and find someone else to rant at, eh? Well, time will tell. But don't hold your breath.
(MB) I'd only need to hold my breath if there's any doubt. At this point, I am breathing rather vigorously and see no reason for that to change. You've already intimated that you've engaged in these sorts of discussions before. I have no reason to believe that this one will be the last one.

Joe has responded, my friend. This is part of the reason for my new "Kudos and Flames" section. Also, this is not the only forum in which these questions are being debated. The general verdicts don't seem to be too favorable for the religious side.
(R) The dozen or so responses you've posted so far don't qualify as neutral, unbiased Joes, certainly not the way you defined him earlier. Each of them display their own preconceived notions, with a couple frankly stating they are atheists or Christians.
(MB) I have made no claims to the contrary for those responses. All I have said is that others are reading our discussions and are responding to them. How do you know that all respondents are simply displaying preconceived notions? It is possible that one or more have been convinced by our respective arguments and have taken the time to congratulate or castigate, as the case may be. Also, this is certainly not the only forum where these issues are being debated and where readers are registering their opinions. Perhaps you should check some of these out and see for yourself.

(R) While we're on the subject, let me make a few remarks of my own about certain of these comments. Here's what one of the Kudos said: "There are too few of us to 'wake-up' too many of them. They are just too programmed, too brainwashed, too selfish, too ignorant, to escapest (sic) to 'get real'."
    Let me ask you, doesn't it make you a bit nervous to hear this kind of statement?

(MB) Not at all -- especially since you are engaging in the underhanded tactic of taking comments out of context. You drew two sentences out of the middle of a longer message and are attempting to use them to paint the respondent the color of your own interpretation of them while they are isolated from the rest of the message.
    Certainly, it is clear that there are many more credulous people than there are skeptics. This should hardly be a surprise since credulity requires no effort of education or rational thought. It only requires a willingness to believe something that sounds or feels "good". Credulity is emotional while skepticism is intellectual. Are you going to argue that we are better off for having the masses uphold all sorts of unsupportable beliefs? Is it A Good Thing to shift one's brain into neutral and let others push it around wherever they see fit?

(R) Every demagogue and tyrant in history has said this sort of thing.
(MB) Anybody -- including religious leaders -- who attempts to gain control over the general population tends to think along those lines.
Let's look at the respondent's immediately preceding paragraph:
"The thing that apalls me most is that we each possess the greatest miracle known to exist... a human brain. We have the potential to maintain this sacred planet as a Natural paradise and yet, we seem determined to self-destruct." Is this the statement of a demagogue or tyrant?

(R) Basically, they think that only they know what's best, that the great, unwashed masses are too stupid to know what's good for them.
(MB) Basically, their opinion of the masses has a basis in truth. Would a population devoid of credulity permit themselves to be dominated by any unsupported dogma? The Roman historian Polybius wrote:
"Since the masses of people are inconstant, full of unruly desires, passionate, and reckless of consequences, they must be filled with fears to keep them in order. The ancients did well, therefore, to invent gods, and the belief in punishment after death."
    There is no evidence to suggest that Polybius was wrong (or is wrong today).

(R) Well, let me just point out that you and I are the great, unwashed masses, and as soon as Stalin here gets control of things, our rights won't be worth a plug nickel -- unless of course, you happen to exactly agree with him/her on everything.
(MB) This is begging the question. How would eliminating credulity in society cause that society to lose their rights?
    The respondent's comment about the "great unwashed masses" was:
"It is their superficial, immature, compliancy that enables the few to amass so much self-destructive greed and power. The horror is that we are entering a new millenium that could be a magnificent golden age and we the people will allow it to become a catastrophy of unimaginable consequence."
    Is that "Stalin" speaking or somebody who is genuinely and rightly concerned? I think you need to read the entire message instead of looking for specific parts that you can mangle into some sort of criticism. I also think that an apology might be in order.

(R) Here's one of the Flames: "Your views are disgusting and offending. I am a Christian and I don't appreciate your atheist views. People like you don't even deserve the equipment to spread your trash throughout the world. My GOD will deal with you at the judgement. Till then, pray hard. A concerned Christian."
    Yeah, this qualifies as a flame. This individual damages the image of Christianity, and I pray that he/she will somehow realize it and stop doing such things. However, the fact this single Christian is intolerant and vindictive doesn't mean all, or even very many, Christians are, too. I will say, you gave him/her a fine answer on the subject of free speech.

(MB) This individual displays the sort of behavior that is widely found in the other forums where these questions are being discussed. In no cases in these forums do we find Christian respondents who praise non-theistic views as being intellectually well-founded and worthy of equal consideration even though they may personally disagree with them. Such views are simply dismissed as being "wrong" -- and generally not in unemotional or rational terms.

(R) Here's another flame: "The only problem I've had with some of your writings are usually when you are responding to a respondent. Occasionally, you respond sarcastically or simply, defensively.... I "listen" more to the clear, direct responses without the sarcasm; and I think most other people would, too."
    This is one of the most thoughtful comments in the entire section and you would do well to listen to it. This is the type of creative criticism all of us need.

(MB) Constructive criticism is always welcome. I make no claims to being infallible or to being the ultimate authority on this (or any other) issue. I do have a wealth of material from which to consult during the course of presenting my arguments. The style of presentation, however, is unique to me. I would be surprised if all readers found it amenable. However, it is the substance of the presentation rather than the style that is primarily important.

(R) Of couse, you just basically blew him off.
(MB) Blew him off? Au contraire. I addressed his specific points and explained the rationale for my style. How did that "blow him off"?

(R) Why am I not surprised?
(MB) Because you failed to notice that the respondent said "I have found many of your essays to be very interesting, insightful; and knowledgeable". Or, did you just basically blow that part off in a search for criticisms?

(R) Finally, I have to mention the person who said, "Your really give it to that guy. He probably walks away scatching (sic) his head and mumbling to himself. By the time you get through with him, he has got to question many things. That is if he has half a brain. Nice going." I got a pretty good laugh out of that. Seems to be referring to me, don't you think?
(MB) Since he didn't say who he was referring to, how should we know for sure? Paranoia?

(R) I hate to disappoint him, but no, I don't go away mumbling or scratching my head, because so far, you haven't made any arguments which I haven't heard and dealt with many times previously.
(MB) That's not true. A prime example is the distinction between positive and negative existential claims and the burden of proof. The first time I introduced that argument, your response was "Vroom! And a hand passes over my head." You've also said on other occasions that you had "never heard" of the particular argument I was using. Finally, during a previous attempt to ask questions for which science might have no answers, you said that you had no knowledge of Heisenberg indeterminacy and were unfamiliar with quantum mechanics, subatomic particles, superstring theory and chaotic inflation. Therefore, you have not "heard and dealt with these things many times previously".

(R) And yes, I do have half a brain. My I.Q. is below genius level, but still, I'm a pretty above-average guy. Don't want to brag, but I'm quite intelligent, extremely well-educated and well-read, and exceptionally successful in my chosen profession -- which is a difficult and demanding one.
(MB) I have no evidence either to support or to deny your claims so I will accept them at face value. I could make all sorts of similar statements on my own behalf, but what's the point? This debate will be decided by the arguments that each of us advances, not by any rosy self-descriptions. The relative worth of any argument is to be found within the argument itself, not within the person who advances it.

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