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

As well as an ulterior motive, it would appear. When I choose to make friends with somebody, it is for reasons other than overt or subliminal proselytizing of any of my beliefs. I can also be friends with people whose religious, political, social or other beliefs are directly opposed to my own.
(R) The point of friendship evangelism is, as I clearly stated, to make friends. It has no ulterior motive nor any underlying purpose of indoctrination, despite what you insinuate.
(MB) If that is so, why use the phrase "friendship evangelism" rather than just "friendship"? Your phrase makes the word "friendship" secondary to "evangelism". If there was no purpose involved other than friendship, why even mention evangelism in the same breath?

(R) You had previously stated that all proselytizing depends on claims of perfect knowledge of God's plan, His attitude towards man, and His judgments, and then said no one could proselytize without making such claims. I've shown you to be wrong by describing an alternate method.
(MB) How can you possibly justify this statement with your immediately preceding claim that there is no ulterior motive involved in the "friendships" you are attempting to cultivate? First, you deny any overt or subliminal proselytizing of your beliefs. Now, you defend your "alternate method" of proselytizing. Which of these mutually-exclusive stories are we supposed to believe? What is the difference between what you are doing and what the intelligence community calls "recruiting"?

Your statement about "establishing a bond which might bear fruit at some future point" is, frankly, rather disturbing. That smacks of the male hypocrisy of "making friends" with a female primarily for the purpose of trying to have sex with her and dumping her if she never agrees.
(R) I'm rather disturbed that anyone could think of such a comparison after being clearly told what friendship evangelism is.
(MB) The comparison comes quite easily -- especially in light of the previously-stated self-contradictory explanations of "friendship evangelism". Tell me, what do you do if a subject rejects your friendship evangelism?

(R) This is nothing more than an attempt to throw dust in the air to avoid admitting you are wrong, and demonstrates that no tactic is too foul for you to use in order to discredit belief in God.
(MB) Not at all. I'm just trying to uncover the truth of what you really believe and say and do and if those things are always the same. No amount of vitriol or ad hominem attacks directed at me will justify your claims or beliefs.

"There is something feeble and a little contemptable about a man who cannot face the perils of life without the help of comfortable myths. Almost inevitably some part of him is aware that they are myths and that he believes them only because they are comforting. But he dare not face this thought! Moreover, since he is aware, however dimly, that his opinions are not real, he becomes furious when they are disputed."
-- Bertrand Russell, "Human Society in Ethics and Politics"

I'm also not going to try to equate them with religious zealots. Their goals are rather different.
(R) The fact that their goals are different has nothing to do with the point under discussion.
(MB) On the contrary, it *is* the point under discussion. You attempted to equate political terrorists with religious zealots. Is this supposed to justify the actions of religious zealots? Two wrongs don't make a right, you know.

(R) You have said that only religious fanatics make a total commitment of their lives and actions to their beliefs, and stated only they are likely to use violence to promote their beliefs. You are wrong.
(MB) You have distorted what I said. The part about "total commitment" is right, but anybody can use violence. Isn't there something disturbing about the religious zealot who claims to devoutly worship a deity who preached such things as "Love your neighbor", "Turn the other cheek", and "Thou shalt not kill" and then defends his beliefs through violence?

Yep, but none of those groups (neo-Nazis, racial supremacists, KKK) worship a leader who is claimed to have created everything. None expect to gain eternal salvation through their beliefs.
(R) While these groups may not claim their leaders created the universe, or that they provide the way to an afterlife, they often ascribe to their leaders god-like attributes such as infallibility.
(MB) Once again "Man created God in his own image and likeness"...

"It may be that our role on this planet is not to worship God, but to create him."
-- Arthur C. Clarke.

(R) The specifics of such beliefs are irrelevant.
(MB) How? If we are supposed to believe that some religion is the answer to all of our problems, it is extremely relevant that the very same religion is used to justify all make and manner of social atrocities. You can't just blow this off by claiming that "their brand of religion is wrong" since you have already stated that there is nothing to favor one religion or sect over any other.

None support their ideas simply by claiming that they "can't be proven wrong".
(R) Neither do religious believers.
(MB) You have done exactly that on numerous occasions during our discussion and will do so again in the very next statement...

(R) But this doesn't change the fact that the basic premises of most belief systems are unproved and unproveable, and it is just as reasonable and logical to believe one as it is the others.
(MB) Which means that they are all 0% reasonable and 0% logical, right? Well, if you're wrong, you're wrong, I guess. Just "how wrong" is little more than a semantic quibble.

"Justifying the claim that something does not exist is not quite the same as proving or having arguments that it doesn't, but it is what we are talking about. That is, we need not have a proof that God does not exist in order to justify atheism. Atheism is obligatory in the absence of any evidence for God's existence."
-- Michael Scriven, "God and Reason" Critiques of God (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus, 1997) p. 105.

In fact, most of them try to use the Bible to support their own brand of nonsense.
(R) Yes, there are some fanatics who use the Bible in attempts to justify nonsense, but it is entirely incorrect to say most do.
(MB) Again, you're trying to lump all fanatics into the same category when the current subject involves groups who base their racist philosophies upon what they read in the Bible. Why should *any* fanatical group find anything in the Bible to support their views? If the Bible is the inspired Word of God, there should be no room in its pages for such misuse.

(R) I would have to give the nod in that regard to the writings of Marx, or to simple jingoism. The Koran would also be a strong competitor.
(MB) Nobody will argue that there are many things which could inspire fanaticism or other dubious behavior. That doesn't justify any particular brand, however.

Scary. "Jesus, please save us from your followers."
(R) Any fanatic, religious or otherwise, is frightening if they advocate violence. A violent fanatic is not a follower of Jesus, despite any claims made to the contrary.
(MB) Oh? He certainly would think that he was. How would his quotations of Scripture and adherence to dogma in his own defense differ from yours? How are we to determine who is right and who is wrong if it is just as reasonable and logical to believe either way?

While this is true, are you attempting to use this as some sort of justification for the behavior of the religious?
(R) Religious bigotry cannot be justified.
(MB) Amen (pardon the pun). Yet, it still pervades the practice, does it not?

(R) I am merely disputing your attempts, here and at many other point in this discussion, to paint all religious believers as intolerant fanatics,
(MB) I've never claimed that all religious believers are intolerant fanatics. That is your exaggeration and is clearly not the case. Once again, you seem to be more worried about the scope of the problem than about the problem itself. If the popular notion of Christianity has any validity and if its tenets are so clear, there shouldn't be *any* violent fanatics for Jesus.

"Faith cannot move mountains (though generations of children are solemnly told the contrary and believe it). But it is capable of driving people to such dangerous folly that faith seems to me to qualify as a kind of mental illness. It leads people to believe in whatever it is so strongly that in extreme cases they are prepared to kill and to die for it without the need for further justification."
-- Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene (New edition, New York: Oxford University Press, 1989), p. 198.

(R) well as your claims that religious fanatics are somehow peculiarly dangerous and violent.
(MB) Their brand of violence is "peculiar" only in that it is so clearly at odds with the basic tenets of the religion they claim to be supporting.

(R) Anti-religious bigotry can't be justified, either.
(MB) No form of bigotry can be justified. However, unpleasant truths about a belief system do not qualify as "bigotry".

I thought that those folks were supposed to occupy the "moral high ground" and show the rest of us poor wretches what being "good" is all about. They should be eschewing narrow-mindedness rather than perfecting it.
(R) All human beings are imperfect, with some more imperfect than others. Just because someone believes in God doesn't make them perfect.
(MB) There's no requirement to be "perfect". However, if somebody wants to claim that their beliefs and morals are better than mine or anybody else's, they will need to do more than just say so. Until then, there's no reason for anybody to accept them.

(R) There are definitely some religious believers who are poor examples for others and I'm sure we can both think of some famous examples. But there are many more who are fine examples of goodness, honor, mercy, duty, tolerance, and sacrifice. The actions of a base few does nothing to discredit the rest.
(MB) True enough, but where is the criticism from the majority about the actions of those base few? If the majority won't bother to take care of the squeaky wheels, how are we to determine that the squeaking isn't the norm? There's no lack of outcry against the "heretics" outside the religion. Why is there no similar outcry against those within the religion?

Everything *can* also be explained by saying that anybody or anything else did it.
(R) Well, no, it can't.
(MB) Well, yes, it can. The key here is that the "God did it" explanation is totally unsupported by any kind of evidence. That means that any statement that merely substitutes the name of any other deity/entity/thing for "God" also *can* explain things. Of course this means absolutely nothing in reality, since no unsupportable or bogus explanation is worth the effort expended in making it - whether or not "God" is the subject in question.

"A wise man proportions his belief to the evidence."
-- David Hume

(R) The only other possible explanation is chance.
(MB) "Chance" is the mathematical probability that something will happen. If something exists, it no longer matters if the odds against it were long. To lend support to a hypothesis that something happened by chance, it is only necessary to show evidence for how it might have happened. Further observations and experimentation can lend additional support to the hypothesis and raise it to the level of a theory. This is where science is today in its search for the origins of the universe. Supernatural explanations don't even qualify as ideas worthy of consideration.

Claims are easy to make. Claims without supporting evidence, however, are a waste of time and effort and are better off being ignored.
(R) Once again, let me state that most basic premises have no supporting evidence, but this doesn't mean they never advance understanding or clarify issues.
(MB) I think you are confusing science with philosophy and theology. There are no theories of science that have no supporting evidence -- absolutely none.

(R) Such premises should never be considered a waste of time, unless one feels there's no reason to worry about the origin of the universe at all.
(MB) Science is concerned with the origin of the universe, but is under no delusion that it was created expressly for Man or for any other specific purpose. Science wishes to learn the answers purely out of the desire to advance our knowledge. There are no issues about any underlying "meaning" of Life, the Universe, and Everything involved.

Why should our understanding be limited? Just because we may not know something today doesn't mean that we can't learn it tomorrow. When one puts limits on what they can or will understand, that just opens the door for nonsense to come in and fill the void.
(R) I fail to see how acknowledgment of the obvious fact that it is impossible for me to know everything puts any limits on my understanding, so long as I continue to try to understand.
(MB) You're confusing the issue. You have already stated that your beliefs in God are not subject to change. This means that you are putting limits on your understanding and on what you will or will not accept.
    People still want answers to their questions and concerns. If science, logic and reason are too "hard" or unacceptable, what is left to rush in, fill the gaps and provide those answers?

The belief doesn't, but the believers certainly do when they put forth an unsupported "God did it" and call that as good as any other explanation of anything in the universe.
(R) The concept that God is behind the workings of the universe is just as good as the concept that there is nothing behind it. Neither idea can be supported.
(MB) There is considerable evidence for the natural origination of the universe and I have presented some of it in this discussion. How can you continue to claim that it doesn't exist? This just proves that you are placing limits on what you will or won't accept and that the "just as good" argument is nothing more than a rationalization and a smokescreen.

"Logical thinking empowers the mind in a way that no other kind of thinking can. It frees the highly educated from the habit of presuming every claim to be true until proven false. It enables average Americans to stand up against the forces of political correctness, see through the chicanery, and make independent decisions for themselves. And it is the bulwark against intellectual servitude for the underprivleged."
-- Marilyn vos Savant, The Power of Logical Thinking, (New York: St. Martin's, 1997), p. xix.

Once again, here's an attempt to justify the behavior of religious believers by bringing up similar failings of others. Can't their behavior stand or fall on its own merits (or lack of them)?
(R) Once again, I'm not trying to justify the behavior of the small minority of religious believers who you attempt to show as indicative of all those with religious beliefs. I'm just pointing out that this is what you are trying to do.
(MB) Already noted and refuted. You have yet to explain why the scope of a behavior is more important to you than the behavior itself.

BTW, none of the myths surrounding the Civil War involved placing the supernatural over and above reality and most had a legitimate basis.
(R) If they have a legitimate basis, they're not myths.
(MB) Not necessarily. Any truthful story or incident can be embellished or distorted. For example, take the legitimate accounts of the Greek-Trojan war as presented in the mythology of the Odyssey and the Iliad.

(R) Here's a myth: The Confederacy didn't succeed from the Union over the issue of slavery, but over the issue of state's rights. Tell me, what legitimate basis does this myth have?
(MB) This myth is based largely upon the writings of a few Confederate apologists after the end of the Civil War combined with the change in social attitudes concurrent with the rise of the civil rights movement in the 1960's.

Here is a confusion of discrete objects in physical reality with the side-effects of the interaction of a subset of such objects. Behavior is not, in and of itself, a physical object.
(R) Yes, but human behavior has physical results, which is why we are concerned with it, just as the physical results of the four fundamental interactions (or forces) of nature lead to our interest in them.
(MB) More confusion. The four fundamental forces of nature (weak and strong nuclear force, electromagnetism, and gravity) are constant quantities that can be accurately measured and will produce effects which can be predicted. This is not the case with human behavior. Again, human behavior is not a discrete physical force or object.

A star, for example, is such an object. We can't accurately predict human behavior, but we can accurately predict the life cycle of a star.
(R) We can only make broad predictions about the life cycles of stars in general, and have no ability to make precise predictions about individual stars -- or about the future of the universe. This is exactly the same situation as with human behavior.
(MB) Incorrect. If we know the mass of a star, we can accurately predict its life cycle. All stars follow the same unchanging physical laws. Human behavior follows no such rules and can, therefore, not be predicted.

Is there an implication here that divine intervention is required to explain that which can not be accurately predicted?
(R) Not at all. The implication is that we do not have enough knowledge or understanding to make predictions, other than of the most general in nature, about the universe or anything in it.
(MB) How accurate do you want it? What level of accuracy would be good enough for you to start believing in the methodology being used? Why do you prefer the groundless speculation of the supernatural to the demonstrated accuracy of what science can already predict?

"What would have to occur or to have occurred to constitute for you a disproof of the love of, or of the existence of, God?"
-- Antony Flew, "The Presumption of Atheism" God, Freedom, and Immortality, (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1984), p. 74.

(R) "....human behavior is not deterministic, nor does it follow any laws of science." These are your words from a couple of paragraph up, with which I think perhaps a sociologist or psychologist might disagree.
(MB) If you can find one, I'd be interested in hearing about it. If such a thing was proven, it would utterly destroy the notion of free will.

(R) After a statement like that, it seems relevant to establish that these two disciplines qualify as science.
(MB) I thought that they already qualified as sciences.

(R) What is science, anyway? It is a systematic body of knowledge which uses the scientific method (hypothesis, observation and experiment, and conclusion) to establish and add to that knowledge.
(MB) Correct. Hypotheses are developed from the related evidence concerning a given phenomenon. Observation and experiment examine the evidence in an attempt to either support, refute or refine the hypothesis. Reliable conclusions are based upon the sum total of all evidence and argument associated with the hypothesis.

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