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

(R) Religion is similar, with the exception that there is no experimental evidence to back up conclusions.
(MB) Religion goes the wrong way. It begins with the conclusions and works backwards. If evidence can't be found to support the conclusions, it will be manufactured or rationalized. Religion declares itself above testing and doubt and is not subject to change in its basic tenets. Thus, there is actually precious little similarity between the aims of religion and science.
    A good example of the difference that is back in the news again is the Shroud of Turin. Religion still refuses to accept the scientific proof that has exposed it as a hoax dating back only to the 1300's.

(R) Science doesn't invoke the supernatural because it studies physical phenomenon which have natural causes, that is, it studies the "how" of the universe. Religion, on the other hand, deals with the "why" of the universe, which may or may not require supernatural explanations.
(MB) Just another example of religion working backwards. There is no evidence to suggest that there is any "why" to the universe, while no one would doubt that there is a question of "how". Just because our minds are capable of asking the question "Why are we here?" doesn't mean that there must be some overriding purpose behind our existence. Is the very thought that there may be no deeper meaning for our existence too terrible to consider?

Complex systems just require more detailed explanations. That doesn't make them less understandable or immune to accurate predictions. Because complex systems are composed of numerous parts -- each of which is simple in itself -- the main goal of physics is to understand the basics first. Once those are well known, the complex will fall into place.
(R) The eventual outcome of extremely complex systems are virtually impossible to even comprehend, let alone forecast with accuracy.
(MB) Maybe it is for the limited processing power of our minds. But, that, in no way, means that such systems can never be understood or modeled accurately. Nor does it mean that we must be resigned to supernatural explanations to fill the void. Also, it is not necessary to be able to predict the workings of the universe in its entirety to be able to do so for localized parts of it.

(R) In chess, White has only 20 possible opening moves. Black follows with 20 possible openings as well, yielding a total of 400 possible combinations after one complete move. The possibilities after the next complete move are proscribed by which of the 400 possible combinations resulted from the first move, as is each following move proscribed by what went before. After just a dozen moves, the number of possibilities is so immense as to be, for all practical purposes, infinite.
(MB) Again, you are confusing large numbers with infinities. Also, you are ignoring the fact that the vast majority of possible moves are so obviously foolish or contrived that they would not even be considered. When these positions are discarded, the possibilities derived from them are removed and the total number of remaining positions is drastically reduced. It's still a large number, to be sure, but it's not -- and never was -- anywhere near being infinite.

(R) Exceptional chess players, or computers, can consider the possibilities several moves in advance, but the possibilities after larger numbers of moves, say fifty, absolutely defy description....or any predictions of outcome other than hunches.
(MB) Chess computers play by calculating a mathematical value for as many possible moves and responses as its design limitations and the game's time restrictions will allow and then selecting the one that grades out the highest. If chess was purely a game of tactics, computers could eventually solve it and play perfectly. But chess has an underlying strategic element that is difficult to quantify mathematically. The strongest human chess players maintain the advantage over computers due to the machine's lack of intuitive understanding of the strategic aspect of play.

(R) If an understanding of complex systems was in fact made simple by comprehension of its simple component parts, as you claim, then we should be able to predict the future with great accuracy. In which case, anyone would be able to invest a few dollars in the stock market and run it into millions.
(MB) Quite true in any case where all component parts are mathematically quantifiable. As we both certainly know, however, the stock market operates largely on investor confidence, speculation and other factors that can't be accurately predicted.

I said "too many", not "all". Why are you more concerned with the scope of the argument than with addressing the actual argument itself?
(R) O.K., I stand corrected, but this still appears to be a blanket statements indicting all religious believers for the sins of a few.
(MB) So much for "standing corrected", I guess...

(R) Simply put, our argument is over whether or not it is reasonable and logical to believe in God.
(MB) Your defense of such beliefs has been two-fold: (1) it can't be proven wrong, and (2) it's just as good as any other unsupported idea. In refutation of (1) I have shown that positive existential claims can be proven and must bear the burden of proof. In refutation of (2) I have shown that belief in an idea for which there is admittedly no evidentiary support is meaningless. Thus, both (1) and (2) contain basic flaws in both logic and reason. One can only conclude, therefore, that other defenses must be offered if any belief in God is to be upheld as either reasonable or logical.

"We must therefore ask ourselves: What sort of thing is it reasonable to believe without proof? I should reply: The facts of sense experience and the principles of mathematics and logic -- including the inductive logic employed in science."
-- Bertrand Russell, The Quotable Bertrand Russell (ed. Lee Eisler, Buffalo, NY: Prometheus, 1993), p. 253.

(R) You continually introduce the fact that some religious believers hold illogical beliefs as evidence that all religious beliefs are illogical. This is illogical itself, which is why I show concern over what you label as the scope of the argument.
(MB) You mistakenly claim that I lump the illogical belief in the supernatural together with all beliefs held by religions and their adherents. They are, in fact, separate issues.

The proper name for it is "stereotyping". In today's politically correct society, people complain about it vociferously and figure that if they can focus attention upon the scope of an issue, that the issue itself might be softened or forgotten. They forget that stereotypes only exist because those issues are ones that actually do exist in significant numbers.
(R) If something actually exists in significant numbers, it is a fact, not a stereotype. Stereotypes are an unjustified projection of the traits or behaviors of a few members of a group on to the entire group.
(MB) It takes more that a "few members of a group" to generate a stereotype. The trait or behavior in question must be observed in quantities sufficient to produce the general impression (even if it is mistaken) that it is, or might be, common to most, if not all, members of that group. Stereotyping a group has the same pitfalls as attempting to define an overall equation for a given collection of data points based upon sampling a fraction of those points. The resulting equation may not be an accurate description of all data points, but it may have predictive power. In any case, the data points still exist even if the equation is flawed. Same with stereotyping. The behaviors still exist even if projecting them to the entirety of a group is incorrect. The bottom line is that it is another question of scope over substance.

(R) If I say, "All Frenchmen are rude," I have done a grave injustice to every French person who is not rude. Saying, "Most Frenchmen are rude," is only slightly less injurious. If I merely say, "Some Frenchmen are rude," then I may as well leave nationality out of it all together and simply state that some people are rude.
(MB) Pretty soon, you reduce the point to meaninglessness and still do nothing about the initial problem of rudeness. Why do you think that it is Frenchmen who are stereotyped as "rude" and not some other nationality? It certainly wasn't an arbitrary or baseless allegation.

(R) You should do the same with your arguments against religion.
(MB) In other words, you wish to brush away the failings of religious beliefs simply by rationalizing that not all believers share them? In that case, why do we worry about any other problem in society? After all, societal ills are not shared by all members of society, right?

(R) If stereotyping is complained about vociferously, it's because it is thoroughly unfair, not because of mere "political correctness."
(MB) That would be all well and good if the complainers didn't conveniently ignore the problem for the sake of quibbling about its scope.

(R) In counterpoint to your defense of this reprehensible practice, let me state that "political correctness" is the standard insult hurled by the intolerant against admonitions from others for tolerance and fairness.
(MB) "Political correctness" was the original term used by those who espouse such tactics. It has now been appropriated to denigrate those same tactics. See my essay on "Political Correctness" for more on this.
    Back to the point at hand, you have done just exactly what you are attempting to deny. To wit, rather than directly address the failings of religion beliefs, you complain more about "stereotyping" and "political correctness". The failings don't go away just because you complain about their scope or how they are addressed.

It's easier to believe the explanation that has evidence to support it. "God did it" has no such support and is, therefore, neither reasonable nor logical. "The universe occurred by itself" does have such support. Why should "God did it" be easier to believe?
(R) What support is there for the idea the universe occurred by itself?
(MB) Have you already forgotten (or ignored) everything I've already presented to you? Read up on quantum mechanics, chaotic inflation, superstrings, Hawking's "no boundary" hypothesis, etc. Whether you choose to understand or accept any of this, it is clear that there is no reason to claim that there is "no support" for a natural origin of the universe.
    Now, how about answering the question I asked? Why should "God did it" be easier to believe?

(R) Undoubtedly, there is a certain amount of "expert" opinion to support such an idea, but expert opinion is inconclusive by itself.
(MB) Now, you're going to denigrate "experts" to defend your beliefs? Expert opinion is not the same thing as unsubstantiated beliefs. Expert opinion is supported by evidence. While it may be "inconclusive", it is certainly far more reliable than guesswork based on emotion. Let's also not fall into the trap of equating "inconclusive" with "incorrect".

"Scientific hypotheses are always tentative; they are designed to be held only so long as they conform to the evidence. Proponents of the theistic hypothesis, on the other hand, are already sure that their hypothesis is correct; the only seek evidence to buttress a foregone conclusion."
-- Keith Parsons, "Is There a Case for Christian Theism?" Does God Exist? (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus, 1991), p. 190.

(R) And besides, for every expert who claims the universe occurred by itself there is another who claims it did not.
(MB) Without evidence to support his opinion, it would be difficult to classify such a person as an "expert" or to give such opinions any credence. In any case, it's a matter of the evidence which supports any given idea, not simply how many people might prefer that idea.

(R) Personally, I find it difficult to believe anything could occur without cause.
(MB) Do you believe that radioactive decay occurs? That is a prime example of effect without cause.

(R) If the universe is purely a product of chance and occurred completely at random, then it has no purpose. If it has no purpose, then it and everything in it is meaningless.
(MB) Is there a problem with that? Must everything have a purpose?

(R) On the other hand, if the universe was created by God, it was created for a purpose, and therefore, has meaning. Even if this purpose is difficult to comprehend or evil, it is still a purpose and gives the universe meaning.
(MB) Just what might that "meaning" be and how do we know what it is? Feel free to speculate if you must. Having no idea what any such meaning might be is, for all practical purposes, really no different from there being no meaning at all, is there?

(R) Now, either of these two ideas is reasonable.
(MB) Only if one accepts the presuppositions involved in each view. However, the only view with any evidence to support it is the one in which the universe is a product of chance. When the alternative is totally unsupported, it is not an equally valid or reasonable idea.

(R) It may well be the universe is purposeless and life is meaningless. But the 95 percent of humanity who believe in God in one form or another don't think so.
(MB) Truth is not a democratic process. At one time, 95% of humanity believed that the Sun went around a flat and stationary Earth, but that didn't make it so, did it? Why should any question about the origin of the universe be any different? The only way to resolve it is through the collection of evidence.

(R) An intuitive realization that if there is no God, life has no purpose, is perhaps the fundamental reason for this.
(MB) Don't you mean "fear" rather than "intuitive realization"? Religion tends to indoctrinate people with the notion that there is nothing worth living for without the God it is pushing on them. That can be a scary prospect for those who give such notions any credence. Also, there is a bit of human arrogance involved. We like to think of ourselves as being "important". The thought that we may have no significance whatsoever on the larger scale of the universe can be rather unacceptable. So, we invent some larger meaning and purpose for our existence.

I'd say that the idea that everything in the universe follows a finite set of understandable and consistent laws has a great deal of meaning.
(R) Sure it does. Why does a belief in God give this statement less meaning?
(MB) Because there is nothing to support such a belief. As such, it just gets in the way of any real understanding.

It means that there is no limit to what we can learn and that our technological advancement is only limited by how much we learn.
(R) Can't disagree with that, other than once again wondering how a belief in God makes this any less applicable.
(MB) Again, because it contributes nothing to our learning and gets in the way of real understanding. There are no examples to be found at any point of human history where religious beliefs have done anything but hold back our technological advancement.

Indeed, must there be a "reason" for the universe? Can it not just "be"? What is lost if the universe is truly here only by chance?
(R) It certainly may be that the universe has no "reason." In which case, nothing in it does either.
(MB) I ask again, why should that matter? What would be lost?

What is superstition if not an expression of supernatural beliefs?
(R) Any belief held despite evidence to the contrary qualifies as superstition.
(MB) Continue reading in your dictionary. A superstition is a belief, practice, or rite resulting from ignorance of the laws of nature or from faith in magic or chance. It is also defined as a fearful or abject state of mind resulting from such ignorance or irrationality.

(R) There are dozens of urban legends, conspiracy theories, and other fallacies floating around that have nothing to do with the supernatural, but which are superstitious.
(MB) OK. But then we come to......

(R) In contrast, belief in God doesn't have any evidence to the contrary and does not fit the definition of superstition.
(MB) Oh? Why not? Go back and reread the definitions presented previously. Then, come back and justify your statement.

How are we to detect or evaluate something that has no manifestation in physical reality?
(R) We can't.
(MB) Then, what justification is there for believing that any such things really exist?

How would such a thing affect anything in the physical universe?
(R) I don't know.
(MB) Then, how can you justify believing that any such effects can happen?

For that claim to make any sense, you will need to describe something supernatural and how we are to know that it actually exists.
(R) God is supernatural and we know He exists through our personal experience of Him.
(MB) How do you know that your experience was a real thing? If it was real, how do you know which "God" was responsible for it and how did it reveal all of the details about the nature of that "God"? Why didn't that experience provide any coherent arguments in support of that "God"? In what manner did you have your experience? How did that "God" present himself to you? How are we supposed to know that you actually had any such experience at all and that it was as you claim? Why is it that only a few people have such experiences and that they result in "support" for widely-ranging beliefs in mutually-exclusive "Gods"?

"Religious experiences are like those induced by drugs, alcohol, mental illness, and sleep deprivation: They tell no uniform or coherent story, and there is no plausible theory to account for discrepancies among them....
"Since experiences of God are good grounds for the existence of God, are not experiences of the absence of God good grounds for the nonexistence of God? After all, many people have tried to experience God and have failed. Cannot these experiences of the absence of God be used by atheists to counter the theistic argument based on experience of the presence of God?"
-- Michael Martin, Atheism: A Philosophical Justification, (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1990), p. 159.

(R) The GGAS is fictional, which by definition, means it does not exist and couldn't have created anything. I can prove it is fictional, by referencing the specific, fictional text which this fabrication came from. The author who wrote this text would himself freely admit he made the GGAS up. Now, try to do this with God and then answer your own question.
(MB) The original authors of the God fiction are long dead and cannot, therefore, be interrogated. I also cannot ask Homer about where we draw the line between fact and fiction in the Odyssey and the Iliad. Two thousand years from now, nobody will be able to ask Douglas Adams about the Great Green Arkleseizure. Let's say that a cult springs up in the year 4000 A.D. that worships the GGAS and uses Adams' book as its holy text. They would likely advance arguments in their favor similar to what you advance in support of your own ideas.
    The only way to make a proper determination of whether or not X is "fact" or "fiction" is to examine the available evidence. The burden of proof rests with those who claim that "X is fact". If there is no evidence to support that claim, then "X is fiction" becomes the more logical position. If neither the stories about God nor the GGAS can be supported as fact, then they can each rightfully be considered to be fiction. Just because the GGAS story is admitted to be fictional does not make the God story any less fictional or any more factual.

Douglas Adams' "Hitchhiker's Guide" books have sold millions of copies. That should make the Great Green Arkleseizure a "widespread concept", shouldn't it?
(R) No.
(MB) So, where do you draw the line that defines when a concept becomes "widespread"? Taking another example, Santa Claus must certainly be considered a "widespread concept". Does that make him real?

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