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 sixth 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.

I've been presenting evidence in support of my beliefs. Where is yours? Is there any?
(R) The theories of science and physical existence of the universe do not indicate in any way whether or not God exists. What other evidence have you produced?
(MB) Classic technique -- when you can't refute the evidence, just brush it aside and demand something else. Oh, well... Perhaps you are now looking more towards the philosophical arguments against the existence of God. I've offered some already. If you want more, why not check out some of the writings of Michael Martin or Farrell Till? Or, perhaps, this:

"The most ridiculous concept ever perpetrated by H.Sapiens is that the Lord God of Creation, Shaper and Ruler of the Universes, wants the saccharine adoration of his creations, that he can be persuaded by their prayers, and becomes petulant if he does not receive this flattery. Yet this ridiculous notion, without one real shred of evidence to bolster it, has gone on to found one of the oldest, largest and least productive industries in history."
-- Robert A. Heinlein

(R) All you've done is claim that science and the working of the physical universe support your beliefs, which is untrue. And no, there is no evidence to support my belief. Neither is there any to support yours.
(MB) So now you retreat back to misrepresenting "God does not exist" as my major claim instead of understanding or acknowledging that it is a conclusion reached as a consequence of my core belief in the naturalistic origins of the universe through the actions of a finite set of knowable physical laws. If you can manage to understand my core belief, you will see why your argument that it has "no support" is incorrect.

"I am an atheist because there is no evidence for the existence of God. That should be all that needs to be said about it: no evidence, no belief."
-- Dan Barker, Losing Faith in Faith: From Preacher to Atheist (Madison, WI: FFRF, 1992), p. 87.

Once again, you say that there is "no evidence" despite everything that I have been presenting. How can you protest any assertion that your beliefs are simply not subject to change? How can you continue to deny that positive claims bear a burden of proof? How can you continue to support belief in God when you can't even suggest why it is better than a religious belief in any other deity?
(R) You haven't presented any evidence which shows there is no God -- the workings of the physical universe certainly don't.
(MB) You continually refuse to acknowledge what the evidence shows -- that the universe did not require any supernatural element in order to come into existence. Why is this?

(R) All my beliefs are subject to change if anyone can show them to be wrong.
(MB) And, of course, you will never admit to being shown to be wrong, so your beliefs will never change. If you won't accept logic, reason, or evidence, how is anybody supposed to change your mind?

(R) The burden of proof is inherent to no claim, regardless of how the claim is defined.
(MB) That flies squarely in the face of the basic tenets of philosophy and just reinforces the impression that your views are not subject to change.

"Negative existential hypotheses in natural language can be supported by the failure of proofs of their contradictories, but positive existential hypotheses are not made plausible by the failure of disproofs of their denials."
-- Michael Scriven, "God and Reason" Critiques of God (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus, 1997) p. 113.

(R) The concept of God includes all of the different ideas of Him postulated by mankind.
(MB) This can't be true because those ideas are contradictory and incompatible with each other. You'll have more problems justifying that argument in and of itself than you will in defending any notion of God against anything I might offer as a counterclaim.

(R) If there is no conclusive evidence of any kind on a question of existence, it is equally logical and rational to believe either way. Prior to about the end of the 19th century, there was no physical evidence to show atoms existed, yet it was generally accepted that they did. Until that evidence was developed, it was just as logical and rational to assume they did not.
(MB) Atomic theory was not dreamed up out of the blue sky with nothing to support it and was not arbitrarily declared to be valid. The theory was an detailed explanation for the sum total of a set of observations and raw data along with the requisite mathematics. The theory made predictions that could be verified by experiment and further observations that were shown to be accurate. When the clinching physical evidence was finally produced, it just added the final brushstrokes to what was already a masterful painting.
    If there had truly been no evidence to support the idea of atoms, it would have been more logical and reasonable to conclude that they did not exist. Once good evidence in favor of the positive existential claim began to accumulate, that claim began to fulfill the requirement that it shoulder the burden of proof and became the more logical view. Now that the evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of atomic theory, any counterclaim will require solid evidence in order to be considered valid.
    The idea of "God" *was* dreamed up out of the blue sky with nothing to support it (other than random ideas plagiarized from the stories of neighboring tribes) and arbitrarily declared to be valid. It was designed to provide vague explanations for the sum total of observations about Life, the Universe, and Everything. Unfortunately, the idea makes no testable predictions and is not verifiable by any type of experiment. Where it advances specifics, those details are almost always wrong or seriously flawed. Its adherents refuse to shoulder the requisite burden of proof and even admit that there is no evidence with which to support it. Yet, they persist in positioning it as "equally logical and reasonable" even though they can't even show where it is superior to competing and contradictory ideas involving other deities. There is no reason whatsoever to accept such an idea.

If you do so, and if there is truly "no evidence" on the other side, then the scales will tip in your favor and your beliefs will become the most credible ones. If not, then you're just making much ado about nothing.
(R) There truly is no evidence on either side, and no possibility of the scales tipping in either direction, but is it really much ado about nothing? I don't think so.
(MB) If you have no evidence for your positive existential claim, then you have nothing. Fruitless defenses of such claims are a waste of time and effort.

"Freethinkers reject faith as a valid tool of knowledge. Faith is the opposite of reason because reason imposes very strict limits on what can be true, and faith has no limits at all. A Great Escape into faith is no retreat to safety. It is nothing less than surrender."
-- Dan Barker, Losing Faith in Faith: From Preacher to Atheist (Madison, WI: FFRF, 1992), p. 103.

(R) On the contrary, that it is just as logical and reasonable to believe in God as it is not to has very important implications.
(MB) Such as? How can illogic and unreason have any sort of importance?

If the Bible is inerrant and is the inspired Word of God, there could be no problems in interpretation.
(R) Oh? Then the same should be true of any other work of literature or philosophy. Or for that matter, any movie, play, or television show. If I read "Das Kapital" I should be able to determine exactly what Marx meant in every instance. There would be no personal interpretation involved whatsoever.
(MB) None of those examples are positioned as being the inspired Word of an omnipotent and omniscient deity who is the central focus of a religious belief system and none have ever been claimed to be inerrant. Therefore, they are invalid as comparisons to a work that is positioned that way.

(R) Using this line of reasoning, there would only be a single interpretation of the Bible regardless of whether it is inerrant or not. Once again, the question of inerrancy is entirely irrelevant.
(MB) Because of the nature of the claimed inspiration for the Bible and the fact that it is used as justification for the religious beliefs within, the question of inerrancy is inevitable and of prime importance.

Why would God tell us what he wanted us to know and obey in terms that would be open to misinterpretation?
(R) Because if we were told exactly what to do in every circumstance, there could be no such thing as free will.
(MB) The Bible doesn't claim to tell us what to do "in every circumstance". But, it does lay down what should be a clear set of laws that believers in God and Jesus are supposed to follow. There are simply an inordinate number of contradictory interpretations of what that set of laws actually is. There should be no misinterpretations of them at all -- whether or not we have the free will to choose whether or not to obey them.

If the Bible is not inerrant, it can't be the Word of God. If it's not the Word of God, it can't be used to defend a belief in God.
(R) Why in the world can't it be the word of God unless it's inerrant?
(MB) Because that's a basic tenet of the religions which uphold the Bible as their holy book. Can you give me an example of a church which teaches that the Bible is full of errors or is not the inspired Word of God?

(R) Even if inerrant as originally written, what about the possibility of errors in the copying and translation carried out over the last 25 centuries? There are no original manuscripts of the Bible anywhere that I know of.
(MB) There's no way than any simple mistranslation can account for all of the errors in the Bible. In any case, mistranslations are normally rather easy to spot and are not considered to be real "errors" by scholars. They can, however, become bones of contention if the mistranslations become part of established dogma -- such as the supposed "Virgin" Mary.
    There's no way that "mistranslation" can be invoked to account for such egregious errors as the contradictory creation tales in Genesis -- neither of which matches the actual evidence for the order of appearance of all things supposedly created by God.

(R) I do agree, however, it is logically invalid to use the Bible as the sole justification for a belief in God. Circular reasoning.
(MB) Absolutely. But, what else is there to use?

I'd say that the question of inerrancy is extremely relevant!
(R) I'd say you'd like the question to be relevant so you could attack Bible inerrancy specifically, but it's still irrelevant.
(MB) What I'd personally "like" is the only thing that's irrelevant. One might just as well say that you'd like the issue of Biblical inerrancy to be irrelevant so you could avoid any difficult questions that would otherwise arise from it.

The claim that "nothing can be proven" is incorrect and we have already covered several examples of that. Once again, one can easily prove that something exists by showing an example of it or by presenting irrefutable evidence for it.
(R) Yeah, you're right, "nothing" is too strong a word. It would have been better to say, "Some things are very difficult (or even impossible) to prove or disprove absolutely." We've seen several examples of such things.
(MB) True, but meaningless. Claims do not have to be absolutely proven in order to have credibility. But, if they have absolutely no evidence supporting them, there is no chance for them to gain any such credibility and they become just another breath of hot air.

(R) However, you've skipped over the fact that it is possible to prove something does not exist -- by presenting irrefutable evidence that it cannot exist.
(MB) No, I haven't. I've mentioned that more than once in previous replies. However, inability to prove that something doesn't exist does not lend credibility to an unsupported positive existential claim in its favor. Such a claim still bears the burden of proof and must support itself in order to be considered anything other than meaningless.

"There are actually two ways to prove the non-existence of something. One way is to prove that it cannot exist because it leads to contradictions (e.g., square circles, married bachelors, etc.). The other way is, in the words of Keith Parsons, "by carefully looking and seeing." This is how we can know that such things as the Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot, the Abimonable Snowman, etc. do not exist."
-- Jeffery Jay Lowder, "Is a Proof of the Non-Existence of a God Even Possible?"

But, this isn't the point that was being made. When it comes to issues where religion and science conflict, Creationists refuse to accept scientific explanations without absolute proof. They even go so far as to say that "no evidence exists" if there is anything short of absolute proof.
(R) The only time I say anything like this is when I state there is no conclusive evidence to prove or disprove the existence of God,...
(MB) Along with the not-so-subtle implication that you won't acknowledge that there ever could be any. Which makes your statement essentially the same argument that the Creationists use.

(R) ...which is entirely true.
(MB) True, and entirely meaningless. It is the conclusion you draw from this meaningless point (that unsupported belief is just as valid as non-belief) that is the major flaw in your arguments.

Of course. Once again, that's not the point. It's the denigration of the word "theory" itself that is the problem. "Only a theory" is used in their arguments as the equivalent of "baseless conjecture" or "pure speculation". Certainly that's not the case, but the impression lingers through force of repetition.
(R) I've never said anything was "only a theory" at any point in this discussion. I have said a couple of things were personal opinions, though. But that's because they are.
(MB) You've asked me what "theory" means to me and have alluded to a position that anything short of absolute proof (like a theory) is unacceptable. So, again we see an statement that is just a reworded version of the Creationist arguments.

And, if that theory supplants a religious belief....?
(R) Never has yet. Don't expect one to.
(MB) May I assume, therefore, that you still believe that a flat, stationary Earth is at the center of the Universe despite the theories that long ago supplanted that religious belief? Do you still believe that sneezing is caused by demons? Do you believe that the Earth is only 6000 years old? Do you believe that the Earth was devastated by a worldwide Flood which was only survived by a 600-year old man and his family and a bunch of animals in a huge wooden ship?

So, what makes belief in God preferable to belief in any other deity? There must be something specific in order to hold up such a belief as the basis for one's morality, lifestyle and view of the universe.
(R) Once again, the concept of God includes all of mankind's different ideas of Him and arguments about God's exact nature are not pertinent until the question of His existence is resolved.
(MB) Once again, since the various ideas of "God" are contradictory and mutually-exclusive, one must sort out which of those ideas one will be supporting before existence questions even become relevant. Your arguments have already made it unmistakeably clear which idea you support.

You demand evidence to support non-belief, but refuse to provide any to support belief. Those are hardly the same standards.
(R) I don't demand evidence for non-belief, because I know there is none, -- just as I know there is no evidence for belief. I truly do submit both theories to the same standards.
(MB) No, you don't. You say that you choose belief because non-belief can't be proven and "because there isn't any reason not to". That is an implicit demand for evidence to support non-belief.

"The longer I have been an atheist, the more amazed I am that I ever believed Christian notions."
-- Dan Barker, Losing Faith in Faith: From Preacher to Atheist (Madison, WI: FFRF, 1992), p. 106.

(R) You, however, have said non-belief is intellectually superior to belief. This requires you produce evidence in support of this alleged superiority. So far, you've presented nothing which cannot be easily refuted.
(MB) I'm sure that the great philosophers of history -- from whom most of my arguments have been drawn -- would be thoroughly impressed by that line of reasoning. In any case, you've refuted nothing so far. You've merely continued to repeat the old claims. They don't get any better with repetition.

"...if devotion to truth is the hallmark of morality, then there is no greater, nobler, more heroic form of devotion than the act of a man who assumes the responsibility of thinking.... the alleged short-cut to knowledge, which is faith, is only a short-circuit destroying the mind."
-- Ayn Rand, "Atlas Shrugged"

"The Christian religion not only was at first attended with miracles, but even at this day cannot be believed by any reasonable person without one."
-- David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, 1748

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