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

For such a claim by Adams to move his book into the realm of non-fiction and for a belief in the factuality of any of his stories to be justifiable, there would have to be independent and compelling evidence to support it. He would then be making a positive claim for the existence of the Great Green Arkleseizure and would have to support that claim in the same way that any positive claim of existence must be supported in order to be justifiable.
(R) What I said was exactly true. All he has to do to move from the realm of fiction to non-fiction is claim his book as a true account of his experiences. That's not to say anyone will believe him.
(MB) In fact, in the 4th book of the Hitchhiker's series ("So Long and Thanks For All the Fish"), Adams does make the statement that his telling of the adventures of Arthur Dent (the Hitchhiker's series protagonist) is "the truth and nothing but the truth". By your own arguments, this would now move his books from the realm of fiction into the realm of non-fiction? This would invalidate your argument that the Great Green Arkleseizure is fiction (since it is a part of the adventures of Arthur Dent) and places it on an equal footing with equally unverifiable stories about God.

If there is nothing at all fictional about it, then everything about it must be factual. If so, there must be evidence to support it. Where is it?
(R) Now *this* is not true. A text on philosophy is non-fiction, but one can hardly say is factual. You've argued at several points in this discussion that not all support for a position need be factual. Have you changed your mind?
(MB) Not at all. You are merely inserting your own definition of "non-fiction" into a discussion of what constitutes "support for a position". You also seem to be implying that there is a third level of evidence in between fictional and factual. If so, what is that level? No, it's not "logic". Since logic is either valid or invalid, it can be classified as either factual or fictional. Therefore, a text on philosophy which presents its case through logic can be considered factual unless its arguments are refuted or shown to be in error. BTW, you've also, once again, neatly avoided answering my direct question. Let's try again -- if there's nothing at all fictional about God, then everything about him must be factual. If so, there must be some evidence to support it. Where and what is it?

(R) There is no factual evidence to either support or refute the existence of God, as I've stated many times.
(MB) And, as I've also stated many times, since the positive existential claim bears the burden of proof, the complete and admitted lack of evidence in support of that claim is a severe blow against it and makes doubt the intellectually and logically superior position.

(R) Only reason and logic can be used in arguing the question, however, it cannot be resolved by reason alone.
(MB) It could if the reasoning was strong enough. Unfortunately for your position, not only is the evidence non-existent, the reasoning in support of the positive existential claim for God is very weak.

(R) Which is why I say our positions are exactly equal.
(MB) Which is why, yet again, that claim is wrong. Our positions are not only unequal, they aren't even close to equal on any level.

Whatever the name of the first Jew was.
(R) It is generally considered to have been Abraham.
(MB) "Generally considered" by who? Certainly not by the Muslims. Not to mention that the stories of God predated Abraham in Jewish tradition.

He took elements of other stories which were popular at that time, added his own twists, and created God in his own image and likeness.
(R) You consider that an answer?
(MB) Yes, since it has been verified as being true by historical records. What better answer can there be?

(R) Name a truly fictional character and I can tell you what author developed the character, exactly what book or play they appeared in, even the number of the page they were first introduced on. If all you can give is fuzzy generalities, you've haven't showed God to be fictional.
(MB) So, the stories aren't fictional if the author's name isn't known? Would "Romeo and Juliet" become non-fiction if Shakespeare's name became lost to history? Your argument is weak.
Consider that there must have been a "first Jew" or, at least, a first small group who adopted the stories and customs of Judaism. Whether we know their exact names or not doesn't change that simple fact. Since we know that their stories are etymologically derived from those of surrounding contemporary tribes, their arbitrary nature becomes clear.

(R) Who made up the "other stories which were popular at the time?"
(MB) Sumerians, Mesopotamians, Assyrians, Babylonians, etc. The stories even seem to contain elements of even more ancient Hindu myths.

(R) Wouldn't they have a part in the authorship of your fictional God? And why does it have to be "the first Jew" who made up God?
(MB) The major Jewish contribution to the evolution of the stories was to reduce the concept of God to a monotheistic belief and to position themselves as the "chosen people". Prior to the Jews, the stories were always polytheistic. In fact, some early Jewish documents (such as the P document which comprises parts of Genesis) contain traces of the older polytheism. In addition to the tales of God, other stories in Genesis were clearly derived from earlier sources. The most famous of these is the story of Noah -- which is a retelling and enhancement of the famous Sumerian epic of Gilgamesh.

(R) Are you considering only Jehovah? Because I'm not.
(MB) Yes, you are and you do so every time you make any specific claim about God or call yourself a Christian. If you weren't, your case would be even weaker since you would not only have no evidence to support a particular God, you would have no evidence to support any potential God or to support a choice between potential Gods.

(R) Finally, what was the motive of the person who you claim to have made up God? Was it some sort of joke? Or an attempt to seize power? Or was it a legitimate attempt to account for the physical reality he experienced? If it was this latter reason, if this person actually believed what he was postulating, then its not fictional. Wrong perhaps, but not fictional.
(MB) Remember that merely claiming something to be truthful or factual does not make it so nor does it remove the story from the realm of fiction. Religion, at the grass roots level, is a set of rules designed to control or direct the course of people's lives. Judaism certainly has many such rules to guide the behavior of its adherents. Religion may include ad hoc explanations for experiences and observed phenomena, but the rules of behavior would remain even if the religion attempted to explain little or nothing. There are no religions that consist solely of explanation without rules for the flock.

If God is a fact, then he has a physical existence of some sort and there would be physical evidence that would lead us to him. If he's not a fact, if he's nothing physical, and if there's no evidence for him, then belief is unsupportable and arguments in his favor are a waste of time and energy.
(R) It is not possible to state God's existence (or non-existence) as a fact. He does not have a physical existence and there is therefore no physical evidence of His existence.
(MB) Nor, then, can he have any effect on the physical realm -- to include creating the universe in the first place.

(R) Belief in God is equally as supportable as non-belief, and argument on the question of His existence is anything *but* a waste of time.
(MB) I've already addressed the continuing illogic of the first statement. The second is a conclusion drawn from an invalid premise. The question is a waste of time unless there is something -- *anything* -- evidential upon which to support God's existence -- and you already admit that there is nothing.

(R) On the contrary, it represents a crucially important moral argument, which is at least as important as arguments on any other subject.
(MB) Why is it a "crucially important" moral argument? A morality based upon the dictates of a belief in God doesn't have much importance if God can't be shown to exist. On the other hand, a morality based upon the consequences of our actions requires no belief in anything supernatural to support it. In any case, no argument about a purely moral issue can be as important as an argument about a factual issue. Moral issues are nothing more than a consensus of opinion among the group which is considering them. Facts for one are facts for all.

So, then you agree that the God theory has no hope to gain general acceptance as a legitimate explanation of how the universe was created?
(R) The idea that the universe was created by a Supreme Being is wide-spread and generally accepted by the vast majority of man-kind. This doesn't make it correct, but as far as any hope of it gaining acceptance goes, it already has.
(MB) You left out the "legitimate explanation" part of my earlier statement, which, of course, changes the entire meaning of the argument. Many beliefs throughout the history of Man have been "generally accepted". However, when the facts are considered, the vast majority of those beliefs have been overturned or seriously modified. In most cases, this causes no real problems. However, in the case of religion, there's more at stake than a simple collation of proper interpretation of the facts. People aren't quite so willing to discard a belief system that gives "meaning" to their lives. Thus, religion survives despite all the nonsense used to support it.
One other consideration -- it's even difficult to argue that the God theory of universal creation has gained "general acceptance" since there are so many competing and mutually-exclusive versions of the story. The percentage of people who believe in any specific version of the story is much smaller than anything that could be trumpeted as constituting "general acceptance".

You completely ignored the point of my statement to address a different topic.
(R) Well no, I didn't. The point of your statement was entirely unclear and I answered it as best I could under the circumstances. I had said, "They (religion and science) are irreconcilable to those who refuse to acknowledge the validity of science, and to those who refuse to accept that not everything can be proved scientifically."
At this point, you accused me of mental masturbation. I found this rather insulting, but didn't have the faintest idea of what you were getting at. Still don't.

(MB) That's because you stopped reading my statement at the point where you say you were insulted. Had you continued, you would have seen an explanation of the analogy. To wit, "It might make them feel good, but nothing of any non-trivial consequence can be accomplished". This is the point where you decided to repeat the meaningless old stuff about the "how" vs. the "why" of the universe.
The point was that you belittling science for not being able to answer the "why" questions when it has already been pointed out to you that such questions only have any meaning when a supernatural creator is presupposed. Maintaining such presuppositions undoubtedly makes you feel good, but attempting to force them upon science accomplishes nothing.

I was making a comment about those who claim equality for their beliefs while always refusing to submit them to the same standards of evidence and proof as any other theory.
(R) O.K., but I'm not doing this. I submit your theory and mine to exactly the same standards: factual evidence (of which there is none) and logical reasoning.
(MB) Since all of the facts and logic reside with my side, but you still consider your side to be "equal", it is extremely obvious that you have no interest in any standards of evidence or proof on this issue. The arguments for God are internally inconsistent, incoherent, and illogical. This would be true even if there were no scientific alternative theories. The God hypothesis simply collapses under its own weight.

To address what you did bring up, if science's theories of "how" is right, then the "why" of the universe is also answered -- the universe exists because those same physical laws would produce it exactly as we see it. It couldn't be any other way.
(R) So, the universe exists because it exists? Humm. You accused me at one point of being like a parent who simply answers "because" to their child's question, to avoid giving a real answer. Well, if I've ever seen a "because" answer, this is it.
(MB) That's because you didn't read (or understand) what I wrote. Once again, the universe exists because of the effects of the laws of physics. Our universe is the way we see it because those same laws couldn't have produced anything different. "Why" does not need to be a deep, philosophical issue. Instead, it can be something of basic simplicity.

(R) These physical laws, which you say can only produce the universe the way it is, where did they come from? They can't be part of the universe, because they were required to produce it, eh?
(MB) They *are* a part of the universe and everything in it -- an integral, fundamental, and inseparable part. That should be fairly obvious. If they were not, they wouldn't work and couldn't have produced our universe and nothing in it would work as it does.

(R) Your cryptic explanation seems to be a variation on the anthropic principle, which simply put, states "The universe appears the way it is, because we exist to see it that way." You take it quite a bit further, however. You say the universe exists because it exists, and everything in it is the way it is because that is the way it is. So don't worry about. Just shut up and color.
(MB) The last part about "taking it further" is your own addition and misunderstanding of what I said. The anthropic principle is really little more than a basic deduction. If the laws of physics were different, they would have produced a universe that is different. Such a universe would almost certainly not have produced a chain of events in which Homo sapiens would have evolved and gone on to develop science or invent God. If intelligent creatures existed in such a different universe, they would see it as it was because it couldn't be any other way and still produce those same creatures.
While the anthropic principle may not seem very enlightening on the surface, what we learn from it is that we are consequences of the nature of the universe. We are not beings for whom the universe was specially created.

Only if we accept the supernatural must we worry about any philosophical or theological "why" questions.
(R) And that, my friend, is the exact reason why philosophies which concentrate simple-mindedly on only the physical aspects of the universe are ultimately so barren -- because they refuses to even acknowledge such truly momentous philosophical and theological questions.
(MB) Why bother considering such things if there's no evidence that they exist and no reason why they should? This is hardly a simple-minded approach. Indeed, doing so would seem to be a serious waste of one's time when he could more profitably be examining what's really out there. It's more difficult to examine the evidence thoroughly than to accept a "feel good" idea, but far too many people take the easy way out. "Easy" ideas are not the equal of all others.

Your "statistical facts" are merely your own hunches about what various groups believe and what sorts of people belong to each group -- as you clearly admit.
(R) Oh, really? Well then, I'll repeat my statistics and reasoning, and let you try to make a logical refutation of them instead of just spouting rhetoric obfuscation:
(MB) You'd be better off to defend your claims rather than just to repeat them over and over. But, let's take another look...

(R) 85 percent of Americans are Christians, broken down as 18 percent conservative, 19 percent liberal, and 47 percent middle-of the road.
(MB) 18+19+47=84 and not 85. There is also a slight coherency blunder here as the breakdown can't be that of Christians (as stated), but must be that of all Americans for the percentages to make any sense. Also, there are no definitions of "conservative", "liberal", or "middle-of-the-road" here, nor any listing of which denominations or sects fall into which groups, nor any explanation of why there are only three classifications. Nor is there any citation of who is doing the classifications. This is important since one person's "middle-of-the-road" may well be another person's "conservative" or "liberal". Therefore, these figures, as presented, are next to meaningless for the purposes of supporting any of your arguments.

(R) It is reasonable to assume that most conservative Christians have narrow religious views, probably not as extreme as what you claim to be indicative of all religious beliefs, but similar.
(MB) Why is it "reasonable" to assume this? Since you have provided no definition of "conservative", there is nothing upon which to judge how reasonable any assumption about that classification might be. You've also thrown in a label of "extreme" without defining it and used it to form a non-sequitur comparison that muddles any point which may have been attempted.

(R) This leads me to conclude that about one quarter of American Christians have narrow religious beliefs such as those you present.
(MB) Interesting math. Given your initial figures for the percentage of conservative Christians and your statement that most of them (but not all) have narrow views, the resulting percentage of conservatives with narrow views should be lower than the overall percentage. Yet, your conclusion *raises* that percentage from the initial 18% to, now, "about one-quarter"! How does that work?

(R) Now, the United States is one of the most fundamentalist, church-going nations in the world,
(MB) Even more so than Islamic nations? What an interesting concept!

(R) ...and it is unlikely that Christians in other parts of the world are any more conservative than those in the U.S.
(MB) How and why is that "unlikely"? A definition of "conservative" is sorely needed here in order to support your argument.

(R) Probably, they are less conservative, but let's just assume they are about the same.
(MB) Why should we assume this? With no definition of "conservative", there is no basis upon which to justify such an assumption.

(R) It follows, then, that roughly one quarter of Christians, world-wide, have narrow religious views.
(MB) If the rest of the world is less conservative than the US, how can the worldwide percentage of conservative Christians be equal to that among American Christians? The US can't be "one of the most fundamentalist, church-going nations in the world" if we are also to assume that the rest of the world is little different.
The logic and math behind your premises are off to very shaky starts. This will make any further conclusions drawn from those premises increasingly weak. But, let's go on...

(R) However, only 32 percent (about one third) of the world's population are Christian. One quarter times one third gives a figure of those with the narrow religious views you present which is somewhat under 10 percent, but I prefer to err on the cautious side and will stick with one out of ten.
(MB) Without a definition of "conservative" or a reason to equate such a definition with your own opinions, any number is just as good (or bad) as any other number.

(R) So, that's what my figure is based on.
(MB) So, it's based upon bad math, undefined terms, unsupported opinion, and misunderstandings of what I've been saying? That's not exactly the stuff from which solid conclusions are based.

(R) You still haven't given a figure delineating your own estimate of the prevalence of the narrow-minded beliefs you bigotedly try to foist on all religious believers. Any time you're ready, I'd be interested in hearing it.
(MB) All along, I've been asking you to provide me with examples of which Christian churches or sects teach things like "other religions or deities are just as good/valid as ours" and, to date, you have been unable (or unwilling) to come up with so much as a single example. You claim that not to teach or believe such things is to exhibit narrow-minded behavior. You further claim that only a small percentage of Christians exhibit such behavior. Yet, you can't find even a single example of a church or sect which encompasses the "vast majority" that would support your claims. Then, you go on to challenge the validity of what I've said. How does that work?

I've asked you several questions about the beliefs of individuals and organized religious sects and your own answers dispute your own "well grounded" estimate as to how prevalent certain beliefs are.
(R) You'll have to refresh my memory as to what these several questions were, because I haven't a clue what you're talking about. The only specific belief I remember discussing (other than God's existence itself) is the Holy Trinity.
(MB) Nice try. You can't avoid the questions by claiming not to remember them. They are all still posted here for you to review if you're really interested in answering them.

How many believers adhere to the "narrow belief" that God's existence is a real thing?
(R) So, you're asking how many religious persons believe in God? Ummm, let me think....100 percent? I don't think you could say they were religious believers without believing in God, eh?
(MB) So, it's not such a "narrow belief" after all, eh? Now that we have established that this is not a "bigoted and biased opinion", we can go on. What reason(s) is/are used by these people to justify such a belief and are there any circumstances under which such a belief can be changed or abandoned?

(R) You're not trying to say a simple belief in God automatically means someone is narrow minded, are you?
(MB) No, that's your own definition. You are confusing a "narrow belief" (a view held by few people) with "narrow minded" (an unwillingness to change a view).

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