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 last 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.

A recent survey on millennial issues showed that 76% of Americans believe in the second coming of Christ. Does that sound like a number that could be off-handedly dismissed as being "very few"?
(R) Wow! I'm amazed by that figure! I had no idea that so many people believed in the Advent. But anyway, such a belief doesn't automatically make someone narrow minded.
(MB) One must consider *why* they have that belief and whether or not it is subject to being changed or abandoned in order to make that determination.

(R) The specifics of the belief, its degree of certainty and exactitude, are what determine whether or not it is narrow.
(MB) OK, I'll buy that. Now, what are those specifics and what supports them?

(R) Personally, I shy away from making exact predictions about the Apocalypse, because of a rather scary admonition in the Book of Revelations about doing that sort of thing.
(MB) What is this admonition? Why is it scary? What compels you to believe in it? What evidence is there by which anybody else could come to believe it? Why is the Book of Revelation authoritative on this matter? BTW, I thought you didn't use the Bible to justify your beliefs.

Are you saying that it is only the scope of my essay that is wrong? Does that mean that everything else is correct?
(R) If by "scope" you mean painting all religious believers with the same brush and then condemning them as a group, then yes, this is definitely a problem in your essay. I also find its general tone intolerant. As far as its degree of correctness goes, I think you make some valid points, but I disagree with a good bit of it.
(MB) Yet, you can't show any specific point which is wrong, nor can you show why they don't apply to more than a small minority of believers. It would seem that it is primarily the larger issue of belief/non-belief that spurs your disagreement. Creationists do the same thing when they dispute the whole of evolution without being able to refute any part of it. Yet, they remain convinced that the theory is somewhere between "wrong" and "sacrilegious" and won't be swayed from their views.

While scientists may disagree on specific minor details of certain theories (such as evolution), there is no disagreement that the major theory itself is correct or that the methods used by science are sound. There is only one "science" in the world (or, for that matter, in the universe).
(R) This assertion, that scientists always agree on everything except minor details, is laughable.
(MB) Once again, you've utterly failed to read or understand what I said. First, I said "certain theories" and not "everything". Second, I referred to "major theories" and the "methods used by science". Finally, you say that this is "laughable", but give no examples to back up your mirth. This would suggest that your dispute is merely for the sake of being unwilling to agree with me about something. If not, how about putting a little meat on the bones of your claim?

(R) You are correct to say there is only one "science" in the universe, just as it is correct to say there is only one physical reality.
(MB) OK.

(R) It is also correct to say there is only one historical realty.
(MB) This would be true only for those who travel along the same path through the dimension of time, but, for all practical purposes, you wouldn't be wrong.

(R) And it is correct to say there is only one reality of the nature of God.
(MB) First, the big question about whether or not there is any God must be resolved. If that can be answered successfully in the affirmative, then we can consider what his nature might be. If the answer is "No", then "the reality of his nature" becomes an irrelevant question.

(R) However, big problems arise when different individuals try to reconcile their vastly differing pictures of these realities.
(MB) That's why evidence is the deciding factor. Anybody can put forth an idea. It's only through the available evidence that any such idea can gain validity. The real problems arise when ideas without evidence try to gain equality with ideas which do have evidence to support them. Logically, this is no problem when one recognizes standards of evidence and the burden of proof. Emotionally, however, one can get rather testy when his favorite idea just doesn't measure up.

(R) I don't know enough about physics or chemistry to know what the major issues are in these sciences, but I know there are some, and that they cause major disagreements among scientists.
(MB) "Some"? And, are you saying that all of them are sources of major disagreements? Or, are you merely misinterpreting debate over details as general dispute over the whole of larger theories? In any case, since you didn't give any examples of these things you say you "know", I really can't comment on any of them.

(R) Look at Martin Rees and Stephen Hawking -- I get the feeling these two don't see eye to eye on many things.
(MB) Such as? You must be more specific if you are going to formulate arguments based upon these things.

(R) I work every day with engineers and I guarantee if I take the same engineering problem to two different engineers, I will get two different "correct" solutions. I'm certain the same is true of scientists and their professional opinions.
(MB) You're confusing details with overall theory again. No engineer will dispute the tenets of basic physics. They will argue, however, about the best ways to exploit them in their designs. That is, after all, what promotes creativity and new inventions.

(R) And these are the pure sciences, where things are fairly cut and dried. Move into a science which is less exact and see what you find. Biology, anthropology, economics, sociology, or psychology for example, or history, which if not truly a science, at least should be treated scientifically. You'll see major disagreements in these disciplines, disagreements on basic, fundamental issues. But that doesn't mean the disciplines themselves are bunk.
(MB) Once again, you'll need to provide specifics before anything can be competently addressed. I also find it interesting how you would seek to equate biology and anthropology -- which deal with hard facts -- with such things as psychology that deal more with abstract theory.
In any case, there are no examples anywhere in science where any fundamental disagreements are as large and as basic as those surrounding religion. What can be a larger fundamental disagreement than questions about the existence of God?

Religion certainly can't claim anything similar. Competing religions disagree on major points. Sects of the same religion hold mutually-exclusive positions. Believers in the same sect disagree on interpretation and scope of Scripture. If the God theory was correct, there would be no such problems. There would be only one religion and there would be no disputes or differences concerning it.
(R) You are so far off base on this one it almost isn't even necessary to give a rebuttal. But anyway, here goes: There is only one physical reality, however, there is little agreement among men as to what it is.
(MB) Oh? Really? How many men disagree that there is a universe and that the universe is composed of matter and energy? Some may dispute the details, but no sane man would dispute that it exists.

(R) There is only one reality of the nature of God and there is a similar lack of agreement on this.
(MB) It's hardly "similar". While no one doubts the existence of the universe and its basic nature, there is plenty of disagreement about the existence of God and plenty of disagreement among believers about his nature.

(R) The fact that we do not understand either of these, except imperfectly and differently, doesn't automatically mean our attempts to understand are invalid.
(MB) The fact that the very basic premise of the existence of God inspires disagreement while the very basic premise of the existence of the universe does not makes the two things unequal. Imperfect knowledge of one lends absolutely no validity to any claim about the other. Each must stand or fall on its own merits (or lack of).

If there's no definitive reason for preferring your religion above any other, then there's no reason to prefer its beliefs or its deity. If there's no reason to prefer them, why even bother to promote them?
(R) I say exactly the same of your philosophy. There may be no reason to believe in God, but neither is there any reason not to, so why try to convince people there is no God? Your unprovable beliefs have no inherent superiority over any other, so why do you continue to insist they are superior?
(MB) As stated in an earlier reply, it is a logical fallacy to support belief in an idea simply because there is no reason not to believe it. Belief is a positive existential claim and, as such, bears the burden of proof. Non-belief is the more logical position when that burden of proof has not been successfully borne. This applies equally to any claim of existence for anything in either the natural or supernatural (or any other) realm. Belief "because there's no reason not to" is an argument from ignorance that arises from the inability or unwillingess to understand any such reason.

I was only considering the major sects, i.e., those with at least 5,000 members.
(R) Excuse me for not instantly recognizing that.
(MB) No problem. I should have been more specific, but lower numbers of differing sects would be better for your arguments (although still problematic). Higher numbers are better for mine.

Certainly, there are several times more of the small, fringe groups with their own wild ideas. In any case, the more different and widely-divergent sects of the same basic religion which exist, the stronger my point becomes.
(R) Your point is that no religious beliefs are valid because there isn't exact agreement among believers on them, and all religion is bunk because different believers have different beliefs. Your point, sir, is rubbish, and could not be any weaker. Nothing can strengthen it.
(MB) The point is that the varying sects of what purports to be the same religion take wildly divergent and mutually-exclusive paths towards attempting to justify the same basic premise -- that God exists. When the proponents of such a belief can't even agree on something so basic, the whole idea begins to collapse under its own weight. Evidence to support a particular sect could help strengthen the premise, but none exists. Part of the reason why so many sects exist is that none presents a case that is compelling enough to gain general acceptance even among those who are predisposed to believe the basic premise. If the believers can't settle on a story, how is anybody else supposed to accept it? One can only conclude that the premise itself is the true rubbish.

You are quite correct. Not only is their friction and incompatible beliefs between the smaller sects, but it exists all the way up to Protestants vs. Catholics. Once again, so much dispute about basic principles just reinforces my points about the religion itself.
(R) Once again, your point is so bad and so insupportable as to be laughable. You're saying, "None of them agree, so they're all wrong." This ranks high among the flawed reasoning I've seen.
(MB) That's not what I'm saying. If they're not all wrong, then one of them must be right (a basic logic principle). If one is right, then that fact can be demonstrated (or, at least, strongly suggested). Unfortunately, this can't be done. So, my reasoning is hardly "flawed". In fact, it is practically self-evident.

(R) Yes, there are differences between Protestants and Catholics (the Protestant concept of the "priesthood of all believers" is probably the most significant) but the fact there is disagreement among believers doesn't mean no one is right. It is just is very difficult to determine who it is.
(MB) Tell you what...once y'all get your disagreements ironed out amongst yourselves first, then you can come and bring a unified story out to the rest of us. Otherwise, who are we suppose to believe?

Certainly you don't believe that such trivialities are enough to cause new sects to be formed?
(R) Take my word for it, the above example is not trivial to many Baptists, who adamantly oppose the use of alcohol in any form. I consider it pretty minor, though.
(MB) As do I. However, since the rite of communion is supposed to be an important ceremony that is necessary to achieve salvation and is practiced as Jesus taught at the Last Supper, I don't see how there can be so much confusion about how it is supposed to be conducted.
On a side note, I find it mildly amusing how the bread and wine are supposed to be symbolic of the act of partaking of the body and blood of Christ when the Old Testament considers such acts to be serious sins. Of course, this can be blown off as being "Jewish law". Then again, Jesus was a Jew. Hmmm...

It's the important differences that cause division. Such things include the sects' authority, rites and practices, and doctrinal basis. Some question the divinity of Jesus. That certainly isn't a trivial difference.
(R) The divinity of Christ is the most important of the issues you mention. The others are important to varying degrees. Of the eight major sects I mentioned, which together account for almost 150 million of the 200 million American Christians, all are firmly committed to the idea of Christ's divinity.
(MB) Why shouldn't *all* sects of Christianity be firmly committed to that idea if it supposed to be such a firm truth? The idea that Christ died for Man's sins and that one can only achieve salvation through him is a very basic tenet of Christianity, is it not? If that can be called into doubt, doesn't this present a major problem for the religion?

(R) It is my opinion that as long as a group which calls itself Christian considers Christ to be divine, other differences are relatively minor.
(MB) And what about the groups that do *not* consider Christ to be divine, but still call themselves "Christians"? Are they wrong? One side of the story is certainly wrong as they can't both be right. How does one side defend its story against the story of the other side?

(R) Perhaps you could give a specific example of something you consider an important difference amongst these mainline Christian sects? I'll make an attempt at explaining it.
(MB) Certainly the differences resulting from differences over how Catholics and Protestants view the Virgin Mary are neither trivial nor confined to a minor percentage of believers in small sects. Which side is right?

You don't think that Catholics have major differences from the others? What do you think caused the original splitting away of the Protestants? You wouldn't consider 10 million people to be a significant number? And none of this explains why any significant differences should exist in the first place.
(R) I'll answer your questions in order: Of course there are differences between the different sects, but there is still basic agreement on the major issues of Christianity amongst these eight major denominations.
(MB) If that is so, do we just brush aside those sects that *do* have major differences and pretend that such differences aren't important? If there's nothing to support the issues agreed upon by the majority, how can one authoritatively say that they are right or that the minority is wrong?

(R) Everyone knows the selling of absolution was the immediate cause which drove Luther to nail his thesis's to the cathedral door in Rheims.
(MB) The main problem with what "everybody knows" is that "everybody" is usually either wrong or underinformed. I'd bet that the only thing that "everybody knows" about this great event was that Luther nailed his 95 Theses to a church door (and even that is a debated issue and may well be an apocryphal tale). This is demonstrated here by the incorrect statement that this momentous event took place in Rheims when, in fact, the location was the Castle Church in Wittenberg.
The issue of the papal practice of selling indulgences certainly qualified as the straw which broke the camel's back and served as the catalyst for the final break from an increasingly corrupt Catholicism. Anybody who would like to read the text of the 95 Theses can do so by selecting this link.

(R) Yes, 10 million is a large number, but its degree of significance in this context comes from what it is compared to, not its own size.
(MB) Why should that make any real difference in this case? If the issue is supposedly cut-and-dried, 10 million believers who have disagreements with it is extremely significant no matter how many people claim not to have any. In fact, those 10 million are those whose differences are important enough to case a schism within the religion. Other believers may have problems with certain things, but may not consider them important or may not be comfortable with the consequences of expressed disagreement. This does not make their differences disappear. Finally, add the total number of non-believers to those who have varying degrees of doubt or disagreement and you end up with a very significant percentage of the entire population. This is enough to generate a legitimate problem with the religion that demands some solid answers.

(R) Finally, the reason differences exist is because it is very difficult in some of these matters to determine the real truth.
(MB) Making Man aware of the real truth is well within the powers of an omnipotent God, is it not? Also, the very book that seeks to chronicle the historical accounts of Jesus can't agree with itself on numerous important details. How does a non-believer read these contradictory accounts and build up any coherent and believable picture of what the basis of Christianity is supposed to be about?

(R) In your paragraph, you condemn the methods of argument used by religious advocates, but as is usual, only through insinuation, since you detail none of these methods.
(MB) Oh, please. I've already detailed dozens of such arguments and explained the problems with each of them. For example, you must certainly remember the list of 10 tactics of Creationist argument. Don't tell me you've already forgotten? Must I list everything all over again each time I make reference to them?

(R) I responded by defining certain debate tactics which I deplore.
(MB) Each of which you've mistakenly tried to attach to me and which I have previously and continuously shown to be incorrect.

(R) Now, I agree you haven't purposely lied about anything, but the rest applies, especially your anti-religious bigotry.
(MB) If you admit that I haven't lied about anything, how can you justify a charge of bigotry? Bigotry is not composed of truths, you know. Unpleasant truths don't qualify as "bigotry", either.

Quite correct. But, if you don't oppose it when asked about it, then you must be implicitly supporting it.
(R) This is an odd bit of logic. It's good you put the words "when asked" in there, otherwise I would rip it to shreds.
(MB) That would also have completely changed the meaning of my statement.

(R) Let me go on record as saying, that when confronted with something I feel is wrong, I oppose it. However, I always consider two things when deciding to whether or not to oppose anything: How important is the issue? And, how convinced am I the opposing position is wrong?
(MB) Since religion is so important to believers, why would any believer not oppose those who seek to damage or corrupt it? There's certainly no question that believers would consider any opponent to be "wrong" -- whether they could prove it or not. You have claimed more than once that the question of God's existence is of ultimate importance. Why, then, would any believer hesitate to stand up for his beliefs or oppose those who challenge them? If he won't stand up for that, what will he stand up for?

If it takes a "Jihad" to root out the nonsense in the religious community and restore any amount of respectability and validity to it, then so be it. Will you help or will you continue to support the nonsense?
(R) You're actually advocating a Holy War to root out apostasy?
(MB) Such a Holy War doesn't have to be fought with bullets or torture devices. If the religious community would just take a firm stand in uniting its beliefs and putting down those who wrongfully invoke those beliefs to support unethical, anti-social or criminal actions, they would take a giant step towards gaining respectability. Then, of course, they could get about the business of actually providing some evidence for their beliefs and, thereby, gaining validity for them.

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