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

You forgot the last -- and most important -- half of my statement, which was "...and does not take those individuals to task for what they say". Your out-of-context complaint attempts to change the entire meaning of my point.
(R) Excuse me for misunderstanding. You're telling me I'm not actually responsible for the beliefs, words, and actions of Jimmy Swaggert, Jerry Falwell, and the like, as long as I don't agree/approve. Thank you. I don't agree or approve....and neither do the vast majority of religious believers.
(MB) I would hope that this would be the case, but I'm rather skeptical. After all, where is the mainstream religious literature that criticizes such individuals? Where are the mainstream religious leaders who openly challenge Falwell, et al? Why do their TV shows constitute such a large percentage of religious programming? Why do their comments become front-page headlines and have so much influence?
    I think there is very good reason to be skeptical about any claim that the "vast majority" of religious believers oppose these individuals and their organizations.

If somebody asks me what I think about any of the things you mentioned, I will condemn them in no uncertain terms. If nobody condemns such things, then they are given implicit support.
(R) And I would condemn such things also, just as I would argue (and have) with those who hold narrow religious views. So tell me again why I bear responsibility for those narrow views.
(MB) If you actively oppose such views, you bear no responsibility for them. If one says or does nothing to oppose them, that implies at least a tacit acceptance of them. In other words, if one is not a part of the solution, he is a part of the problem.

(R) And explain to me once more why the ridiculous, intolerant, prejudiced, and stupid claim that all religious believers bear a "mantle of responsibility" for the beliefs and actions of a few should be seen as anything but unfair, bigoted, and wrong.
(MB) Because you haven't, as yet, successfully explained why it's wrong. You also continually distort my argument on this case. It's not *all* religious believers who bear the responsibility, it is only those who do not oppose the actions that are being criticized. If the majority actively opposed the Falwellian nutcases, they wouldn't be more than another lunatic fringe group holed up outside of Waco.

Don't you want your own beliefs to be free from nonsense and black clouds? Should religious beliefs be exempt from the same standards as any other beliefs?
(R) My beliefs are already free of fog and nonsense. All beliefs should be held to the same standards.
(MB) You've done nothing, as of yet, to dispel any appreciable amount of the fog which accompanies your beliefs. Until there is the first shred of evidence presented to support the idea of God's existence, such a proposition can be nothing more than fog.
    As to whether or not you hold all beliefs to the same standards, this simply isn't true unless you are restricting yourself to religious beliefs only. Nobody who demands proof before belief for one proposition while blindly accepting another on faith alone can claim that he holds all beliefs to the same standards.

(R) Yes, I say your criticisms apply to only a few religious believers.
(MB) You keep saying it, but haven't yet demonstrated it without distorting the actual criticisms being made.

(R) No, you won't find a church which teaches God is a personal preference because He is not.
(MB) If that is so, why should anybody believe it and what compelling evidence is there that would lead others to the same conclusion?

(R) Yes, you will find many congregations which are completely tolerant of the religious beliefs of others, ref. Unitarians, Central Christian, and many others.
(MB) Of course, none of these are members of the major mainstream sects that you have often touted as encompassing "the vast majority" of believers. I thought you opposed the idea that the beliefs of the minority reflect the general views of the majority? Or will you embrace such a concept when the beliefs are positive ones?

What's the difference? If God is not a "personal preference", then he is a fact...and we've already covered that ground.
(R) We most certainly have covered it, over and over. I'd think you'd have got it by now, but here goes again:
(MB) The reason we have covered it over and over is because I'm still waiting for a real answer to the question. Maybe I'll get one this time. Let's see...

(R) The existence of God is not a fact, because there is no conclusive evidence which proves He exists. The non-existence of God is also not a fact, because there is no conclusive evidence which proves He does not.
(MB) This, however, provides no basis for justifying a belief in God any more than such an argument justifies belief in unicorns, fairies, or anything else for which there is no conclusive proof of non-existence. This is why the burden of proof rests with the positive existential claim and why the negative is the more logical and reasonable position until that burden of proof has been met. To argue otherwise is to say that any belief, no matter how ludicrous, can be justified solely on the basis of an inability to disprove it conclusively. Such an argument threatens to trivialize any belief into meaninglessness.

(R) The only personal preference involved is the choice of whether or not believe in Him. Obviously, the two positions are mutually exclusive, that is, if one is true, the other is not.
(MB) Actually, there are four possible positions here:
    1) God exists and you believe in him.
    2) God exists, but you do not believe in him.
    3) God does not exist, but you still believe in him.
    4) God does not exist and you do not believe in him.
    Because you can choose your personal preference of believing in him whether or not God actually exists, your choice actually has nothing to do with answering the real question of whether or not God exists. That question can only be resolved by evidence. Most believers, as you have done here, presuppose that God exists, and consider only the first two possibilities for personal preferences whereas the other two possibilities must be given equal weight and consideration in the absence of conclusive evidence.

(R) However, it is impossible for us to determine which one is correct, and our choice of whether to believe in God or not is a purely personal decision.
(MB) We can, by use of logic, determine which of the four possible positions is most reasonable. Since the positive existential claim for God has no evidence to support it (as you acknowledge), the negative becomes more logical. If it is more logical to conclude that God does not exist, the most reasonable personal preference is not to believe in him.

(R) Let us compare this with the theory of evolution. It is argued by some that it's "only a theory" and can't be proven true or false. While this is technically true (only in mathematics can something be proved absolutely) there is never-the-less a huge body of evidence which strongly indicates the theory of evolution is valid. For all practical purposes it can be considered a fact.
    Now, I can still make a personal choice not to believe in evolution, but that doesn't alter the facts. Similarly, our personal preferences doesn't change whether or not God exists. Whichever is true is a fact and our personal beliefs doesn't change it.

(MB) Exactly correct. You have helped me prove my point. Facts are what really matters. Since personal preferences do not change the facts and since things are either true or false without regard for what we choose to believe, personal preferences mean nothing and provide no support for any other claim.

(R) When you insist God is either a fact or a personal preference, you are presenting an invalid choice and are completely wrong.
(MB) Nope, since personal preferences have nothing whatsoever to do with actual facts -- as we have just agreed in the previous paragraph. So, now we can safely discard the "personal preference" bit and get back to real arguments about whether or not God exists, right?

So long as those "beliefs" are only about minor things -- like whether grape juice or wine should be used for communion. Is there a "loving, tolerant" Christian church which will host a convention of atheists or Satanists or would allow a religious service to be celebrated by any group that does not worship God? What about the "right to different beliefs" of those people?
(R) And you're the person who whined because somebody said a simple blessing at a farewell luncheon you attended?
(MB) First of all, I didn't "whine". Second, if you remember correctly (if you don't, read my "Public Prayer" essay to refresh your memory), my point was not about tolerance, it was about forcing one's views upon all others in attendance. In fact, my solution (observing a moment of silence where one could pray, meditate, contemplate, or do nothing at all as he sees fit) is certainly more tolerant than forcing one particular religious ceremony upon everybody else without consideration for other beliefs.

(R) Yet you condemn every religious person on Earth because most would prefer not to have the adherents of rival religions hold services in their place of worship?
(MB) These are the same religious persons who preach that "all beliefs are equal" and who crow about how "tolerant" their own views are? Why should such individuals have any problem with adherents of "rival" religions? Or, is it just that they really don't practice what they preach and that they do consider their own beliefs to be "better" than all others?
    How can you continue to berate me for being "biased" and "prejudiced" when you yourself continually validate my points in the course of attempted rebuttals? For example, you like to say how only "a small minority" of believers behave as I depict, yet right here you agree with me that most believers are not tolerant of other beliefs.

(R) If that's the case, I condemn you because you don't hold Bible-study classes in your house every Tuesday.
(MB) Do I not engage in Bible study right here on my web site within the debates on the subject of religion and other topics where appropriate? Or, does "Bible study" mean to you what it means to most Christians -- reading carefully selected excerpts from a small subset of the Bible and being indoctrinated into their "meaning" by the study guide they are using? Unfortunately, most Christians don't have the faintest idea what's actually written in their Bibles.

(R) Just because I'm not willing to have Satanists come to my church and do what ever it is they like to do doesn't mean I don't recognize the rights of others to their own beliefs.
(MB) Recognizing their rights and beliefs doesn't mean that you are practicing any tolerance of them or that you consider them to be the equal of your own. I guess we can now dispense with any claims to the contrary about this, as well?

Why would I attend a church service when I don't believe in the religion that is being practiced in that church?
(R) I mentioned Central as an example of a tolerant church. In case you don't believe me, please take in a service and see for yourself.
(MB) I can't imagine going to Las Vegas to attend a church service -- unless, of course, the deity being worshipped therein would help me make a few more passes at the Craps table.
    Seriously, though, here's another example of a tiny minority sect whose beliefs are being held up as being the general beliefs of the overall majority. But, if that was the case, there would be no need to refer only to small sects to support one's claims. You could hold up the majority itself to do so. But, that can't be done, can it?

I'm already aware of the diversity of beliefs out there. That should be abundantly clear by now. BTW, you've got it backwards, it's "Unitarian Universalist". They are one of the Christian sects that, among other things, does not believe in the divinity of Christ.
(R) Unitarians are remarkable for their tolerance. Belief in God isn't even required for membership. So, here's a church which *does* host atheists.
(MB) Another small minority sect, of course. Believe it or not, I was actually married by a Universalist minister (strange things happen due to Army paperwork requirements at times) -- that's one reason why I know something about them. The circumstances inspired me to do a bit of research.

(R) Then it's agreed, your statement about fanatics has nothing to do with the point currently under discussion. I fail to understand why you brought it up.
(MB) The point under discussion at the time *was* "fanatics". This was because you brought up Nazis, KKK, Marxists, terrorists and all sorts of other groups in the midst of a previous discussion concerning the devotion of religious believers to their causes.

My essay is already honest and bias-free. The fact that you disagree with what I say does not change that.
(R) Let's quote directly from your essay on religion again, shall we?
(MB) Please do. It will help prove my point.

(R) "Organized religion seems more interested in controlling the lives of those who follow it than in anything else."
(MB) How is this statement dishonest or biased? You have not provided any examples of an organized religion that does not have rules for the flock or which does not put any sort of demands upon the behavior of its adherents.

(R) "All religions have rules for how you should live your life and few have much, if any, tolerance for anything outside of those rules."
(MB) How is this statement dishonest or biased? Consider that you have admitted to it yourself.

(R) "They (religions) also rely on the power of fear and blind faith to keep the flock in order. In this respect, organized religion is little different from political dictatorship."
(MB) How is this statement dishonest or biased? What religions do not rely on such things in order to maintain the discipline of their adherents?

(R) "Religion's main purpose seems to be to give people something upon which to base their opinions when they don't have (or don't care about) the facts."
(MB) How is this statement dishonest or biased? You admit to it when you claim that belief in God (which you admit is unsupported by any evidence) gives meaning to your life and satisfies your intellectual needs.

(R) Each of these comments definitely applies to some brands of religion and to some religious believers. They also, most definitely, do not apply to all.
(MB) OK, to which religions do those statements not apply, and why?

(R) But where in these statements is this latter fact indicated? You say "organized religion," and "all religions," and more simply "religion," followed statements which are nothing more than your own opinion about what is wrong with them.
(MB) Statements which you have often agreed with and have never been able to deny for anything more than trivial, carefully-selected, and non-representative instances. Unpleasant truths are still truths. If all you can carp about is that they don't apply to 100% of people, your case is weak indeed. Once again, I challenge you to dispute the substance of the statements and not solely their scope. To do otherwise is to agree that they are true, while engaging in irrelevant nitpicking at their edges.

(R) This is among the most biased writing I have ever seen. I also strongly question its honesty -- its intellectual honesty if nothing else.
(MB) If you are as well read and educated as you have claimed, then you have most certainly read works which are truly biased. "Mein Kampf" comes immediately to mind. To put my essay alongside such works in any respect certainly indicates that you are reacting out of pure emotion instead of from intellect. If you wish to challenge my honesty -- intellectual or otherwise -- you are going to have to come up with some valid facts in support of your arguments or in refutation of mine. Righteous indignation ain't gonna cut it.

(R) I can say all Frenchmen are rude. Or all Scotsmen are stingy. Or all Swedes are dumb. Or all Germans are sadists. (Please note these are merely used as examples and I do *not* believe them. Indeed, I have significant amounts of French, Scotch, and German ancestry.) (No Swedish, though.) (But my wife does.) My saying these things does not make them true. Neither are they unbiased or honest.
(MB) If scope is your primary concern, then one can easily disprove that all Frenchmen are rude by finding a single polite one. However, does that mean that the behavior of the others has suddenly become acceptable or that it should be no cause for concern or criticism? Or, even, that the rude behavior has suddenly ceased to exist? Would it be "biased" or "dishonest" to criticize the rude behavior, or even to portray it as being a general characteristic of that population? This is where substance must overrule scope. Ignoring the problem itself for the sake of worrying about how many people are being described is one of the hallmarks of Political Correctness -- a practice which solves nothing.

I would rather that you give me some reason to believe that such things as "souls" - eternal or otherwise -- actually exist. Something that doesn't exist cannot affect me no matter what I choose to believe in. The fact that you can express any worries at all indicates that you have some reason to think that such things as souls actually exist. What evidence supports this belief?
(R) Believe me when I tell you I would love to be able to "prove" you have a soul. Regrettably, I cannot.
(MB) Indeed. If such a thing could be proven -- or even strongly suggested -- it might go a long way towards answering the God question. As it is, however, it's just another popular fairy tale.

(R) All I can say is that it is reasonable to believe that human beings have souls, because there is no evidence to the contrary.
(MB) Same song, second verse. Would you also say that it is reasonable to believe that human beings have three long, invisible, immaterial, undetectable horns sticking out from the base of their necks solely because there is no evidence to the contrary? If you are simply going to brush this example off as being "silly", what is it that prevents the idea of a "soul" from being equally silly?

(R) You are absolutely correct to say if you do not have a soul, it won't affect you no matter what you believe....but if you do, you will certainly be affected regardless of whether you believe in it or not.
(MB) In other words, you are suffering from the "Pascal's Wager Syndrome" in which you choose to believe something solely on the basis of fear of what might conceivably happen if you don't believe it. Entire books have been written on the illogic involved in that sort of thinking.

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