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

(R) As I remember, the original point under discussion in this section was how the diversity of beliefs among religious believers proves that religion is nonsense.
(MB) Wrong. My point was that the much greater diversity of Christianity demonstrates how lax that religion is and how few demands it places upon its adherents in contrast to Judaism and Islam. This says nothing about whether or not the religion itself is nonsense.

(R) This is itself nonsense, for in the first place, 50 percent of the world's population have religious beliefs which are quite similar,...
(MB) Oh, really? Please explain how the core beliefs of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam and the divergent beliefs of their combined 1500+ variant sects are "quite similar" in any way other than that their central God is the same deity.

(R) ...and in the second place, there is an identical amount of diversity and disagreement in every other area of human experience, including science.
(MB) Oh, really? Since when are there 1500+ different versions of science, mathematics, economics, political systems, etc.? Are there really 1500+ different theories of gravity, versions of medicine, or the Periodic Table of the Elements? How do you possibly justify this wild claim in any way other than to smooth over and downplay the divergence in religious beliefs?
    BTW, your two arguments here are mutually inconsistent. First, you try to impress upon us how similar the majority of religious beliefs are and then you acknowledge the amount of divergence and disagreement that I have been stating all along. Which way is it?

If not, why exclude other religions from the group? One could also look at the other side of the coin and say that over half the world does *not* adhere to that group of religions. Both of our statements are true. What's your point?
(R) The point is that half the world's population worship the God of Abraham, i.e. have similar concepts of God, refuting your argument that there is no agreement on such matters.
(MB) Thanks for not answering the question and for (once again) misrepresenting my argument. Once again, if half of any given population agree about something and the other half does not, what has been supported or refuted about that point other than that there is disagreement concerning it -- which was my argument in the first place.
    Now, once we have established that there is a significant amount of disagreement, we can ask why any such disagreement should exist in the first place if the existence of the deity in question is supposedly undeniable?

(R) Our current discussion is over whether diversity of belief among religious believers indicates there is no God. No, it does not. There are many similarities between the religious beliefs of different cultures, including simply the belief in God Himself. These similarities indicate, if anything, the opposite case is true. This is not conclusive evidence of God's existence, however. It is merely evidence which shows your claim, that the diversity of belief indicates there is no God, is wrong.
(MB) First, you continue to misrepresent my argument. Disagreement about God's existence indicates no more and no less about that existence than that there is disagreement. If anything, the amount of disagreement indicates that the particular dogma about God which is being questioned is rather dubious instead of being "undeniably true" or "better" than any other idea about the nature or existence of God. If the dogma is questionable, then God cannot be presupposed and used as the basis of any other argument or lifestyle.

That total of 24.5 million would be larger than the total membership of any sect of Christianity in the United States with the sole exception of Roman Catholicism -- who constitute less than 25% of the population.
(R) And the 24.5 million non-religious have vastly different of individual beliefs ranging from a strong belief in the existence of God to complete atheism - differences far greater than the mostly insignificant ones seen in beliefs among Catholics and the major Protestant sects.
(MB) Explain to me how a non-religious person can have a "strong belief in the existence of God". As to the remainder of your claim, if the differences were truly "insignificant", how could they have resulted in the creation of over 1000 different sects? Obviously, *somebody* considers them to be highly significant, even if you don't.

(R) 75 percent of American Christians belong to these major Christian sects, which incidentally, represent a majority of 100 to 1 over atheists.
(MB) And, of course, this majority is proof positive that atheism is "wrong", is that what you're saying? BTW, earlier you were claiming that 90% of American Christians belonged to the major sects. Now, it's down to 75%. Which is correct?

(R) Your original statement, that religion is only prevalent in poor, unindustrialized nations, is false.
(MB) I didn't say that. I said that religious belief approaches 100% in those nations. Certainly, by the argument you yourself advanced in the previous paragraph, religious belief is more than "prevalent" in the United States. It's just that non-religious beliefs (to include agnosticism and atheism) are more prevalent in the technologically-advanced nations.

And, the point of this numbers game is...? As I've said before, an idea is acceptable and valid based upon the evidence that supports it and not upon the number of people who believe it.
(R) I'm in no way claiming that because most people believe in God, this proves God exists. That would be silly.
(MB) But, you *do* use those same numbers as some sort of support for the validity of the belief, don't you? If not, just what meaning do they have?

(R) However, I *am* contesting your proposition that because there is diversity among religious believers, God does not exist -- an even more silly idea. Does this answer your question about the point of the numbers game?
(MB) As I have previously pointed out, you have misrepresented my argument. Diversity of beliefs doesn't prove that God doesn't exist. What it casts doubt upon is the truth of any individual specific belief. Since they can't all be right, and since none have any evidence to support them, the sheer number of beliefs greatly lowers the probability of truth for any given individual belief among the group. If somebody wishes to posit that one of these beliefs is "right", he will need compelling evidence in its favor in order to separate his chosen belief from the rest of the pack.
    As of yet, my question about the point of the numbers game has not been answered. Misrepresenting my argument only evades such an answer.

As an example, would you try to say that astrology is valid just because of the high percentage of people who believe in it? At least astrology has evidence which attempts to support it.
(R) I strongly doubt your statement that a high percentage of people believe in astrology. Perhaps you'd care to put a number on that percentage and back it up with some figures?
(MB) Of course. A 1992 study published by Shoshanah Feher ("Who Looks to the Stars? Astrology and its Constituency") found that 25% of Americans have a strong belief in astrology while 47% have some belief in it. These figures are confirmed by other studies and polls including Gallup and Roper polls from 1996. A series of Roper polls conducted since 1972 involving over 25,000 people found that only *5* respondents (0.02%) did not know their astrological sign. This, to me, seems rather astounding since it is very rare to see any poll where there isn't a 2%-5% "Don't know" response to any given question.
    Now that I've backed up my statement, perhaps you would answer the question I asked you. To wit, would you try to say that astrology is valid just because of the high percentage of people who believe in it?

Jefferson was a Deist. That's not the same as being an atheist or being non-religious.
(R) It most certainly does meet the criteria of "non-religious," which means merely that one doesn't adhere to an established religion. Most people who classify themselves as non-religious still believe in God in some form.
(MB) So, you once again must resort to redefining a word ("non-religious") in order to try to salvage a claim? Let's go to the dictionary to clear things up. In its definition of the word "religious", the American Heritage Dictionary says that the word "...implies adherence to religion in both belief and practice". It also defines "religion" as being "Belief in and reverence for a supernatural power recognized as the creator and governor of the universe". Since both of these definitions apply to Deism, a Deist is most certainly a religious person. Just because a Deist doesn't believe in Yahweh doesn't make him "non-religious".

His reputation as the author of the Declaration of Independence, as a major contributor to the Constitution, and as one of the leading intellectuals of his time were the major factors in his election to the Presidency.
(R) Certainly....and his deism hurt his chances very little. It was perfectly acceptable for him to hold a non-traditional view of God.
(MB) Especially since Deism was the religious viewpoint favored by almost all leading intellectuals during the time known as "the Age of Reason". Again, Deism is neither atheism nor a non-religious belief.

(R) Your statement, that it has only recently become acceptable for the non-religious to "come out of the closet," is wrong.
(MB) Given the preceding few paragraphs about Deism and the history of religion in general, how is it wrong?

It wasn't until Abraham Lincoln that politics started to get in bed with religion.
(R) I'm not at all sure what you mean by this statement. Social, economic, religious, and political forces have always been closely interrelated, in America and everywhere else. Is this some sort of slam against Lincoln? Please clarify.
(MB) Lincoln was the first President to openly appeal to God and Christian morals in his speeches and politics. Perhaps, it was the Civil War that influenced this and he knew that the people needed something upon which to bolster their hopes for the future of the nation. Such appeals go back to the long-standing tradition that Kings and others who seek to wield supreme executive authority are empowered to do so by Divine Right. After all, the peasants may not like the King, but they're not likely to buck the will of God.

Let's also not forget that accepting "religious non-conformity" only means that one could be free to change the way he worships or the doctrine he subscribes to. It doesn't mean the popular acceptance of the open expression of a non-religious point of view.
(R) I'm not sure what your talking about with "popular acceptance of the open expression of a non-religious point of view."
(MB) I think you do, but may not want to admit to it since it would involve at least a tacit acknowledgement that mainstream Christianity is not especially tolerant of dissenting views such as atheism. I refer you back to the poll I related earlier where 74% of Americans didn't care about offending non-Christians.

(R) Such views have been openly expressed for centuries.
(MB) "Expressed", yes. "Accepted", certainly not.

(R) I'm not saying discrimination of the most serious nature (being burned at the stake!) hasn't happened (or isn't happening currently.)
(MB) That sounds like a rather definitive way of opposing any dissent aimed at one's religion, eh? What gives anybody the right to do such things - either now or in the past?

(R) I'm just disputing your claim that only recently has it become possible to express non-religious views.
(MB) You're fudging the argument again. It's always been "possible" to express such views. It's just that the retributions for doing so were considerably more severe in the past than they are today, so it's easier to express such views openly and with little fear today. Of course, this doesn't apply everywhere. Check current events in Afghanistan, for example.

(R) Atheism itself is not popularly accepted, as demonstrated by the ratio of believers to non-believers, but the right to express such views definitely is.
(MB) We're not talking about the "right" to do something. We're talking about the consequences involved. As a parallel example, one has always had the "right" to declare his homosexuality even though it is certainly not popularly accepted, but only recently have the consequences of doing so become less severe. Thus, the rise in the numbers of people "coming out of the closet". There are certainly more homosexuals in the population than have openly declared themselves.

(R) Let me ask you something: You are non-religious -- have you ever been discriminated against in your job for that reason?
(MB) No, because military service is non-religious. However, there have been some military members who have fought legal battles in order to wear the beards, hats or jewelry demanded by their religions. None have yet won their cases, but they have been refused for reasons not connected with anything that qualifies as religious discrimination.

(R) Have you ever been denied a promotion or award because you don't believe in God?
(MB) No, because religion is not a factor in such things. However, discrimination based on other factors (such as race) has been known to occur.

(R) Has anyone ever threatened you over it?
(MB) Yes. Occasionally, we are required to attend briefings or training sessions that are conducted by chaplains and/or are held in chapels. If one refuses to attend such a briefing, he can be brought up on charges of failing to report to his assigned place of duty. Such charges threaten the future of one's career and can result in fines, demotion, confinement and discharge from the service.

(R) Has anyone you work with ever attacked you verbally about it?
(MB) Yes. I've been the target of numerous expressions of righteous indignation by "true believers" and have been involved in numerous arguments. I couldn't tell you how many times I've been told that I'll "rot in hell" since I haven't accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior.

(R) Do you feel you are being overtly or covertly pressured to convert or face on-the-job consequences?
(MB) No, since my actual job has no connection with religious beliefs. I can always sleep during the chaplain's briefings...*grin*

(R) Or conversely, do find yourself on a level playing field with your peers? Do you compete with them equally, with your religious beliefs a non-factor in your chances for recognition, awards, and promotions?
(MB) As previously stated, religious beliefs are no factor as far as Army career advancement and official recognition are concerned.

(R) Do you freely discuss your religious beliefs as appropriate with out fear of retribution?
(MB) I am free to discuss them at any time the subject arises. I do not, however, begin such discussions or push my beliefs on others either directly or indirectly in conversation or daily activities. This is not because I have any fear of doing so. It's because I have no more need to actively promote my non-belief in God than to actively promote my non-belief in leprechauns or pink unicorns. Of course, if the subject should come up, I'll feel free to throw in my $.02 worth.

(R) I don't know how you'll respond, but if you're in the first situation, you are a fool not to avail yourself of one of the many avenues for fighting discrimination of this type, and if in the second, what are you complaining about?
(MB) The subject of belief vs. non-belief has nothing to do with my job, so your situations are either inapplicable or incomplete. Any personal clashes with fellow service members on this subject are personal and not job-related. They can and do also happen in the civilian world.

It's becoming increasingly popular to profess being "born again" these days. However, that does not reflect a former atheist suddenly adopting religious beliefs. Almost all "born again" people are already believers. They are professing a great increase in the strength of their belief. Since such a declaration is popular with the masses, there's little doubt that some of those declarations are for the benefit of those who are listening instead of for the individual himself.
(R) I agree. Rep. Doug Bereuter (R-Neb) recently said, "I question no individual man or woman's religious sincerity, but....a lot of people got religion lately when it seemed to be especially good politics with certain voting blocks."
(MB) Bill Clinton certainly knows how well this works. Compare this to the effect that an open declaration of atheism would have on a politician's chances of appealing to many of those same voting blocks.

(R) As you and Rep Bereuter say, *some* declarations of religious faith are for consumption by others. But not all of them. So, do we condemn every person who is born-again because some are insincere?
(MB) Of course not. Isn't this just another verse in the old "scope vs. substance" song? Unfortunately, the common perception is that declarations of being "born-again" are all truthful and they always result in increased appeal to the general public. Since there is no empirical way to prove that someone has actually been "born-again", it is reasonable to be skeptical of such claims until such time that the claimant proves himself by his actions. Heck, Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt once claimed to be "born-again".

(R) Every single thing people do can be perverted for unsavory ends. Do you think certain minority leaders stress the victimhood of their constituents for no other reason than to increase their own political power?
(MB) Having seen this in action in more cases than I can stomach (especially after having lived in Marion Barry's Washington DC), the answer in these cases is most certainly "Yes".

(R) Does this mean the entire civil rights movement is suspect?
(MB) The movement itself? No. The motives of many of the self-appointed leaders of the movement? Absolutely!

(R) Also, isn't that a bit obvious that most born-again people were already a believer of some sort before their conversion?
(MB) That should be more than a bit obvious just on the basic numbers alone. But, this proves nothing about any individual declaration itself.

(R) 95 percent of humanity believe in God in one form or another. In America, 85 percent identify themselves as a Christian. It should not be at all be surprising that born-again Christians come mainly from the ranks of former adherents of other beliefs.
(MB) I never claimed otherwise -- and to do so would be foolish. My point was about the honesty and utility of some of these claims. As an aside, one wonders just how one can define being "born-again". It is not the same thing as achieving enlightenment as that is an actual physiological condition that is not directly connected to belief in the supernatural.

Even if the percentage of atheists had doubled over that time, the change would still not be "statistically significant".
(R) Certainly. If the number of atheists had doubled since 1960, it would interesting, but not significant. In fact, as a proportion of the population, the number of atheists in America remains stagnant. Your claim that modern conditions should increase the number of atheists in our society is obviously without merit.
(MB) That only demonstrates a lack of mathematical understanding. Even if the percentage remains constant (or even decreases by a minor amount), if the total population increases, so will the total number of atheists.
    Secondly, you have made the error of equating a statistically insignificant percentage change within a population with no change at all. Finally, you dispute the rise in the percentage of atheists but give no references in support of your disagreement. All things considered, it would seem to be your disagreement that is obviously without merit.

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