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 fourth of a four-part reply.

Not if you are trying to proselytize your beliefs or if you are trying to position them as a valid alternative to any other beliefs or as the equal of any other beliefs.
(R) I think the fundamental precepts of Christianity are a fine guide for living a happy, full, and productive life, and that other people could gain from following them.
(MB) Do you think that such values are limited to the practice of Christianity or even to the practice of religion in general? The majority of Christian values are not unique to Christianity and many of the moral teachings of Jesus can also be found in the earlier writings and teachings of Eastern religions and philosophies. The values are fine. However, I see no need for them to be associated with the baggage of unsupportable belief in supernatural deities.

(R) While I'm not willing to argue they are the best, I will emphatically say they are the equal of any and better than some.
(MB) Naturally. Otherwise, you wouldn't practice your chosen religion, right? Out of curiosity, on what do you base your emphatic belief in the superiority of your religion's values system?

(R) Why then, shouldn't I tell others about them?
(MB) Because religious proselytizing is never limited to the teaching of basic values of behavior for their own sake. If they are always associated with the belief in supernatural stories, this detracts from their impact.

(R) I'm not trying to cram it down their throats or force them to convert.
(MB) Perhaps not to that degree, but you have previously admitted to being involved in evangelism and if your values system is inextricably intertwined with your religious beliefs, you will inevitably inject those beliefs into your efforts to tell others about your values. Also, I'm curious about why you would bother to make a concerted effort to tell others about your values if you didn't want them to change their own? I'm sure you don't restrict yourself to "preaching to the choir".

(R) I simply want them to enjoy the same benefits as I do.
(MB) What makes you think that they don't already enjoy those benefits (and more) or that their values are somehow inferior to your own?

(R) And if I am to be muzzled, why is it O.K. for you to promote your views?
(MB) First, I don't evangelize my views. Second, I can support my views about the universe with evidence which others can freely examine in order to make their own decisions. Third, my views carry no expressed or implied warnings about eternity in hell or other dire consequences for disbelief.

There must be some reason for you to keep debating the point with me and it must be something far more substantial than mere "personal preference". If that's all it was, there would be no reason for you to care that much about what I think.
(R) It boils down to a single reason: your insistence that all logic and all evidence indicates there is no God and anyone who believes otherwise is stupid. This cannot go unanswered.
(MB) Apparently, it can't even be properly repeated no matter how many times I've corrected you. This suggests a tacit acknowledgement that your own position is so weak that you can only keep it afloat by distorting mine and then attacking those distortions.

Belief that there is no God is a consequence of the complete failure of any and all ideas that any supernatural entity actually exists.
(R) I seem to detect a hint of regret here. Am I right?
(MB) Not at all. It's merely a logical inference. Reading ahead, I see that you will offer up some of the standard old philosophical arguments in favor of the existence of God -- some of which have been conclusively refuted since the time of David Hume and the rest of which have since been similarly shot full of holes.

(R) Arguments supporting the idea that God exists fall into five main categories: ontological, causal, design, experiential, and pragmatic. (I won't bother to define each of these, but if you're unfamiliar with them or can't find anything on them, let me know.)
(MB) I know them all quite well since they have all been addressed in numerous books and articles.

(R) Arguments against the existence of God can be categorized as multiplicity (which we've just been covering) and simplicity (Occam's Razor.)
(MB) Each of which offer strong points in refutation of the positive existential claims in favor of God -- sometimes about the God of the Bible in particular and other times about the ideas of supernatural deities in general.

(R) Additionally, the idea that because evil/pain/injustice exist and therefore God either doesn't exist or isn't a loving God, is often used to argue against God.
(MB) This is called the "Argument from Evil" and has never been successfully contested by apologists.

(R) Each of these pro/con arguments has some validity, though I also have varying objections to each. Overall, I consider the causal and design arguments to be quite strong,...
(MB) Actually, these are among the most easily refuted arguments since each relies on an unwarranted basic assumption. Hume effectively decimated the design argument, while Kant provided the first refutation of the causal argument.
    The causal argument (better known as the "cosmological argument") is based upon the premise that all events must have a cause. It goes on to say that the beginning of the universe was an event and must, therefore, have had a cause. It concludes by saying that this cause was God. It is defeated first by recognizing that events can be uncaused (as shown in quantum mechanics) and then by extrapolating the reasoning used to show that it requires that the existence of God must also be a caused event.
    The design argument postulates that the order we observe in the universe could not have come about by random chance and must, therefore, be the product of an intelligent designer. This argument ignores the fact that the physical laws which rule our universe are responsible for how things are formed. This means that the process is not truly random and requires no outside force to make it happen.

(R) ...the experiential and pragmatic to be fairly strong (Kant's argument was basically a pragmatic one)...
(MB) The experiential argument claims that we can know that God exists because we have experienced his presence in our daily lives. The main flaw in this argument is the rather nebulous definition of "experience". Since this argument's connotation of "experience" relies more on gut instinct than on evidence, there are no conclusions drawn from it that can be objectively supported. A "gut instinct" experience is merely a personal interpretation of feelings and emotions that could run the full gamut from legitimate enlightenment all the way through simple indigestion. Without evidence of the actual cause of the experience, no explanation of it can rise above the level of pure speculation.
    The pragmatic argument, as popularized by William James a few decades back, basically says that any proposition is likely to be correct if it works well in human life. Again, this is more a matter of personal interpretation than of evidence. A belief in God may work well to satisfy any given person, but that does not constitute any evidence that God actually exists. Kant's basic approach to pragmatism was that human knowledge is confined to the world of phenomena. In other words, mere feelings don't constitute knowledge.

(R) ...and the ontological argument to be rather weak.
(MB) I'd say it doesn't even deserve to be called "weak". The ontological argument basically says that because we can imagine the concept of a perfect God, such a being must exist. If this logic was sound, we would, in effect, grant ourselves the power to call into existence anything we wanted to merely by being able to conceive of it. Little more need be said about the absurdity of that line of thought.

(R) On the other hand, I consider multiplicity to be meaningless and simplicity to be simply wrong,...
(MB) Even though, as we've already seen, you can't support this...

(R) ...and feel the existence of evil/pain/injustice only questions the nature of God, not His existence.
(MB) The Argument from Evil questions a basic tenet of the nature of the Biblical God. If it is successful, the God of the Bible cannot exist as he is depicted and worshipped. Questions about the nature of any given deity are very important. If one can't say anything definitive about his God, he can't begin to support that God's existence. If it is claimed that some given God has no nature at all, or that his nature is unknowable, then his existence is either meaningless or it is entirely false.

(R) I can't agree with you about the complete failure of all ideas that God exists.
(MB) Naturally. Yet, it is still a fact that no argument in favor of God's existence or any claim about his nature have ever survived critical scrutiny. Of course, this doesn't bother believers since faith has nothing to do with facts or logic.

(R) Certainly, though, none of them prove God exists.
(MB) None even successfully suggests such a thing.

(R) Of course, you have interjected a couple of unorthodox arguments against God into this discussion, which might be called the "argument of the invalid comparison" and that of the "inherent superiority of the opposite claim," but these are easily dismissed.
(MB) I'm sure that your "easy dismissal" of these things (which, needless to say, has not yet been accomplished) will cause a major upheaval in the world of philosophy. Sorry, but I don't make up the tenets of logic and philosophy. I just use them to demonstrate where arguments fail.

(R) Comparing God to Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, or the Tooth Fairy is more convincing than anything you've brought up.
(MB) You haven't addressed that one, either. In fact, there's more evidence that could be used to support Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy than there is to support the existence of God. Since you can't prove that they don't exist, may we assume that you believe in them?

That example only demonstrates the relative nature of disparate conditions. It says nothing about actual truth. Boiling water is always 100 degrees Celsius whether or not you dip your hand into a cold bowl of water first. In other words, how hot boiling water feels is relative. How hot it actually *is* is truth. The way to find that truth is to take a objective measurement, not to subjectively contrast that bowl with another one. Perception is *not* reality.
(R) Precisely the point of the illustration. The center bowl has a specific temperature, which can be measured exactly....if you have a thermometer. If you don't, if you have no way to take an objective measurement, you have only your own perceptions to go on.
(MB) In which case, the best you can do is to generalize the temperature of the water in each bowl by using terms such as "hot", "cold", "warm", etc. This will still give you more information about the nature of the water in each bowl than you would have had prior to testing the water in the first place.
    Still, if you were trying to tell another person about the nature of the water in a given bowl, general terms might not have the same meaning to him. What's "hot" to you may only be "warm" to him. So, while perceptions may be sufficient for you, they will not be sufficient if you are attempting to convince somebody else of your findings. That will require the evidence provided by a thermometer.
    Translating this to the debate about God's existence, your own perceptions on the matter may be sufficient for you, but will not be good enough to convince somebody else. That will require evidence.

(R) The unfortunate fact of our existence is that exact, objective measurements are impossible for most phenomenon and absolute truth cannot be seen except indistinctly. There is a single reality, and a single truth about that reality. But it is very difficult to know them.
(MB) One doesn't have to take a 100% exact measurement in order to gain sufficient information about a phenomenon. In the previous example, your thermometer can't take a 100% exact temperature measurement of the water in any bowl, but it can get close enough to provide valid evidence of how hot the water actually is. Would you deny that a measurement of approximately 190 degrees Fahrenheit provides any evidence that the water is hot simply because the measurement isn't 100% accurate? Yet, this is exactly the sort of denial used by religious apologists (including yourself) when they dispute science's ability to describe valid theories of the universe. They do this while, at the same time, emphatically upholding their own views which haven't even been supported to any degree of accuracy. Why?

For example, the current debate on the Hubble constant involves the details of its value and not on whether or not the universe expands.
(R) On this issue, scientists have aligned themselves into two diametrically opposed and deeply entrenched camps, one convinced the constant has a high value and the other absolutely certain it is low. One camp postulates a relatively "young" universe in which the stars may themselves be older than the universe! This is hardly a minor detail. Thank you for perfectly illustrating my point about disagreements among scientists. I could never have come up with it on my own.
(MB) Thank you for perfectly illustrating my point about the fallacies of extrapolating disagreement over details into something larger about the whole of a general theory.
    There is no major rift about the age of the universe here. The studies that would indicate a "young" universe are based on analysis of the data received from certain types of supernovas. All other data shows an "old" universe. Since the "young" universe data is anomalous, it indicates incomplete or incorrect knowledge about the type of supernova being studied and not a problem with theories about the expansion of the universe.
    The exact value of the Hubble constant is not known, but it is certainly not the value that would produce a "young" universe despite the contrary and uninformed claims of some creationists. Your glee over this "dispute" is entirely misplaced.

Creationists love to take debates over details and claim that they represent general dissension about the larger issues.
(R) Isn't this exactly what you do when you argue that differences among religions show all religions to be nonsense? A clear-cut case of the pot calling the kettle black.
(MB) A clear-cut case of the apologist misrepresenting what is being argued.

Those who are influenced by Creationist arguments tend to adopt their ideas and tactics in their own arguments. A lack of complete agreement about all details of an issue does not, in any way, infer general disagreement about the issue itself.
(R) Bingo! Your last sentence says it all. The major Christian denominations, which account for at least 75 percent of American Christians, are in general agreement on all the major issues, and the lack of complete agreement about details is irrelevant to the larger ones. However, these minor disagreements are often pointed to by those such as yourself in an attempt to discredit Christianity as a whole.
(MB) The difference here is that "the issues" are supposedly clearly defined in the religion's holy book. Why should there be any disagreement about them at all? Surely, questions about such things as the virgin birth of Jesus, the nature of the Trinity, and the divinity of Jesus are hardly "minor details", but they are just a few of the disagreements between the various sects of Christianity. If members of the same religion can't get their basic stories the same, how is it that anybody else should be compelled to believe them?

(R) Even among completely different religions, the differences are not so much a question of right and wrong as of which is closer to the truth.
(MB) Surely, you jest. Are you going to try to tell us that religions that worship different Gods (or different numbers of Gods) and tell entirely different stories (to include declaring themselves to be the "chosen people") don't consider each other to be "wrong"? Even if we were to grant that absurd proposition, on what basis would we determine which competing religion was "closer to the truth" or that any of them even approaches the truth? And, if we can't do that, on what basis are we to justify belief in any of them?

A lack of consensus is not the same thing as a lack of evidence. If there is a lack of evidence, no amount of consensus is sufficient to validate a theory.
(R) Agreed, lack of consensus (or majority of opinion) in and of themselves mean nothing. And, if there is no evidence to support any theory, all theories are equally valid.
(MB) That should be "equally invalid". In the case of religion, we have *both* a lack of evidence and a lack of consensus. That makes belief in any particular religion even less justifiable.

If 80% of the people believe in nonsense, it's still nonsense.
(R) Obviously.
(MB) And, that is a pretty good description of the state of religion.

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