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

So, you are equating non-belief in God with immorality?
(R) No, not really. I think many atheists try to do right, they simply have no moral compass on which to base their actions.
(MB) This statement again presupposes that there is some sort of absolute morality that is an inherent part of the universe. If not, there is no basis for any claim of a "moral compass". Morality is nothing more than the majority opinion in any given group about the "right" and "wrong" of any given behavior or action. There are as many different moralities as there are groups which decide upon them and those moralities are always changing over time. That fact pretty much quashes any notion of an "absolute" morality. If there's no absolute morality, then there is no basis upon which to denigrate others as being "immoral" or pass judgments about "trying to do right" outside of the observed consequences of the action in question.

(R) I take this to be an expression of disgust.
(MB) It's meant as the sound made by someone whose mind has been boggled by an exceedingly illogical statement.

(R) You are disgusted by the idea there is no morality without God.
(MB) Not at all. It's just another positive existential claim that bears the burden of proof and for which there is no evidence with which to support it. It is interesting, however, to see you first deny a connection between non-belief in God and immorality and then to see you turn right around and agree with that connection. Just what do you truly believe here?

(R) You are in a small minority there – most would not find this idea even surprising, let alone disgusting.
(MB) Yes, I'm in the minority here (since the majority are believers) and I don't doubt this claim for a minute. However, the claim is meaningless since, as has been pointed out before, truth is not based solely on the number of people who believe something.

(R) Anyway, disgusted isn't the right word to describe the way I feel about your opinions. I would have to go with "appalled."
(MB) You can go with any level of righteous indignation that floats your boat and your arguments won't gain any validity nor will mine be refuted. To achieve either of those will require supporting evidence.

Or, are you saying that one cannot be moral without believing in God? Double Yeeeesh!
(R) The second statement is merely a reversal of the first and is equal to it.
(MB) The two statements are equal only if they say the same thing -- and they don't. Equating immorality with non-belief does not imply that all non-believers are immoral. It implies only that there is a strong positive correllation. On the other hand, claiming that one cannot be moral without believing in God *is* to infer that all non-believers are immoral. This implies an *absolute* positive correllation to which there are no exceptions. Which position do you wish to uphold and how will you support it?

Your "experience" sounds like the sort of groundless innuendo that you like to accuse me of.
(R) I don't accuse you of innuendo, I simply point it out when you engage in it.
(MB) Uh-huh. This is, of course, why you said (in Reply #17b) that much of what I say is "unsubstantiated innuendo", right?

(R) My "experience" is exactly that, experience. Most of the atheists I have met have been of the "if it feels good, do it" variety. "Don't be silly, there isn't any God. If I get drunk, or smoke pot, or sleep around, I'm not hurting anybody, so why shouldn't I."
(MB) This smacks of the common psychological phenomena where people only notice certain behaviors because they are expressly looking for them. In other words, you notice when you see atheists rationalize questionable behavior because that's what you expect to see, but you don't take special notice when atheists behave in a way in which you would approve. In fact, it's a certainty that there are many people who don't engage in questionable behaviors and rationalizations who are still atheists -- and you don't even realize it. Why would you even think that such a person was an atheist if you are presupposed to believing that all atheists behave questionably?
    So, your "experience" is skewed by what you notice and not balanced by everything else. I'm sure you also know a fair number of Christians who use similar rationalizations for similar behaviors (BTW, it's called "cognitive dissonance"). Do you accuse them of being atheists when they do so?

(R) I've seen this kind of rationalization dozens of times.
(MB) Christians, of course, would never do such a thing, right?

Morality is the determination of which behaviors are "right" and which are "wrong".
(R) A rather simplistic definition of a quite complex subject.
(MB) A "simple" definition and a "simplistic" one are different animals. Simple definitions (like the one I just gave for "morality") are general truths drawn from all the subject's details. Simplistic ones (like "God is infinite") are blanket statements made without consideration of the details. Elsewhere on this site is my essay on Morality in which I take up the subject in more detail.

(R) Morality can imply simple conformity to standards of right and wrong, or can involve more difficult and subtle questions of rightness, fairness, or equity.
(MB) I'd agree with that, of course, since it says essentially the same thing as my simple definition. Notice that my definition didn't include the details of *how* the determination of "right" and "wrong" was to be made.

(R) Truly ethical behavior requires deep thought, not simple rule following.
(MB) I agree completely. However, don't believers in a absolute morality which descends from God engage in nothing more than simple rule following if they blindly and unquestioningly adhere to that morality?

Religion's contribution to morality is to set its own standards for making that determination.
(R) Someone who is truly religious strives to please God in thought, word, and deed. Religion's purpose is to aid in discovering what is pleasing to God, not merely to set rules.
(MB) How does religion go about discovering what will or will not "please God" and how do they know whether or not they are right? What is religious doctrine if not a set of rules for the behavior of believers? Are these rules optional?
    Also, I'm curious about why it is necessary for poor, pitiful creatures like us to "please" a supposedly omnipotent God?

You missed the point again. I stated how intellectuals arrive at non-belief in God. I didn't say that all intellectuals are non-believers.
(R) Glad to hear you say that. I agree, not all intellectuals are non-believers. Which leads to the conclusion it is intellectually valid to believe in God.
(MB) No, my statement does not lead to that conclusion at all. It only leads to a conclusion that intellectuals are also subject to presuppositions which can cause them to reach incorrect or unsupportable conclusions. A conclusion is intellectually valid only when it derives from a valid premise and valid argument. A conclusion is not intellectually valid simply because an intellectual might arrive at it. Even Einstein was wrong on occasion.

There are several and most arise from the notion that God is omnipotent and omniscient. One is the question of whether or not there is such a thing as "free will".
(R) "Free will" is the freedom to do as you choose. Each of us have this freedom, even though the decisions we make are already known to God and accounted for in His plan. The decisions we make are ours and ours alone.
(MB) It is impossible for there to be any such thing as "free will" for any creature who was created by an omnipotent, omniscient God. "Free will" means that an individual creature may make any possible choice in response to any possible situation. But, this can't happen in any scenario which includes an omnipotent, omniscient God since such a being will already know the outcome even before the creature faces the situation. That means that there can be only one possible choice. The creature may well feel that he can do anything he wants, but he can never do anything other than what has already been preordained. Since the creature can not make a choice that will change the predetermined future, his choice is forced upon him and he can never exercise true Free Will.
    Since this is true, the omnipotent, omniscient God can never be surprised or displeased no matter what happens in his universe or what any of his creatures does. He has already decided what will happen! Call it "God's Plan", if you will. In such a scenario, any thoughts we might have that we actually have any control over anything or can change anything would rank somewhere between mistaken and delusional. So, we can have "free will" or we can have an omniscient, omnipotent God. But, it is impossible for both to exist.

Another is why anything should happen that would get God angry or be any way other than what he intended.
(R) Nothing ever is any way other than how God intends it. His "anger" is a matter of human perception.
(MB) Did the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah or the victims of the Deluge perish from mere "human perception"? Is the threat of eternal damnation for those who are not "saved" a mere "human perception"? If God never gets angry, then why is it necessary to try to please him?

Then, there's the old question about whether or not an omnipotent God could make a rock so big that he couldn't lift it.
(R) A fine example of pseudo intellectualism. The power of God is infinite. He could also make a rock which is infinitely large.
(MB) It's a legitimate question. Anybody who has more than a trivial knowledge of mathematics understands the problems inherent in any consideration of infinities. Consider, since a rock is a physical object, for it to be "lifted" implies a non-zero amount of physical space through which the rock can be moved and some reference plane from which to judge a "lift".
    If we grant the ability to make an infinitely-large physical rock, it should be obvious that this would leave no room for the space through which to lift the rock nor for the reference plane. From this we can conclude (1) that only a finite physical rock can be lifted, and (2) that an infinite physical rock can not be lifted. Since you have stated that God can make an infinite rock, such a statement combined with (2) leads to the conclusion that God cannot lift an infinite rock. But, since you have also stated that God's power is infinite, you are saying that there is nothing he cannot do. So, we arrive at the paradox that is the reason why the old question is so famous.
    The only solution to the paradox is to abandon the premise that the power of God is infinite. In this case, the answer to the question is a simple "No" and no paradoxes or other problems are introduced.

(R) What sense is there in comparing two infinite qualities?
(MB) There are many mathematical reasons for doing so -- including showing how reasoning which is carelessly based on premises which contain infinities can lead to paradoxes.

(R) Which is greater, an infinite number of apples or an infinite number of oranges?
(MB) An infinite number of apples is exactly equal to an infinite number of oranges. Apples and oranges are each discrete, physical objects. A basic principle of mathematics is that any quantity is always equal to itself. Therefore, any infinite quantity of physical objects is exactly equal to any other infinite quantity of physical objects.

(R) From the aspect of physics, what happens when an irresistible force acts on an immovable object?
(MB) It is impossible for both to exist in the same physical universe. If any given force is equal to or less than the resistance of any given object, the object will not move and, therefore, the force cannot be "irresistible". If any force is greater than the resistance of any object, the object will move and, therefore, cannot be "immovable". There are no other possibilities.
    Actually, this provides another argument against any claim of infinite power for God, since it would not be possible for him to create both an irresistable force and an immovable object in the same universe.

(R) Which came first, the chicken or the egg?
(MB) Clearly, the egg came first. Chickens are egg-laying birds. Such birds are the evolutionary descendants of a line from egg-laying dinosaurs. It is obvious, therefore, that the first chicken was hatched from an egg laid by one of its evolutionary ancestors.

(R) Such questions have no answers and it is pointless to ask them.
(MB) On the contrary, it is clear that these questions have definitive answers and can raise important points. To claim otherwise is merely an indication of insufficient thought and/or knowledge.

Also, why would such a being permit beliefs in other deities (or no deity at all) or even allow his creation, Man, to conceive of such things?
(R) These differing beliefs result from mankind's attempts to know God, which can be achieved only imperfectly.
(MB) Why does such knowledge have to be "perfect"? Can't we get close enough to be confident in our knowledge (either in whole or in part)? Your answer still doesn't address the question of why an omnipotent God would even permit imperfect or substandard knowledge of what he wants to the point where his creations could even conceive of other deities (or that there might be none at all).
    Certainly, it would be within the power of an omnipotent God to make his creations such that they could only conceive of or believe in him -- no matter how imperfect that knowledge might be. If he chose not to do so, it must have been for a specific reason. What is it?

(R) If God revealed Himself completely, then there truly would be no free will.
(MB) What would change if God revealed himself completely? He would still be the same God and his creation would still operate under the same set of rules, right? It would have no effect whatsoever on Free Will. Consider, you would still have all of the options that you always had even though you might be more or less inclined to select any particular set of them. But, the basic ability (or lack of) to make your choice would be unchanged.

(R) I see no contradictions whatsoever in any of the things you've mentioned. All that is required is an open mind and a little thought.
(MB) Exactly. Try applying a little of both to the things that have just been discussed and you will see.

What would be the problem with acknowledging that there is no inherent meaning to the universe or anything within it?
(R) It is possible nothing has meaning. In which case, anything we claim to have meaning is in fact meaningless. Even the statement, "The universe is meaningless," would have no meaning. This is the contradiction.
(MB) That's not correct. Your conclusion is based upon the presupposition that the universe is the designed and purposeful creation of an omnipotent God who is the reference frame for any "meaning". In any universe where that is not the case, the reference frame for "meaning" is at the level of the individual intelligent creatures within that universe. Therefore, while such a universe would have no inherent meaning at the physical level, that doesn't mean that its creatures couldn't discover meaningful truths via the process of reasoning.
    For example, the basic principles of mathematics are truths that derive from the laws that govern our universe and which have unmistakeable meaning. This includes the principles of Boolean algebra (also known as "truth tables"). If somebody makes the statement, "The universe is meaningless", it can be concluded that such a statement is either true or false. In either case, the conclusion will have meaning in that it will describe a quality of the universe (or its lack of that quality). Therefore, even though the universe itself may be meaningless, the fact that everything within it follows a finite set of physical laws indicates that individual things within it can have meaning. Such meaning does not necessarily correllate with the needs of human emotion, however.
    As a footnote to this, let me quote a subtly brilliant line from Kafka. "Life has meaning because it ends". 'Nuff said...

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