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

Uh-huh. So, making a wild and purely speculative guess is justification for an expressed personal opinion about atheism?
(R) My statement is not speculative because it is based on something – personal experience. It could be wrong. Maybe I've just been unlucky in the atheists I've met.
(MB) Your experience is not speculative, but the extrapolated conclusion you've drawn from those experiences is. As I suggested previously, I'll bet you've actually met more atheists than the ones whose behavior prompted you to remember them. I doubt you'd have much reason to delve into somebody's religious beliefs (or lack of them) unless motivated by a desire to connect them with a reason for certain observed behaviors.

(R) I have yet to see you step up to the plate with a similar statement, though. You've made plenty of "All religious believers do such and such" type statements, but you've backed them up with nothing. That's speculative.
(MB) Generalizing about the behavior of a given population is not the same thing as saying that *all* members of that population exhibit that same behavior. I don't say that *all* religious believers do anything, good *or* bad. That is your contribution towards misunderstanding.
    It's also instructive to note that your disputes have almost always been directed at the scope of a behavior instead of at the behavior itself. This is an example of a logical fallacy whereby one attempts to conclude that one contradictory example somehow invalidates all conforming examples. For example, if it is argued that "Being a Fizbin is bad and all fish are Fizbins", offering a counter-argument that there is one fish that is not a Fizbin does not prove that this is the case for the remainder of the population nor does it demonstrate that being a Fizbin is good. In actuality, such a counter-argument is a tacit acceptance that the population does actually exhibit the problematic behavior under consideration -- making the counter-argument itself rather trivial.
    This is why all of your quibbling about scope does nothing to answer the larger questions of substance and, in fact, tends more to support what I've said rather than to refute it.

Islam itself is not ruthless in its demands -- it is just strict. It doesn't fall apart or splinter into hundreds of sects because it is internally consistent and honest.
(R) As has already been discussed, Islam has two major divisions, two other major sects, and over 70 smaller ones.
(MB) As has already been discussed, Christianity has splintered into at least 20 times more sects than the number you give for Islam. In fact, there are probably more sects of Christianity than there are combined sects of all other religions in the world.

(R) It is 600 years younger than Christianity, so perhaps in time it will produce even more.
(MB) Christianity is over 3000 years younger than Judaism and Hinduism, yet it is vastly more fractured, splintered and confused. Clearly, the age of a religion has no direct correllation to how intact it remains in comparison to competing religions.

(R) After all, the Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches were the only divisions in Christianity until the 16th century and it is only over the last 200 years most of the other sects have arisen.
(MB) Actually, the rapid acceleration in the number of sects of Christianity coincides with the beginnings of Protestantism. It remained relatively intact prior to that event primarily due to the strong centralized authority of the Pope -- from which Protestantism broke away. Once free of that central authority, Protestants were free to "roll their own" versions of Christianity and create sects which promote their own versions of doctrine, dogma, and Scripture.

(R) I don't know that Islam is internally consistent and honest, --it may be. So are the teachings of Christ.
(MB) There are numerous examples from the Bible itself that Jesus didn't always practice what he preached. As examples:
  • He preached, "Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you." (Luke 6:27, 6:35). However, he seems not to practice that himself as concerned the Gentiles, Pharisees, moneychangers, and disbelievers -- referring to some of them as "fools" despite specifically admonishing others not to use that term under threat of being liable to the "fire of Hell" (Matthew 5:22, 23:17).
  • He preached against anger, saying "Anyone who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment" (Matthew 5:22), yet he openly displayed anger on several occasions, (e.g., Mark 3:5, Matthew 21:12-15, Mark 11:12-14, Matthew 12:22-31, Luke 10:13-15).
  • He preaches the virtues of the Old Testament commandment: "Honor your father and mother", yet there are no recorded instances of his treating either Joseph or Mary with honor and the Gospel of John tells of at least two instances where Jesus was disrespectful to his mother (John 2:4, John 19:26).
  • He preaches the virtues of honesty, equates lying with evil (Matthew 15:19) and proclaims both "My testimony is true" (John 8:14) and "I am the truth" (John 14:6). In John 18:20, he says "I have spoken openly to the world; I have always taught in the synagogues and in the temple, where all Jews come together; I never spoke secretly". Yet, he taught in many places other than synagogues and temples and told his disciples that they alone would be given the "secret of the kingdom of God" while all others would be kept in the dark about it through the use of parables, so that those others would "see but not perceive" and "hear but not understand" (Mark 4:11-12). There is also a case recorded in John 7:2-10 where Jesus lied to his brothers. They had urged him to accompany them to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Tabernacles, but Jesus told them that he would not be going. Later, however, he went secretly to Jerusalem by himself.
  • Christians claim that Jesus is God and that his purpose was to die for our sins. If so, why does he cry out "My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me?" while on the cross? (Matthew 27:46)
  • Jesus taught "With God, everything is possible" (Matthew 19:26, Mark 10:27, Luke 18:27) yet the Gospels record instances where Jesus was unable to perform miracles allegedly because of the unbelief of others (see Matthew 13:58, Mark 6:5).

    These are certainly enough examples to cast doubt upon the "perfection" of Jesus and the unfailing honesty and consistency of his teachings (and there are many more which could be presented). Most of his secular teachings are not even original with him and are found in many societies and other religions which predated him. In fact, a great many can be found in Hinduism in the stories of Krishna.

Sure, it is used by ruthless leaders as a way of maintaining control. But, so are Christianity and practically every other religion.
(R) I couldn't agree more, but in any case, this doesn't mean all religion is suspect because of the actions of a few ruthless individuals.
(MB) True. Religion is suspect because of the inconsistency and incoherence of its doctrines. When religion is used as justification for questionable actions of leaders, that justification tends to become accepted by those being ruled. After all, what common person is going to doubt the wisdom of God as revealed through the person he has (supposedly) chosen to lead them? We still see this today in the ability of TV evangelists and cult leaders to inspire devotion. Without religion, how would people like this gain control of any number of people and get money (or other considerations) from them?

The strictness of the religion doesn't necessarily prevent one from letting down his hair when he is away from its influences.
(R) Doesn't Allah look down on Bahrain? If the religion is strict, it is strict, period. If you can break the rules and get away with it, it's not strict.
(MB) Don't confuse a lack of enforcement with any lack of strictness of a given religious doctrine. Islam requires much of its adherents. If a Muslim decides to stray, that doesn't change the basic doctrine of his religion nor does it equate that religion to one that is undemanding to the point of being lax, such as Christianity.

Any Desert Storm veteran will tell you about the restrictions placed on the American troops while in Saudi Arabia. Those same restrictions weren't in place in Turkey, nor are they in Bahrain.
(R) I know. What does this have to do with anything? Does it illustrate that Islam isn't strict in Bahrain and Turkey?
(MB) No, it indicates that enforcement of Islamic doctrine is stricter in Saudi Arabia.

Christianity has also had a far more active missionary tradition than has Islam. Today, Islam is the fastest-growing major religion in the world.
(R) Christianity has an extremely active focus on missionary work and continues to grow. Much of Islam's growth came from conquests during the first hundred years after Mohammed -- the rate slowed considerably after that.
(MB) Obviously, it couldn't continue at the same rate forever. The end of the glory days of exploration pretty much brought the concurrent rapid expansion of the religions of the explorers to an end, as well.

(R) Its modern growth is probably more a function of population increase than anything else.
(MB) Considering that there are no more unknown lands to explore and discover and no countries that have not already largely adopted one of the major religions, this really isn't saying much. However, Islam is making inroads into Christian nations much more than Christianity is converting Muslims. In fact, according to a recent CNN report, there are now more Muslims in the United States than members of any sect of Christianity except for Catholicism.

(R) Christianity is a very attractive religion, for a number of reasons, and it is highly unlikely Islam will ever catch up in numbers.
(MB) I wouldn't be too sure about that. Since Islam is more popular in the third world and that is where the world's population is growing at the fastest rate, it will continue to gain on Christianity. Also, since Christianity is weakening in the technological "Western" nations, the growth in numbers of adherents in those nations is slowing and may well stop (or even reverse) as non-religious beliefs become more acceptable and people "try out" other religions.

I'm not sure that either college dorms or military barracks would be a great choice of places to find informed opinions on heavy subjects. This is not to say that there won't be a lot of freely-expressed views, of course. Many of them normally arise after bouts of the aforementioned heavy drinking.
(R) Or during it. But even though these places don't compare to an Ivy League philosophy department (how much time have *you* spent in one of those?)...
(MB) None. However, that is not required in order to be knowledgeable on any subject that may be taught in those departments.

(R) ...the people in them are not fools and are just as capable of deep and independent thought as you or I. I have on occasion heard pearls of wisdom as good as any I've read in any book, and I've read some good ones.
(MB) Wisdom and knowledge are not one and the same, nor does an increase in one imply a concurrent increase in the other. No pearl of wisdom will ever outshine a gem of evidence in the pursuit of supporting a claim.

So, you've met "dozens" of atheists -- some in situations of dubious intellectual environs -- and from this you can extrapolate the views of all atheists.
(R) The intellectual environment is probably no more dubious than anything you've been in.
(MB) I guess this is an admission that I was right.

(R) Overall, I'd have to say I've gotten to know and talked with somewhere between 100 and 200 atheists over the years.
(MB) Has every atheist you have ever met identified himself as such to you? In other words, are you certain that you have never gotten to know and talk with anybody who, unbeknownst to you, has been an atheist?

(R) No, I can't be certain of the views all atheists.
(MB) From what you've been saying, it seems that you can't be certain of the views of *any* of them outside of the obvious fact that they do not believe in God.

(R) But I've never met a single one who didn't at one time or another express the opinion that there is no God and if a specific behavior hurts no one, it's not wrong.
(MB) Only the first opinion is ubiquitous among atheists -- in fact, it's the definition of "atheist". The second is not tied to one's views on religion and suggests the biased view that all atheists are immoral and that they are immoral because they are atheists.

(R) They generally don't like to face up to the idea that the specific behavior in question may in fact hurt others, though.
(MB) Nor does anybody -- Christians included -- who engage in any form of cognitive dissonance to rationalize their chosen behaviors. Once again, this is not correllated to a belief or non-belief in God.

(R) How about your own opinions? If you were to say you'd met several thousand Christians, I wouldn't be surprised. Can you honestly say every one of them thinks it's O.K. to bomb abortion clinics?
(MB) Of course not. However, I see no massive outcry from religious leaders or congregations to stop the bombings and/or protests. When's the last time you saw a church leader (or anybody else, for that matter) go before a crowd of protesters and appeal to their religious faith and "tolerance" in order to break up the protests and accept the abortion clinic's patients' and staff's right to exercise their own views?

(R) Or that they believe teaching the theory of evolution is evil?
(MB) Of course not. That is a particular failing of the Creationists. However, once again we fail to see any mainstream religious leaders telling the Creationists to stop their nonsense.

(R) Or that they all feel anyone who doesn't believe exactly as they do is going straight to hell.
(MB) That is a more prevalent view and is another one where you don't see any religious leaders disputing it. You yourself have expressed concern for the "consequences" which might befall somebody for not believing what you believe.

(R) You can't say that, can you?
(MB) I can't say what you want me to say. I can only say what's actually going on out there.

(R) Yet you have no difficulty lumping all religious believers in to the one category and making such statements about them.
(MB) I've already shown that I don't do this -- despite the words you keep attempting to put in my mouth.

(R) At least I base my opinions on *something.*
(MB) Yeah -- "personal preference". Other than that, you have nothing. Come to think of it, even *with* that you still have nothing.

(R) You don't and what's worse, you seem to see no problem with that.
(MB) I base my opinions on the available evidence. If that evidence leads to troubling conclusions, that's no reason to deride either the evidence or the conclusion.

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