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

(R) It is apparent you would prefer to have all your opponents be fundamental Christians, for two reasons: one, they are easy to counter, and two, they are easy to despise.
(MB) I can't deny that it is much easier to defeat fundamentalists in a debate. However, easily winning a debate does mean that one despises his opponent. Debates are not about the people doing the debating. They are about the ideas being debated.

(R) You have a real need to despise the religious.
(MB) Not at all. As I just said, this debate is not about people, but about ideas. If I despise anybody, it would be such people as child molesters and drug dealers, not people whose only crime is a misguided and unsupportable belief.

(R) Yes, I am a Christian and I believe in the God of the Bible, but we are not discussing my religious beliefs.
(MB) Your beliefs are certainly not the sum total of this discussion, but they are a large and relevant part of it. If you can't defend your own personal beliefs, how can you hope to defend anything larger?

(R) We are arguing the existence of God.
(MB) His existence is a substantial part of your religious beliefs, isn't it?

(R) Look up "God" in the dictionary -- I'll wager it says nothing about Christianity.
(MB) Actually, "God" (with an uppercase 'G') is not defined except as a case of the word "god" (with a lowercase 'g'). The definition of "god" is given as "A being conceived as the perfect, omnipotent, omniscient originator and ruler of the universe, the principal object of faith and worship in monotheistic religions." "God" is a specific case of "god" and is the name Christians use for their Supreme Being. Other religions have their own specific names for their Supreme Being (Brahman, Allah, Jehovah, Cronus, Coyote, etc.).

(R) In my first email to you I said nothing about Christianity.
(MB) Well, actually you did in a way when you stated "I, on the other hand, may have you in church before we're through". A "church" is a Christian house of worship (in fact, "Church" with an uppercase 'C' refers to a particular Christian denomination that worships in a church). Members of other major religions worship in synagogues, temples, mosques, etc., but not in "churches".

(R) In the second, I said I was a Christian only to make it clear I am not a Scientologist or New Ager or Hindu.
(MB) Why the need to clarify this? I already know that Hindus, for example, are not Christians. I'm curious about why you suggest that neither Scientologists nor New Agers are Christians. Do those beliefs exclude one from being a Christian? If so, why? BTW, Scientologists claim that *all* religions were precursors to the vision of L. Ron Hubbard. So, according to them, if you're not a Scientologist, you're not up-to-date in your beliefs.

(R) I haven't brought it up since.
(MB) Is it necessary? I already know that you're a Christian and don't need constant and explicit reminders. Since that fact has already been established, it is a factor in all discussion that follows -- especially since none of your arguments have indicated anything that doesn't apply to Christianity (as I've shown above).

(R) Whatever I've said about Christianity has been in response to issues you brought up. The same goes for the Bible.
(MB) Go back and re-read your own messages. Often, the "response" has been little more than a recitation of standard doctrine or dogma as a method to avoid answering an uncomfortably direct question about your beliefs.

(R) You said in your Essay on Religion you do not believe in the Bible and do not recognize arguments supported by it. I have studiously avoided mentioning it for that reason, only bringing it up twice, once in discussing the Holy Trinity (to which it is relevant) and again in passing regarding the Book of Revelations. Any other time the Bible has been mentioned, you have brought it up.
(MB) So, what's your point? Are you going to distance yourself from the Holy Book of your religion? Are you going to disavow the stories and teachings contained within it? You express offense at my suggestion that Christianity is a "roll-your-own" religion, yet here you seem to be selectively shying away from the parts of it that are uncomfortable.

You still don't know what "atheist" means, do you?
(R) An atheist is someone who denies God exists.
(MB) Well, you've finally got it right. Why, then, do you fail to recognize the division between agnosticism and atheism and why do you insist on lumping immorality with atheism?

"God" is just one particular example of a deity.
(R) Once again, look up the word in the dictionary. It encompasses any concept of deity.
(MB) No, it doesn't. It does not embrace the concept of deities that are not omniscient, omnipotent, or perfect. It does not include deities who are not responsible for the creation of the universe, nor does it include any deities in polytheistic religious systems. Given the history of Man's religious systems, "God" can only refer to a small minority of the supernatural entities that people have believed in and/or worshipped.

To express a non-belief in God does not mean that I express an absolute non-belief in the existence of any superior being.
(R) Great! Now tell me, on what do you base your belief that a Supreme Being may exist? I am eager to know.
(MB) On the basis that there are an infinite number of possible definitions of a Supreme Being and an infinite number of circumstances whereby it may be possible for such a Being to exist. Since it is not possible to disprove all of those possibilities, I cannot express an absolute non-belief in the existence of any possible "God" or "god".
    However, I also know that there are an infinite number of wrong answers to any given question. If the question is "How was the universe created?", the preponderance of evidence suggests that "God did it" is a wrong or meaningless answer. Because of this, I can arrive at a general (but not absolute) non-belief in the existence of a Supreme Being. Since attempts to define specific cases of Supreme Being add additional unresolvable problems and paradoxes, I can express a strong non-belief in individual versions of God. I would not object to being considered "atheistic" about particular versions of God while remaining "agnostic" about all possible versions.

I can only say, at best, that I consider the existence of *any* such being to be highly doubtful.
(R) The modern term for this probabilistic position is "skeptic," but there is little practical difference between a skeptic and an atheist.
(MB) This is incorrect. The term you are looking for is "agnostic". Skepticism is a philosophical discipline that spans all questions and claims -- not just those concerning religion. To be skeptical is to demand that any given claim must have evidential support before it can be accepted and to subject all claims to questioning.

(R) The skeptic and the atheist both believe there is no God, the skeptic is merely less certain.
(MB) Again, this is not correct. The skeptic maintains that the point cannot be accepted until it has gained a sufficient level of support. Until then, he will reserve his final decision on the matter while remaining in the camp of the logical default position for any positive existential question -- disbelief. The atheist has already made his decision on the question.

(R) On the other hand, a true agnostic makes no judgment on whether or not God exists. Indeed, the agnostic may strongly feel He does, but also believes it cannot be known for sure.
(MB) Quite true. However, he can also acknowledge that the preponderance of evidence is against God's existence while knowing that final judgment can't yet be made with absolute certainty.

(R) If you prefer to be called an skeptic rather than a atheist, it is a matter of semantics. You still don't believe in God.
(MB) It's not a matter of semantics, at all. It's a matter of one's philosophical approach to the question. Since I consider all possibilities and cannot absolutely dismiss them all, I must remain agnostic. I am skeptical about any claims until such time as they can gain evidential support.

(R) Or maybe I'm wrong about that? Perhaps you do believe in God, in which case you are just a non-religious part of the 95 percent of humanity who believe in God. In that case, I would very much like to know on what you base your belief in God.
(MB) Don't get your hopes up. I have no reason whatsoever to believe in God -- in any form that you might choose to define the concept. If you wish to define "God" as the God of the Bible, then I am an atheist about that particular version of God. If you choose to roll all possibilities under the general heading "God", then I am agnostic and I am skeptical about any claims in favor of any such entity until such claims gain support.

I've always had the picture. You've just tried different and improper ways of developing it for your own satisfaction.
(R) Believe me, I get no satisfaction from it. All I've tried to do is get to the heart of the matter, to get an answer to the question, "Do you believe in God?"
(MB) Have you received your answer yet? How you could still be in doubt is beyond me. Actually, all you're doing here is the old (and logically invalid) trick of extrapolating anything short of absolute disbelief in all possible Gods into some sort of positive belief in any possible God -- which then magically transforms into the particular version of God that is being defended.

(R) If the answer is yes, then what possible basis do you have for attacking the religious beliefs of others?
(MB) Assuming I believed in some version of God, I would certainly feel justified in attacking somebody who believed in a "false God". Ask anybody who believes in a particular God if anybody else's God is real or not. Normally, you'll get one of two answers. The first is a flat "NO!". The second is the cop-out "Well, he actually worships my God, but just calls him by another name".

(R) If it's merely that you don't like the fact some religious believers are intolerant, argue against *that.*
(MB) Seems to me that this has been included in my arguments already.

(R) Don't show your own intolerance by attacking everybody's beliefs in general.
(MB) It's not "intolerance" if the evidence suggests that there actually is a lot of nonsense out there. This is, in fact, what it shows.

(R) You don't have the corner on truth, you know.
(MB) The evidence presented in this discussion so far may well suggest that I do.

(R) And if the answer is no, well, be aware that a lack of proof proves nothing.
(MB) No, but a total lack of evidence and support for a claim of God's existence certainly does strongly suggest many things.

(R) My inability to prove God exists doesn't prove He does, and your inability to prove He doesn't, doesn't prove He does. Any argument to the contrary is based on a logical fallacy. You still don't have the corner on truth.
(MB) We've been around this mulberry bush too many times already. I don't make up the rules of logic and philosophy. They've been around for thousands of years. I'm sorry if you can't handle the consequences of their application in this discussion.

Are you changing your own views in light of my arguments?
(R) Not a whit. First, you'll have to come up with an original argument for there to be any chance of that happening.
(MB) I don't need one. The application of solid logic and philosophy that has been passed down since the time of Aristotle and Plato is more than sufficient. If you can't handle it, you'll need to overturn the philosophy departments of every university in the world. I feel confident that you won't succeed at this.

This is the first time that you have suggested that "God" means anything more to you than the one that Christians worship.
(R) Where in this discussion have I said anything more about God than He is the Supreme Being who created the universe?
(MB) Read the rather extensive, cross-referenced list of such claims that I posted earlier. Now, are you going to try to fudge some weak rationalization for them or do you just not remember what you've been saying?

(R) I have stated several times that arguments about the nature of God are irrelevant to a discussion of His existence.
(MB) I have refuted this several times by saying that if God exists, he must have at least one quality that can be defined, demonstrated, and debated. Only if God does not exist do questions of his nature become irrelevant.

(R) Your assumption this discussion is limited to the God of the Bible is simply wishful thinking on your part.
(MB) You can prove this by naming any other God who is defined by the sum total of all the qualities in the aforementioned list of claims. Your inability to do this will be conclusive proof that I am right here.

In any event, any of those scenarios are nothing more than pure speculation. The fact that they are not immediately dismissable is why I am agnostic rather than atheist.
(R) If you state God does not exist you are an atheist.
(MB) Correct, but remember that an atheistic position can be relative to any particular God(s) or to all possible Gods. It is common to be atheistic about the God of the Bible, for example, while not automatically discounting any possible superior or supreme being.

(R) If you say it is probable God does not exist, you are a skeptic -- which is nearly the same thing.
(MB) Incorrect. Skepticism is intellectual doubt, while atheism is absolute disbelief. These are hardly the same thing.

(R) If you say you do not know if God exists and it is impossible to prove it one way or the other, you are an agnostic. Which is it?
(MB) You're limiting your definitions to views about only one possible version of God. When one considers all possibilities, one's views can range all the way from strong belief to strong atheism about any given possibility. I'm quite certain that their are versions of God that you flat out disbelieve just as strongly as you believe in your own personal version.
    As for me, my views are agnostic with respect to all possible versions of God while I am certainly atheistic about certain particular individual versions. Since a generalized term can only rightly apply to the generalized case, I describe myself as agnostic -- although such generalized terms really don't mean a whole lot.

(R) You cannot say it is probable God doesn't exist and still claim to be an agnostic (well, you can, but you'll be wrong.)
(MB) Absolutely incorrect. If you say it's "probable", that means there's still room for doubt. If there's doubt, that means that conclusive evidence either pro or con either doesn't exist or hasn't yet been found and one's position must be agnostic. You may lean more towards the side of belief or towards disbelief, but your position would still be properly described as agnostic.
    BTW, one can be "agnostic" about things other than religion since the word properly refers to a philosophy rather than one particular belief.

It is also why belief in any one particular scenario becomes even more unsupportable than it would otherwise be.
(R) The fact that different people have different beliefs about God in no way indicates God does not exist.
(MB) Correct. However, it makes it more difficult to defend a belief in any particular version of God when there are so many competing and mutually-exclusive versions floating around. Therefore, when somebody attempts to profess a belief in God, it's entirely proper to ask "Which God?". It's not possible to generalize about God or say "any possible God" and have any hope to be correct. One must be specific about at least one quality of his God and that will begin to narrow down the list of possibilities towards one final specific entity. Then, of course, one must be able to support the existence of the supposed quality of that God.

You have forgotten the agnostic view that I hold where I may not believe in any particular deity (or deities), but I can't totally dismiss the possibility that some form of superior being might exist. Until any evidence is produced to support any of them, however, I will remain skeptical. That doesn't make me atheistic.
(R) As long as you say God does not exist, you are an atheist/skeptic.
(MB) As has already been sufficiently demonstrated, atheism, agnosticism and skepticism are not the same thing. Which label could apply to me is a matter of how you wish to define "God". I am atheistic about the God of the Bible. I am agnostic about all possible versions of God. I am skeptical about any claims advanced in favor of any particular version(s) of God.

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