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 last of a five-part reply.

No more so than if I chose to believe in any other universe-creating entity.
(R) You know for a fact the GGAS is fictional, and therefore, it could not have created the universe. To believe otherwise is fundamentally wrong. You don't know for a fact that God doesn't exist.
(MB) Nor do I know for an absolute fact that the GGAS doesn't exist. It is entirely possible that Douglas Adams incorporated a real entity into his fictional story. He incorporates other real things into his stories -- as do all other authors.
    However, I would be very skeptical about any claim that the GGAS is real since there is no evidence to support such a claim. I am equally skeptical about any claim that God exists since there is no evidence to support that claim either. The only support for the GGAS is in a series of books. The only support for God is in a series of books. On that basis, the two ideas are exactly equal and neither deserves any serious credence. That will remain the case until such time as the first piece of evidence is produced to support the existence of God -- and you've already said that there is none to be found.

How can the First Commandment have any relevance if you try to claim that there is more than one version of God? It clearly states that there is only one and leaves no room for any other point of view.
(R) There *is* only one God, I've never said differently.
(MB) Yes, you have. When you try to redefine "God" to mean all possible versions of God, you include the polytheistic versions, as well. If you now want to redefine your redefinition, please be my guest.

(R) But there are many individual interpretations of God's nature (including polytheistic ones) and it is very difficult to know precisely who is right.
(MB) In that case, no individual interpretation can have any meaning since all have been reduced to the merest speculation or "feel good" story. Don't you believe strongly enough to have a preference for any particular version of God? If not, what good is your belief and what purpose is served by your arguments?

(R) The First Commandment tells me to put nothing else before my God. It tells you to put nothing else before your God. That is not to say our images of God are exactly the same.
(MB) This is abject nonsense. While people may well have their own visions of God, the First Commandment is not general in nature. It is very specific. It was, as the story goes, dictated to Moses by Yahweh. Yahweh was a specific God -- not the "personal preference" of Moses. The commandment does not say "I am your personal version of God", or "You must believe in some sort of God", or even "Feel free to create God in your own image and likeness". It does not demonstrate any tolerance for "roll-your-own" deities. It says, basically, "There's one God, only one God, and I'm it".

"Includes Jews"? The Old Testament is only and exclusively about the Jews -- the "chosen people". Is that a view that suggests tolerance?
(R) The books which make up the Old Testament are sacred to both Jews and Christians, and recognized as sacred texts by Muslims.
(MB) This is incredibly ignorant. There is one and only one sacred text to Muslims -- the Qu'ran. In fact, the only approved version of the Qu'ran is the one written in Arabic. Any translation into any other language is not approved as an official version since, to Muslims, the language of God and Heaven and the original language of Man is Arabic. Any suggestion that any other text might be sacred to Muslims would be considered a severe heresy.
    At best, Muslims recognize the Old Testament as a history of the Jews. Of course, they don't buy the bit about the Jews being the "chosen people". Muslims believe that they are the true descendants of Abraham (through Ishmael). Muslims recognize Jesus as a prophet, but not as anything divine. To Muslims, Mohammed is Allah's prophet, but Mohammed is still only a man.

(R) Read "chosen" as "special," that is, the Jews had a special place in God's plan.
(MB) What's the difference between "chosen" and "special" in this, or any other, context? And, what is this "plan" other than what the Jews consider to be their rightful place?

(R) This doesn't mean everyone else isn't equally important to God.
(MB) Old Testament accounts would seem to strongly suggest otherwise. God certainly didn't show much regard for the tribes that were slaughtered by the Israelites in their struggles to gain the "Promised Land".     The Bible records that, on Mt. Sinai, God said to Moses:
    "Observe thou that which I command thee this day: behold, I drive out before thee the Amorite, and the Canaanite, and the Hittite, and the Perizzite, and the Hivite, and the Jebusite." (Exodus 34:11)
    So, what about the importance of those tribes? Or, was that importance only to provide target practice for the Israelite warriors?

(R) (It is true this image of themselves as the "chosen of God" did seem to produce intolerance in certain elements of Jewish society, -- something for which Christ criticized them harshly.
(MB) At the same time that he's telling his followers how *they* will become the "chosen people" if they believe in him, right? No wonder the Jews might not have viewed him favorably!

Why even bother with religious texts and doctrines if all views are to be equally tolerated?
(R) Religious texts are used for the same purpose as any other text: instruction and elucidation. Personally, I think most people could benefit from a study of the sacred texts of other religions.
(MB) So do I. Many contain enlightening descriptions of the history and philosophy of the society. If one separates out the supernatural chaff, there can be an abundance of wheat to be reaped from the contents of these texts.

(R) I find some of the teaching of Buddhism rather attractive. In general, it's quite compatible with Christianity.
(MB) Don't you have that reversed? Shouldn't it be Christianity that has compatibility with Buddhism? After all, Buddhism predates Christianity by many centuries. In any case, the compatible parts are about morality and behavior -- and one doesn't need a religious text to speak wisely about such things. They are certainly not compatible in regards to any claims about deities or other supernatural elements.

Do you live by what the Bible teaches, in whole or in part? Do you just choose to uphold the parts that suit your own personal beliefs?
(R) I live by what the Bible teaches to the best of my abilities, although I'm certainly not perfect. However, my interpretations of the Bible and its requirements may differ from yours.
(MB) Why should it? I read the same words that you do and there really isn't a lot of ambiguity in them. It's probably safe to say that you don't follow the rules and teachings in the Jewish history portions of the Old Testament Pentateuch. Weren't these rules handed down by God? How can you justify not following them if you profess a desire to do good in his eyes? Saying "I'm not a Jew" won't cut it here. God is still God and he never says that his rules apply only to a certain tribe or to whoever chooses to follow them.

In a previous response, you took atheists to task for supposedly choosing non-belief in order to justify their own preferred behaviors.
(R) I didn't take them to task, I answered a specific question you asked about what emotional needs were being filled by their beliefs.
(MB) Uh-huh. This is why you have generalized atheists as saying things like "I don't believe in God, so I can do anything I want" and try to correllate atheism with immorality?

(R) This is a question of moral conviction vs. rationalization. A person considering a certain behavior, whether in the past or for the first time, can struggle with the question of whether the behavior is right or wrong and then choose, or they can simply do as they please and then rationalize that their behavior is right. This is what a dealer who peddles drugs to school children does. He does what he pleases, in order to make money, then convinces himself it's O.K.
(MB) You're correct as far as you go, but more needs to be added to it. While people may well do things that they know are "wrong", they won't always rationalize their doing such things as being "right". Like the drug dealer, they may want the outcome of their actions (e.g., money) while still not believing that the actions are "right". I'm not saying that drug dealers never rationalize their behavior. What I'm referring to is adherence to the popular credo, "the end justifies the means". If the end is desirable enough, the question of "right" or "wrong" for the means becomes secondary.

It sounds like you are doing the same thing with this "roll your own" version of Christianity.
(R) Where do you get off accusing me of being a "roll your own" Christian? Is it because I don't exactly conform to your own narrow views of what a Christian should be?
(MB) No, it's because your own words demonstrate that your beliefs are shaped by what satisfies you -- to the point that you will even redefine "God" to avoid the consequences of the belief system in which you claim membership. If the Bible doesn't define what a "Christian" is supposed to be, what does?

(R) In that case, you are no different from the most intolerant of fundamentalist Christians and have the unique distinction of being simultaneously a religious and anti-religious bigot.
(MB) This only shows that you can be completely wrong in both directions at the same time.

(R) I think a quote from Macaulay is appropriate at this point:
(MB) Macaulay? Who's "Macaulay"? I doubt it's the same person who wrote "The Way Things Work". You really need proper citations for your quotes. Anyway, let's see what this person has to say:

(R) "The doctrine which, from the very first origin of religious dissensions, has been held by bigots of all sects, when condensed into a few words and stripped of rhetorical disguise, is simply this: I am in the right, and you are in the wrong. When you are the stronger, you ought to tolerate me; for it is your duty to tolerate truth. But when I am the stronger I shall persecute you; for it is my duty to persecute error."
    Reading this passage must be rather like looking in a mirror for you.

(MB) Why? This is not the attitude of science. Rather, it is a common mantra of religious activists. You yourself have begged for "toleration" for your beliefs and claimed they are the truth. You'll never find any scientific organization begging for tolerance in an attempt to promote a weak theory.
    One needs only look back on the history of religion to see what happens when it is the most powerful force in society. How many people have been persecuted, tortured and/or killed because of their "heretical" beliefs by dominant religious groups and individuals? This continues even today.

However, they do choose to adopt a set of beliefs that they uphold as being "right" and they do attempt to spread those beliefs to others.
(R) What's wrong with that?
(MB) What's wrong with that is that one has no business spreading his views around or demanding "tolerance" for them unless he has some sort of support for them. Otherwise, all he's doing is adding unwanted noise to the signal of real knowledge and understanding.

(R) Don't you do the same?
(MB) Not at all. Of course, I have beliefs that I consider "right", but since my belief in them is based upon clear evidence, I don't need to evangelize them. Certainly, I'll answer questions for those who ask them, but I'm not about to start going door-to-door to "spread the word".

(R) Are you perfect?
(MB) Of course not. Is there some reason why I should be? Claims are "right" or "wrong", "supportable" or "unsupportable" without regard to the level of perfection of any given individual who might argue in favor of them.

(R) Is that why you feel justified in doing the same thing you wish to prevent others from doing?
(MB) What I want is to make a small contribution towards stopping the nonsense. There are numerous others who are engaged in promoting it. As soon as both sides agree that the standards of evidence for all claims is the same, some progress can be made. Until then, the debate will go on.

(R) Some religious believers are sanctimonious and others are intolerant, but the majority are honestly trying to improve themselves and their lives. And a lot of them feel pretty good about it and want to spread the good word. What's wrong with that?
(MB) Why does "the word" need to be spread at all? Who in this country has never heard of God or Jesus? To whom would the concept of loving one's neighbor be an instant revelation? Who's never seen a Bible, never read even a small portion of it, or never heard anything quoted from it? Who doesn't know what Christmas and Easter are about? In short, just who is "the word" being spread to?
    Atheists aren't atheists because they've never "heard the word" about God. They've heard it (and most probably know it better than those who spread it) but have found it to be anything from meaningless to completely ludicrous.

Do I [do nothing more than demonstrate intolerance]? I've seen nothing from you which refutes the points I've made.
(R) If you say that after all the facts, examples, and statistics I've given, you are no different from the person you ridicule for saying, "Even if you prove evolution is right, I still won't believe in it."
(MB) I'm diametrically different from that person since I have provided specific counter-arguments instead of just brushing everything aside. I've also said that my views are subject to change if the evidence demands that they change.
    Your "facts" have often been shown either to be irrelevant, incorrect, or little more than conjecture colored by presuppositions. Your "examples" often ramble into totally unrelated areas and almost never directly answer any calls I make for specific examples that would dispute my points. Your "statistics" often show a poor grasp of mathematics and are commonly misused to draw invalid conclusions. In short, you may be patting yourself on the back, but you haven't taken the first step towards showing where I'm wrong and where you're right. I've shown you many times how you can do this. Since you haven't yet done it, we can only conclude that it won't happen any time soon.

(R) Here's how I've defined these things: 1.) Toleration: toleration doesn't mean you agree with someone or think their beliefs are right, it just means you recognize their right to worship as they please.
(MB) And, of course, you have yet to provide me with the requested examples of major denominations whose doctrines and practices actually support this.

(R) 2.) Atheism: an atheist is someone who denies that God exists.
(MB) We've discussed that already in this reply.

(R) 3.) God: the Supreme Being who created the universe.
(MB) I've already presented an exhaustive recap of your usage of that term and the consequences of it.

(R) At no point in this discussion have I used these terms in any way other than the above.
(MB) I have already documented the falsity of that statement.

(R) Go ahead and look them up in the dictionary to see if their actual meaning is any different.
(MB) That has already been done and discussed.

(R) In your desperate struggle to keep from admitting you are wrong, you've been willing to twist these words to try and stave off defeat I have done no such thing.
(MB) After having read this response, are you still going to stand by this statement? If so, I doubt we'll have little else to discuss since you would be admitting that you've securely locked your mind and thrown away the key.

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