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

Do you understand what the words "positive" and "negative" mean? If you did, there would be no arguments here. Do you understand that statements of existence require some evidence in support in order to have any validity? Do you understand that this applies without regard to whatever it might be for which existence is being claimed?
(R) Yes, I know what positive and negative mean, but the rest of your assertions here are simply not true.
(MB) If you truly understood those words, then you would not make that statement. What's more likely is that you may understand the words, but choose to divorce them and their consequences from applying to claims about God.

(R) What you are attempting to say is that if a claim has no evidence to support it, then the opposite claim is automatically true – a fundamental error of basic logic.
(MB) No, that is not what I'm saying. What I'm saying is that any positive existential claim requires evidence in support in order to be considered to have any degree of validity whatsoever. In the absence of such evidence, skepticism is the more reasonable position. The positive claim does not, in any way, shape or form gain any validity at all just because it has not been disproven. If one bothers to think clearly for a moment, he will see that this must be the case. After all, nothing becomes reality just because somebody merely claims that it is real.

(R) If there is no support for a claim something exists, this does not automatically mean it does not, or vice versa.
(MB) If there is no support for a positive existential claim, then the skeptical position is the only reasonable position. This doesn't apply in the other direction. To claim otherwise is to hold that things become real just because somebody can dream them up.

(R) Only if there is conclusive empirical evidence to support one or the other of the claims can one of them be considered as true. If there is no such evidence, the claims are exactly equal.
(MB) This is not correct in the case of positive existential claims. Either something exists or it does not. There is no "in-between" and both conditions can't be true at the same time. Since there are an infinite number of things which do not exist and a finite number of things which do exist, positive existential claims are exceptional claims and, as such, bear the burden of proof. If they fail to shoulder that burden, it is more reasonable to hold the skeptical position. Therefore, positive existential claims and skepticism about them can never be equal.

(R) I'm not sure where you've picked up this idea, that proof is required for claims of existence but not for claims of non-existence.
(MB) Basic philosophy dating back at least to Aristotle. You only seem to disagree with it when it comes to the question of God's existence and seem to have little problem with it otherwise (e.g., our previous side forays into the Great Green Arkleseizure, three-legged pink unicorns, and bunnies on the Moon). Once again, I must ask you why the rules of logic and philosophy have to change when God is the subject under consideration?

(R) The only thing I've ever run across which comes even the tiniest bit close to it is Karl Popper's falsifiability criteria (i.e. facts are differentiated from beliefs in that facts are theoretically falsifiable by empirical evidence, but beliefs are not.)
(MB) Then, I guess you really are *not* conversant in the basics of logic -- despite your previous claims to the contrary. Not to worry, I can provide some assistance. Check out the links below to find an extensive bibliography of basic texts you can consult and listings of some of the more common logical fallacies. Then, come back and run your story by me one more time.

Do you understand the difference between "finite" and "infinite"? Do you understand that the universe is finite in size and extent? Do you understand that it is impossible to have an infinite number of things in any finite space? Why are you even arguing the point except to evade directly addressing it?
(R) Current theories hold the universe is finite in size but has no boundary. If I start laying objects in a row, toothpicks for instance, how far can I go? (Let's say I can lay them at the speed of light, forever. No time constraints, whatsoever.) No matter how far I go, I'll never reach the "edge" of the universe, because it has no boundary. Perhaps the line of toothpicks will eventually return to its starting place (?!) but if it does, I'll start a new line at an angle of 001 of a degree from the first and keep going. After doing this 360,000 times, I'll start new lines, each at a new interval of 0001 of a degree, and then .00001, and then .000001, and so on. When will I come to an end? Never. I can keep going for eternity and still not fill the universe to it's limit with toothpicks, because it doesn't *have* a limit.
(MB) This is incorrect and demonstrates a poor grasp of basic mathematics. Since the universe is finite in size and since a toothpick is a physical object of non-zero size, you will eventually fill the entire available space within the universe with toothpicks. The fallacy in your argument comes from the fact that you are assuming that physical distance is infinitely divisible. In fact, what you're arguing is actually a variation of the famous Xeno's Paradox.
    As to your seeming confusion over the line of toothpicks returning to its starting place, consider that if you were to lay a similar line of toothpicks along the finite, yet unbounded, surface of the Earth, the line would return to its starting point. This is easy to picture when you have a two-dimensional surface of a three-dimensional object. To apply the same picture to the universe, just add a dimension. The universe is four-dimensional and a line of toothpicks laid along its three-dimensional "surface" will also eventually return to its starting place.

I guess you don't understand the concept of "infinite" (or "finite", for that matter). There is no finite number (no matter how immense) that even begins to approach infinity. Your argument is mathematically invalid. That makes your conclusion meaningless.
(R) The argument is completely valid. Its point is that "1" divided by infinity is equal to zero and "1" divided by 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 is such an infinitesimally small number as to be zero for all practical purposes.
(MB) This again demonstrates a dire ignorance of basic mathematics. First, no number greater than zero by any amount, no matter how infinitesimal, is "equal to zero". Second, let's write the example number you just used in its exponential form, 1x10e30, to make things easier to see. If I just add three more zeroes to your number, I'll get 1x10e33. This number is 1,000 times larger than yours (and its reciprocal is 1,000 times smaller), but is still not equal to infinity nor is the reciprocal equal to zero. You can repeat the process as many times as you'd like using finite exponent values as large as you'd like and I'll *still* get nowhere near infinity or 1/infinity and will get no number that is equal to zero.
    Any number that is one thousand or one million or one quintillion times larger than another number certainly can't simply be brushed off as being "zero for all practical purposes" when being compared in the same breath to one divided by infinity. That sort of thinking hearkens back to the days when counting systems didn't bother with units larger than thousands since that many of any object was held to be "incalculable" or "uncountable". Therefore, any argument you might choose to make which seeks to uphold any finite number as being "near infinity" is mathematically invalid.
    The only way your example might have a chance of being useful is if you applied it to counting or measuring physical objects. It has no validity in calculations of quantities such as probabilities, however, such as the probabilities of whether or not Life, the Universe, and Everything could have arisen on their own. But, since these are also "practical purposes", you can't just make the generalization you carelessly tossed out.

(R) To say the probability of existence vs. non-existence is different based on finite and infinite numbers of things that exist or don't exist is preposterous – even in the highly unlikely case that there indeed is a "finite number of things that exist." It's your argument which is invalid.
(MB) I've just proven otherwise. To refute it, you will have to come up with a mathematically valid example of how you think an infinite number of things can exist or can occupy a finite space. Alternately, you could try to explain how there is not an infinite number of things that don't exist.

(R) A belief which has no support *is* valid, unless it can be proved wrong or its opposite can be proved true.
(MB) Nope. A belief which has no support is just a belief. It only becomes valid when there is evidence to support it. It does *not* become valid just because somebody can dream it up or wishes it was true or because it can't be disproven.
    Also, you have once again neatly avoided answering the question of why God isn't fictional when the level of support for his existence is no greater than that for other characters that you *do* accept as being fictional. Could you answer this, please?

(R) However, a belief that Harvey is a real, existing entity can easily be proved wrong, simply by referring to the aforementioned film.
(MB) OK. Therefore, by this line of reasoning, I can point to the film "The Ten Commandments", for example, to disprove any belief that God is a real, existing entity.

(R) Believing Harvey exists and believing he doesn't are not two equal beliefs, neither of which have support. The belief Harvey isn't real has conclusive support. The argument of mine to which you refer is exactly correct.
(MB) How does the belief that Harvey isn't real have "conclusive support"? Remember that fictional stories can contain non-fictional elements. Therefore, just because Harvey is a character in a film doesn't mean that he himself doesn't exist.

Also, you have previously stated that fiction can contain non-fictional elements.
(R) What I said was that fiction is sometimes based on non-fictional events, but that a fictional work cannot be used as a valid reference in any sense. (Exception: perhaps as a metaphorical reference.)
(MB) OK, now we're back to the films featuring God. May we assume that none of them can be considered to be valid references concerning him?

Can you prove that Harvey is not a non-fictional element that has been included into a fictional story? If not, then, by your own arguments, you must accept the proposed existences of Harvey and God as being equal.
(R) The proof comes from the claims of the author or authors. Do they claim Harvey was based on a real being? No? Then he isn't and it's irrational to believe otherwise.
(MB) Is that necessary? Homer's Odyssey and Iliad contained no such claims, either. Are all of the characters within those works fictional? If not, how do we distinguish between the ones that were real and the ones that were not?
    Perhaps, to the filmmaker, Harvey's existence was such an obvious thing that he concluded that it was not necessary to explicitly state it. Don't films about God and Jesus do much the same thing?

(R) Only if an author states his work is non-fictional and true does anything in it (other than independently verifiable historical, geographical, or scientific facts) assume the possibility of being real.
(MB) Therefore, you must acknowledge that the Great Green Arkleseizure may be a real entity since Douglas Adams stated in "So Long and Thanks for all the Fish" that his tales of Arthur Dent were the truth.

(R) An example of such a work would be The Book of Morman, which is claimed to be true though it can't be independently verified. Smith claimed it to be a true account of actual events, as revealed to him by God.
(MB) And, like any other positive existential claim, it bears the burden of proof. No simple claim of truth has any validity without supporting evidence.
    Additionally, with that last statement, you have supported the reasoning why none of the books of the Bible should be taken seriously. All are claimed to be true, none can be independently verified, and most claim to be inspired or revealed by God.

(R) It is therefore considered non-fictional and has exactly the same potential validity as any other work of its nature.
(MB) Ok, so all we need is for the author to make his claims, right? Doesn't that trivialize the difference between "fiction" and "non-fiction" into relative meaninglessness? It should be obvious that the author's say-so is not the ultimate determining factor here. Otherwise, you'll have to classify any publication by the Flat Earth Society as being "non-fiction". You may well do this, given your previous arguments, but that once again seems to trivialize the concept.

The Bible is a compendium of the laws, beliefs, stories, and histories of the Jews.
(R) Basically true of the Old Testament but only partially true of the New, which is also a history of the early Christian Church among various cultures in different parts of the eastern Mediterranean.
(MB) Not to mention Paul's first distortions of Christian belief. Or, rather, given that the Gospels weren't written until *after* Paul's epistles, there is evidence to suggest that the stories of Jesus were written to expand upon the preachings of Paul and not the other way around.

The history can be confirmed by independent evidence.
(R) Some of it.
(MB) And, some is refuted by the evidence, as well. The story of the fall of Jericho comes immediately to mind.

Subsequent books that just echo what's written in the Bible do not provide any such verification of its contents. Without the Bible, the other books will not be written.
(R) So, let's just throw the religious writings of Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Berkeley, Descartes, and Pascal in the trash bin, eh? After all, they couldn't have added anything new or worthwhile. They're all just parroting the Bible, right? Wrong! Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and innumerable others all influenced these gentlemen. There are hundreds of thousands of volumes which have value to religious believers.
(MB) As pure philosophy, all of those works are valuable. As any sort of proof of God or validation of Christian dogma, they all fall way short of the mark. But, you have (yet again) missed the point. None of the Christian era philosophers or theologians add anything to what Jesus supposedly said or did. None found new transcripts of his words or deeds. Their contribution towards Christianity is in their own interpretations of Scripture along with their own general philosophical insights. Food for thought, to be sure, but none of their Christian theological musings would ever have been written if the Bible had never been written. That should be fairly obvious and was my initial point. Just because they chose to expound upon what was written does not provide any verification of what's in the Bible any more than a treatise on the chivalry of King Arthur's Court provides any verification that King Arthur ever actually existed or had any knights.

A parallel could be drawn with Star Trek. Without Gene Roddenberry's original vision, none of the subsequent follow-up products would have been produced.
(R) The manuscripts which became the Christian Bible were derived from stories and traditions passed down by word-of-mouth for generations. Ideas about God predate these written manuscripts from time immemorial. You're saying that the Star Trek stories are same? Hee, Hee!
(MB) Did I say that? Not at all. I was demonstrating that without the original book, none of the follow-on materials would ever have been produced. The only real difference is that the Bible is a collective work of the imaginations of many people while Star Trek derives from the imagination of one man -- and, of course, that Star Trek is far more believable.

(R) I will agree, though, that the Star Trek series has generated a lot of creative writing and film making.
(MB) As does almost any intriguing idea -- whether based on fact, insight, or imagination.

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