Night Owl Mk. II

HomeSite 4.0
Created with Allaire HomeSite 4.0

Last Update: 24 Mar 99

Return to "Religion" essay

Back to Philosophy page

Please feel free to E-mail me with your own comments on this issue or on anything else included in my Philosophy of Life section. Debate is good!

Please report any problems with this page to the Webmaster!


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 four-part reply.

RE: "it furthers the purpose of the universe, whatever it may be."
That is a completely meaningless assertion. If it was true, that means that there is no reason whatsoever to argue about "right" or "wrong", "moral" or "immoral", or, for that matter, anything else. It would mean that there is no reason to worry about whether or not one believes in God, since any conceivable action simply "furthers the purpose of the universe".

(R) You're arguing the wrong point.
(MB) How? I'm directly addressing what you said (as requoted above).

(R) The universe's purpose or lack of one has nothing to do with whether moral issues are important.
(MB) Actually, it does. If the universe has a purpose and anything that happens "furthers its purpose", then it doesn't matter what we do since any action would have been preordained and would have to be "right" as far as that purpose is concerned.

(R) The key is whether human beings have free will. If they do, discussions of right and wrong and morality are vital, and as a corollary, the universe has purpose.
(MB) Those are two separate concepts that do not require one another. A meaningless universe could give rise to free will whereas one that was created with a purpose would most likely *not* include free will.

(R) If there is no free will, there is no such thing as right and wrong, the universe has no purpose, and everything is meaningless.
(MB) Even if we don't have free will, "right" and "wrong" could still exist. We just couldn't have any choices between them and would do whatever we were predestined to do. None of this requires a universe with purpose or meaning.

It would be just as good to say that there is no purpose at all to the universe.
(R) This statement of yours is made in entirely the wrong context, but still, isn't it exactly my overall point?
(MB) Not at all. Your point is an attempt to show that there *is* a purpose to the universe. Of course, if you now wish to change your mind, I'll agree with you.

(R) You say there is no God and I say there is. You say the universe has no purpose and I say it does. Unless one of us can prove our positions, what difference is there between them?
(MB) The difference is that you are making the positive existential claims and, therefore, bear the burden of proof. You can't just say that something exists and declare your position to be valid if you have no evidence to support it.

(R) Your beliefs have no inherent superiority over mine. It is just as reasonable and logical for me to conclude God exists and the universe has purpose as it is for you to conclude otherwise. Until one of us provides proof, the other's position remains perfectly feasible.
(MB) ...and the beat goes on... As soon as you get a grasp of basic logic, come back and try this again.

RE: There is no real person who believes in Harvey.
Are you absolutely sure of that? Not one person?

(R) I'm not absolutely certain, but I am sure beyond a reasonable doubt that no real person believes in Harvey. I've never met anyway who believes Harvey is real. I've never read of or been told of any actual person who believes Harvey is real. The single individual I know of who believed Harvey was real wasn't a real person, but a fictional character. I conclude that no real person believes Harvey is real.
(MB) I agree. But, by the arguments you have been using to support your case, since you can't prove that no real person believes in Harvey, you must accept that the belief that Harvey exists is just as reasonable as the belief that Harvey does not exist. This is my whole point. I'm just using the example of Harvey to demonstrate the basic fallacy in your oft-repeated and seemingly major argument in support of your belief in God.
    Now, do you understand why your arguments are bogus? Now, do you understand why the positive existential claim bears the burden of proof and why the skeptical position is superior until that burden is successfully borne? You've just agreed with it in your disputation about Harvey. Now, apply the same reasoning to your belief in God.

We've already discussed that and you haven't yet answered why it is, by your own definitions, that the character of Harvey is "fictional" while the character of God is not. Neither character's existence is supported by anything in reality.
(R) I know Harvey is a fictional character because he was a character in a fictional film.
(MB) Those two do not necessarily correllate. Fictional films can certainly include real characters and still be fictional. The fictional part refers to the story being told and not the individual characters who are parts of the story. That works in reverse, as well. A non-fictional film can include fictional characters. You must separate the story from the characters.

(R) I know the film was fictional because it was published as fiction and no claim was ever made it was not.
(MB) Once again, the claim(s) of the publishers (if any) are not the determining factor. Either the characters are real or they are not. Either the story is true or it is not. That determination is made by supporting evidence and not by any claims made by the filmmakers.

(R) I can find out exactly when the film was made and who the screen writers were. I know the exact origin of Harvey and that he was meant to be fictional from the very beginning.
(MB) How do you know that any claim of the filmmaker is truthful? Or, perhaps he intended to produce fiction, but accidentally stumbled across a very real concept. There are numerous examples from old science fiction stories where fiction has become reality.

(R) Once again, I'm waiting for you to demonstrate the same things of God.
(MB) The character of God is fictional because there is no evidence to support any other claim. This does not change simply because the first people to write down stories about him believed that he was real and because you believe them today. The only evidence for God is in a story. The only evidence for Harvey is in a story. If you are so dead certain that Harvey is fictional, you must, by the same reasoning and standards of evidence, also accept that God is fictional. To dispute this, you will have to provide at least one piece of evidence which supports the existence of God.

Since your beliefs are "personal preference", as you have said many times, it is highly unlikely that anybody else shares them to any great degree.
(R) My choice to believe in God is a personal choice, just as your choice not to believe in Him is a personal one. Five billion people share with me that same exact choice - the choice to believe in God. Other differences in our beliefs are not relevant.
(MB) This is utter nonsense. First of all, "five billion people" do not share your beliefs. Your version of God is only worshipped by less than 1/3 of all people who have some form of religious belief. I'm fairly certain that most of the other 2/3 will not agree that your God is the same as theirs.
    Second, even among those who also worship your God, the fact that they are divided into thousands of individual sects with contradictory beliefs indicates that most Yahvists don't share your particular set of beliefs.
    Finally, any notion of a "personal God" means that you consider God to be whatever the individual believer needs him to be. Since everybody's needs are different, their "personal God" will also be different. This further reduces the number of people who share your beliefs to those whose needs are the same as yours -- and that number is almost certain to be quite small.
    If, as you say, differences in beliefs are not relevant, then neither is the God to whom those beliefs are directed.

Oh, others may peripherally agree that "God exists", but ask any of them to describe God, and it's highly unlikely that you will get two identical answers.
(R) That people have different views of God means nothing.
(MB) On the contrary, it means quite a lot. For something as ultimately important as God, if believers can't even agree on his basic nature, that doesn't speak well for their being able to support their belief in him or their ability to be able to convert anybody else's beliefs.

(R) If a million different people read a book, you'll get a million widely varying opinions on what the book was about and what it meant. That doesn't change the fact that all of them read exactly the same book.
(MB) Quite true. However, nobody would argue that the book doesn't exist or would dispute what its basic plot was or who the main characters were. Additionally, the book would always be available even for the most hardened skeptic to examine on his own.

As to whether or not people can share delusional beliefs, one only needs to read the daily newspaper to see examples of such shared delusions. Need I mention that, if God doesn't exist, that belief in such a being qualifies as a delusion?
(R) Yes, mass delusions do occur, but this is not sufficient to explain why five billion people believe in God. Not everyone is crazy but you.
(MB) One more time, "five billion people" don't share your belief in your God. The number of people who share a belief is no evidence that the belief itself is valid or truthful. Furthermore, throughout history, the majority of people have believed in all make and manner of nonsense. Should we still believe that the Earth is flat and stationary simply because all people used to believe it throughout most of the history of our species? Finally, despite what you want to think, I am not the only person who understands this. Far from it.

How "important" can a claim be if the object of the claim doesn't actually exist in reality?
(R) The idea "all men are equal" is not an object which exists in physical reality, but it is vitally important. It is the very foundation of justice. A claim doesn't have to involve an object which exists in physical reality in order to be important.
(MB) Now, you're confusing positive existential claims of existence for discrete things with philosophical ideas. Your original argument was that claims for the existence of God are important because of the nature of the claim. That's only true if the object of the claim is also true. If it isn't, then it is just another bogus claim. Introducing an unrelated philosophical idea won't change that.

The only way that any claim of anything's existence can be said to have any importance is if there is any evidence to support it. Since you have already and often admitted that there is no such evidence to support a claim of God's existence, how can such a claim be considered to have any importance?
(R) And since there is no evidence to show God does not exist, the claim He doesn't exist has no importance either, right? That's the logical culmination of the reasoning you just used, isn't it? In that case, why even bring the question up on your website?
(MB) There would be no point in arguing that God doesn't exist if that was the generally accepted opinion. In fact, it would be just as pointless as arguing that one-eyed, one-horned flying purple people eaters don't exist. However, since so many people *do* believe in God, and since so many attempt to force those beliefs and the associated doctrines upon others, the refutation of those claims does have importance.
    Now, since you've neatly evaded the original question to bring up your secondary point, why not go back and answer it? How can any claim of God's existence have any importance if there is no evidence to support that his existence is real?

The fact that people will make claims for many things only demonstrates that people are willing to believe in any sort of nonsense for any reason of their own choosing.
(R) Yes, this is true, but I recommend you don't get to feeling too smug and superior about it. You're a "people," too, and susceptible to exactly the same thing.
(MB) The difference between us is that I base my opinions on what the evidence will support and you base yours upon what makes you feel good. One doesn't need a Ph.D. in logic or philosophy to understand which approach leads to sounder conclusions.

How do you know that I am a man? How do you know that I am a purely physical being? How do you know that I didn't originate somewhere else and emigrate to Earth? How do you know that my body isn't just the current physical manifestation of my essence? How do you know that I don't possess extraordinary powers that might allow me to transcend time and space?
(R) You've thoughtfully provided a good deal of background information about yourself on your webpage, which show you to be a man who resides on Earth. If you want to modify any of it to bring it in line with the above, then I'll entertain a claim that you created the universe. Until then, it is considered proven you did not.
(MB) How do you know that my biography is not just a smokescreen to cover my real nature? Perhaps, the people of Earth are not ready for a being like me and, therefore, I must try to appear as one of them until such time as it suits me to drop the facade. Your statement that my bio "proves" my nature is only evidence that you have allowed yourself to be deceived by it.

Since you can't prove these things to be wrong or non-existent, your own arguments must force you to accept a claim that I created the universe to be just as good as the counter-claim. Or, would you say that the position I have been supporting is more logical? To wit, unless there's some evidence to support the positive claim that I created the universe, then the negative position is the more logical of the two.
(R) On the contrary, it is easy to prove you did not create the universe, by the fact that you are an ordinary man who lives on Earth. In other words, there is evidence which shows you did not.
(MB) You may wish to rethink this position since it presupposes a belief about my nature that has not been proven.

(R) As always, the position which is supported by evidence is the one which is considered to be true.
(MB) Exactly. So, why do you continue to argue against that very fact?

(R) Babble about positive and negative positions has nothing to do with it.
(MB) Basic logic is hardly "babble". On the other hand, obfuscations about "God" being whatever suits the particular attempted argument certainly qualify as such. You can pick up any book on basic logic and learn about positive and negative existential claims and the burden of proof. I have provided an extensive bibliography of suitable texts in previous replies. Have you read any of them?

"Why" is irrelevant if there is no deity involved. In that case, the answer to "why" is simply the anthropic "because it couldn't have been any other way". Must there be any deeper meaning to the universe? Can't it simply "be"?
(R) I am in almost perfect agreement with you on this. If there is no God, there is no "why" to the universe. The universe "just is" and has no purpose or meaning.
(MB) Yet you have argued the exact opposite in this very response.

(R) Nothing is right or wrong and there is no morality - and also, no justice.
(MB) Incorrect. Morality is determined by the opinions of the group. What doesn't exist is any *absolute* morality that defines any particular behavior as either "right" or "wrong".

(R) Might makes right. The strong do not protect the weak, they devour them.
(MB) That has certainly happened throughout human history -- to include all civilizations which have invented religious beliefs and deities for themselves. It is the development of our civilization and standards of living and not any particular religious beliefs that have changed this.

(R) Life is not sacred and individual rights do not matter.
(MB) I would agree with the first part of that statement. Life is merely a consequence of the physical laws which determine the nature of the universe. It is only human arrogance (or ignorance) that has deemed it to be "sacred". Of course, the sacredness only applies to *human* life and not to any other creature.
    As to the second part, individual rights are things that are granted to Man *by* Man. They matter only in the context of our arbitrary legal and governmental systems.

(R) Nothing matters, except the fleeting pleasures of the passing moment.
(MB) Nothing matters, *including* the fleeting pleasure of the passing moment.

(R) On the other hand, if God exists, life has meaning and purpose.
(MB) If God exists, life is predetermined and can't really be said to have any purpose other than to play out the string. If what is going to happen is going to happen no matter what, how can any part of God's creation have any meaning beyond being a playground for his whims?

(R) Morality and eternal justice are restored.
(MB) "Restored"? How could something be "restored" that didn't exist prior to creation? (Needless to say, there wouldn't have been anything at all prior to creation.)

(R) Respect and protection of God's other creatures becomes a positive good worth striving for.
(MB) How does that work? On what basis is this to be deemed a "positive good"? Why is God required?

(R) Every single individual is equally important in the eyes of God, and endowed with inalienable rights.
(MB) On what basis do you make such a claim? Certainly, the majority of Yahvistic societies that have ever existed have not believed such a thing. The concept of "inalienable rights" themselves is only a couple of centuries old. Certainly, there is no Biblical support for it.

(R) There is reason for optimism.
(MB) OK, I'll bite. Just what might that reason be? Is it optimistic to subordinate one's mind and life to fairy tales that make him feel good?

(R) Any questions on why most people choose God?
(MB) *Boatloads* of them, my son....none of which are receiving any coherent answers.

Created with Allaire HomeSite 4.0 .......... Last Update: 24 Mar 99

Earthlink Network Home Page