Night Owl Mk. II

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).

NOTE: I've gathered several short replies from the same respondent together into one page in order to save space.

(R) just don't hack my paper to death, i put my heart and 'soul' into it.
(MB) I could tell that from how it was written. I hope that my comments concerning your essay will be taken as attempts to discuss some of the conclusions that are offered. Such matters are invariably open to many and varied interpretations.

(R) when you said that you feel you are a part of everything in nature, an integral part, to me that is also spirituality. i am not talking about the supernatural in a strictly christian sense, but perhaps more in a buddhist sense.
(MB) I have a few problems with concepts such as reincarnation, but I admire many of the basic philosophies of Buddhism and feel that enlightenment is a worthy goal. Christianity really doesn't offer anything comparable. The best that Yahvistic religion seems to offer is a nebulous promise of eternal life. Even that can't have too great an appeal since it must be accompanied by the threat of eternal damnation for those who don't do right. Any religion that coerces its membership's behavior more out of fear than out of an ultimate goal would seem to have problems.

(R) so when you say that perhaps it is a fear that humans are not the most important thing, i don't think i'm too concerned about that.
(MB) Right from childhood, we are raised with everybody telling us how "special" we are. Religion then comes along, substitutes a benevolent God for doting parents, and continues to tell us that we are "special". For most people, it is far more satisfying to think that they are "special" than to think that they are really nothing more than one among many. The prospect of having to give up a lifelong belief of individual and personal "specialness" can be rather scary for many -- and who's to blame them for feeling that way?

(R) i believe that all things are a part of the same whole, and spirituality to me means growth of all things, to make a more beautiful world. and you can interpret beautiful any way you want, because i'll probably agree with all definitions.
(MB) That's a wonderful definition of "spirituality". So long as it remains devoid of anything supernatural, I would have to say that I share the same idea as you. My life has meaning and purpose even though I don't have to ascribe them to the intentional design of any Creator. I can make a difference and leave a positive legacy without any notion that doing so will "buy" my way into "heaven". I don't have to subordinate everything to "God's Will" and basically put my brain in suspended animation. I can marvel at the wonders around me and appreciate them even more because I can understand them. I can be continually inspired by the prospect of additional learning.

(R) i have no desire to 'prove' the supernatural to you, that's why i don't give a damn about your evidence and your scientific method.
(MB) This is where we differ. There are just too many things to learn about in reality. Why even bother cluttering our minds with things for which there's not even the slightest shred of evidence?

(R) and how do you know that when we find out more of the raw, physical laws and evidence of the universe that we won't discover that the supernatural is explainable?
(MB) If so, then it really won't be "supernatural" any longer, will it? Consider that a great many commonplace phenomena have, at some point, been ascribed to "supernatural" causes, but have subsequently been shown to be of perfectly natural origin. Yet, there has never at any time been even one single thing for which we have had to abandon a natural explanation in favor of something supernatural. Now, while that doesn't prove that nothing supernatural exists, the odds are beginning to stack up rather ominously against the prospect.
    Claims of the supernatural most assuredly bear a heavy burden of proof and none, as of yet, have even begun to bear it. Therefore, given the very rock-solid alternative, I see no reason even to consider them.

(R) i don't know, i can't prove it, i can't disprove it, but i can accept it. i adhere to spirituality, not to religion.
(MB) As I said before, spirituality does not need to involve anything supernatural. Religion, however, is almost always different.

(R) wow i just saw in reply #33 i think it was, that you say you are agnostic and still open to the possibility of the supernatural. wow that is surely not the impression i got from you.
(MB) Sorry for any mistaken impressions. Logically, I feel that I must remain open to any possibility that has not been conclusively disproven and for which there may be one or more rational scenarios under which it could be true. Since the "supernatural", by definition, comprises phenomena that we don't know about or don't understand or can't explain, and since the range of things we could conceivably be ignorant about is essentially infinite, I must remain open to the possibility of the supernatural. However, I have no problems with saying that the odds against any such things ever being demonstrated are so long that there is little or no reason to take them seriously.

(R) of course if the supernatural can ever be proven to you then it will cease to be "supernatural" so therefore i see a tricky way of believing that the supernatural does not exist.
(MB) Not necessarily. There are many possible scenarios where a phenomenon could be demonstrated for which there is no basis in the physical laws of our universe or that must violate those same laws in order to exist. Such a thing, for me, would constitute a true supernatural phenomenon. If real telekinesis was demonstrated, for example, that might qualify.

(R) it just doesn't sound to me like you are very open to the possibility, how can you be open to it when it has to be proven to you first? if it's proven it belongs in a completely different realm?
(MB) I can be open to the possibility in the same way that I am open to any idea or theory that can be demonstrated successfully. I remain skeptical, however, until the thing under consideration can answer my questions about it.

(R) oh and one other thing, i do not think that fear is necessary to get people to believe things, i honestly believe that i do not feel the way i feel out of fear, but out of love and compassion for all living things.
(MB) Such an attitude is exemplary, indeed. Out of curiosity, do you participate in any religious ceremonies? If so, why? Is there any thought of what might "happen" if you did not participate?

(R) maybe religion invokes fear, but not spirituality.
(MB) This is something with which I can strongly agree.

(R) if that were the case most spiritual people would probably want to become devout christians out of fear of hell.
(MB) Not necessarily. Spirituality and Christianity do not go hand-in-hand. Spirituality is independent of any religious preference. One way to look at it is that spirituality is how you actually feel, while Christianity is a set of rules for how you are *supposed* to feel.

(R) and by the way, have you read Memnoch the Devil by Anne Rice? excellent book, really makes you wonder about the nature of good and evil. i think whoever wrote that reply about becoming a priest and how God could let people suffer, this is the perfect book, it totally deals with that issue.
(MB) I haven't read that particular book, but I have problems with the idea of how an all-benevolent Creator could allow his creations to suffer. Some may see a victim of some tragedy or "act of God" and be inspired to "count their own blessings", but how many such "blessings" does that victim have? Seems more like a self-fulfilling prophecy on the part of those doing the counting.
    Personally, I'd be far more impressed by the miraculous diversion or disappearance of a potentially killer tornado or hurricane than by the testimony of those who might survive it. If these people praise God no matter what happens, doesn't that dilute the value of such praise? If everything is "God's Will" and everything is, therefore, praiseworthy, then why bother to pray at all? What's gonna happen is gonna happen anyway, wouldn't you think?

(R) in regards to your comments about the validity of people's opinions, you have a damn cocky attitude.
(MB) What I have is a standard by which I judge all ideas and opinions. That standard does not change no matter the source of the thing in question. I neither automatically accept nor automatically deny anything out-of-hand. All things must pass the test. If there's a better way, I'm open to consider it.

(R) i had an anthropology teacher that always said "To the person that holds a belief, that explanation is the most valid."
(MB) An explanation that is valid for one individual is not necessarily valid for anybody else. The standards of the scientific method remove any personal biases from the process of attempting to determine what is, or is not, valid. What could be more fair than objective examination of issues under a common set of procedures and standards?

(R) only if we adopt this attitude can we be tolerant of different people with different beliefs.
(MB) Being tolerant of people is different from accepting any given belief just because somebody holds it. I'd wager that there are a great many ideas which you find absolutely abhorrent, but which are supported by more than a few people. Also, ideas and beliefs based in emotion are not the same things as matters of factual reality. If religion, for example, was content to remain a "belief", there would be few problems. But, when it attempts to position its dogma as fact, then it becomes a matter which is subject to the same scrutiny as anything in science.
    In summation, to say "This is what I believe" is not the same thing as saying "This is what *is*". "I believe in God" is not the same statement as "God exists". In either case, I wouldn't quibble with the first statement, but the second is another matter.

(R) Because if we start thinking that our own opinions are more valid than other people's, because we have more 'evidence' or 'support' than we are basically saying 'i am better than you and your opinion isn't shit unless you get more proof than me.' that's a bunch of crap.
(MB) Again, that depends on what is being argued. If it is matters of factual reality, then all competing ideas must stand or fall on the basis of their evidential support. There's no other way. BTW, if there are two or more competing ideas concerning a matter of factual reality, that is no guarantee that any one of them is "right" while the other(s) are all "wrong". It is possible that all are wrong. Even the one that is "right" may be incomplete or flawed in some way. The only way we'll ever know is to examine all evidence which supports each idea. Nothing else will do the job.

(R) of course it is different in the scientific realm, where you can say that newton's theories are more valid than others, but that is because the subjects of newton's observation were very clear to test over and over. the same cannot be said about religious or spiritual or supernatural beliefs.
(MB) Which is primarily why religious beliefs hang on essentially unchanged for centuries while science grows and evolves at a rapid rate. The difference is that religion tends to declare itself unilaterally to be "ultimate truth" while science is a method by which to discover that truth.

(R) and i might remind you that some people who really knew what was going on, scientifically, were considered pretty 'invalid' in their own day.
(MB) At least, that was the case until the evidence came down solidly on their side. Mainly, this happens when a new idea is so radically different or potentially unsettling that the natural impulse is first to deny it. If that was the end of the story, the new idea would never catch on. However, since any idea which survives scrutiny and gains evidential support can eventually gain widespread acceptance, even radical and initially unpopular ideas can become bedrocks of science over time. It's a good thing, too. Otherwise, history would have long forgotten Copernicus, Kepler, Newton, Galileo, Darwin, Einstein and who knows how many others and the world would be a much poorer place.

(R) you are so hung up on evidence, you demand that there must be evidence for religion in order for it to have any validity.
(MB) For the tenets of religion to have any validity as an explanation for Life, the Universe, and Everything, there must, indeed, be evidential support. Indeed, since the claims of religion are so far-reaching, one should reasonably expect such evidence to be overwhelming and unmistakeable. Since, instead, the evidence is far closer to "non-existent" than to "overwhelming", there is little other than emotional needs to justify religious explanations of anything.

(R) well don't you understand that there is evidence for it but that it just doesn't meet your standard for 'evidence'?
(MB) That seems like a paradoxical argument. If evidence is not "evidence", I'm not sure what it is supposed to be. And, if it's not "evidence", I'm even less sure about what it is supposed to support or how it is supposed to support it.

(R) for instance, i feel any christian would say that the evidence for christianity is the life of jesus, the immaculate conception, which cannot be proven, his youthful clarity and intellect, his profound teachings, all the miracles he and his disciples performed, which cannot be proven, and the resurrection of his body, which cannot be proven.
(MB) That "evidence" doesn't hold up very well in the court of objective examination. The Bible itself seems to dispute the idea of the Immaculate Conception and is very confusing and contradictory about the resurrection (if any such thing even happened). There's very little in the Gospels about Jesus between his birth and the latter portion of his life, so it's hard to draw any reasonable conclusions about his childhood. His "profound teachings" were all derivative from other existing contemporary religions and belief systems. I know of none of them that were unique to him or that demonstrate anything more than common sense. As to any "miracles", all we have is hearsay from those who wrote the Gospels (and who may not have witnessed any such "miracles" first-hand) -- and one could certainly conclude that they were inclined to portray things in a positive manner.
    Finally, we should consider that the Jews were there to witness the whole thing and still didn't believe it. Why should we believe it today when the evidence is far less compelling?

(R) more evidence for the supernatural i believe is the overwhelming belief in it, the timeless, raceless, creedless belief in MORE. these forms of evidence don't fit into your scientific world and that is precisely why you think there is NO evidence to support supernatural belief.
(MB) Truth is not defined by how many people believe in something -- no matter how strong such beliefs might be. For example, everybody used to believe that the Earth was flat and stationary at the center of the Universe. This was believed for thousands of years before science overturned it. Same with the ideas that thunder was the noise made by warring Gods or that fire was one of the "four basic elements" or that sickness was caused by demonic possession. All those incorrect ideas were overturned by objective examination of the evidence using the scientific method.
    Science has overturned many popular opinions. There has never been a case where the reverse has been true.

(R) i found this statement of yours very interesting: All stars follow the same unchanging physical laws. Human behavior follows no such rules and can, therefore, not be predicted. if human behavior cannot be predicted and does not follow the unchanging physical laws, then why do you struggle so to make our beliefs subject to physical laws and scientific evidence? how do you know that the supernatural does not fall into the same category as human behavior?
(MB) Human behavior, human beliefs, and the laws of physics are not one and the same. Behavior is just how any given person reacts to any given stimulus. It is almost impossible to find two people who will react the same way to everything and there are so many factors involved that predictions about their behaviors are little more than speculations.
    Beliefs aren't behaviors (although they can be related). They are whatever one decides is "right" concerning any given issue or what one accepts as an explanation for any given phenomenon. One can have strong beliefs about such things as "morality" which have no independent existence and also about the physical reality of the universe.
    A star is really quite a simple thing compared to the human brain. A star has no consciousness, no beliefs, and no capacity for independent thought or action. Stars always follow the same unchanging rules, thus, their behavior can be predicted by applying those rules. Human behavior is a combination of learned responses and conscious decision-making. That second element means that the "rules" will never be the same and, thus, the resulting behaviors cannot be predicted with any great degree of accuracy.

(R) i need to stop reading your replies or i will never get off this damned computer.
(MB) *grin*

Created with Allaire HomeSite 4.0 .......... Last Update: 04 Jun 98

Earthlink Network Home Page