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

(R) My belief in God definitely fills emotional needs, but it also very much fills my intellectual needs. I am no genius, but neither am I an ignorant, irrational, superstitious idiot, who narrow-mindedly clings to my beliefs despite all physical evidence to the contrary. There is no physical evidence contrary to my belief in God, a belief which helps me make sense of the universe.
(MB) And, it will continue to do so as long as you continue to maintain the illogical notion that the positive position requires no evidence while the negative position must be proven.

(R) Furthermore, I remain convinced your agnostic atheism fills emotional as well as intellectual needs for you. Perhaps we'll discuss those needs as we continue this discussion.
(MB) OK. We could start by having you postulate just exactly which emotional needs of mine are being satisfied.

Second, if you understand the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle of quantum mechanics, you would know that there can never be perfect knowledge of anything. However, lack of perfect knowledge does not preclude understanding.
(R) Right. But it does preclude perfect understanding. And since our knowledge of most of the universe is imperfect, our understanding of it is mostly imperfect.
(MB) Imperfect, yes. Incorrect, absolutely not! Newtonian gravity, Darwinian evolution, and Einsteinian relativity are all imperfect, but are still close enough to be valid and allow us to make excellent predictions about the universe.

(R) I agree completely that we cannot know ultimate reality. However, we can only achieve excellent understanding if we have excellent levels of knowledge in support of that understanding.
(MB) Correct. Science provides such knowledge in support of its theories. Religion does not.

Belief in God is a pure black-and-white, yes-or-no question to those believers. You either believe or you don't.
(R) I submit that this is because it is a black-or-white question. Do you believe God exists a little bit? There really is no middle ground on this question; either God exists or he doesn't. And my statement is NOT far from the truth. Your statement that all believers simply close their minds and call everyone who doesn't agree with them an atheist is the one which is far from the truth, so far as to be an actual falsehood.
(MB) How can you say that if you agree that it is a black-and-white question? The Bible pretty much states that either you're for him or against him. You, yourself, have used the word "atheism" more than once to describe my views.

I couldn't begin to count the number of Christians who claim that Islam is "wrong" because "they worship a false God".
(R) I can't count them, but I can make a reasonable estimate of how many there are. Since roughly 1/4 of Christians, based on the population of the United States as a sample, hold the fundamentalist beliefs you attribute to all religious persons, and about 1/3 of the world's population are Christians, it is reasonable to say that less than 10% of the people in the world hold these beliefs. Probably a lot less, because America contains a much higher proportion of conservative Christians than do other nations where Christianity is the majority religion. Once again, you're painting all believers with the broad brush of your own prejudices.
(MB) When's the last time you went to a Christian church or read a Christian publication where the belief in deities other than God were tolerated? When's the last time you heard any Christian, no matter how strong his beliefs, state that "their God is just as good as mine"?

Of course, this is nonsense since Muslims worship the very same God as do Christians (Muslims just call him "Allah"),
(R) This is not exactly true, but close enough. It can also be said of Judaism.
(MB) This *IS* exactly true! Muslims consider themselves the descendants of Abraham through Ishmael. Jews consider themselves the descendants of Abraham through Isaac. Both Muslims and Jews worship the God of Abraham. Neither believes that Jesus is/was anything more than a man. The belief that Jesus is the Son of God rests solely with Christians.

True, however it affects believers much more adversely. Doubt threatens the very underpinning of their emotional lives, so it can very rarely be permitted. Intellectuals welcome and embrace doubt. Facing up to doubt and dispelling it is how intellectual ideas grow stronger and how understanding increases.
(R) Once again, this is true only of a small proportion of believers, not, as you suggest, all of them. Any thinking person, religious or otherwise, views doubt in very much this way.
(MB) Oh, really? How many "thinking" religious persons will say that there is any conceivable circumstance under which they would abandon their belief in God?

But, logic *is* violated by those who say that God exists.
(R) Are you saying that illogical arguments are sometimes made by people who claim God exists? This is undeniably true. But if you are insinuating that all arguments which begin by stating God exists are inherently illogical, that is itself an illogical statement.
(MB) No, it's not. One cannot reach a conclusion that has any chance of being correct by using a line of argument based on an illogical premise.

If one side's philosophical arguments are almost always flawed, the entirety of the position they are supporting is greatly weakened. When that position is also the positive position of claiming that something exists, the only logical conclusion is to say that it is far more likely that it does not exist.
(R) Yes, if an individual or a group continually makes an error in logic, it does bring their position into question. But if the members of a small sub-group of a much larger group sometimes make illogical arguments, it does little to discredit the argument of the larger whole.
(MB) But, when the whole supports the same conclusion, it makes no difference how many people are actively involved in promoting it. When no members of the whole are providing logical argument or compelling evidence, then the basic premise has no hope of being anything but discredited.

"Evidence" is something that is offered up in support of a position. Such evidence can be physical and/or it can be in the form of logic and rational argument. In the world of science, logic alone can provide the rationale for a belief, but no theory can be said to be acceptable until some physical evidence can be shown in support of it. It's very similar in a court of law where witness testimony can provide the basis for accusations of a crime, but there must be physical evidence to prove it.
(R) What you say here is partly, but not entirely, correct. Physical evidence is necessary to prove any position, except for in one set of circumstances: that involving eye-witness testimony. (You mention witness testimony, but because you didn't add "eye" in front of it, I assume you're referring to anyone who gets on the stand.)
(MB) Granted. An eyewitness is somebody who actually saw (or claims to have seen) the incident happen. Any other witness is somebody who can provide background information or expert testimony concerning the circumstantial evidence of the case.

(R) Eye-witness testimony is perfectly adequate to lead to conviction, and indeed, is often the only factor which can. Although there are few cases (business disputes involving verbal contracts would be an example) which have a complete lack of physical evidence, there are many in which such evidence is so conflicting or otherwise inconclusive as to prove nothing.....which is in effect, an absence of physical evidence. In these cases, eye-witness testimony is key. I can cite several recent examples if you'd like. And no, I'm not a lawyer, although I've taken a couple classes in business law.
(MB) Again, you are correct as far as you go. However, conflicting physical evidence can bring reasonable doubt upon any eyewitness testimony and witnesses can also contradict each other. Finally, regardless of the type of evidence, if only one side in any case is offering any evidence, the other side is very likely to be in serious trouble.

The comparison is, indeed, valid. There is an overt act (the claim that exists). There is a side that tries to prove the claim (the prosecution/the believers) and a side that attempts to show a reasonable doubt about the claim (the defense/the non-believers). The evidence is what each side offers in support of their respective positions. The judge and jury are those who listen to each side and make their own decisions based upon the cases that are presented. The burden of proof is on the side making the positive claim and sufficient proof or compelling evidence must be advanced in order for them to have any chance to win.
(R) No it is not valid. Aside from the fact that I can simply switch the words around and make your claim the one to be proved, cast you as the prosecutor, etc., we simply have no physical evidence whatsoever to support either one of our claims. All we have is philosophical arguments and our own systems of belief upon which we base them. Courts of law do not resolve philosophical questions.
(MB) You can't just "switch the words around". Believers that something exists espouse the positive position and must bear the burden of proof. Can you explain why the statement "God exists" is not a positive position?

For the same reasons that beliefs in such things as the Loch Ness monster, Sasquatch, the "secret government", reincarnation, psychic powers, ghosts, a second gunman on the grassy knoll, Atlantis, alien spacecraft at Area 51, or six-foot tall, invisible white rabbits named "Harvey" are inferior to beliefs that those things do not exist. What's different about believing in God?
(R) The only one of these which cannot exist is Harvey; who is a figment of the imagination of a fictional character, and by definition can't exist.
(MB) What if a real person believes that Harvey exists? What would make that any different from believing that God exists?

(R) All the others may or may not exist. Those which are physical manifestations depend upon physical evidence to support their existence. Those which are non-physical involve no physical evidence and either have supernatural causes (if they exist), or are psychological delusions. The theories which postulate the existence of all these phenomena have varying degrees of validity.
(MB) Those degrees of validity are directly proportional to the amount of evidence which supports them. If there's no evidence, there's no validity. Period. Merely wanting something to be true means absolutely nothing.

(R) Personally, I feel there is good deal of validity to the theories surrounding the assassination of JFK.
(MB) Unfortunately for Oliver Stone and the conspiracy buffs, that issue has been conclusively solved. If you haven't read the book "Case Closed", you might want to do so. Lee Harvey Oswald killed JFK and acted alone.

(R) What's different about believing in God? Belief in God is completely different from believing in Harvey (fictional by definition) or the Loch Ness monster (physical manifestation supportable by physical evidence.)
(MB) The belief may be different, but the standards of evidence remain exactly the same.

(R) Belief in the non-physical phenomena is only superficially similar to a belief in God. If ghosts exist, then the existence of God is the fundamental reason for their existence; if they do not exist, that is, are merely psychological delusions, they have nothing to do with a belief in God.
(MB) Why? Couldn't such things as ghosts exist without God?

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