REPLY #5 TO
are parts of the original essay (or a subsequent reply) to which the respondent has directed his 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)
(R) You have picked up the gage! I'll reply to your counterpoints in a manner similiar to the one you use. Lest you think I'm a Scientologist, let me state for the record I'm a Christian, a member of one of the "main stream" Protestant branches. Here goes:
(MB) Which branch? Are you are a member of that branch by choice or because it's what you were born into? Why that particular branch instead of any other branch?
My statement was that I don't believe in any of Man's religions or in any of the Gods that Man has invented for himself. What this means is that, if any superior beings exist, I don't think that Man's descriptions of them are accurate or that any of Man's religions are much more than irrelevant collections of ceremonies.
(R) I agree with you. I don't think mankind's view of God is, or can be, entirely accurate.
(MB) Yet, the religious proselytes seem to have little difficulty pronouncing upon exactly what "God's Plan" is, exactly what his attitude towards Man is, and exactly what his judgment will be in regards to any given thoughts or actions.
(R) Our intellect and viewpont is tiny compared to the vastness of the universe, and to expect to understand anything, let alone everything, is completely unreasonable. We can only attempt to understand, and hope to come close to the mark. This is true of human psychology and nuclear physics and everything in between.
(MB) This view is somewhat misguided. Because the Universe itself is vast in no way limits our ability to understand any individual component of the Universe. Would the probability of our ability to understand the nature of, say, a hydrogen atom be greatly increased if the Universe was only the size of a broom closet?
Too many religious adherents use the aforementioned misguided notion to claim that we shouldn't even try to understand anything. "Just trust in God," they say, "and be content in your ignorance." Frankly, I can't think of anything much worse.
(R) Are you backing off from saying God does not exist?
(MB) Nope -- because I didn't say that. I said that I can't believe that God exists because there is nothing compelling to support any claim that he does.
(R) I did see, in one of your rebuttals to Answers to Religion, that you define yourself as an agnostic. The difference between an atheist and an agnostic is as follows: an atheist is some one who says, "There is no God," whereas an agnostic says, " I don't think there is a God, but I can't prove it, so I'm willing to admit the possiblity of the existance of God.....but I don't think so."
(MB) Your definition of "atheist" is acceptable, but your definition of "agnostic" is insufficient. The strict definition of agnosticism (according to Webster's) is "the theory that Man can neither prove nor disprove the existence of God nor know with certainty the nature of ultimate truth". By this definition, you yourself are agnostic since you have said that you can not prove nor disprove the existence of God. So, it seems that we are both agnostic. Where we differ is in what we
choose to believe after stating our agnosticism. You choose the blind faith viewpoint of believing that God exists. I choose the intellectual viewpoint of not believing in God's existence until compelling evidence is presented in its favor.
(R) An agnostic is for the most part just an atheist who's wishy-washy.
(MB) This is patently incorrect, but is still a common mantra of religious adherents. "Unless you believe as I do, you're an atheist", they say. The concept of intellectual doubt is, to them, unfathomable and even threatening.
You call yourself a Christian, then (perhaps unwittingly) make statements about your beliefs that would define you as being an agnostic. Must we conclude that an agnostic might be a wishy-washy Christian? Or, as is more likely, is it just your characterization of an agnostic that is incorrect?
It is more accurate to say that religion and science are not mutually exclusive. There is plenty of room for each to accept ideas from the other. Where Creationists fail is in their assertion that the Bible's account of creation is literally and
scientifically accurate and in their fallacious idea that to accept evolution is to deny God.
(R) Once again, I agree. I think that Christians who single-mindedly insist on a strictly literal interpretation of the Bible often do more harm than good.
(MB) Without question. Extremist nonsense is invariably harmful no matter what the issue in question might be.
(R) However, we're still trying to settle the question of God's existance, so more on that later.
(MB) I'll be waiting... :-)
Exactly. Acknowledgement of that bit of logic would avoid many pointless arguments.
(R) May as well argue about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.
(MB) ...or, whether or not angels actually exist.
This is the heart of the scientific method. Strictly speaking, "proof" is often impossible. What is required to demonstrate scientific validity for any hypothesis or theory is compelling evidence that survives continued challenges. It takes continuous success for a theory to survive, but only one failure for it to fail or to require revision.
(R) Concur. However, I don't think the idea of a scientific hypothesis or theory is correct when discussing the existance of
God. There is no physical evidence or proof one way or the other.
(MB) If the question can't be discussed in the same manner as any other hypothesis or theory, then it can only be discussed philosophically or rhetorically. However, even if the end result of philosophy or rhetoric is an agreement that God exists, that result is still next to meaningless until some evidence is found to support it. Once any piece of evidence is profferred, it can be examined scientifically.
(R) Scientists studying sub-atomic particals, which can't be seen even with the most powerful microscopes, still have physical evidence to support their theories. We don't have such evidence in this discussion. And neither one of us can have a success or failure to support our opinions.
(MB) "Evidence" does not have to be something physical in nature. Logic and rational argument can also be compelling -- although they cannot, of course, prove anything by themselves. If a religious adherent can advance successful arguments in favor of his belief, that belief can gain validity. If he cannot, then there is no reason to accept that belief.
While this may be "the same position", the two positions are not equals. In any question where one side claims that "X" exists and the other side claims that "X" does not exist, the burden of proof resides with the side claiming that "X" exists. It is a logical impossibility to prove that "X" does not exist unless at least one situation can be defined under which the existance of "X" would be impossible. Then, it must be shown that such a situation actually exists. Since it is not possible (to my
knowledge) to define any situation that must preclude the existance of God, it is not possible to prove that he does not exist. However, as I said, it is not necessary to prove that God does not exist. It is enough to cast doubt upon the need for such an existance or to debunk the arguments put forth by those who seek to claim that he does exist.
(R) Vroom and a hand passes over my head. Your argument is that because I believe God exists, the burden of proof rests with me? Why?
(MB) Because, if you are going to support a positive position, you must be able to provide evidence for it if you want to have any hope of gaining acceptance or converting others. It's similar to how a judgment is reached in a court of law. If the prosecution claims that you committed a crime and the defense claims that you did not, the burden of proof rests on the side promoting the positive position -- the prosecution. They must prove that you committed the crime. The defense
needs only cast reasonable doubt on the prosecution's case. The positive position can not win the jury's verdict unless it's case has been proven. The defense can win by casting sufficient doubt upon that case. This is why the burden of proof in this case rests upon you. You are promoting the positive position of claiming that God exists.
(R) I state, "It is not possible to prove God exists." You state, "It is not possible to prove that he does not exist", but go on to say I have to prove he does. I can't, it's not possible!
(MB) Then you have no business trying to convert anybody to the belief that God exists, in promoting your religion's worship of such a God, or in stating that your belief in God is anything more than a purely arbitrary and personal decision that has no basis in reality. You would also have no business putting your religion or your God ahead of anyone else's religion or God -- or ahead of anyone else's choice not to believe in any religion or God.
(R) I stand by my statement that we are both in the same position, that of accepting our belief through faith. That you feel our positions are not equal is not relevant.
(MB) On the contrary, the fact that our positions are not equal is of great importance in any discussion of the subject. You must provide evidence in support of your claims -- as would somebody who wanted to promote the existence of 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". Would
you claim that any of these notions have any validity for no better reason than if it can't be proven that they don't exist?
I do not believe in Man's notion of God because I find no necessity for it and have heard no compelling evidence in favor of his (or any other superior beings') existance. If you choose to believe despite having no evidence to support such a belief, that is your right and I will not disparage it. However, consider that if you want me to join you in your belief, you will need to present something compelling in its favor.
(R) And if you choose not to believe in God despite having no evidence to support your belief, I will not disparge that belief, either.
(MB) I have plenty of evidence to support my belief -- that's why I have that belief. However, none of it can prove the non-existence of God -- and nothing can do so. If God exists, his existence could be proven -- and proven very easily -- while non-existence can never be proven. Considerable doubt can be cast, however, and arguments in favor of his existence can be debunked. Because of this, the only intellectually-correct position is to be agnostic.
(R) The point I'm trying to get across is, that your reasons for not believing in God are no better than mine are for believing in Him.
(MB) This is false. My reasons can be supported by evidence. Belief in God can not.
(R) As we continue this discussion, I will present my reasons for believing in God and allow you to make your own decisions about the matter.
(MB) Fair enough. Bring it on!
With nothing evidential to support your belief, it must be a very hollow one, indeed. I hope you are not one who will claim that he'll never change his beliefs even if they are shown to be wrong.
(R) Well actually, no, it's not hollow at all. But if it were, it could hardly be any more hollow than your own, also without any
evidence in support.
(MB) Again, this is incorrect for reasons previously stated.
(R) I am always willing to admit when I am wrong. My confidence comes simply from the fact that I know beyond the shadow of a doubt you can't prove me wrong.
(MB) I can't prove your basic claim to be wrong. However, I am confident that I can successfully counter any argument or evidence you may advance in favor of your belief. The fact that I can do this is why I hold my own viewpoint on this issue. I await the opening of the prosecution's case in favor of the positive position that God exists.
Been there, done that, moved on to reality. What compelling evidence will you bring to my attention that will put my butt in a pew?
(R) As soon as I hear from you that you conceed this point, that we each hold true to our beliefs through blind faith, I will move on.
(MB) I cannot concede a point that is not true. It is not possible to disbelieve through blind faith. However, it is certainly possible to believe in spite of all evidence, argument, and common sense to the contrary. That is the nature of blind faith. It serves an emotional need and not an intellectual one.