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).

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?
(R) The short answer is: independent Baptist, by choice, because I like it. I can put together a long answer and send it separately if you're interested. Sort of a testimony. I don't care if you incorporate it into this discussion or not. It's not really important.
(MB) Perhaps not as far as the developing central issue of this discussion goes, but I would still be interested to hear about it.

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) You should put the word "some" in front of "religious proselytes." Radicals of any persuasion tend to have exact prescriptions for what ails society; the religious fanatic has no monopoly on narrow-mindedness.
(MB) Proselytizers differ from other believers in that they are the ones who are active in trying to recruit or convert others to their religion. In order to do so, they use the pronouncements described above as their main selling points. What sets religious fanatics apart from any others is that adherence to their beliefs requires a total commitment of one's life and actions. There is no room for doubt or for questioning of the core beliefs.

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?
(R) Of course not! The word "vastness" was suppose to convey the idea of complexity, not size. I'll try to be more careful in my choice of words.
(MB) In this case, the same argument applies. Vast complexity does not preclude understanding any more than does vast size. A hydrogen atom is no more difficult to understand in a complex universe than it is in a simple universe.

(R) To better illustrate the concept I'm trying to get across, I'd like you to draw me a picture of a hydrogen atom. If you're knowledgeable of molecular structures, it may be close, but it can't be exactly correct. You can't exactly depict it, not with pictures and not with words. Because you can't see it, and because it is impossible for you entirely understand everything about it, you can only approximate its reality with your picture or words.
(MB) How exact would you like it? A hydrogen atom consists of one proton and one electron. A proton carries a positive electric charge and is made up of three quarks. An electron carries a corresponding negative charge and possesses a quality known as wave/particle duality. The electron orbits the proton in a particular location known as a shell that gives the atom a valence of plus-or-minus 1 and allows it to combine easily with other atoms. What's lacking in our understanding?

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) You will never hear me say that. There is much I don't understand, and probably never will, but I will never give up trying.
(MB) Yet, I think you have drawn a line between religion beliefs and scientific knowledge that you may not allow yourself to cross. If you can say that nobody will ever change your mind about your beliefs, then the line has been drawn. What do you do when science conflicts with religion? Is science automatically rejected or ignored in favor of preserving the religious belief?

(R) Also, define "too many." Every one you meet? Or just some?
(MB) Anybody who has ever said "God said it, I believe it, that settles it". Anybody whose defense of his morality rests entirely within the pages of the Bible. Anybody who gives the slightest credibility whatsoever to Creationism. Anybody who thinks that any problem can be solved solely through prayer. For that matter, anybody who thinks that prayer, in and of itself, can do or change *anything*.
    Is that too harsh? I don't think so since those things help perpetuate superstition and ignorance -- two of the foremost enemies of reality and knowledge.

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) In the next paragraph you further state, "I choose the intellectual viewpoint of not believing in God's existence until compelling evidence is presented in its favor." These two statements together give me the strong impression you are saying you don't believe in God. Am I mis-interpeting you?
(MB) I think you are confusing my personal non-belief in God with my statement that I can't definitively prove that belief. I can't flat-out state "God does not exist". I can, however, state that I have serious doubts that he does exist and that I have found flaws with arguments seeking to support his existence. Perhaps your confusion is due to difficulty accepting that there is a difference between outright atheism and intellectual agnosticism?

(R) My definition of an agnostic is not meant to be the strict definition. It is my opinion of people who claim to be agnostics to avoid admitting they are, in fact, atheists.
(MB) So, your definition of "agnostic" is meant only to provide personal satisfaction in support of an erroneous opinion?

(R) The whole concept of agnosticism is little more than an intellectual subterfuge.
(MB) On the contrary, it is intellectual honesty. What sort of "subterfuge" is it to state truthfully that one does not have absolute proof for a belief and, therefore, to use a precise term to describe himself?

(R) You make it clear in all you write that you don't believe in God, but aren't willing to come right out and say it.
(MB) Again, just to clear up the confusion, I have no problem stating that I don't believe in God. However, I am agnostic since I acknowledge the fact that I cannot prove my belief to be true. I don't believe in God because such belief has absolutely nothing compelling to support it and because I can find nothing in the Universe that could not be as it is through the actions of understandable natural law and would, therefore, have to have brought about via supernatural means.
    Because of this, if I still chose to believe in God, such a decision would be made solely because it was something I wanted to do emotionally as opposed to something that I was compelled to do intellectually.

(R) I say clearly that I believe in God, but admit I can't prove it. The fact that I willingly admit I can't prove the existance of God, doesn't make me less of a believer, it is a mere acknowledgement of fact.
(MB) Granted. However, as I have said, this is an emotional belief and not an intellectual one. It also makes us both agnostics. Now, all agnostics are not created equal. If one was to construct a bell curve to graph the distributions of personal beliefs of all agnostics to chart the degree of belief/disbelief that they held, yours would likely occupy the left tail of the curve, while mine would fall into the right tail.

(R) The dictionary I have (Webster's Ninth New Collegiate, c.1986) defines an agnostic as, "One who holds the view that any ultimate reality (such as God) is unknown and probably unknowable." You seem to feel that everything in the universe is perfectly understandable, so you are not an agnostic by this definition. Right?
(MB) Wrong. First, that is only a partial definition of the word "agnostic" and one that includes only the point you are trying to make. 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. For example, I understand how a computer works without having perfect knowledge of everything that is involved in its operation. Understanding allows us to make predictions about the nature of things that can be verified through observation and experiment.
    So, while ultimate reality can never be known, we can still achieve excellent levels of understanding about the Universe. Once again, there is no conflict between my beliefs and the definition of "agnostic".

(R) I seriously doubt that many believers would call someone an atheist simply because their held differing views. Depending on the degree of the difference, they might call them misguided, or even heretical, but atheist, no.
(MB) This couldn't be further from the truth. Belief in God is a pure black-and-white, yes-or-no question to those believers. You either believe or you don't. You're either going to be "saved" or you're going to burn in hell. You either join them in their belief, you are an atheist, or, worst of all, you worship a "false God". Of course, to many of those same people, that's no different from atheism.
    I couldn't begin to count the number of Christians who claim that Islam is "wrong" because "they worship a false God". Of course, this is nonsense since Muslims worship the very same God as do Christians (Muslims just call him "Allah"), but they don't want to hear or acknowledge that fact. It's much easier to just brand them as heathens, atheists, or worse.

The concept of intellectual doubt is, to them, unfathomable and even threatening.
(R) Doubt, intellectual or otherwise, is threatening to nearly anyone. What defines us is how we deal with it. Many people handle doubt, with its connotations of mistakes, very poorly. Believers hold no monopoly in this area, either.
(MB) True, however it affects believers much more adversely. Doubt threatens the very underpinning of their motional 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) I think you've basically stated the exactly concept I was trying to express. This question can only be discussed philosophically. As there is no evidence to either prove or disprove the existance of God, only philosophical answers can be derived. And no one person's philosophical answer is of necessity better than another, as long as logic is not violated during the process.
(MB) But, logic *is* violated by those who say that God exists. 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) You're contradicting yourself. You say "evidence" does not have to be physical, but then go on to say logic and rational argument can't prove anything by themselves.
(MB) Where's the contradiction? "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) Your comparison with a court case is not valid. We have no overt act (no crime), no evidence, no defendent, no prosecution, and no judge (at least, you don't think there's a judge.) We have nothing but two different sets of beliefs.
(MB) The comparison is, indeed, valid. There is an overt act (the claim that [insert specific superstition here] 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.

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.
(R) Why not? Why are my beliefs inferior to yours?
(MB) 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) Why can you promote your beliefs, but I cannot?
(MB) I don't (nor must I) promote my beliefs. What I do is to debunk illogical arguments put forth by those who claim that God exists. I don't put bumper stickers on my car saying "There is no God". I don't delay the start of a meal by asking for all those at the table to give thanks that the natural Universe brought about the food. I don't feel the necessity for invoking the name of a deity whenever somebody sneezes or whenever I manage to succeed at an athletic endeavor. If nobody prayed in a loud voice, I would have nothing to say about it.

(R) Have I at any point in this discussion told you I wished to force you to believe as I do?
(MB) Not in those words, but, at the end of your first reply, you did mention something about "You won't change my mind, but I may have you in church by the time we're done". This sounds like you'll accept only one possible outcome.

(R) Have I indicated anywhere that my belief in God is any more than a personal choice?
(MB) So you have claimed. However, if that's all there was to it, why would you defend it so adamantly?

(R) Does your belief there is no God have any more basis in reality than my belief that there is?
(MB) Absolutely. For the reason that there is *no* basis in reality for your belief or for any of the other popular superstitions that I've previously referred to. How can belief in such things be justified?

(R) What evidence do you have which proves your beliefs are more than beliefs, but are instead facts?
(MB) Again, you are demanding that I prove that something doesn't exist. How, for example, would you prove that the Loch Ness monster doesn't exist? One could search Loch Ness continuously and never spot it, but that wouldn't prove anything as one could just claim that the monster was somewhere other than where we were searching. Because of things like this, the only side of the story that can be proven is the positive claim -- i.e., that the monster exists. If that claim can't be supported by evidence or argument, the only intellectually-valid conclusion is that the monster is a myth. Scientists would love for it to be true since that would increase our understanding. But things don't become true simply because we would prefer them to be true.

(R) I don't put my God or religion ahead of anyone else's.....or ahead of the choice of atheism. Perhaps God does, but I don't. You're projecting your prejudices against religion upon me without my ever having said a word on the subject.
(MB) Am I? Each of your first two sentences here demonstrates your beliefs and preferences for your God. In addition, you have a hard time accepting that someone can be agnostic instead of atheist. You have no doubts at all about your God -- including claiming that I "can't change your mind" -- even though you can't provide a shred of evidence in support for him. In fact, you expend more effort demanding proof that he *doesn't* exist. You don't need to be quoting Bible verses to have already said a lot.

(R) I don't belief all the wild stories about UFOs I hear, but I'm not willing to categorically state that UFOs don't exist and have never visited the earth. The only absolute is that there are no absolutes.
(MB) But wouldn't you agree that UFO cultists are off-base for promoting their beliefs with no evidence to support it? In fact, much of what they try to offer has been shown to be deliberate hoaxes or simple ignorance of other phenomena. Each time that happens, their position weakens.

I have plenty of evidence to support my belief -- that's why I have that belief.
(R) Well, let's hear some of it! I bet I can, as you like to say, debunk it.
(MB) If you've read the rest of this, then you know what "evidence" is -- and what it is not. You also know that there is nothing that can prove non-existence. My evidence is in the form of successful debunking of the arguments of those who try to claim God's existence.
    Let's try something to see how strong the case in favor of God might be. Assume that we both meet "Joe". Joe comes from some isolated spot and has never heard of either science or religion. Joe asks us both to explain the nature of the world. Joe is an intelligent person and can easily spot flaws that might be present in our explanations. Which of our explanations is likely to be more compelling to him?

If God exists, his existence could be proven -- and proven very easily -- while non-existence can never be proven.
(R) So what you're saying is that mankind already knows of everything in the universe and will discover nothing more which is new. There's not something on the other side of this galaxy which we will never see, will never even know is there in the next million years, which exists, but no can't exist because we can't easily prove it exists.
(MB) This is not very well thought out. First, as I've said before, it is impossible to know everything in the Universe. However, we can use basic principles of logic and evidence to make compelling cases for things. For example, we can prove that the other side of our galaxy exists even though we don't have the ability to see it directly or to visit it in person.

(R) To say, that if God exists we could easily prove he exists, is silly. For all we know, he's hiding from us.
(MB) I detect some grasping at straws here. If God was hiding from us, it wouldn't even be possible to claim that he exists since there would be nothing on which to base that claim. If one claims that God exists because he created the universe, then he can't be hiding from us, and one only needs to demonstrate that the universe could only have come about as a result of divine intervention to prove that he exists. If one claims that God exists because he answers prayers, then he can't be hiding from us, and one only needs to demonstrate that something happened as a result of prayer that would not have happened without it (and that it is actually God who is answering) to prove that he exists.

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.
(R) My point exactly, that you can't prove my basic claim wrong. And I'm sure you could refute any so called proofs I might present. But nobody's on trial and there is no prosecutor.
(MB) But, there is an important question to be answered. If you can't help answer it in your favor, then we must fall back to the default position that there is no question to be answered (i.e., there is no God about whom to debate). So, to paraphrase a popular admonition, it's time to either preach or get off the pulpit.

(R) My point, that we both hold our beliefs to be true through faith, is true.
(MB) My point that the positive belief ("X" exists) must be demonstrated or else the negative belief ("X" doesn't exist) is the most intellectually valid is more to the crux of the issue.

(R) I'm going to quote you from one of your Answers to Religion rebuttals:
"My personal belief is that I am one with our Universe. My body contains nothing that isn't also present everywhere else. My individual physical existance is nothing more than a consequence of the physical laws that govern our Universe. I don't believe that the intervention of anything or anybody supernatural is necessary to explain the Universe or anything contained within it. I don't believe that Man is either special or unique in any way, shape or form. I also do not believe that the Earth is the only place in the Universe where life exists nor that Man is the only intelligent form of life."
Your words are a declaration of faith, pure and simple. If you want to change it into a declaration of fact, that is, replace the words "I believe" with "I know," then you are going to have to produce conclusive evidence that what you say is true. Until you do, your beliefs are nothing more than opinions.
(MB) Fair enough. After all, I've asked the same thing of you and your beliefs, correct? Here goes...
    Every physical object we have examined so far, without exception, is comprised of varying combinations drawn from a limited set of the same basic building blocks (i.e., sub-atomic particles). We understand the properties of these particles and understand how they interact and combine with each other to produce atoms, how atoms combine to create molecules, and how molecules combine to create macroscopic objects. There is nothing we have yet discovered that it is so unusual that we have no choice but to conclude that it could only have been created through the intervention of a supernatural force. This includes the species of living being we call Homo sapiens. Because there is nothing unusual about the Earth or anything on the Earth, we have no reason to believe that the rules which apply here do not also apply everywhere else -- and this has been shown to be true in every galaxy, star, or planet which we have been able to examine so far. Be cause there's nothing unique about the Earth and because there must be nearly-innumerable other planets in the universe, the probability that life exists on Earth and nowhere else in the universe must be so near to zero that there's no reason even to consider such a thing.
    Now, what about this is "faith" with no evidence to support it? Until you can make a similar set of statements in favor of the existence of God, we must again conclude that such a belief has no basis in reality.

(R) You are a practitioner of a religion, just as surely as I am, with your own viewpoint and beliefs, and your own theology in support of them. A religion doesn't have to have God at the center to qualify.
(MB) That's only true if you want to go down to the fifth (and colloquial) definition of the word "religion". However, to call what I believe "a religion" is to do nothing more than to strip any special meaning from what you believe, i.e., your "religion". If you want to do that, then there's even less reason to give that belief any credibility until anything positive can be offered in support of it.
    Out of curiosity, what word or term would you use in place of "religion" to describe belief in or worship of a deity that would differentiate that belief methodology from mine? It makes no sense to attempt to label both with the same word.

(R) I would further state that your beliefs fill both emotional and intellectual needs for you, just as my belief in God fills both emotional and intellectual needs for me.
(MB) My emotional needs are served by the intellectual knowledge that I'm not believing in unsupported superstition. What possible intellectual needs can your beliefs fulfill? They certainly don't describe anything in the universe accurately.

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