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REPLY #17a TO
"RELIGION"



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

If it is merely a statement of unsupported belief, then any following arguments and conclusions are nothing more than exercises in rhetoric and constitute nothing upon which a competent model of the universe can be constructed.
(R) Using this reasoning, any idea which is not a matter of fact cannot be used as a basis for logically conclusions. This is incorrect.
(MB) You keep confusing "facts" with "support". One can offer support for an idea without being able to offer the sort of conclusive evidence that would help establish it as a fact.
    I have said that there is nothing in the universe which requires a supernatural explanation or divine intervention and I support this claim by answering all of your "How does it work?" questions.
    You have said that God exists and that he created everything. When asked for even one example of something that could only exist if God was responsible for it, you can't mention one. When asked why you believe the God theory over any other theory of the universe, you say only that it is "personal preference". Yet, you continue to say that both claims are equal. That is what is not logical about your argument.



(R) Philosophies of all types draw conclusions on the basis of ideas which cannot be proved true or untrue -- conclusions which are never-the-less entirely valid. Your statement, that unprovable beliefs are worthless, is in error. Your own philosophy is based on an unprovable belief.
(MB) My specific statement that nothing in the universe requires the supernatural is not a "philosophy". It is a statement of fact supported by factual examples. When all examples support it and none contradict it, the statement can gain a very high degree of validity.
    If you state "God exists and created the universe", that is also a statement of fact. That statement, however, goes completely unsupported. As such, it can never hope to gain any degree of validity. "Personal preference" won't change that.



My basic premise is that everything in the universe derives from the consequences of a finite set of knowable and understandable physical laws.
(R) It sounds as if your basic premise is, "There is nothing in the universe which is not physical." This statement is false. At least one set of non-material things ("ideas") exist, which makes your premise that only the physical exists incorrect. You'll have to come up with a different premise to have any hope of your beliefs being intellectually valid.
(MB) "Ideas" arise from physical causes - i.e., the physical workings of the living brain - and do not exist independently. This means that they, too, are covered by my basic premise and nothing needs to be changed. To support your argument, you will need to show something that exists independently of any physical causality.


And, don't say that you can't do so or that you don't have to do so and still continue to advance it as the equal of science.
(R) Well, I'm afraid I have to say I can't do so, despite the fact it annoys you.
(MB) It doesn't annoy me. On the contrary, it delights me since it just shows that my argument is by far the stronger of the two.


(R) But this is not in opposition to science. Science has nothing to do with the question under discussion. The two beliefs in opposition are 1.) God exists, or 2.) God doesn't exist.
(MB) You keep misstating my premise. Once again, it is that everything in the universe derives from understandable and knowable physical laws and that nothing supernatural is required. My belief in the non-existence of God is a consequence of that premise combined with other arguments.


(R) Science makes no statements whatsoever on this point, but is neutral.
(MB) Science shows how nothing supernatural is required to explain anything in the universe. If God is in not in the realm of the supernatural, then there would be physical evidence available to support his existence and belief in him can only be the equal of science if the support for both is equal.
    Science doesn't state whether or not God exists. It gives us the tools for understanding the universe around us and for separating the truth from the fiction. If there's nothing to show that God's existence is the truth, then it is reasonable to believe that such an existence is purely fictional.



So is any belief that cannot be established or strongly suggested to be a fact. The God theory, by your own admission, must then be considered to be fictional and, by extension, no better than any other fictional story.
(R) Negatory. Fiction is "made up" and never presented as fact. Authors are completely up front in saying their fictional works do not portray real events, persons, places, or things in an historically accurate fashion, simply by classifying their works as fictional.
(MB) A story does not have to be self-declared fiction in order to be fictional. If an author writes a story which he never declares to be fiction and which he fervently believes to be true, would you consider it not to be "fiction" even if it is clearly untrue? Remember that legal disclaimers of fictional intent were not required by authors prior to this century.
    If you wish to place the stories of God outside the realm of fiction for the reasons you state, you will also have to support the stories of Zeus, Odin, Jupiter, Ra, Ta'aroa, Coyote and any and all other supreme beings the same way. Since they can't all be true, once again you would be in the position of having to show how the stories of God are superior or why we should believe in them as opposed to any others.



(R) That's not to say accurate facts are not used in fiction, because they are. For example, in WAP, Tolstoy gives a factual account of the battle of Borodino and draws some fascinating conclusions about the battle, about men in combat, and about the very nature of history, but still, his account is fictional by definition and cannot be used as a factual reference in any sense.
(MB) And, nobody would do so in the process of making a serious claim about history. The Bible, too, has both factual and fictional parts which combine to tell its stories. Why should it be considered to be an umimpeachable source?


(R) If Adam's were to make a claim that "Hitchhiker" was a true account of his travels around the galaxy, then his work would move into the realm of (dubious) non-fiction, and a belief in the Arkleseizure in that case might be justified. Until that time, no belief in the Great Green Arkleseizure can be justified.
(MB) That is not true. For such a claim by Adams to move his book into the realm of non-fiction and for a belief in the factuality of any of his stories to be justifiable, there would have to be independent and compelling evidence to support it. He would then be making a positive claim for the existence of the Great Green Arkleseizure and would have to support that claim in the same way that any positive claim of existence must be supported in order to be justifiable.


(R) On the other hand, there is nothing fictional, whatsoever, about a belief in God.
(MB) If there is nothing at all fictional about it, then everything about it must be factual. If so, there must be evidence to support it. Where is it?


(R) Can you name an author who made up the concept of God?
(MB) Whatever the name of the first Jew was. He took elements of other stories which were popular at that time, added his own twists, and created God in his own image and likeness.


Physical phenomena can be shown to exist and, therefore, do not fall into the realm of fiction.
(R) Agreed. Physical phenomena do exist, and science does an excellent job of describing them. However, this has nothing to do with the question of whether or not God exists.
(MB) Yes, it does. If God is a fact, then he has a physical existence of some sort and there would be physical evidence that would lead us to him. If he's not a fact, if he's nothing physical, and if there's no evidence for him, then belief in unsupportable and arguments in his favor are a waste of time and energy.


All ideas which purport to explain the same phenomenon must submit themselves to the same standards of proof if any of them hopes to gain general acceptance as a legitimate explanation.
(R) Agreed.
(MB) So, then you agree that the God theory has no hope to gain general acceptance as a legitimate explanation of how the universe was created?


Anybody who exhibits the refusal behaviors you specified is doing little more than mental masturbation. It might make them feel good, but nothing of any non-trivial consequence can be accomplished.
(R) I'm unsure of what you're getting at here. The "how" of the physical universe is the area of science, and all questions of this nature must meet the same standards of logic and evidence. The "why" of the universe falls into the realm of religion and philosophy, with questions resolved through the application of different standards, although all must meet the same standards. How does recognition of this difference amount to mental self abuse?
(MB) You completely ignored the point of my statement to address a different topic. I was making a comment about those who claim equality for their beliefs while always refusing to submit them to the same standards of evidence and proof as any other theory.
    To address what you did bring up, if science's theories of "how" is right, then the "why" of the universe is also answered -- the universe exists because those same physical laws would produce it exactly as we see it. It couldn't be any other way. Only if we accept the supernatural must we worry about any philosophical or theological "why" questions.



How do you arrive at that figure?
(R) To tell you the truth, I made it up, due to your persistent evasion of my requests to quantify your statements on the number of religious fanatics you meet. However, I did base it on my previous estimate that only ten percent of religious persons hold the narrow views which you attempt to project on to all believers -- an estimate which is well grounded in statistical fact. If you're unhappy with my estimate, please provide your own.
(MB) Your "statistical facts" are merely your own hunches about what various groups believe and what sorts of people belong to each group -- as you clearly admit. I've asked you several questions about the beliefs of individuals and organized religious sects and your own answers dispute your own "well grounded" estimate as to how prevalent certain beliefs are.


Are you trying to claim that only one out of ten believers actually believe in the reality of God's existence?
(R) No, I'm stating as a fact that very few religious persons adhere to the narrow beliefs you attempt to attribute to all of them.
(MB) How many believers adhere to the "narrow belief" that God's existence is a real thing? A recent survey on millennial issues showed that 76% of Americans believe in the second coming of Christ. Does that sound like a number that could be off-handedly dismissed as being "very few"?


First of all, I'm not condemning everyone with religious beliefs. I am condemning certain unsupportable beliefs and the tactics used by those who promote them.
(R) Great! If you make that clear in your Essay on Religion, with something other than a brief disclaimer at the end, you will have an essay which is honest, factual and truly unbiased -- unlike what you have now.
(MB) Are you saying that it is only the scope of my essay that is wrong? Does that mean that everything else is correct?


I am condemning the notion that religious beliefs are valid when the believers themselves can't even agree on what those beliefs are.
(R) So every scientist in the world agrees exactly on every question of science? Yeah, right. The lack of agreement between scientists does nothing to invalidate science as a whole.
(MB) While scientists may disagree on specific minor details of certain theories (such as evolution), there is no disagreement that the major theory itself is correct or that the methods used by science are sound. There is only one "science" in the world (or, for that matter, in the universe).     Religion certainly can't claim anything similar. Competing religions disagree on major points. Sects of the same religion hold mutually-exclusive positions. Believers in the same sect disagree on interpretation and scope of Scripture. If the God theory was correct, there would be no such problems. There would be only one religion and there would be no disputes or differences concerning it.


I am condemning the implicit premise that Christianity is "right" while all other religious beliefs are "wrong" - especially when one considers that there are over 200 different (and often incompatible) versions of Christianity in the world.
(R) First of all, as has been stated many times, no one set of unproveable beliefs has any inherent superiority over any other. The fact that I'm a Christian undoubtedly means I feel Christianity is "right," but I am also rational enough to realize the above statement is true -- as are most Christians.
(MB) If there's no definitive reason for preferring your religion above any other, then there's no reason to prefer its beliefs or its deity. If there's no reason to prefer them, why even bother to promote them?


(R) Secondly, your estimate of "over 200" is way low, probably by a couple thousand. There are 1400 distinct sects of Christianity in North America alone, which have widely divergent beliefs.
(MB) I was only considering the major sects, i.e., those with at least 5,000 members. Certainly, there are several times more of the small, fringe groups with their own wild ideas. In any case, the more different and widely-divergent sects of the same basic religion which exist, the stronger my point becomes.


(R) In fact, some of these sects would probably refuse to recognize certain of the others as fellow Christians.
(MB) You are quite correct. Not only is their friction and incompatible beliefs between the smaller sects, but it exists all the way up to Protestants vs. Catholics. Once again, so much dispute about basic principles just reinforces my points about the religion itself.


(R) What does this mean? Well, the fact that some issues in Christianity simply have no resolution is at the root of most of the differences. But, be aware that many of these arguments are very minor in nature, such as the conflict over whether to serve wine or grape juice for communion.
(MB) Certainly you don't believe that such trivialities are enough to cause new sects to be formed? It's the important differences that cause division. Such things include the sects' authority, rites and practices, and doctrinal basis. Some question the divinity of Jesus. That certainly isn't a trivial difference.


(R) Also, consider that of the 200 million Americans who are Christians, nearly three quarters are Baptist, Episcopalian, Lutheran, Methodist, Pentecostal, Presbyterian, E. Orthodox, or Catholic -- all of which are mainstream branches with wide agreement between them on the important issues. Most of the rest, the less well-known sects, are also in basic agreement. There are only a few, perhaps 10 million, with basic beliefs which are widely divergent from the rest.
(MB) You don't think that Catholics have major differences from the others? What do you think caused the original splitting away of the Protestants? You wouldn't consider 10 million people to be a significant number? And none of this explains why any significant differences should exist in the first place.


I will condemn *any* belief -- religious or not -- that uses the same methods of argument used by religious advocates and which has equally little to support it.
(R) I will condemn anyone who uses illogical arguments, twists facts, or out-and-out lies to support their position, but I will never use the tactics of bigotry to project the actions of a few on to an entire group in order to discredit the group.
(MB) Since none of that applies to me, the only reason I can see for even bringing it up is to avoid answering direct questions about your own beliefs.


If any group permits a vocal portion of its membership to speak on behalf of the group and does not take those individuals to task for what they say, then the group has given its implicit support to what is being said and must bear the mantle of responsibility for it.
(R) So what are we suppose to do, declare a Jihad? Good grief, man, where's your common sense? Anyone can say anything they like as long as they don't incite violence, or promote child pornography, or shout "Fire!" in a crowded theater when there isn't one, or anything else expressly illegal.
(MB) Quite correct. But, if you don't oppose it when asked about it, then you must be implicitly supporting it. If it takes a "Jihad" to root out the nonsense in the religious community and restore any amount of respectability and validity to it, then so be it. Will you help or will you continue to support the nonsense?



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