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REPLY #18a 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.

(R) The need which is fulfilled is to be able to do exactly as one pleases, without the constraints of what is perceived as artificial rules of morality. Any belief in God interferes drastically with this need, so the existence of God is denied. My experience leads me to conclude that most, if not all, atheists have this as the fundamental reason for their denial of God's existence.
(MB) So, you are equating non-belief in God with immorality? Yeeeesh! Or, are you saying that one cannot be moral without believing in God? Double Yeeeesh! Your "experience" sounds like the sort of groundless inuendo that you like to accuse me of. Morality is the determination of which behaviors are "right" and which are "wrong". Religion's contribution to morality is to set its own standards for making that determination.


However, for intellectuals a non-belief in God comes about as a result of an objective study of the subject which raises too many problems, paradoxes, and contradictions in the God theory for it to be acceptable. I should also point out that any scientific theory that is found to suffer from the same degree of difficulties is also discarded. This is as it should be.
(R) In the first place, there are many intellectuals who believe in God.
(MB) You missed the point again. I stated how intellectuals arrive at non-belief in God. I didn't say that all intellectuals are non-believers.


(R) In the second place, my theory that God exists and that He created the universe is very simple. What problem, paradox, or contradiction is presented by this?
(MB) There are several and most arise from the notion that God is omnipotent and omniscient. One is the question of whether or not there is such a thing as "free will". Another is why anything should happen that would get God angry or be any way other than what he intended. Then, there's the old question about whether or not an omnipotent God could make a rock so big that he couldn't lift it. Also, why would such a being permit beliefs in other deities (or no deity at all) or even allow his creation, Man, to conceive of such things?


(R) Finally, the belief that God does not exist presents paradoxes and contradictions of its own. If the universe is purely a product of chance, and therefore, essentially meaningless, then everything in it is meaningless -- even that which appears to have meaning.
(MB) That's not a paradox or a contradiction. That's a matter of philosophy that applies only to an idea of Man that anything actually has any meaning. What would be the problem with acknowledging that there is no inherent meaning to the universe or anything within it?


(R) Just an estimate, based on personal experience. It could very well be high. At least I made one, instead of just saying, "All atheists do this", or "Every atheist thinks that," the way you always say of religious believers.
(MB) Uh-huh. So, making a wild and purely speculative guess is justification for an expressed personal opinion about atheism?


If the knowledge I gained from my experiences studying Islam during the time I spent in Turkey is any indication, a strict religion is far more likely to keep its adherents than is one that is less strict. Christianity is really a very lax religion that places few demands on its adherents. In such an environment, it is easier to question and to entertain alternative ideas.
(R) Of course, the rule of fear is always an alternative to the rule of reason, but such a rule must be maintained with consistent ruthlessness, not mere strictness. Otherwise, it quick falls apart, as in the Soviet Union when Gorbachev relaxed that formerly repressive regime. Such ruthlessness is readily apparent in some of the theocratic Muslim states, but who can state with certainty that Islam is the root of the ruthlessness? It could well be another factor.
(MB) Islam itself is not ruthless in its demands -- it is just strict. It doesn't fall apart or splinter into hundreds of sects because it is internally consistent and honest. Sure, it is used by ruthless leaders as a way of maintaining control. But, so are Christianity and practically every other religion.


(R) I don't really know much about Islam and can't speculate on whether it is strict or not. Perhaps Muslims might disagree with your categorization of it. I've spent a total of about seven months in Saudi Arabia, but unfortunately, didn't have any extra time to spend studying Islam. However, we used to go to Bahrain for R&R, and while there I saw many Saudis, in traditional dress, getting loaded in the bars. Alcohol, to my knowledge, is strictly forbidden by the Koran and I know it's illegal in Saudi Arabia, but neither restriction seemed to matter to these guys. Where's the strictness, here?
(MB) The strictness of the religion doesn't necessarily prevent one from letting down his hair when he is away from its influences. Any Desert Storm veteran will tell you about the restrictions placed on the American troops while in Saudi Arabia. Those same restrictions weren't in place in Turkey, nor are they in Bahrain.


(R) I would call Christianity a loving religion, not a lax one. In terms of numbers, it has outperformed Islam two to one in attracting and keeping adherents, although Christianity, of course, had a head start of about six hundred years.
(MB) Christianity has also had a far more active missionary tradition than has Islam. Today, Islam is the fastest-growing major religion in the world.


On a side topic, you claim a lot of first-hand knowledge about atheists. I wonder how it is that you know so many of them. Do you actively search them out? They certainly wouldn't come directly to you nor would they interject atheism into casual conversation.
(R) I spent a couple of years in college dormitories and another three or four in the barracks. Aside from quite a bit of heavy drinking, there was also a lot of discussion on some heavy subjects. You'd be surprised what young people talk about in such circumstances.
(MB) I'm not sure that either college dorms or military barracks would be a great choice of places to find informed opinions on heavy subjects. This is not to say that there won't be a lot of freely-expressed views, of course. Many of them normally arise after bouts of the aforementioned heavy drinking.


(R) During those years, I met dozens of people who claimed not to believe in God. Additionally, anytime I meet someone who indicates they don't believe in God, I attempt to engage them in conversation about it, out of interest in why, if nothing else. But no, I don't go around hunting for atheists.
(MB) So, you've met "dozens" of atheists -- some in situations of dubious intellectual environs -- and from this you can extrapolate the views of all atheists. Are you certain that you aren't seeing and hearing exactly what you want to hear and shutting out the rest?


To be able to make any valid judgments about them, you must personally know a thousand or more (the number usually required to generate a statistically-valid survey) and I'll bet you don't personally know a thousand people of *any* religious or non-religious persuasion that well.
(R) I'm absolutely certain I've met at least a thousand Christians, just on the basis of the fact that most Americans claim this religion.
(MB) I'm sure you've *met* that many, as well. But, how many of them do you actually know well?


(R) Also based on my attendance at six different churches over the last 15 years, (I move around a lot) each of which had 200 members or more. But you are absolutely right about valid sample sizes, and also about the fact I don't know enough atheists to make conclusive judgments about them. My statements about them are opinions based on my experiences. So, explain to me how the statements you make about religious believers, which you make with an air of great authority, are anything more than opinions either.
(MB) I judge religious believers by their actions. I don't have to know them personally in order to see what they do. The actions of believers are constantly on display on a daily basis. You can't miss them or confuse them. Also, I have made a study of religion over the past few decades and can speak with some degree of authority from what I've learned.


Which would then all but ensure that any specific statement in support of God must be so unsupportable as to be little more than completely wrong.
(R) I almost agree with you here. However, we differ over how this should be stated. Any specific belief about God is almost certain to be not completely right, and may be completely wrong, because it is impossible for us to have perfect knowledge of God. Didn't I pretty much say that in my first answer to your essay? It is equally impossible for us to have perfect knowledge of anything else in the universe.
(MB) Is perfect knowledge required in order to say anything at all that is right about God or about the universe? If nothing can be said about God that can be shown to be right, on what basis is anybody supposed to believe in him?


They are in opposition when one upholds his religion as being the equal of science or as a valid alternative to science.
(R) Religion and science deal with different spheres.
(MB) Yep. Religion deals with emotion while science deals with reality.


(R) Logic, however, is applicable to both.
(MB) True again. But, there is no logic that can be applied to support a claim for the existence of God. And, no, "Well, it can't be disproved" is not sufficient.



They are *not* in opposition when religion embraces science as a valuable tool to increase our understanding of the universe -- even if it's only to use science to marvel at the "greater glory of God's work".
(R) Beautiful! I could never have said that as well as you just did.
(MB) I know. Still, such a sentiment is pure emotion. It is not logic, nor is it support for the existence of God.


Of course, there would still be the question of whether or not it was actually God's work and not that of some other deity (or of no deity whatsoever).
(R) Very true. So far as this discussion is concerned, God is defined as no more than a Being, whose exact nature is not relevant. And, as I admit and have stated many times before, the idea there is no such Being is logically just as valid as the idea there is.
(MB) How is it logical to believe in something you can't define, that has no physical existence, that can't be understood, and for which there is absolutely nothing to support it?


Again, you are limiting yourself to only considering the black-and-white issue of whether the God of the Bible exists or not (in addition to demonstrating a continued misunderstanding of the difference between agnostics and atheists).
(R) Who has brought up the God of the Bible so far in this discussion but you? (You're not saying Hindus believe in Him, are you?) I have made no statements on the nature of God. Not one.
(MB) Don't be ridiculous. If you call yourself a Christian and say that you believe in God, then your God is the one described in the Bible.


(R) The issue of whether or not God exists, however he is defined, is the black and white issue here, and nothing else. Earlier in this discussion, you clearly stated you did not believe in God. As long as you make such a claim, you are an atheist. As soon as you stop making it, you become something else.
(MB) You still don't know what "atheist" means, do you? "God" is just one particular example of a deity. To express a non-belief in God does not mean that I express an absolute non-belief in the existence of any superior being. I can only say, at best, that I consider the existence of *any* such being to be highly doubtful.


What if an all-powerful deity exists, but it isn't the God of the Bible? What if the truth is that there's actually more than one such deity? What if there's actually a whole bunch of less-than-all-powerful deities and each is in charge of his own galaxy or star system? Or, maybe the truth is of a nature that we have not yet discovered or imagined.
(R) Now, you're starting to get the picture.
(MB) I've always had the picture. You've just tried different and improper ways of developing it for your own satisfaction.



(R) The concept of God, for the purpose of this discussion, includes every one of these things you mention. The fundamental question is whether He exists or not, regardless of how He is defined. Only after settling this question do issues about His nature become relevant.
(MB) Are you changing your own views in light of my arguments? This is the first time that you have suggested that "God" means anything more to you than the one that Christians worship. In any event, any of those scenarios are nothing more than pure speculation. The fact that they are not immediately dismissable is why I am agnostic rather than atheist. It is also why belief in any one particular scenario becomes even more unsupportable than it would otherwise be.


By your own definition, anyone who holds any such beliefs would be "atheists" even though that would clearly not be the case. Your beliefs are very limiting. Mine are open to all possibilities -- maybe even the Great Green Arkleseizure...*grin*
(R) No, this is absolutely untrue. Anyone who believes that God exists (in any form) is a believer, be they a Moslem, a Jew, a Hindu, a Deist, or whatever. Anyone who believes God does not exist is an atheist. As you pointed out earlier in this discussion, such beliefs may be agnostic, to varying degrees, but people are still one or the other.
(MB) Incorrect. You have forgotten the agnostic view that I hold where I may not believe in any particular deity (or deities), but I can't totally dismiss the possibility that some form of superior being might exist. Until any evidence is produced to support any of them, however, I will remain skeptical. That doesn't make me atheistic.


(R) Oh, and if you choose to believe in the Great Green Arkleseizure, you are making a fundamental error of logic.
(MB) No more so than if I chose to believe in any other universe-creating entity.


Yeah, right. That's why you believe in a religion and a God whose First Commandment is "I am the Lord thy God. Thou shalt have no other Gods before me."? Is that how Christianity defines "tolerance"?
(R) Tolerance is defined exactly as I define it above. The first four of the Ten Commandments give mankind's duty to God, with the remainder defining our responsibilities to one another.
(MB) How can the First Commandment have any relevance if you try to claim that there is more than one version of God? It clearly states that there is only one and leaves no room for any other point of view.


(R) They apply to those who utilize the Old Testament, which of course, includes Jews.
(MB) "Includes Jews"? The Old Testament is only and exclusively about the Jews -- the "chosen people". Is that a view that suggests tolerance?


(R) I would not expect a Hindu to obey the First Commandment in reference to the God of the Bible, any more than he should expect me to obey the requirements his religious texts. What is intolerant about that?
(MB) Why even bother with religious texts and doctrines if all views are to be equally tolerated? Do you live by what the Bible teaches, in whole or in part? Do you just choose to uphold the parts that suit your own personal beliefs? In a previous response, you took atheists to task for supposedly choosing non-belief in order to justify their own preferred behaviors. It sounds like you are doing the same thing with this "roll your own" version of Christianity.


"Toleration" is what believers demand of others -- not something that they are very willing to apply to themselves.
(R) Something you should always keep in mind when considering religious people is the fact that despite their beliefs, they are still people, and subject to all the same human foibles as everyone else. As a pastor of mine used to say, churches aren't museums for saints, they are hospitals for sinners. People don't suddenly become perfect simply because they start going to church.
(MB) I've never said anything different. However, they do choose to adopt a set of beliefs that they uphold as being "right" and they do attempt to spread those beliefs to others.


(R) There are undoubtedly some intolerant Christians, but there are many, many more who are tolerant and loving. When you make a statement such as the one above, in which you project your own prejudices against religion on to everyone with religious beliefs, you do nothing more than demonstrate your own intolerance.
(MB) Do I? I've seen nothing from you which refutes the points I've made. You just can't try to redefine "tolerance", "athiesm", or even "God" for your own purposes.



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