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REPLY #27e 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 fifth of a seven-part reply. Select the "Go to next reply" link at the end of each part to read the next part of the reply.



(R) As far as God's existence being a fact, well, a fact is something which can be absolutely demonstrated to be true, something which can be proved to be true without a doubt.
(MB) You have said that "for me, God's existence is a fact". Does that mean that you have some sort of proof or are you just using a very loose connotation of "fact"? If something is "fact", then there will be evidence to support it -- even if that evidence is not conclusive. If there is no evidence at all, then it can not be said to be "fact". If something is not "fact", then it is "fiction". By your previous arguments, if something is "fiction", it does not exist. By your own admission, there is no evidence to support the existence of God. This would mean that such existence is not, and cannot be, a fact. This means that God is "fiction" and, therefore, does not exist. So, if you believe your own arguments, you must conclude that God does not exist. If you conclude otherwise, you prove only that your arguments are worthless, at best, or hypocritical, at worst.


(R) There are some believers who would say God's existence is a fact because a specific religious text, the Bible or Talmud, for instance, or the Koran, says He exists. However, these believers are very much in the minority, which also keeps the "small number" quite small.
(MB) On what basis do you claim that only a minority of believers would accept that such books are the "Word of God"? Show me an example of a religion that does not include its holy book(s) as a major part of its doctrine.


(R) Most believers, after giving the matter some thought, would not claim God's existence as a fact, but as a strongly-held belief. So overall, the "small number" is still looking quite small, thank you.
(MB) I would challenge you to poll any group of believers and see if only a minority of them accept God's existence as fact. If one believes in life after death, in salvation, in prayer, or in worship (among other things), then he believes in his deity or deities as fact. The "small number" would seem to be approaching 100% of believers rather than "looking quite small".


"If Christ were here now there is one thing he would not be -- a Christian."
-- Mark Twain, "Notebook"



As I said earlier, any good tool can be misused. Should we throw out or demean knowledge and scholarship because they might also be misused or because they might cause us to have to reevaluate cherished and long-held beliefs?
(R) Not at all. Did I say that?
(MB) You have alluded to it in previous comments about how "concerned" you are for those who might believe as I do and how "dangerous" such beliefs could be. You don't think this is at least a tacit advocation of throwing out or demeaning those beliefs and the methods used to support them?


(R) Let me respond by asking, should we throw out or demean the belief in God and the centuries-old wisdom contained in the world's great religions because they have been misused in the past?
(MB) "Wisdom" is not confined to religion or to belief in the supernatural. Man would have done just fine (and probably much better) in developing his wisdom if religion had never existed. In fact, he might have done better since there would have been no interference from religious dogma.
    Yes, we should throw out belief in God since there is nothing to support it, it contributes nothing to the advancement of our understanding, it aggravates more societal ills than it helps, and is no longer needed for any meaningful purpose.



Religion certainly seems to think along those lines.
(R) No, religion as you try to portray it runs along those lines. The religion actually experienced by billions of people does nothing of the sort.
(MB) So far, there have been no valid examples presented to support that claim.


If you take even a cursory look at history, you'll see that religion has done more to harm the progress of Man than anything else. How advanced would our technology be today if not for the depredations of religion from the time between the twilight of the ancient Greek civilization and the dawning of the Renaissance?
(R) If that's your conclusion, then your knowledge of history is indeed based on a cursory look at it. In the first place, Hellenistic culture was wide-spread in the eastern Mediterranean by 300 B.C and survived very well, first as a part of the Roman Empire and then the Byzantine, into the 16th century. So, you're referring to kind of a short period, eh?
(MB) "Cultures" existed, but you are completely (and conveniently) ignoring whether or not those cultures actually advanced during the time when religious depredations ran rampant. You are also confusing "Hellenistic" culture with the height of the Greek civilization during the time of Aristotle and his contemporaries.
    Are you going to try to claim that technological advancement was unaffected by the predominance of religion in Europe during the Dark Ages?



(R) Secondly, your viewpoint is narrow and Eurocentric, and ignores events in Asia and N.Africa.
(MB) Since what we call "modern technology" and the Renaissance arose in Europe, it is proper to concentrate on the depredations of religion in that region and to consider how much faster things would have progressed if advancement had not been crippled by that religion.


(R) Here's a riddle for you: In the 13th century, the Chinese civilization chronicled by Marco Polo was well in advance of European society. If they had continued to advance at the same pace as Europe, mankind's progress would be well ahead of its current state. Yet, after the passage of another 500 years, the Chinese had been hopelessly outclassed by the West. Why? Tell me, what were the pernicious religious influences which prevented the Chinese from progressing at the same rate as the Europeans? A why were the Europeans, hobbled by the dastardly influence of religion, able to out-perform the Chinese so dramatically in this area.
(MB) You forget that China has always been a highly insular society that did not seek to colonize or compete with rival nations. That is also the nature and teachings of its religions and philosophies. Europe is almost the exact opposite. With the onset of the Renaissance came the explosion in European exploration and colonization efforts along with the numerous wars that such efforts inevitably produce. Technological advancement is spurred by such things along with the gains available through the assimilation of the advancements made by neighbor nations. Those forces did not exist in China. Their advancement got ahead of Europe during the time that Europe was strangled by the overriding power of its religious institutions. China didn't stop advancing, but it was caught and passed by a much more rapidly-advancing Europe in the wake of the Renaissance.


(R) History is a chronicle of an endless struggle between freedom and tyranny over the minds of men. If religion has sometimes contributed to the cause of the latter, it has also contributed magnificently to that of the former.
(MB) How? How has religion contributed even one little bit to any sort of freedom of men's minds or persons? Even to this very day, religion seeks to restrict freedom of thought and enforce its own brand of morality.


Even today's hot spots have a background in religious strife. Bosnia wouldn't have happened without Muslim/Christian friction. In Northern Ireland, it's Catholic vs. Protestant. In India, it's Hindu vs. Sikh. In Israel, it's Jew vs. Muslim. In the Middle East in general, it's Islam vs. "the Great Satan".
(R) Balderdash. The roots of these conflicts are virulent nationalism and ethnic hatred, which in some cases date back for centuries. The influence of religion is entirely peripheral.
(MB) Nonsense. Are you trying to claim that each of these conflicts would be unchanged if there was no religious differences involved? Are you trying to claim that religious differences aren't the basis upon which these combatants "choose up sides" for their battles? How, for example, can it be "Jew vs. Muslim" or "Hindu vs. Sikh" if religion isn't the background for the conflict?


(R) I notice you have conveniently failed to mention the most dangerous hot spot in the world, where if World War III happens anytime soon, it will probably begin there. I refer of course to the Korean peninsular.
(MB) How can you call this the "most dangerous hot spot in the world" when there hasn't been any real shooting going on in the region for 45 years? If North Korea did try to start it all over again (which might certainly be possible), they wouldn't have anybody to back them up, so there would be no danger of any new World War erupting.


(R) I'm fairly certain the N.Koreans have at least one and probably several nuclear devices. I know they've developed some very healthy, medium-ranged derivatives of the SCUD missile. In light of the current critical food shortage and economic crisis in N.Korea, the ruling regime is like a dangerous wild animal backed into a corner.
(MB) They have significant weaponry and they have major problems. What they also have is an almost total lack of leadership and national will after the death of the "Great Leader". What they no longer have is Big Brother Russia to supply them. They have recently shown interest in peace talks and there is hope for eventual reunification. We still need to keep an eye on them, but the situation is no longer one where "Round Two" could erupt at any moment.


(R) And if they lash out, there are likely to be 1.2 billion Chinese supporters just over the border.
(MB) That won't happen unless we repeat the mistakes of MacArthur and threaten invasion or nuclear bombing of the Chinese mainland.


(R) Personally, I can think of some pretty scary scenarios regarding that part of the world, perhaps involving coordinated action between Iraq and N.Korea. (Diversion and attack?) Tell me, how does this situation have anything to do with religion?
(MB) It has more to do with a mistaken understanding of the world situation than with religion. If Iraq gets frisky again, you can be sure that we'll hear a repeat of the old "Islam vs. the Great Satan" bit.


And, need I mention Fundamentalist Christians vs. common sense?
(R) You surprise me. You finally qualified one of your anti-religious statements by putting the word "fundamentalist" in it. Its remarkable you didn't just say religion vs. common sense.
(MB) Why? I'm speaking about conflicts. It is the Fundamentalist variety of Christianity that sparks the active conflicts against common sense. The basic beliefs are still unsupportable nonsense, but the Fundamentalists are more vigorous and belligerent in their promotion of those beliefs and in the attacks against anything that might present a challenge to them.


(R) "Fundamentalist" means about the same thing as "radical conservative." Radical conservatives of any persuasion are likely to fly in the face of common sense. So are radical liberals. May as well just say that radicals of any form are unlikely to be swayed by common sense.
(MB) Fundamentalism doesn't change no matter how one may choose to redefine the words used to describe those who practice it.


"A major function of fundamentalist religion is to bolster deeply insecure and fearful people. This is done by justifying a way of life with all of its defining prejudices. It thereby provides an appropriate and legitimate outlet for one's anger. The authority of an inerrant Bible that can be readily quoted to buttress this point of view becomes an essential ingredient to such a life. When that Bible is challenged, or relativized, the resulting anger proves the point categorically."
-- Bishop John Shelby Spong, Rescuing the Bible From Fundamentalism, (San Fransisco: Harper Collins, 1991), p. 5.



People may fight "for the King", but they do so because the King has gained his exalted position through divine providence.
(R) Says who?
(MB) Says almost everyone who has ever held the title of "King", "Emperor", "Pharaoh", or any other such monarchic position. Without the appeal to divine providence, what hold would any monarch have on his position of power? Might as well throw the Pope in there, too.


"Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by rulers as useful."
-- Seneca the Younger (4? B.C. - 65 A.D.)



(R) For a fine Biblical argument against divine right, see the second part of Thomas Paine's remarkable pamphlet, "Common Sense." The writings of John Locke, who should probably be considered the founder of modern theories of government, also argue against the principle of divine right, saying it is contrary to the laws of God and nature. I agree.
(MB) And you should. However, neither Paine nor Locke supported monarchies. By attacking the idea of "divine right", they could undermine the rationale for monarchy as a system of government and promote systems that are based upon the will of the people.


What is the basis for the mindless support given to such as Marshall Applewhite, Jim Jones, David Koresh, Rev. Moon, L. Ron Hubbard, and so many more?
(R) In the case of the first three, their followers probably don't amount to 1500 people all together, an infinitesimally small part of humanity.
(MB) Scope vs. substance again, eh? Still, that doesn't answer the question of what the basis of their support is, does it?


(R) I can think of a few non-religious figures whose mindless support is a good deal more significant.
(MB) What would you consider "more significant"? How about a few examples of who you might have in mind?


(R) As for the latter two, I know little about these religions, don't know what moral precepts they promote, and have no idea of the extent of the support for them.
(MB) But, you apparently would agree that their support is based upon religion, right?


(R) Until they start killing themselves, or infringing on the rights of others, I can't see any reason for condemning them out of hand. Or for calling them mindless.
(MB) I called their support "mindless", not the men themselves.


What is at the core of most of the opposition to abortion, sex education, evolution, homosexuality, and so many other issues? What is the basis for most arguments over morality?
(R) I basically agree with you here. The resolution of questions of morality is a basic function of religion and philosophy. However, religion has nothing to do with the opposition to some of these issues. One certainly doesn't have to be deeply religious to oppose the horrific practice of partial-birth abortion.
(MB) Abortion doesn't have to be horrific in order for religious opposition to it to be mounted. The publicizing of the "horrors" of abortion are meant to attempt to gain support for the cause from those who don't buy the religious approach. The same technique is used by animal rights advocates who show grisly film of the killing of baby seals.
    Consider that the religious opponents of abortion also oppose the use of RU-486 (the so-called "abortion pill") which is certainly not horrific in any way. This strongly indicates that it is abortion itself and not the methods used that is their main concern.
    As the quotation below points out, there are horrible things that occur in nature that don't get the believers up in arms. Again, there must be some rationale behind their behavior other than mere "horror".


"Not long ago I was sleeping in a cabin in the woods and was awoken in the middle of the night by the sounds of a struggle between two animals. Cries of terror and extreme agony rent the night, intermingled with the sounds of jaws snapping bones and flesh being torn from limbs. One animal was being savagely attacked, killed and then devoured by another.
    "A clearer case of a horrible event in nature, a natural evil, has never been presented to me. It seemed to me self-evident that the natural law that animals must savagely kill and devour each other in order to survive was an evil natural law and that the obtaining of this law was sufficient evidence that God did not exist. If I held a certain epistemological theory about "basic beliefs", I might conclude from this experience that my intuition that there is no God co-existing with this horror was a "basic belief" and thus that I am epistemically entitled to be an atheist without needing to justify this intuition."
-- Quentin Smith, "An Atheological Argument from Evil Natural Laws"



(R) Also, what is the religious influence in the opposition to homosexuals in the military?
(MB) I referred to the religious objections to the practice of homosexuality in general and not the specific case of homosexuals being allowed to serve in the military. For my views on that specific issue, see the replies to my essay on "The Military".


No, sir, saying that religion plays a "very minor role" in practically anything is a rather dubious claim, indeed.
(R) Claiming it as the single most harmful constraint on human progress in history is blatantly untrue, let alone dubious.
(MB) It is a rather well-documented truth. If you claim otherwise, you will either need to show that religion has no effect on technological progress or that other factors were more important in bringing about the Dark Ages. BTW, you evaded the original point again, so I'll repeat it and hope for a direct answer. Do you dispute my assertion that it is a dubious claim to say that religion plays a "very minor role" in practically anything? If so, why?


If you are trying to argue in favor of the existence of God, say that the physical evidence shows us what exists, and still can't show any such evidence that points to the existence of God, then you are concluding, paradoxically, that God does not exist. You also say that the evidence shows how things came about and then turn around and say that it does not do so. Please sort this out and try again.
(R) O.K.
    The physical evidence shows us what exists physically, and how such things arose out of other physical things, and that is all it shows. It provides no answers whatsoever about the ultimate origin of the physical things which exist, or any reason (or lack of reason) for their existence.

(MB) Incorrect. We can get information about the possible origin of any physical object from the evidence contained within the object itself. By tracing a chain of evidence back through time and applying the laws of physics, we can deduce the parameters of the initial event(s) that resulted in the universe and everything within it. Since everything is based upon the same set of basic laws, we can have confidence in our deductions. Further observations and experiments serve to firm up the theories and smooth out the rough edges.
    As to whether or not there's any "reason" for any given object to exist, that's a matter of pure philosophy whose answer is totally dependent upon how that object came to exist and an answer to the question of whether or not any "reason" for the object to exist is even necessary. The answers to the philosophical questions can only be confirmed through the same methods mentioned in the previous paragraph. If the answer is proposed to be "God did it", then the chain of evidence must be traced back to that entity in order for the answer to have any validity. Only after we arrive successfully at that point, could we reasonably conclude that there is a "reason" for the object's existence.



What I have said is that invoking God is unnecessary in order to explain the universe or anything in the universe. You disagree, but can't give me a single example that would suggest otherwise.
(R) You say there is nothing in the universe which requires that God exists. I don't disagree with that, I merely respond there is nothing in the universe which forbids that He exist. Until one of us come up with an example, the question cannot be resolved.
(MB) There are an infinite number of things that are not expressly forbidden by physical laws that, nevertheless, it is safe to say do not exist. Two examples that come readily to mind are unicorns and fire-breathing dragons. Both have been depicted in great detail throughout history, but that doesn't make them any more real.
    Are we to consider the claims "unicorns exist" and "unicorns do not exist" to be equal or unresolvable merely because somebody could blurt out "you can't prove it" in response to a counterclaim? Of course not. We must understand which claim bears the burden of proof. Obviously, it must be with the positive existential claim. Unless and until the proponent either shows an example of a unicorn or evidence that strongly suggests the existence of unicorns, it is more reasonable and logical to conclude that they do not exist. No proof is necessary for that conclusion and evidence may provide additional support in favor of it. This approach is one of the main differences between intellectual skepticism and gullible credulity and applies equally well to all questions on any subject.
    Now, substitute "God" for "unicorns" and explain why the reasoning does not remain the same.




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