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REPLY #29a 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.

You keep confusing "facts" with "support".
(R) I don't think I'm confused at all. Facts are support....but support isn't necessarily facts.
(MB) So, what does "support" mean to you? From your previous responses, it would seem that the meaning of "support" changes depending on which side of the debate is being argued. For the side of belief, "support" seems to involve or require nothing more than faith or personal preference. For the side of non-belief, "support" seems to be nothing short of absolute proof. Once again, we see that equal standards are not being applied to both sides.

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.
(R) Absolutely true. This is where we both are at.
(MB) Nope. You've offered no evidence whatsoever for your beliefs (and have said that there is none to offer), while I have done so for mine (despite protestations to the contrary). We are hardly in the same position.

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.
(R) You haven't answered them all yet, nor will you be able to.
(MB) As of this writing, I've answered every question you've asked. Obviously, I can't account for all possible things you might conjure up in the future, but I stand ready. The fact that you can say that I will not be able to answer all of your questions indicates only that you have already made up your mind and that nothing will change it. This would seem to make your questions nothing more than diversionary rhetoric designed to avoid having to support your own beliefs and claims.

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.
(R) Perhaps the universe? Maybe it's the one thing which can't exist without God. And if the creation of the universe required supernatural intervention, then everything in it did, too.
(MB) I have presented current theories of the origins of the universe that do not require supernatural intervention. You have not shown problems with any of them, nor have you offered anything more than unsupported "perhaps", "maybe", or "could have" speculation in favor of "God did it". That doesn't make for a viable case for belief.

(R) Or how about life itself, even the simplest, most primitive life forms? Sir Fred Hoyle estimated the odds of this type of life originating by chance as 1 in 10 to the fortieth power, based on all possible combinations of atoms and molecules in forming amino acids, the building blocks of life. Because of these infinitesimally small odds, he concluded the prerequisite for life was supernatural intervention.
(MB) I've already addressed the bogus mathematics and logic used in these types of statistical arguments. The "all possible combinations" argument is invalid because amino acids are self-ordering and are not created at random.

(R) However, questions about the origin of the universe or the beginnings of life cannot be answered conclusively and are, in the final analysis, a matter of opinion.
(MB) While practically anything can be said to be "a matter of opinion", that doesn't mean that all opinions are equally valid. Validity is gauged by the level of support from evidence and reason that is enjoyed by any given opinion. As I've said before, an idea that is 99% supported (or, for that matter, 75% or 50% supported) is far more valid than one which has no support whatsoever. Newtonian gravity isn't 100% accurate, but would you consider to be merely a "matter of opinion" or hold that alternative ideas are "equally valid"? If so, why?

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) I say the choice of whether or not to believe in God is a personal preference because that is what it is. There is nothing illogical about this at all.
(MB) You evaded the point again. I said it was illogical to hold that any "personal preference" is equal to any other theory of the universe. Please justify that position.

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.
(R) Yeah, it's one of the premises on which your philosophy is based. This particular premise is supported by nothing more than explainable physical phenomena, which may occur naturally or may be a result of the supernatural creation of the universe by God.
(MB) To suppose that explainable physical phenomena "may be a result" of supernatural intervention is a paradox since the supernatural, by your own definition, is not explainable. Any conclusion based upon paradoxical reasoning is invalid. Also, to claim that the universe was created by God because he "could have done it" says absolutely nothing. You will need to present some sort of evidence that he actually *did* do it -- not merely speculate that he "could have". Of course, even this requires a presupposition that God actually exists in the first place and that his nature is as you suppose it to be.

(R) It has no more validity (and no less) than the viewpoint that everything was created by God.
(MB) It is far more valid since all of the evidence supports it and none contradicts it. Unsupported and paradoxical speculation casts no doubt upon any such viewpoint. Therefore, the God idea still fails the test.

(R) It certainly isn't a statement of fact. But regardless, it's not what I was referring to when I said your philosophy was based on an unprovable belief.
(MB) If something can be explained successfully, then it can be proven. You have admitted that my beliefs are based upon explainable physical phenomena. This means that your allegation about my philosophy is incorrect.

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.
(R) It is not a statement of fact, because it cannot be shown to be conclusively true.
(MB) Incorrect. Any positive existential claim is a statement of fact whether or not it can be shown to be true. If you believe the claim to be truthful, then you have made a statement of fact. How can God exist if his existence is neither factual nor truthful? How can anybody be expected to believe in such an existence?

"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.
(R) Ah, but ideas do have an independent existence. Newton's three laws of motion were applicable (admittedly only under certain conditions) at the very beginning of time. They didn't wait until Sir Isaac articulated them before they took effect.
(MB) Those aren't "ideas". Those are fundamental properties of the universe which derive from its physical nature. They would exist whether or not we were here to debate them. Newton's contribution was to codify them in our language and our mathematics.

To support your argument, you will need to show something that exists independently of any physical causality.
(R) I have. The idea, "All men are equal," is not the result of physical causes, but has its own independent existence.
(MB) Incorrect. If there were no "men", the idea would not have been conceived. It didn't just float around the universe on its own waiting for Homo sapiens to evolve enough cognition to be able to understand it. It is purely and exclusively the result of the physical workings of Man's brain. As far as the idea's being "true" goes, that is highly debatable in the minds of most of the people on the planet today and was certainly not believed to any significant degree throughout the history of Man.

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) Glad to be a source of pleasure.
(MB) Uh-huh.

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) Premises lead to conclusions, which in turn become premises for different conclusions, leading to new premises once again, etc., etc. One can work backwards as well, examining a conclusion to discover the premises which led to it, eventually arriving at the fundamental premise of any system of beliefs in question.
(MB) A chain of premises and conclusions breaks down whenever one link is shown to be flawed. If an initial premise is sound, a properly-derived conclusion based upon that premise is also sound. All available evidence shows that my basic premise about the origin of the universe is sound. Therefore, it leads naturally to an equally-sound conclusion.
Your basic premise is not sound because it presupposes a being whose nature and powers -- indeed, whose very existence itself -- are totally unsupported by any evidence. Therefore, no sound conclusions can be derived from it. The only way your conclusions can have any validity is if your presupposition is granted. However, to grant a totally-unsupported presupposition of that magnitude is intellectual folly.


(R) I read your basic premise as follows: The universe occurred naturally, in accordance with the laws of science. It didn't require supernatural intervention for its creation, nor does anything in it requires such intervention for its existence. There is no God nor any need for one -- the universe simply exists.
(MB) That is a fair reading of my basic premise and of one of the conclusions that I derive from it.

(R) All and all, I find this to be a rational, reasonable, well thought-out, and logical opinion, and you are welcome to it, but I hold another: The universe was created by God, and obeys the laws of science because He designed it to. It would not exist if He had not created it, nor would anything in it. God was never created -- He simply exists.
(MB) The major problem here is that your alternative requires a huge presupposition while my basic premise does not.

(R) There is little to choose between these two viewpoints. You base your claims of intellectual superiority for your side on science and the physical evidence, but this doesn't wash.
(MB) It washes sparkling clean. You can't say that the two conflicting ideas are equal by any stretch of the imagination. Mine is supported by evidence and observation. Yours is only supported by presupposition and emotion. Mine describes an accurate model of reality. Yours can do nothing more than make you feel better.

(R) The fact that the laws of physics apply and we (basically) understand how the universe functions supports my position just as well as it does yours. At heart, both our viewpoints are philosophical, not scientific.
(MB) Nope. Any member of any intelligent species or mindset on any planet in the universe can observe the facts that support my view and could arrive at the same conclusions. All technological worlds will develop the same principles of science and mathematics.
The idea of "God" can't even be agreed upon in any basic principle by more than a minor percentage of one species on one planet. What chance is there that any such idea will be derived independently on any other world?


Science shows how nothing supernatural is required to explain anything in the universe.
(R) This is debatable. Science shows what physically exists and how it works. It makes no statements on why it does.
(MB) "Why" makes no difference unless one presupposes supernatural intervention. If science shows us that the supernatural realm is dubious, at best, then there are no meaningful philosophical questions of "Why?" concerning the universe. "How" is all that matters. Must it be any other way?

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.
(R) This is not applicable, because God is supernatural.
(MB) And, if nothing supernatural can be shown to exist, then God, too, can be reasonably said not to exist. You cannot avoid the conclusions of your own arguments.

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.
(R) Amen, brother. Say it.
(MB) I have -- and the story being told is that God can't be said to be anything other than fiction. Amen.

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.
(R) And if there is nothing to show God doesn't exist, it is perfectly reasonable to believe He does.
(MB) Nope. Positive existential claims bear the burden of proof. This is a basic fundamental of logic that dates back at least to Aristotle. It can't be avoided by rationalizing that one can't disprove the claim.
My basic premise casts doubt upon God's existence, so you can't say that there is "nothing" to show God doesn't exist.


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?
(R) No. I would consider it untrue. Incorrect. In error. Unsound. Or any of numerous other terms which mean "wrong." Calling something fiction means, precisely, that it is made up, and that is all it means.
(MB) Redefine "fiction" any way you want and God is still fictional. If the story wasn't made up, then there must have been some factual evidence that inspired it. But, you've already admitted that none exists. So, either your premise or the argument you offer here (or both) is wrong.

Remember that legal disclaimers of fictional intent were not required by authors prior to this century.
(R) It doesn't take a disclaimer for one to recognize the works of Dumas or Dickens as fictional.
(MB) And, how does one prove that those works are fictional? By examining any evidence that might support the characters or events portrayed in them.

(R) What differentiates fiction and non-fiction is not a claim of fiction, but a claim of truth. If an author presents a book as an actual account of historical fact, then his work is non-fiction, regardless of if he is wrong in his facts and conclusions. If there is no claim of truth, the work is fiction.
(MB) Incorrect. You will rarely find claims of truth in non-fiction works. In any case, such claims would be worthless. Merely claiming that something is "true" does not make it so. Any wacko can write a book and swear up and down that it is "truth". It might even be placed in the library's "Non-Fiction" section based solely upon the author's declarations. But, it would be mighty difficult to argue that such a book wasn't, in fact, fictional. And, that is the crux of the distinction here. The book stands or falls on its own merits and not on what the author claims for it.

(R) And anyway, legal disclaimers of fictional intent have only one purpose: to protect authors from charges of libel and slander leveled by individuals or groups who think they recognize themselves in a book's pages.
(MB) Just another artifact of our overly-litigious society...:-(

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) Once again let me state, arguments on the nature of God are irrelevant to the question of whether or not He exists.
(MB) State it and restate it and it will still be wrong. You can't make any claims that God exists without at least implicitly making assumptions about his nature. Otherwise, such statements are even more meaningless than they already are. Since Man's various Gods have been given mutually-exclusive natures, they can't all be right. Because of this, it is worthless to speak generically of "God". That concept has no meaning without any ascribing any attributes to him. If belief in a particular God -- such as the one your religion promotes -- is to be proselytized, then that entity already has a defined nature. If this nature is shown to be incoherent, serious doubt is cast upon the very existence of that entity. Therefore, arguments on the nature of God are of primary importance if any question of such an entity's existence is to have any meaning.

(R) And, no set of religious beliefs is inherently superior to any other.
(MB) Correct. All are equally meaningless and invalid until supported. There is no reason -- other than emotion or ignorance -- to adhere to any of them.

The Bible, too, has both factual and fictional parts which combine to tell its stories. Why should it be considered to be an unimpeachable source?
(R) I think allegorical is a better word than fictional, but if you want to call the parables and other non-factual stories in the Bible fictional, I have no real problem with that.
(MB) Whether you choose to call them "allegorical" or "fictional" matters little. Neither case is factual and that's what's important.

(R) One of the major difficulties in interpreting the Bible is deciphering what should be considered as fact and what as allegory, what should be read literally and what symbolically.
(MB) It's not a problem at all. Unless any given account can be supported by independent evidence, it's extremely difficult to consider such an account to be factual or to be anything other than hearsay.

(R) Unimpeachable? Well, the Bible is open to widely differing interpretations and no single person's rendition is necessarily the correct one. It shouldn't be treated as unimpeachable, practically speaking, for this reason -- even if it is inerrant.
(MB) If the Bible is inerrant, then it follows that its accounts must be unimpeachable. If no interpretation can be shown to be correct, than it is impossible to make a case in favor of inerrancy. But, the claim of inerrancy is the only one by which the Bible can have any credibility as support for the divine natures of God and, to a lesser extent, Jesus. If one simply blows off the issue by rationalizing that no interpretation is any better than any other, then the Bible is reduced to nothing more than a good story from which one can gain nothing more than entertainment.


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