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REPLY #44c 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 third of a four-part reply. Select the "Go to next reply" link at the end of each part to read the next part of the reply.

Nothing in the book [The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy] says that the universe is a blob of mucus. It just says that it was sneezed into existence.
(R) Oh? Well, what else comes out of one's nose when one sneezes?
(MB) Since when does one always sneeze through the nose? In fact, many sneezes are through the mouth and expel saliva rather than mucus. Other sneezes are "dry" and expel little but air. Many of us with light-sensitive eyes also have an interesting condition that arises due to the proximity of the optic nerve to the nerve that triggers sneezing. This condition sets off a sneeze whenever we go from a darkened room into a brightly-lit area (or from indoors to a sunny outdoors) due to the sudden strong stimulus of the optic nerve being transfered into the nerve that triggers sneezing. The point here is that such sneezes never involve expelling mucus and occur far more frequently than sneezes which do.


(R) And why that bit about the white handkerchief and the "Great Wiping" or whatever it was called?
(MB) It's called "The Coming of the Great White Handkerchief". It should be fairly obvious that a sneeze through the mouth which expels saliva may also require a handkerchief in order to prevent or clean up a yucky mess. Most people will reach for a handkerchief or tissue whenever they feel a sneeze coming on without regard to whether or not any nasty mess will actually be produced by that sneeze. Better to be safe than sorry, you know...


In any case, it that more ludicrous than the story that Man was created when God lumped together some clay and breathed on it?
(R) That too is ludicrous if interpreted literally, though not nearly as ludicrous as the idea the universe is a booger.
(MB) Aren't you anthropomorphizing the Great Green Arkleseizure by presupposing the nature of what it must expel when it sneezes? Why couldn't the sneeze of such a non-human creature expel something from which the universe could arise?
    Also, if two stories are ludicrous, is there any point in arguing about which one might be "more ludicrous"? It's like arguing about which one of two different corpses is "more dead".



(R) However, most Christians accept the concept that the Bible's portrayal of God's creation of Adam is allegorical -- and quite effective, at that.
(MB) Is that a fact? Explain to us, then, how it is that Christians believe in the concept of "original sin". If Adam was just a story and not an actual person, then there is no definitive source for "original sin". If this is so, then there is no need to achieve salvation through belief in Jesus. This undermines the entire basis for Christianity.


(R) Man is made of exactly the same material as the Earth, except for the divine breath of Life.
(MB) Just what is this "divine breath of Life"? What is its nature? Where does it come from? Is it unique to Man (since the Bible mentions nothing about it being imparted into other living creatures)? If those other creatures don't possess it, how do they live? If they do possess it, shouldn't their lives be considered to be equal to that of Man?


(R) The creation story is another fine allegory: And God said, "Let there be light," and the universe began, in a brilliant flash of electromagnetic energy, precisely as the Big Bang theory postulates.
(MB) The Big Bang theory says nothing about the nature of that initial event being visible. Indeed, there is no need for it to be visible at all. The total bandwidth of visible light energies are only a very small part of the total electromagnetic spectrum. The most energetic particles and waves do not fall within the visible spectrum and are the ones which should have been produced by the incredible energies released in the Big Bang (as confirmed by observations of the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation).
    "Let there be light" only indicates the obvious knowledge that the Sun is the source of life on Earth. It is not any indication of or corroboration for the Big Bang theory of the universe.



(R) The GGAS is not allegory, nor is it meant to be. It is satire, holding up human vices and follies to ridicule and scorn -- and it does a pretty good job if someone insists the Bible creation stories are literally true. However, it make no attempt to explain anything, which is good, because it doesn't. It is a fictional device, used by a single man to point out narrow-mindedness in certain others.
(MB) Exactly correct. However, can you show that the creation stories in Genesis are not similar tales? Consider that the only literate people many thousands of years ago were the priests and the scribes who wrote down the stories, traditions and beliefs of the people. One can propose a scenario where the priests could write down anything at all since nobody could challenge them. Initial dissent would disappear over time, but the written stories would survive and be read by those who didn't know any better.
    Suppose that the priests decided to compete to see who could invent the most ridiculous story in order to prove that the ignorant masses will believe anything they were told. So, they decide to invent a spurious tale of how Life, the Universe, and Everything was created. In fact, they go one step further and invent *two* such tales which are incompatible with each other just to show that people will believe the larger idea of a "God" without being overly concerned about the details or inconsistencies. The fact that there are two different and mutually-exclusive creation tales in the Book of Genesis which believers do not dispute can be used as support for this scenario.



The belief that it [the universe] was created by the application of physical laws is supported by evidence and experimentation which verifies the theories. It is only the supernatural explanation that is unsupportable.
(R) Yup. I'm not disputing the fact that the universe was created by the application of physical laws, I'm saying it was God who applied them. I say, "God created the universe." You say, "The universe happened by itself." Either belief is equally insupportable. The evidence and experimentation verifies neither.
(MB) This is not correct and the argument fails on several counts. The primary failure is in implying that "God did it" explains anything. At best, it only adds an additional layer to the problem. For "God did it" to be a valid explanation will require evidence that God actually exists and that he is powerful enough to have actually created the universe. In the absence of such evidence, "God did it" is a useless complication and contributes nothing to the final understanding of the question. Thus, it is reasonable to cut it out of the problem altogether since, in its absence, our respective claims become essentially identical and solving the question becomes an issue solely of understanding the physical laws that clearly exist.
    If you wish to claim that there is no support for the idea that the universe happened by itself, you would be in danger of disputing the nature of the physical laws of the universe. You would need to explain why they would require "winding up" or why they couldn't operate independently to create a universe which obeys them completely. Since all available evidence indicates that this is exactly what happened, you will have a large mountain to climb in order to successfully posit an alternative idea.



I haven't read the story [The Master and Margarita], but I've read some discussion about it. It seems to have generated some controversy as to what it's actually about. It might be a conversion of the Faustian tradition to Russian life.
(R) "Master" is first and foremost a criticism of Soviet society, including the official Soviet religion of atheism.
(MB) Atheism is not a religion, "official" or otherwise, so your comment is incorrect.


I guess that means I shouldn't sell my soul to the devil? Of course, I don't believe there's such a thing as "the devil" in the first place.
(R) The atheist didn't sell his soul, because he didn't believe in "the devil" either. He merely got exactly what he believed. In a most interesting manner.
(MB) In your original comment, you said "I will warn you though, something bad happens to the atheist in the book". What is it, why is it "interesting" and why does it require any sort of "warning" to me?


Nothing has been settled, because we are not arguing a "guilty or innocent" issue.
(R) We're not arguing a guilty vs. innocent issue?!! I agree totally, but if so, why in the world did you go through all this prosecution-and-defense, court-of-law business? Now that it's been shown to be inapplicable, you blithely say it not what we're arguing about?
(MB) You haven't shown anything to be inapplicable since you apparently don't understand that court cases are not always about "guilty or innocent", but they are always about evidence. Criminal court cases involve questions of guilt and innocence, but civil cases involve resolving disputes. In criminal cases, the prosecution's case must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, while in civil court, the prosecution needs only to show a preponderance of evidence. (This is why OJ Simpson was found "Not Guilty" in criminal court, but lost in the civil trial, and why both verdicts might be considered proper).
    In our dispute, you are making the positive claim that God exists and that he created the universe. Therefore, if you can show a preponderance of evidence in support of that claim, you can win the debate even though the case hasn't (or can't) be definitively proven. Otherwise, your claim will fail. To date, you have shown no evidence in favor of your claim and have admitted that there is none to show.
    My claim is that the universe created itself through the operation of a finite set of knowable physical laws. The preponderance of evidence supports this claim (even if you choose to deny it or brush it aside). If this claim is correct, one can conclude from it that no God created the universe and that there is no need for such a God. This conclusion does not say that there is no God in any conceivable form, but casts strong doubt over any claims in favor of an omnipotent, universe-creating God such as the one which Christians worship.



Why you persist in mixing apples and oranges is beyond me and serves only to keep yourself confused. What do the abuses of pre-Revolutionary War England have to do with an unsupportable belief in God and a refusal to accept any of the consequences or responsibilities of arguing in favor of such a belief?
(R) I'm not mixing apples and oranges and that comment is just another of your smoke screens to keep from admitting you are wrong.
(MB) Since I'm not wrong, I need no smoke screens of any kind. I asked a simple question. Why can't you answer it directly rather than resorting to more irrelevant ad hominem attacks?


(R) You insist I am some sort of prosecutor and the burden of proof in this discussion rests entirely with me,...
(MB) I insist that you are making a positive existential claim when you say that God exists and he created the universe. Positive existential claims always bear the burden of proof. This has been a basic tenet of philosophy since philosophy was invented. Why can't you understand that merely making a claim does not give it any validity?


(R) ...and further claim your position as "defendant" is inherently superior to mine.
(MB) Since anybody can make a claim, no claim is valid until there is evidence to support it. In the absence of such evidence, skepticism or disbelief is the more logical position. This is another basic tenet of philosophy.
    Consider an example where somebody was to claim that three-legged pink unicorns exist. He can't provide any evidence of one, but insists that his opinion is valid simply because no one has proven that they don't exist. Would the rest of us not be better served to be skeptical until evidence of such a creature is produced? Because it is possible to prove existence (by showing a single example), while it is impossible to disprove it (since the claimant could always invent a new scenario under which three-legged pink unicorns might exist), the burden of proof always resides with the side making the positive existential claim.



(R) The legal example above clearly refutes your claim, which is why it is given.
(MB) The legal example you gave refers to a dispute about taxes in pre-Revolutionary War American and not to the basic tenet of positive existential claims in philosophy. Therefore, the example is irrelevant.


Why must simple logic be suspended for that belief when it applies perfectly well to any other? What is so difficult about understanding that claiming that "something exists" is a positive position that requires evidence no matter what it is for which existence is being claimed?
(R) What simple logic?
(MB) The same simple logic that applies to positive existential claims for anything -- including God. Why are you unwilling to submit the belief in God to the same standards that everything else must adhere to?


(R) Here's some simple logic: if you make a claim, support it.
(MB) OK. So, where's the support for your claim about the existence of God? If you don't have any, why do you continue to make the claim?


(R) If you can't support it, it's no better than any other unsupported claim.
(MB) Correct again. All such claims are absolutely worthless. However, you persist in saying that such claims about God are still valid. Why?


(R) Drivel about positive and negative positions and the inherent superiority of the "defense" and the purported impossibility of proving something doesn't exists doesn't change that.
(MB) Just because you can't understand something doesn't make it "drivel". Read the works of the great philosophers of history if you can't accept these basic tenets of logic from me. I've already quoted from many of their works in previous replies.


(R) If you insist there is no God, prove it.
(MB) The burden of proof is on the side making the positive existential claim, not on the side which is skeptical. This always remains the case until the first piece of supporting evidence is produced.


(R) If you can't, yield to the fact it is just as reasonable to believe in God as it is not to.
(MB) Such a positive belief is only reasonable if there is evidence to support it. If there is none, no such belief is reasonable, and skepticism is the superior position.


(R) Your insistence that if a claim cannot be proven true, the opposite claim is automatically superior, is a text-book example of a logical fallacy known as "argumentum ad ignorantiam," under which someone argues if a thing cannot be proven true it is automatically false. (or vice versa)
(MB) Actually, you have the definition backwards. Argumentum ad Ignorantium (the "argument from ignorance") occurs when it is argued that some claim must be true simply because it hasn't been proven false. This is exactly what you have been doing all along. This is not the same thing as *assuming* that something is false until it has been proved true -- which is my counter-argument and is what happens in a court of law.
    In scientific investigation, if it is known that an event would produce certain evidence of its having occurred, the absence of such evidence can validly be used to infer that the event didn't occur. This is why skepticism is the superior position in the absence of any supporting evidence for a positive existential claim even though it does not constitute proof with certainty.
    Another logical fallacy of which you are guilty here is called "Shifting the Burden of Proof". This is a special case of Argumentum ad Ignorantium which seeks to place the burden of proof on the person who denies or question a given assertion and is a consequence of the fallacy that the assumption is true unless proven false.



Why shouldn't beliefs about God be discarded as easily as any other belief for which there is no support?
(R) "Beliefs about God," as you put it here, would seem to encompass all such beliefs, including the belief there is no God.
(MB) You cannot lump negative and positive beliefs together under the same umbrella, as should be clear from the preceding discussion. The negative side is an absence of any belief in God while the positive side is the belief in God itself. These are clearly two different things.
    Consider that there would be no such thing as "atheism" if the positive claims for the existence of deities had not been been advanced first. If the idea of "God" had never been invented, nobody would say "God does not exist" because the concept itself wouldn't exist.



(R) Such beliefs are all equally insupportable and are discarded or retained as a matter of personal preference.
(MB) "Personal preference" plays no part in whether or not any argument is valid. Nothing becomes true or false simply because one prefers it to be that way.


(R) O.K. give me a creation story which conflicts with the simple statement that "God exists and created the universe" and I will give you my opinion on it. I can't personally think of any, but I'm no expert on other religions.
(MB) How about the polytheistic "The gods exist and created the universe" as told in the first creation tale in Genesis, Chapter 1? The monotheistic version is the second creation tale which is told in the second chapter of Genesis.



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