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REPLY #63a 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 two-part reply which contains a number of short comments on various things that were mentioned in numerous previous replies.
References from previous replies are Blockquoted in a smaller typesize.
Select the "Go to next reply" link at the end of this part to read the last part of the reply.

(R) In one of the replies on religion, you mention that you feel you are one with the universe. I also feel this way, but had not expected another non-religionist to feel this way. My belief this way (supported by scientific theories of cause & effect, interactions between particles and above via the strong nuclear force, the electro-weak force, gravity, etc...) even causes me to ponder the appropriatness of using pronouns.
(MB) Even though all things in the universe are made of the same basic stuff, I think it's still appropriate to use pronouns if only as a way to refer specifically to a particular collection of that stuff. To give them any "deeper" meaning may well be unjustifiable.


(R) I think your site is great (so far) though I have more of an ethical-nihilstic bent to my personal viewpoint.
(MB) One has to base his philosophy upon something -- even if that is that nothing has any meaning. I think that the "meaning" of something can only be implied based upon the context in which it is examined. From the standpoint of the entire universe, no human thought, emotion, or pretense can possibly have any real meaning. If we confine ourselves to the realm of humanity, however, we can find meaning. Where most religious systems go wrong is in elevating that limited context of "meaning" into something universal.



(R) And with the old man, the same argument applies as in your claim to have created the universe -- he's a human being on the planet Earth, and any claim by you, him, or anyone else that he created the universe would be either an untruth or a delusion.


(R) Wasn't Jesus just a human being on the earth. Unless of course one subscribes to the ideas that said he is God's son and the messiah.
(MB) It's interesting to note that Christian dogma did not award divinity to Jesus until the 4th century. Prior to that, they *did* consider him to be a mortal man -- albeit, a rather special one. It's also interesting to note that nowhere in the Old Testament is the Messiah equated with anything other than a mortal man.


(R) If one did that, wouldn't one also have to lend some sort of possibility if the old man claimed to be God, or the second coming of christ?
(MB) Absolutely. That was the rationale behind my "old man on the grate" argument. The contradictory and unsupported claims of the Christians inevitably lead to uncomfortable conclusions.



(R) i must agree that alot of things just don't make sense, you are right. why would an all powerful god even make sin, or evil, or suffering, why not just start out perfect? but doesn't that get us down to the meaning of life? even if we were created by God, why did He do it? for amusement? as an experiment? what's the f@#$ing point? i don't know.
(MB) Given the plethora of contradictory arguments offered in failed attempts to divine "God's Will", I'd say that nobody really knows -- if there is, indeed,anything at all to "know". We can, however, ask probing questions and reach rational conclusions. If God is all-knowing and all-powerful, it follows that there is nothing in the universe that isn't exactly the way he wants it to be. But, if he's all-knowing and all-powerful, why does he need to create pitiful creatures like us to praise him? Wouldn't he already know his own nature and how powerful and great and wonderful that he was? Why would such a being need to create any creature to serve him? What can we possibly do for him that he couldn't far more easily do for himself?



(R) I think that sin, evil, suffering, etc... would show a jokester, uncaring, malevolent, or something other than a perfectly good god (or at least a perfectly good omnipotent/scient god). A jokester god, would claim the exact same things as claimed in the Bible, about his benevolence and omnipotence, yet would also allow sin and unfairness in the world.
(MB) Consider that "God" is defined as being "perfect" through nothing more than the assumption that whatever he does *must* be "perfect". This means that if God decided that child abuse was OK, his believers would consider failure to abuse children to be a "sin".


(R) I think, to rectify the "evil" problem of god, it is necessary to discard omnipotence (though not necessarily omniscience), perfectly good (as defined by most current christians), or the sincerity of god, or god himself.
(MB) There are so many logical problems that arise from the very nature of the concepts of omni-whatever that those concepts should be discarded with no further discussion.


(R) Personally I think point is a meaningless term, because there can only be purpose if something is created for a purpose (such as a hammer to hammer nails, sticks for apes to get at ants with, etc...). The universe (or life) to have a point would have to be created by something for a particular purpose (amusement, curiosity, whatever).
(MB) Which really would make the creation of the universe by an omnipotent being little more than a purely arbitrary act. It's difficult to see how such an arbitrary act can have any real meaning. This also brings up the question of why an omnipotent being would have to create anything for any purpose -- real or arbitrary. To do so implies that the being would be have been lacking something prior to his act of creation. But, if such a being is infinite and omnipotent, it is not possible for him to be lacking anything. Again, this makes any putative act of creation by that being even more meaningless.


(R) The thing that created the universe would also have to have been created for a purpose, if that thing had always existed, then there would be no purpose to it (Note: being an omnipotent god does not automatically give you meaning!).
(MB) An excellent point. Also, "meaning" must have a frame of reference from which to judge its effects. If we propose that an omnipotent being created all things, there must have been a time prior to his act of creation during which that being was all there was. At this point, the being's existence could have no meaning since there would have been no frame of reference from which to judge the effects of any such meaning.


(R) The only way this can be got around is if this creation is circular in nature (ie. a creates b so b can create c so c can go outside of the universe and create the universe so a can be born in the universe). (Sorry but I seem to have used point, purpose and meaning interchangeably. I most closely mean "meaning".)
(MB) Even a circular scheme of intentional creations implies a "first cause". Therefore, it really doesn't solve any of the problems inherent in a one-universe omnipotent being model. I can't see any way of introducing such a being into a model of creation without doing nothing more than adding one or more unsolvable layers of problems onto that model.


(R) i do not think necessarily that what i believe is what 'is' i simply think that that is where i am at right now, i could never expect my beliefs to be 100% right and accepted by everyone because my beliefs change daily, sometimes several times a day, so if everyone believed the same thing i did we'd have a bunch of lunatics frantically trying to keep up on all the necessary ceremonies and beliefs.
(MB) These ever-changing beliefs are certainly peripheral to some larger and more basic belief that doesn't change, am I right? Would it be correct to say that you believe in a Supreme Being, but are uncertain as to just who it is or what its nature might be?



(R) I'm this way too, one of my only stable axioms is that I don't know what I'm going to believe tomorrow. My belief system has changed dramatically in the last few years. My "larger and more basic belief system" has indeed been changing, sometimes overnight. Recently it has gone nihilistic. Normally my *entire* belief system does not change at once, but over time it can change.
(MB) This is similar to what happens concerning evolution theory. The theory, of course, has many parts and nearly innumerable mechanics within it. The smaller parts are in an ongoing state of revision and enhancement. Occasionally, a larger block gets an overhaul (as when Punctuated Equilibrium supplanted Darwinian gradualism). But, through all of this the larger, basic idea remains the same.


(R) and as far as buddhism was concerned, it appeals to me because it does encourage intellectual growth and doesn't focus on negative consequences.
(MB) Same here. I have respect for any such philosophy.


(R) also you were saying that people follow the 'rules' of religion because of fear of the consequences or hope for the afterlife. i don't think christianity really wishes it this way, but rather strives to lead people to do good for mankind and try to make this world a better place out of compassion and love for all creation, not for personal objectives.
(MB) You'll have a hard time finding much in the Bible that might support such motives -- especially in the Old Testament. Even Jesus basically said to "believe in Me -- or else". The Book of Revelation warns of the consequences for those who are not found written in the Book of Life. Sure, do right and do good for others. But, one must wonder if the unspoken reason for that is "because that will make them see us more favorably and, perhaps, be convinced to join us".



(R) Something I stumbled upon during my introspection, and which, it seems, many others have too, is that it is impossible to do anything "not for personal objectives" of some kind or another, even if those objectives are unconscious or instinctual ones. Every action that a person does can be analyzed and found to have a reason other than *complete* altruism (including such things as reflexive kicks when someone hits your knee.).
(MB) I would agree with your assessment. Would anybody give to charity, perform public service, or make any special effort just to be nice to people if they truly gained nothing from it? Much of that gain is in emotional satisfaction and I can't see a thing wrong with that. Even the TV ads which beg for money for some cause play upon how "good" the giver will feel after forking over his money.


(R) however it is more clearly laid out in buddhism, where a major way to reach enlightenment and eliminate karma is to practice compassion out of completely unselfish motives. i think that is the essence of spirituality, combined with intellectual growth, and that all people of all practices could reach their own goals by not being consumed by them but by giving fully to all instead of one.
(MB) I doubt I could have said that any better myself.



(R) I think it is then impossible for anyone to reach enlightenment this way. No matter how hard you try, the idea that doing altruistic things will still be somewhere inside you and influence you in minor ways.
(MB) In this case, I think that "selfish motives" can be seen as doing something only for personal gain and not really caring whether or not the recipient of your act also gains anything as a result. I believe that one can gain satisfaction without being "selfish" if he truly wishes for others to be satisfied, as well.


(R) I'm also something of a determinist (though do to quantum flux the jury is still out. Though to use "randomness" I think the definition of free-will has to be rewritten.) so do not belive it is possible to do things altruistically, the laws of physics will determine what you do.
(MB) If we assume that free will truly exists, we will always have at least some degree of control over what we do. The randomness you mention may well be partially responsible for the non-deterministic leaps of intuition or inspiration that we all experience.



(R) Agreed, lack of consensus (or majority of opinion) in and of themselves mean nothing. And, if there is no evidence to support any theory, all theories are equally valid.


(R) What this guy doesn't seem to realize is that the non-existence of god is *not* a theory. It is the inevitable negation of the hypothesis that there *is* a god.
(MB) By now, I'm sure that you've read my numerous responses that have pointed out that very fact. Also, since competing theories contradict or dispute each other's conclusions, the only way one can consider them all to be "equal" is if one considers them all to be *wrong*! If they're are to be considered wrong, it's difficult to see how any (much less all) can be considered "valid".


(R) In a scientific experiment both the hypothesis and the counter hypothesis would be considered. If there is no evidence for the *always positive* hypothesis, then the counter is automatically assumed until further experimentation is done.
(MB) In fact, if the evidence for the "always positive" hypothesis does not outweigh the evidence for its counter, the skeptical position remains the most reasonable. The "burden of proof", you know.


(R) Note: the hypothesis and counter-hypothesis are *always* written to be mutually exclusive, where one of them *has* to be right. They are the two branches of a binary decision.
(MB) Assuming, of course, that the hypothesis is rigidly defined. Too many religious apologists get around this by intentionally making their definition(s) of "God" very broad and/or vague. This allows them to invent new scenarios in support of their arguments any time the old ones are conclusively refuted in order to continue to advance their original hypothesis. They know that it's easy to defeat any argument in favor of God that includes specifics, but difficult to put down vague generalities about him.


(R) Turning it around, if you want to make the nonexistence of god the hypothesis, there is logical argumentation and evidence that you (MB) have previously described. There is none for the opposite view-point.
(MB) Exactly. Let's also consider that there is no point to making a claim of non-existence as an initial hypothesis. If something does not exist, there's nothing over which to debate. Again, this is why the burden of proof rests with those who advance positive existential claims.



(R) If God revealed Himself completely, then there truly would be no free will.
(MB) What would change if God revealed himself completely? He would still be the same God and his creation would still operate under the same set of rules, right? It would have no effect whatsoever on Free Will. Consider, you would still have all of the options that you always had even though you might be more or less inclined to select any particular set of them. But, the basic ability (or lack of) to make your choice would be unchanged.



(R) Unless the universe was a schroedinger's cat, this however would limit god's knowledge of the future.
(MB) Of course, the Schroedinger's cat problem relies upon a lack of observational evidence from which to draw a conclusion about the current state of the system under consideration. An omniscient being could never have a lack of knowledge about *anything*. "God" would always know whether the cat was still a going concern at any and all times.



(R) I have stated several times that arguments about the nature of God are irrelevant to a discussion of His existence.


(R) Absolutely correct!!! God is the cup sitting to my immediate right as I write this email. God *does* exist and has no other nature other than that of a blue, transparent cup on my desk!
(MB) *grin* An excellent put-down! If something exists, it must have at least one quality that can be observed and/or measured and/or quantified -- even a trivial one. Therefore, questions of existence are inevitable intertwined with questions of the nature of the thing for which existence is claimed.


(R) P.S. The son of God is the bowl of Ramen I ate last night. Not only did I eat of the flesh (all of it!) I also drank of the blood (the water in the bowl).
(MB) Makes about as much sense as the standard Catholic dogma about the Host. For you, the "sin" of hunger was remitted by your ceremonial consumption of the blessed Ramen.



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