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REPLY #67a 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 four-part reply. Select the "Go to next reply" link at the end of each part to read the next part of the reply.

For those who may not know, Sir Martin Rees is Britain's Astronomer Royal and a leading proponent of the multiple-universe, or "multiverse", theory. On to the quote (with my own comments included)...
(R) I originally forwarded this because I thought it might interest you. Didn't really expect you to publish it or try to answer it, but I'll comment on your comments anyway.
(MB) I'm sure that you quoted Sir Martin's interview for some larger purpose and will continue to defend that purpose in the following paragraphs...


One wonders what Sir Martin means by "any deep aspect of reality". Is this the "Why" of the universe, i.e., the underlying reason (if there is one) for the universe's existence? Sir Martin's skeptical attitude would be justifiable if there actually is any deeper reason for the existence of the universe. If there is none, then there are no deep aspects of reality and no basis for his skepticism.
(R) Sir Martin is saying that the universe is exceedingly complex and difficult to comprehend and that he is skeptical of anyone (you, for instance?) who claims it to be otherwise. I think most people would agree with him - I certainly do.
(MB) So would I. However, you have continually tried to expand the notion of a universe that is "difficult to understand" into one that says that the universe is *impossible* to understand. Then, you take the further illogical step of saying that we must accept God because we are incapable of understanding the universe.


(R) Trying to obfuscate his point by quibbling about what he means by the words "deep aspect of reality" doesn't change this. Simply put, he is skeptical of those who claim to have the corner on truth.
(MB) How do you interpret "deep aspect of reality" to mean an argument about who has a corner on truth?


(R) You state his skepticism has no basis, but your argument rests entirely on the assumption the universe has no meaning. This is a *very* debatable point.
(MB) How? Why is it necessary for the universe to have any meaning?


(R) What evidence do you have that the universe has no meaning?
(MB) If the universe arose through natural processes and not due to divine creation, that means that there couldn't possibly be any underlying meaning to its existence or to the existence of anything within it -- and there's no reason why there *should* be any such meaning.


(R) When I look around me, everything I see has purpose and meaning.
(MB) In what context does everything you see have purpose and meaning? Perhaps you should provide your definition of "purpose and meaning". I suspect that what you "see" is the outgrowth of the common emotional inability to accept that human life has no meaning whatsoever to the wider universe.


I think that Sir Martin misses the point of Hawking's use of the phrase "the mind of God". Hawking is not expressing any belief in such a deity, he is using the phrase in the same way that people speak of "Mother Nature". They are metaphoric and concise references to the sum totals of the combined effects and interactions of the laws of physics and nature.
(R) If Hawking means "Mother Nature" then he should use that term, and not invoke the name of a God he doesn't believe in order to strengthen his arguments.
(MB) "Mother Nature" applies to the Earth and not to the universe. Should one refrain from using metaphoric terms unless he believes that they are actually real entities? Of course, if they were real entities, then they wouldn't be metaphoric terms.


(R) What Sir Martin is doing here is making an important point about scientists - they should stick to science. As soon as they start beating their own peculiar ideological, philosophical, or theological drum, they lose their expert qualifications and become, in his words, na´ve and dogmatic.
(MB) If this is true, isn't Sir Martin committing the hypocrisy of doing exactly what he would be advising against? After all, he's a scientist, but in this part of his interview, he is offering his philosophical insights. How can you accept what he says while denigrating other scientists when *they* wax philosophic?
    On the flip side, would you agree that religionists should then stick to religion and stay away from science for the same reasons?



As an aside, in that same interview from which you quoted, Sir Martin had other things to say about science and religion. Immediately prior to the paragraph you quoted, he says: "I think the concept of the Multiverse erodes any basis there might have been for the old theological "argument from design" the divine watchmaker argument. However that line of thought isn't taken so seriously now, even by theologians. While science raises problems for certain literal beliefs, I don't think it has any further relevance to one's religious attitudes."
(R) Thanks. You continue to support my arguments with your references.
(MB) I haven't done so in the past, nor have I done so now. Why do you think that theologians have had to abandon one of their favorite arguments? It's because the knowledge provided by science has shown that argument to be unworthy of adherence. This is just one example out of many where science has overturned religious arguments. There are no cases where the reverse has happened.


(R) "While science raises problems for certain literal beliefs, I don't think it has any further relevance to one's religious attitudes." How could anyone say anymore clearly that science and religion don't conflict and science doesn't prove whether or not God exists?
(MB) One could say it in exactly those words, couldn't he? Instead, you are putting your own spin on Sir Martin's statement. I find it interesting that you didn't include that paragraph in your initial quotation if you are so certain that Sir Martin is supporting your own beliefs. After all, that's why you quoted him in the first place, isn't it?


Here, Sir Martin seems to say that, if a Creator exists, that such an entity isn't omnipotent nor did that deity design and create the Universe with the specific purpose of bringing forth Man.
(R) He's saying nothing of the sort. Re-read the paragraph.
(MB) OK, I re-read it. Nothing has changed since the first time it was posted. If the teleological arguments for God's existence have been invalidated, that means that means that there is no divine design or purpose underlying the universe. If this is so, the universe did not come into existence because God deigned it to be so. That means that, if God exists, he can not be omnipotent and could not have designed it with the express intent of producing Man. Let's see how you want to distort this...


(R) He's simply saying that teleological proofs of God's existence are eroded by the theory of the multiverse, but that these proofs aren't considered convincing anymore anyway, and aside from a few literal beliefs, this shouldn't cause any problems for a person's religious beliefs.
(MB) So, you're saying that a person's belief in God shouldn't be affected by the dismantling of a major argument in favor of that God. Isn't this just another way of saying that the belief is so important that it doesn't matter whether or not it can be supported?


(R) He says absolutely nothing about whether or not God exists, or about His nature, or about His purpose in creating the universe.
(MB) Not in so many words, but the implications of his statements are clear.


(R)(By the way, those interested can read the entire interview at: http://www2.awl.com/gb/features/rees/reesqna.html)
(MB) By all means, the interview should be read by anybody who is interested in making their own determination on this question.


RE: "your essay is a statement of your personal beliefs, which affects and influences those who read it."
As are all of the things you say in favor of your own beliefs, isn't that right?

(R) Yeah, you're right. I guess we're both trying to influence others. Is that called "promoting your ideas?"
(MB) Only if one uses the most general connotation of the word "promote". Why do you consider writing an essay the equivalent of active proselytizing and evangelizing and insinuating one's religious beliefs into every aspect of his life?


I offer support for my belief, i.e., that nothing supernatural is required to explain anything in the universe. Is there any support for your belief that God exists and that he created the universe?
(R) You believe that nothing supernatural, that is, nothing outside the visible and observable universe, is needed to explain where the universe came from, what caused it to begin, and what existed before it. Your answers to these questions are "nowhere," "it happened by itself" and "nothing." This is support for your beliefs? If so, it's not very convincing.
(MB) It's rather obvious that you haven't even bothered to read the arguments that I've been posting. If you had, you would know that I've said *much* more than what you attribute to me. I have explained current theories about the origin of the universe on several occasions. You have asked questions about them and they have all been answered in detail and have not been refuted. So, why do you continue to insist that I have offered nothing in support of my beliefs? Perhaps you don't, won't, or can't agree with the theories, but you can't claim that nothing has been presented.


(R) On my part, as I've said before, I feel the arguments of design and causality to be quite strong as support for belief in God , and moral arguments to be fairly strong.
(MB) All of these arguments have been refuted in earlier responses and, therefore, can hardly be upheld as support for your beliefs.


(R) None of these are "evidence" in the proper sense of the word...
(MB) Or, for that matter, in *any* sense of the word.


(R) - they certainly aren't empirical evidence - but they do offer support for the belief God exists and created the universe.
(MB) How can refuted arguments support any given belief?


(R) They do not prove God exists, but they help make it reasonable and rational to believe He does.
(MB) Considering many of the other sorry arguments you have advanced as being "rational" and "reasonable", I guess this should come as little surprise.


You don't directly insist that others believe as you do. However, when you make statements expressing concern for the dire consequences that might befall those who do not believe in your God, you are attempting to apply emotional pressure to others to accept your beliefs. That makes it reasonable to ask for some support of the idea that there are actually any such dire consequences to fear.
(R) Indeed I don't directly insist other believe as I do. I'm perfectly willing to live and let live. Only if someone attacks my beliefs do I defend them.
(MB) This is in direct contradiction to your previous statements about how you engage in "friendship evangelism" and in proselytizing for your religion and your beliefs. Also, if you are willing to "live and let live", why should you care if somebody attacks your beliefs to the degree that you would spend large amounts of time and effort debating that person?


(R) That's not to say I don't discuss my opinions and beliefs about God with friends, just as I do any other subject.
(MB) It's hard to believe that you evangelize or proselytize about any subject other than religion or that your feelings about those other subjects are just as strong.


(R) However, I don't publish a website saying everyone who believes differently than I do is stupid, or is wasting their life, or is a dangerous fanatic.
(MB) Neither do I. If you dispute this, please show exactly where I say these things.


(R) As for the above mentioned "dire consequences," well, you can attribute to me what ever motive you care to, it doesn't matter to me.
(MB) If you actually believe what you write, then it *does* matter to you. If you don't believe what you write, then what's the point behind continuing to debate the issue?


(R) I really don't know what consequences might befall those who do not believe in God (note I didn't say "my" God.)
(MB) You've never given any indication that "God" is anything other than "your" God. If that's not the case, how can you be concerned over whether or not people believe in him? In addition, you have previously indicated that you know exactly what consequences might be in store for non-believers. Are you flip-flopping on this?


(R) But I *do* know that my belief in God and my practice of religion costs me nothing, and if I'm right I'll be rewarded, and if I'm wrong I won't even know it and will die happy.
(MB) You have not thought this argument all the way through. You say that your belief "costs you nothing". What about the cost of all the time, money, and effort that you expend in the practice and defense of your beliefs? If your beliefs are wrong, all of that will have gone to waste.
    Next, how do you know that you will be rewarded for your belief? Perhaps you are correct to believe that God exists, but the way you practice your beliefs angers God. Remember that there are thousands of sects of believers and they do not all have compatible belief systems. Perhaps God disapproves of the one you belong to. Perhaps you worship the right God, but that God doesn't actually have the power to grant you eternity in paradise. Maybe the Jehovah's Witnesses are right and only 144,000 people will be saved and you aren't one of that number.
    Finally, how do you know that you will never know it if you are wrong? Perhaps, you will suffer eternity in hell for being wrong about your beliefs. Since you now wish to be nebulous about your definition of "God", perhaps you worship the wrong version and the real version isn't too happy about it. Perhaps God isn't too happy about your imprecise definitions of him and will make you pay for it after you die.



(R) On the other hand, someone who insists there is no God may be risking their very soul for no appreciable gain.
(MB) Perhaps. But, if God exists, he would know that I would be willing to believe in him if I was presented with evidence of his existence. If he knows this, how could he hold me responsible if such evidence was never provided for me? Your comment also suggests that personal gain is the major reason to adopt a belief in God. Isn't that rather mercenary and hypocritical? Would God approve of that sort of belief?


Again, that is not correct. This is because there are always demonstrable consequences and effects that will be present if God actually exists. If he doesn't exist, there are none. Until any can be demonstrated, the two positions are not equal and disbelief is the more reasonable and logical of the two.
(R) Ah, I see you've changed your approach. Your old maxims (It is impossible to prove something doesn't exist. The burden of proof rest on those who claim something exists It is inherently superior to believe something doesn't exist if there is no evidence to indicate one way or the other.) have all been shown to be invalid, so you've had to adopt new ones.
(MB) None of them has been shown to be invalid. If you had done so, you would have caused an enormous revolution in philosophy and logic. Obviously, that hasn't happened since saying "No, it isn't" and merely restating your initial argument is not any sort of refutation. The fact that I've offered another refutation of your old chestnuts does not mean that I've "changed my approach". It's just an indication that there are numerous solid refutations available for a very weak argument. If you don't, won't or can't accept one of them, there are always others.


(R) Your latest is even worse than its predecessors. Let's test it, as follows:
    "There are consequences because the sun exists. If the sun didn't exist, there would be none."
    Humm, this doesn't seem to be correct. There would be some fairly significant consequences if the sun didn't exist. For starters, the earth and what's on it wouldn't exist either.

(MB) That doesn't work because it doesn't make a legitimately comparable argument -- not to mention that it introduces a subject that was not covered in my refutation. The sun is not an omnipotent entity and did not deliberately create the Earth. On the other hand, the Universe exists whether or not it was created by God. In addition, there is unquestionable evidence to support the existence of the Sun while there is no such evidence to support the existence of God.
    My refutation deals exclusively with the consequences of the existence or non-existence of God. Demanding that it also apply to anything else is invalid.



(R) Everything which happens or doesn't happen has consequences - even if the consequences of it not happening are nothing more than the lack of the consequences of it happening.
(MB) Quite true. However, those consequences are not comparable for different things. If one is discussing the consequences of God's existence (or lack of), it is not relevant to introduce anything else that isn't equal.


(R) If Hitler had died in the trenches of WW I, subsequent events would have been different than they were since he lived. Not necessarily better - they may have been even worse - but they would have been different.
(MB) No doubt. But how does the life of Hitler equate to the existence of God?


(R) Your latest maxim is as invalid as the rest, and your beliefs still have no inherent superiority over mine.
(MB) Since you can't even directly address what I said, I'll assume that you can't refute it. If this is wrong, you will need to show how there would be any consequences if God does not exist.


(R) There is still no proof or conclusive evidence of whether or not God exists, and it is still just as reasonable and logical to conclude that He does as it is to conclude He does not.
(MB) Once again, this is merely restated without support after another failed attempt to discredit a refutation.



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