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Sam Harris: ‘God’s Rottweiler’ Barks

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Posted on Sep 16, 2006
Pope Benedict XVI
AP/ Jens Meyer

Pope Benedict XVI waves to pilgrims as he climbs the stairs of a stage before celebrating Mass at a Munich fairground Sept. 10. The German-born pontiff visited his homeland Sept. 9-14.

By Sam Harris

The bestselling author of “The End of Faith” responds to Pope Benedict XVI’s speech on the interplay between faith and reason. Harris: “It is ironic that a man who has just disparaged Islam as ‘evil’ and ‘inhuman’ before 250,000 onlookers and the world press, is now talking about a ‘genuine dialogue of cultures.’ ”

Harris’ new book, “Letter to a Christian Nation” is available here.

Cross-posted at Huffington Post



The world is still talking about the pope?s recent speech?a speech so boring, convoluted and oblique to the real concerns of humanity that it could well have been intended as a weapon of war. It might start a war, in fact, given that it contained a stupendously derogatory appraisal of Islam. For some reason, the Holy Father found it necessary to quote the Emperor Manual II Paleologos, who said: “Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman….” Now the Muslim world is buzzing with pious rage. It?s a pity that Pope Benedict doesn?t also draw cartoons. Joining a craven chorus of terrified supplicants, The New York Times has urged him to muster a ?deep and persuasive’’ apology. He now appears to be mincing his way toward the performance of just such a feat.

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While the pope succeeded in enraging millions of Muslims, the main purpose of his speech was to chastise scientists and secularists for being, well, too reasonable. It seems that nonbelievers still (perversely) demand too much empirical evidence and logical support for their worldview.  Believing that he was cutting to the quick of the human dilemma, the pope reminded an expectant world that science cannot pull itself up by its own bootstraps: It cannot, for instance, explain why the universe is comprehensible at all. It turns out that this is a job for? (wait for it) ? Christianity. Why is the world susceptible to rational understanding? Because God made it that way. While the pope is not much of a conjurer, many intelligent and well-intentioned people imagined they actually glimpsed a rabbit in this old hat. Andrew Sullivan, for instance, praised the pope?s ?deep and complicated? address for its ?clarity and openness.? Here is the heart of the pope?s argument, excerpted from his concluding remarks. I have added my own commentary throughout.

“The intention here is not one of retrenchment or negative criticism, but of broadening our concept of reason and its application. While we rejoice in the new possibilities open to humanity, we also see the dangers arising from these possibilities and we must ask ourselves how we can overcome them. We will succeed in doing so only if reason and faith come together in a new way, if we overcome the self-imposed limitation of reason to the empirically verifiable, and if we once more disclose its vast horizon….”

The pope suggests that reason should be broadened to include the empirically unverifiable. And is there any question these new ?vast horizons? will include the plump dogmas of the Catholic Church? Here, the pope gets the spirit of science exactly wrong. Science does not limit itself merely to what is currently verifiable. But it is interested in questions that are potentially verifiable (or, rather, falsifiable). And it does mean to exclude the gratuitously stupid. With these distinctions in mind, consider one of the core dogmas of Catholicism, from the Profession of Faith of the Roman Catholic Church:

?I likewise profess that in the Mass a true, proper, and propitiatory sacrifice is offered to God on behalf of the living and the dead, and that the Body and the Blood, together with the soul and the divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ is truly, really, and substantially present in the most holy sacrament of the Eucharist, and there is a change of the whole substance of the bread into the Body, and of the whole substance of the wine into Blood; and this change the Catholic Mass calls transubstantiation. I also profess that the whole and entire Christ and a true sacrament is received under each separate species.?

While one can always find a Catholic who is reluctant to admit that cannibalism lies at the heart of the faith, there is no question whatsoever that the Church intends the above passage to be read literally. The real presence of the body and blood of Christ at the Mass is to be understood as a material fact. As such, this is a claim about the physical world. It is, as it happens, a perfectly ludicrous claim about the physical world. (Unlike most religious claims, however, the doctrine of Transubstantiation is actually falsifiable. It just happens to be false.) Despite the pope?s solemn ruminations on the subject, reason is not so elastic as to encompass the favorite dogmas of Catholicism. Needless to say, the virgin birth of Jesus, the physical resurrection of the dead, the entrance of an immortal soul into the zygote at the moment of conception, and almost every other article of the Catholic faith will land in the same, ill-dignified bin. These are beliefs that Catholics hold without sufficient reason. They are, therefore, unreasonable. There is no broadening of the purview of 21st-century rationality that can, or should, embrace them.

“Only thus do we become capable of that genuine dialogue of cultures and religions so urgently needed today….”

It is ironic that a man who has just disparaged Islam as ?evil? and ?inhuman? before 250,000 onlookers and the world press is now talking about a ?genuine dialogue of cultures.? How much genuine dialogue can he hope for? The Koran says that anybody who believes that Jesus was divine?as all real Catholics must?will spend eternity in hell (Koran 5:71-75; 19:30-38). This appears to be a deal-breaker. The pope knows this. The Muslim world knows that he knows it. And he knows that the Muslim world knows that he knows it. This is not a good basis for interfaith dialogue.

“In the Western world it is widely held that only positivistic reason and the forms of philosophy based on it are universally valid. Yet the world’s profoundly religious cultures see this exclusion of the divine from the universality of reason as an attack on their most profound convictions. A reason which is deaf to the divine and which relegates religion into the realm of subcultures is incapable of entering into the dialogue of cultures….”

Astrologers don?t like ?their most profound convictions? attacked either. Neither do people who believe that space aliens have traversed the galaxy only to molest ranchers and their cattle. Happily, these groups do not take to the streets and start killing people when their irrational beliefs are challenged. I suspect that the pope would be the first to admit that there are millions of people on this Earth who harbor ?most profound convictions? that are neither profound nor compatible with real dialogue. Indeed, one doesn?t even need to read between the lines of his speech to glean that he would place the entire Muslim world beyond the ?universality of reason.? He is surely right to be alarmed by Islam?particularly by its doctrines of martyrdom and jihad. He is right to find the treatment of Muslim women throughout the world abhorrent (if, indeed, he does find it abhorrent). He is right to be concerned that any Muslim who converts to Christianity (or to atheism) has put his life in jeopardy, as conversion away from the faith is punishable by death. These profundities are worthy objects of our derision. No apologies necessary, Your Holiness.

We might, however, note in passing that one of the pope?s ?most profound convictions? is that contraception is a sin. His agents continue to preach this diabolical dogma in the developing world, and even in sub-Saharan Africa, where over 3 million people die from AIDS each year. This is unconscionable and irredeemably stupid. It is also a point on which the Church has not shown much of an intelligent capacity for dialogue. Despite their inclination to breed themselves into a state of world domination, Muslims tend to be far more reasonable on the subject of family planning. They do not consider the use of temporary forms of birth control to be a sin.

“Modern scientific reason quite simply has to accept the rational structure of matter and the correspondence between our spirit and the prevailing rational structures of nature as a given, on which its methodology has to be based. Yet the question why this has to be so is a real question, and one which has to be remanded by the natural sciences to other modes and planes of thought—to philosophy and theology….”

This may have been where Sullivan found the Holy Father to be particularly ?deep and complicated? and ?profound.? Granted, questions of epistemology can make one sweat, and there are many interesting and even controversial things to be said about the foundations of our knowledge. The pope has not said anything interesting or controversial here, however. He has merely insinuated that placing the God of Abraham at the back of every natural process will somehow reduce the quotient of mystery in the cosmos. It won?t. Nearly a billion Hindus place three gods?Brahma (the Creator), Vishnu (the Preserver) and Shiva (the Destroyer)?in the space provided. Just how intellectually illuminating should we find that?

“The West has long been endangered by this aversion to the questions which underlie its rationality, and can only suffer great harm thereby. The courage to engage the whole breadth of reason, and not the denial of its grandeur—this is the program with which a theology grounded in Biblical faith enters into the debates of our time. “Not to act reasonably, not to act with logos, is contrary to the nature of God”, said Manuel II, according to his Christian understanding of God, in response to his Persian interlocutor….”

Please read that first sentence again. I hope it doesn?t seem peevish to point out that the West faces several dangers even greater than those posed by an incomplete epistemology. The West is endangered, primarily, by the religious fragmentation of the human community, by religious impediments to clear thinking, and by the religious willingness of millions to sacrifice the real possibility of happiness in this world for a fantasy of a world to come. We are living in a world where untold millions of grown men and women can rationalize the violent sacrifice of their own children by recourse to fairy tales. We are living in world where millions of Muslims believe that there is nothing better than to be killed in defense of Islam. We are living in a world in which millions of American Christians hope to soon be raptured into the sky by Jesus so that they can safely enjoy the holy genocide that will inaugurate the end of human history. We are living in a world in which a silly old priest, by merely giving voice to his religious inanities, could conceivably start a war with 1.4 billion Muslims who take their own inanities in deadly earnest. These are real dangers. And they are not dangers for which more ?Biblical faith? is a remedy.


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By Richard C., October 16, 2008 at 11:49 am Link to this comment

I’m not moved one bit by Paley’s watch argument. I used to parrot the damned thing, but I changed my mind. It’s just the old teleological argument that also includes purpose. Everything supposedly has a purpose, and therefore one who holds that purpose in mind. If there’s an eyeball, there must be an Eyeball Designer, who also had a purpose in mind for the eyeball . . .ability to see the sophistication of the Eyeball and glorify the Eyeball Designer? Damn. It’s like falling down to worship in a hall of mirrors. [If origin of life experiments succeed, maybe we can create beings that fall down and worship us! Only a comedian would dream it. Medical applications would follow quickly because people care. Malevolent, glory-hungry gods are just fictional.]

Why give better eyes to eagles, who don’t worship? Why make some men blind? Why are there blind fish in the same cave with rats that have gigantic eyes? Evolution explains all of these things better than teleology. It “revolts our understanding” to assume an eternal mover planned these things. It also doesn’t reduce the quotient of mystery in the universe. How could there be such an extraordinarily complex Eternal Mover? Is it just because mama said so?

Belief happens because of mama said. If you train a child up in the way that is right. . . . Existence of God arguments probably wouldn’t convert any but the most flippant atheists, already under severe pressure to conform. They are shrewdly designed tools for keeping the Catholic mind operating in the way that’s most desirable.

A personal moral code tells me what not to do with other people’s lives, but it doesn’t need supernatural authorship. Ethics must be reasonable or we’re in trouble.

If you want validation of an ancient code, like the 10 Commandments, that tells you what divine name to call upon, what to do with your 7th day, forbids consensual human contact, and even forbids “thought crimes,” you won’t get it from me.

The Bill of Rights is the most important moral code ever written. Governments have the capacity to commit immorality on a massive scale. [Shall we say, “BIBLICAL”?] The Bill of Rights tells our Government what it may NOT do to 300 million individuals.

Things you evaluate as sluttish and careless could be aesthetics I don’t agree with. I doubt that any behavior you point a finger at is more prevalent now than they it ever was. I’d also like to see the correlation to religiosity. Not a few porn stars and gangsters are sporting shiny crosses. How many so-called “reverends” have done dirt?

I don’t care for tattoos and don’t like looking at them. I consider them cheap and disgusting. Most of that artwork I wouldn’t hang on my wall for the season, let alone permanently etch it on my body. That doesn’t mean I should urge lawmakers to ban them or mandate covering them. One of my daughters went and got a small tattoo (her Zodiac sign of all DAMNED things). Maybe that hints at cheapness in our society that my example wasn’t enough to overcome. Anyway, I wouldn’t interfere with the right to get tattoos.

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By Joan, August 11, 2008 at 10:54 am Link to this comment

Richard,

You certainly are doing scholarly due diligence…
I have heard a numbver of theoretical arguments about the existence of God.  For me the most convincing is Paley’s watch or argument by design, namely a design presupposes a designer.  I have to say I do not know if any are capable of convincing someone to actually believe in God. They are intellectual exercises.

I think belief happens a little differently. It does not come from a book. I see it as people experiencing something that they are trying to describe and understand.  The Bible and other mystical accounts are attempting to make cogent what they are encountering.  I do not think faith comes from a book alone…the book supplements experiences or yearnings someone is already having and makes them understandable.

I have a lot of respect for the political wisdom of the Constitution but it is far from being a complete moral code or able to offer solace or answer some of life’s recurring questions.

Joan

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By Richard, August 10, 2008 at 10:00 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Maani:

I reviewed my copy of Origin of Species, and also researched Darwin further. I definitely think you misrepresented him. He consistently capitalized “Nature,” and it’s a fair bet that’s all he referred to when he used the word “Creator.”

In the context of a discussion about a hypothetical designer, particularly when I had already mentioned the problem of suffering and mass death, the following would be a more appropriate reflection of his ideas:

“A being so powerful and so full of knowledge as a God who could create the universe, is to our finite minds omnipotent and omniscient, and it revolts our understanding to suppose that his benevolence is not unbounded, for what advantage can there be in the sufferings of millions of the lower animals throughout almost endless time? This very old argument from the existence of suffering against the existence of an intelligent first cause seems to me a strong one; whereas….the presence of much suffering agrees well with the view that all organic beings have been developed through variation and natural selection.”—The Autobiography of Charles Darwin, p.90.

Peace

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By Richard, August 10, 2008 at 9:36 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I didn’t really lump God in with changlings and satyrs or say that Locke would. I just pointed out that Locke believed in some strange things [he also assented to the existence of mermaids]. I was implying that his perception isn’t perfect, and he would certainly agree with me on that one.

Rigorous analysis. . . right: Locke’s proof of God was flawed. He based it upon knowledge of his own existence: “To show, therefore, that we are capable of knowing, i.e., being certain that there is a God, and how we may come by this certainty, I think we need go no further than ourselves, and that undoubted knowledge we have of our own existence.”—An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, p. 527.

His argument went sort of like this: First of all, if we know there is some real being, such as ourselves, then it is evident that something has existed from eternity, since everything has a beginning except what has existed for all eternity.

Secondly, anything that gets its beginning from another source must get all of its properties—“all that which is in and belongs to its being” [power in particular]—from that source. Therefore there must be an eternal source of being and power, which is the First, most powerful Being.

The flaw was in his stated assumption: “For it is impossible to conceive that matter, either with or without motion, could have, originally, in and from itself, sense, perception, and knowledge. . . .‘531.

It is possile to conceive that matter could evolve, without the help of a “First Being,” to have sense, perception, and knowledge, in and from itself. It’s just as easy to conceive this as it is to conceive an eternal, “First Being,” that existed from all time.

Furthermore, your Bible does not depict its God as a being that is separate from all matter (required, if He is the creator of it). He is depicted, variously, as dwelling in a chamber, tent or booth up in the sky, sitting on a throne, etc. And Jesus was said to have ascended into the clouds in bodily form after his supposed resurrection [twenty-something years after he impregnated his own mother to give birth to himself].

It’s natural for a democracy to have mixed up priorities. As history has shown, about the only way to have singularity of purpose is to be under the command of tyrants or fascists, like the Popes and their buddies, Mussolini and Hitler.

When you say “we” are becoming slutty, cheap and careless, I hope it isn’t because you have a mouse in your pocket!

I’m joking, of course.

Fortunately for us, we are not in an anything goes situation. We are united in the most important priority there is—liberty. That priority is preserved by a society that exalts The People instead of an imaginary god, and has only one sacred text. That text is not the Bible [or a revised Pledge containing “under Zeus”]. Our sacred text is The United States Constitution.

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By Joan, July 29, 2008 at 9:11 am Link to this comment

Well, Richard, as much as you may want to lump God in with changlings and satyrs, Locke’s belief in God is more along the lines of Dostoyevsky, “If there is no God, everything goes.”

So Locke, per the quote I offered in my previous post, would not lump God in with satyrs. A new assignment…little more rigor in you analysis, please.

Even though people can be morally upright without practicing a formal religion, it seem obvious that as we deviate from formal religious practice that we are getting to be a pretty “slutty”, cheap and careless society…we are becoming a society with very mixed up priorities…because anything goes.

Joan

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By Richard, July 28, 2008 at 8:32 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

PS: Locke also believed in changelings, unicorns, satyrs and some other strange things. He made an important contribution to the advancement of science though. He was cited in an interesting argument between Wittgenstein and Popper for his proof that we have no innate knowledge.

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By Richard, July 25, 2008 at 10:59 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Joan:

I didn’t mean to put Locke in with Darwin and Einstein.  I was just naming books I currently read. He clearly did believe in God.

However, he said the belief could only come from revelation, either personal revelation, or assent to the word of another, who claims to have received a revelation.

Maani:

Like Darwin, I finished a degree in theology, but was only a nominal Christian by the time I graduated.

At worst, I misused the word “youth,” when I meant young adulthood. The quotation from Darwin’s autobiography speaks for itself. The fact that his wife initially censored it says even more.

By the way, she also censored his conviction that morality is established by natural selection. . .

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By Maani, July 25, 2008 at 5:49 pm Link to this comment

Richard:

Darwin was not a “nominal” Christian in his youth.  One is not “nominal” if one studies for the ministry and obtains their ONLY earned degree in theology.  Yes, he was mentored by some excellent scientists, but he had no degree in science.

I am not “using” the “three wise men” to “justify any belief in the supernatural.”  At very least in the case of Darwin and Einstein, I am merely pointing out that their “spiritual” predilections were FAR deeper than you give them credit for. Einstein believed in the “mystical,” a word he used almost constantly.  And while that need not translate into “God” or even “religion,” it goes FAR beyond what YOU claim for yourself.  This is what I meant when I asked wherein you consider yourself “smarter” than them; not “smarter” from the point of view of pure knowledge, intelligence or intellect.  But “smarter” about the universe and its “causes” and effects.  Clearly, Darwin and Einsteain (and to a lesser degree Hawking) all have more “faith” - or at very least open-mindedness to the “mystical” - than you do.

As for “derailing the discussion,” this is patently ridiculous: how could I “derail” anything?  If you wanted to continue the discussion with Joan, you need only have ignored me.

Peace.

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By Joan, July 25, 2008 at 4:48 pm Link to this comment

Richard,

I am not convinced Locke embraces atheism.

“Lastly, those are not all to be tolerated who deny the being of God. Promises, covenants, and oaths, which are the bonds of human society, can have no hold upon an atheist. The taking away of God, though but even in thought, dissolves all; besides also, those that by their atheism undermine and destroy all religion, can have no pretence of religion whereupon to challenge the privilege of toleration.” (John Locke, Treatise of Civil Government and A Letter Concerning Toleration)

Caring about religion and science are not mutually exclusive…

“Him” has name,Yahweh…

Getting a little personal after all these years and after flattering me by actually reading Locke at my behest, do you think I am of reasonable intelligence or of sound mind?

Joan

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By Richard, July 25, 2008 at 1:08 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

OK, Darwin was a nominal Christian in his youth. He was also a polite young Englishman. Even after his death his famil was afraid to offend by letting it be kown what he didn’t believe. His wife expurgated the following from his autobiography:

“Whilst on board the Beagle I was quite orthodox. . . . But I had gradually come, by this time, to see that the Old Testament from its manifestly false history of the world . . . and from its attribution to God the feelings of a revengeful tyrant was no more to be trusted than the sacred books of the Hindoos [sic], or the beliefs of any barbarian.”

I read Origin of Species in 2005, A Brief History of Time in 2004 [Joan’s assignment, Locke in 2007.] I’ve only read about Einstein. I’ll put him on my list.

Anyway, these men did not care about gods. They cared about science. Using them to justify any sort of belief in the supernatural would be like using Jeff Dahlmer to justify your cullinary aesthetics.

I still think you deliberately derailed the discussion. I was talking to Joan about her faith in a personal god—the one she calls “Him.” You can’t use the Three Wise Men to back that up.

You also missed the point about ethics. I didn’t say anything about faith. I mentioned the concept of God’s judgment.

If Theory of Everything = Mind of God, Gould would disagree with Hawking. Either that, or Hawking was making a joke. He’s been known to do that.

Popper, who I think highly of [and read in 2006], would disagree with Gould about faith. Science has finally given us something to have faith in. Blood sacrificing barbarians who think they talked to God never did.

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By Maani, July 23, 2008 at 7:29 pm Link to this comment

Richard:

“The Three Wise Men were…three probable atheists being careful about what they said.”

“Probable atheists?”  And what evidence, pray tell, do you have to support that claim?  “Probable?!”

“They believed only in science and presented no other-worldly ideas.”

That depends on your definition of “other-worldly.”  Science suggests multiple universes, particles spinning in both directions simultaneously, and a single particle being in two places at the same time.  (And, yes, I understand the quantum theory behind the latter two.)  Still, to the “average person” - believer or not - these “scientific” concepts are no more or less “other-wordly” than the existence of a personal God.

“She implies that God’s judgment is a necessary aspect of morality and ethics, greatly lacking in man’s world.”

Neither Joan nor I believe that faith is NECESSARY (i.e., required) in order for a person to be moral and ethical.  I am not sure where you came up with this.  I (and I’m sure Joan) know plenty of moral and ethical atheists.

“The Papacy says The Mind of God is forbidden territory.  Instead of keeping great thinkers away from important ideas, they should just keep themselves away from little boys.”

And no less a science personage than Stephen Jay Gould agreed vis-a-vis his Overlapping Magisteria theory: the realm of science and the realm of faith are separate, and only overlap in certain specific instances.  In this regard, Gould did NOT believe that what you call “the mind of God” should - much less could - be subject to the “scientific method.”

“Darwin…began agnostic and grew more skeptical with age. He probably would not have used the word “Creator” if he had written Origin of Species later in life.”

Nope.  Darwin began life as a Christian, studied for the ministry, earned his ONLY degree in theology, then admittedly “lapsed” when he went into scientific research, but maintained belief in a “Creator” who created “life.”  And AFTER his final book, he went back to a cursory Christianity, becoming a deacon of his local church.

And by the way, The Origin of Species has undergone over 25 printings.  At any point along that way, the scientific and/or educational commmunities could easily have removed that language if they believed it was NOT what Darwin MEANT.

As for Einstein, he changed his mind about “God” so many times it makes my head spin: I can provide as many quotes to support MY view (NOT that he believed in a “personal” God, but that he believed in something more than “just” science) as you can for yours.  But a tit-for-tat will get us nowhere.

“Have you ever read Darwin, Einstein or Hawking, or is this just something you copied from some other Pastor’s axe-grinding web site?”

I bet I have read all three of them more recently than you have!  In fact, I read Origin and Descent this year.  And I bet you haven’t read Origin (I’ll hazard a guess here) since college.  (If I’m wrong, so be it.)

Don’t insult my intelligence, Richard.  Just because I believe in a personal God does not make me an idiot or a fool.  I probably read FAR more than you do, including “hard science,” philosophy, psychology and faith/religion.  To suggest that I need to resort to an “axe-grinding site” shows a degree of disdain, denigration and dismissal that I do not expect from someone of your intelligence.

Peace.

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By Joan, July 23, 2008 at 4:39 pm Link to this comment

Welcome back to the world, Richard,

I am not going to get between you and Manni but a few comments…God can be known indirectly to anyone by His works in the universe. If you are expecting that I directly demonstrate my personal God to you, you will be disappointed. You and I both know that is not possible. God demonstrates Himself directly to those to whom He so wishes. So that is not in my power. Revealing Himself to someone, and this is something He does, is His personal choice. 

As the prominent scientist, Francis Collins, head of the Human Genome Project, says in his book, “ The Language of God” pp 175,  “The insistence that every word of the Bible must be taken literally runs into other difficulties…The intention of the Bible was (and is) to reveal the nature of God to humankind. ” You persist in misreading the Bible…you read it in the most unscholarly fashion and then wag your finger at me and Maani and say see…it is all silly. Anyone reading it the way you do would say it’s silly. 

Darwin, a scientist with whom the Catholic Church has no ax to grind BTW, described the origin of species.  But regarding intelligent input with respect to acts of creation, the once atheist Patrick Glynn in his book, “God the Evidence” p47-48, notes that the species were already predisposed to evolve in thus manner. Citing scientist Stephen Jay Gould, Glynn writes,  “In other words, biologists are emphasizing that the manner in which organisms evolve is determined more by internal dicta than by simple adaptation to the outside world. Definite “pathways“ are built in the organic world, and organisms evolve according to these pathways.”

Neither has Darwin nor any other scientist ever explained the origin of life, how the lifeless transformed into life… I posed this problem to Keith on this very thread several years ago, if you recall…

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By Richard, July 23, 2008 at 12:39 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Maani:

The Three Wise Men were not a deist and two agnostics, but three probable atheists being careful about what they said. What was your intent quoting them, considering the focus of my discussion with Joan?

They believed only in science and presented no other-worldly ideas. If they conceived of a god, it was in Spinoza’s god, not Joan’s. Joan says “He” does this and “He” does that. She portrays God as an involved personality, more caring than men. She implies that God’s judgment is a necessary aspect of morality and ethics, greatly lacking in man’s world. The Three Wise Men would disagree with her.

Their limited remarks make god into an abstract principle of order and harmony. Einstein says, “not involved in the fate and doings of man.”  Hawking interchanges God with mathematical equations. Theory of Everything = The Mind of God. Weinberg says we shouldn’t call this concept “God,” and I agree. The Papacy says The Mind of God is forbidden territory. Instead of keeping great thinkers away from important ideas, they should just keep themselves away from little boys.

Darwin called religion a “tribal survival strategy.” He repeatedly argued against design, particularly a beneficent Designer. He began agnostic and grew more skeptical with age. He probably would not have used the word “Creator” if he had written Origin of Species later in life.

Einstein disputed the idea of a God based on revelation, which is what I did in my discussion with Joan. From the Gutkind letter, which Einstein wrote a year before his death: “The word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honorable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish.”

From his biography: “It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal god and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.”

I don’t claim to be smarter than the Three Wise Men. However, if this is the best that you can do in a debate, I will claim to be smarter than you. I think you were deliberatly trying to derail the discussion and misrepresent them. Have you ever read Darwin, Einstein or Hawking, or is this just something you copied from some other Pastor’s axe-grinding web site?

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By Maani, July 22, 2008 at 1:58 pm Link to this comment

Richard:

“Authors of the highest eminence seem to be fully satisfied with the view that each species has been independently created.  To my mind, it accords better with what we know about THE LAWS IMPRESSED UPON MATTER BY THE CREATOR that the production and extinction of the past and present inhabitants of the world should have been due to secondary causes, like those determining the birth and death of the individual…There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, HAVING BEEN BREATHED INTO A FEW FORMS OR INTO ONE…”  (Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species; emphases mine)

“Everyone who is seriously interested in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the universe – a spirit vastly superior to man, and one in the face of which our modest powers must feel humble.”  (Albert Einstein)

“In the view of such harmony in the cosmos which I, with my limited human mind, am able to recognize, there are yet people who say there is no God.  But what makes me really angry is that they quote me for support of such views…I want to know how God created this world.  I am not interested in this or that phenomenon, in the spectrum of this or that element.  I want to know His thoughts.  The rest are details.”  (Albert Einstein)

“It would be very difficult to explain why the universe should have begun in just this way, except as the act of a God who intended to create beings like us.” (Stephen Hawking, explaining his support for the Anthropic Principle)

Given that Darwin was a deist, and Einstein and Hawking agnostics, tell me when you became “smarter” than these three giants in stating with such absolute certainty and finality that NO degree of “design” was involved in our universe or ourselves.

Peace.

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By Richard, July 22, 2008 at 11:40 am Link to this comment
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There is no reason to believe in a designer.

Belief in a god or designer can only be based on one thing—revelation. Somebody else claims to be inspired, writes down imaginings about a god, and you are supposed to believe it.

Please name a single revelation that I should believe in, and tell me why I should believe it.

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By Joan, July 18, 2008 at 2:58 pm Link to this comment

Richard.

You seem to embrace a cursory understanding of the universe and God’s role…for you the universe ought to have been designed as Nirvana…do you ever look a little deeper and try to understand why it was not so designed?

Even if some god did explain the workings of the universe, I think it is preposterous to think that man at his inception would have understood all of the scientific underpinnings of the universe, then or ever.

Joan

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By Richard, July 17, 2008 at 5:08 pm Link to this comment
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Joan:

I’m not ticked off at God. I just don’t believe there is one.

If everything that’s going on was caused by a God, I would be ticked off. If everything is the way it is just because that’s the way it is, then it’s ok.

The God(s) of the Bible do reverse the laws of nature. The whole cosmos was carved out of water. The earth is suspended on pillars. The sun can stand still at mid day. The ocean has doors and multiple-headed, fire-breathing dragons live therein. Animals can talk, demons cause epilepsy, and the dead live.

It was written by scared, blood-sacrificing barbarians. Why should I believe a word of it?

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By Malini, July 7, 2008 at 4:18 pm Link to this comment
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Thanks Richard!

Your comments are a breath of fresh air!

Wish there were more sensible, inspiring folk like you on this earth!

With love & best wishes to all,

Malini

PS:  God seems to have overlooked the suffering of countless humans and animals…  If he was responsible for making them appear on this earth,  then why all the mistreatment???

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By Joan, July 4, 2008 at 2:51 pm Link to this comment

It chaps me, Richard, that you admit that you have a pretty good life yet basically seem ticked off at God because He neither made you God nor put you in Nirvana. And why should He have done all that for a people who don’t seem to have a kind word to say about Him. Oops! According to Genesis He did go that route initially. He got slapped around for doing that too.

Seems to me He’s right. Why should He continue to grant favor to people who are so unkind to Him?

Joan

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By Joan, July 4, 2008 at 2:31 pm Link to this comment

So for you God’s job is at will to reverse the laws of nature (without which there would be no science or undertstanding of anything for that matter ) and man should live forever??? Man should be immortal. We should never die.  Earth might get a tad crowded and even more nasty.

Re: Hiroshima… so man kills for his own ends, either religious or state interests…it’s OK provided it’s the interest you support, like ending a war…maybe if science had never developed any kind of weapons, it would have been better for us all…

Joan

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By Richard, July 3, 2008 at 9:20 pm Link to this comment
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You may think some god cares more for this planet than people do. I’m sure there are a lot of people who would say the aren’t feeling it.

Many millions more would say they never had a chance to feel one way or another, if their voices could be heard again. Unfortunately, they died from starvation or AIDS before their first birthday, got crushed in an earthquake, or swept away in a tsunami.

As horrifying as Hiroshima and Nagasaki were, the sad truth is those atomic bombs brought an end to a war that would have gone on much longer, and ended the brutality of a totalitarian regime.

I repeat: more people have died from mosquito bites than all of the wars in history combined. Where is your caring god, who could have “designed” us all resistant to malaria?

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By Joan, June 24, 2008 at 3:58 pm Link to this comment

Still not back on the planet yet,I see.

Good grief, Richard…do you really believe all this…ie. God has done more damage to the earth than men…I wonder if Native Americans would agree with you or the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. You are as blinded by your faith and worship of science as any religious fundamentalist is of his religion…

What have you been smoking lately? Is it legal????

Joan

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By Richard, June 21, 2008 at 11:57 am Link to this comment
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Men haven’t made near as much of a mess as what we’ve straightened out. Science and technology have been our only Savior.

We make mistakes, as with pouring carbon into our atmosphere. We know how to correct our mistakes too, like we did with lead.

Things are probably going to get tough for a while. Technology policy hasn’t been helping, and deliberately manufactured “skepticism” by a fundamentalist administration has hurt us a great deal.

But so far, throughout history, we have had only ourselves to rely on. And we’ve done it in spite of people who get in the way, using God for their justification, killing those who disagree with sacred doctrine, or just being misanthropes, preaching that the threat of eternal pain is required to ensure ethical behavior.

We are learning amazing things just looking at societies and comparing—as religiosity decreases, so does violent crime. As trust increases, so does wealth. The least religious countries are the most trusting and wealthiest (Norway, I think).

There is no god to help us survive catastrophe, build cooperative societies, improve our lives, or correct our own past mistakes. That is what I conclude every time I watch the news.

Sure, we hurt ourselves, but it’s nothing compared to complete reliance on gods that don’t give a shit. More human beings have died from mosquito bites than all of the wars in history combined. Where’s the god who cares about that problem?

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By Joan, May 26, 2008 at 8:44 am Link to this comment

Geez Richard, after not hearing from you for so long I thought Scotty had beamed you up…

Look at the mess man has made on this earth… and you think God has trashed the planet, trashed all our hard work!!!??? and for you this be His great sin against us, wrapping it up and calling it a day…...what a double standard you have regarding God and His efforts to make a beautiful universe we as His offspring are summarily ruining in every we can think of…how about commending Him for His patience in the way He deals with His motley crew of a family.

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By Richard, May 25, 2008 at 6:02 pm Link to this comment
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I have a group of atheist friends, and we’re going to invite this pastor to a huge celebration—the pastor who said the world will end in a couple of years.

We’ll have the party on the night the world is supposed to end. We will celebrate how wrong this guy is, saying that everybody deserves to die, have their corpses lie about in the fields for the birds to eat, and then to be resurrected so we can all be thrown into the Lake of Fire.

We will celebrate the fact that people are basically good, and that none of this preaching is even needed.

He wasn’t just preaching justice in a spiritual afterlife though. Maybe that’s what I found so hurtful about what he said. He said God is going to collapse the whole universe. Imagine. . . not just everybody you love, everything we’ve built, all we’ve worked for. Multiply that by 400 billion galaxies (in visible range). All of those lives, just ended by a capricous God. That God must be imaginary. We will celebrate life on the night he dies instead of us.

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By Maani, April 18, 2008 at 6:51 am Link to this comment

Richard:

Hi.  Hope you had a great time.  Did some tree-hugging and dancing around a fire with a bear mask on…LOL.

Coupla comments (though I realize some or much of your post was in fun…)

“What’s a celeb, and what’s a paparazzi?”

A celeb is someone who thinks they’re famous (or thinks they should be), and a paparazzi is someone who thinks they are a photographer (or thinks they should be).

“The Federal Government, however, is spending millions to protect the Pope (despite a clause in our constitution saying no respect should be shown to any religious institution).”

You know better than this.  This Constitution only prohibits the “establishment” of any particular religion.  In fact, one could argue that it tacitly supports “respecting” ALL religions, since the founders were deists, not Christians.

“Instead, the Papacy seems to be asking the public for forgiveness so it can be infallible once more.”

Actually, the “infallibility” of the papacy was quietly put aside by the Vatican some time ago:  although the Pope still holds the honrary title of “Vicar of Christ,” he is no longer considered either infallible, nor even “closer to God” than anyone else on the planet.

As for the end of the world, by my calculations they are off by at least a week or so…LOL.

Peace.

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By Joan, April 17, 2008 at 9:40 pm Link to this comment

Yes, Richard, I can see this new knowledge is nothing less than a 21st century Enlightenment…Let me know when you’re back on the planet.

In the mean time ponder this…tell me just how our morality has collectively improved with the rise of our secularist state with its partial birth abortions, drug abuse, record breaking divorces and teen suicide rates, pandering politicians and greedy drug companies, obscene CEO packages and shortage of health care for starters…

Party on…

Joan

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By Richard, April 16, 2008 at 9:08 pm Link to this comment
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Had a great trip (sans illegal drugs I don’t use). I had a great laugh, too, listening to the radio. But I learned a lot:

1. The entire universe will end on 22 May 2011, as predicted by logical analysis of Biblical prophecy and the Mayan calendar (which go together like love and marriage). Nevermind the fact that it’s 87 billion lightyears in every direction, and nothing moves faster than light. It will all collapse to a point under the power of Almighty Gawd on the Day of the Lawd. We should stop attending church because they no longer teach the true Gawspel. We should also stop giving money to the poor, and purchase Baahbles instead.

2. It cost the LA PD $30K to escort Brittney Spears to rehab. The mayor won’t sign a bill promising equal protection to other celbs from the paparazzi; too ambiguous—what’s a celeb, and what’s a paparazzi?

3. The Federal Government, however, is spending millions to protect the Pope (despite a clause in our constitution saying no respect should be shown to any religious institution).

The Pope should just keep his psycho-babble in Rome. Instead he’s over here condemning priests for sexual abuse and bishops for protecting them. He hasn’t gone so far as to condemn Pope John Paul II for protecting Cardinal Law, however.

I’ll believe the rhetoric when I see Cardinal Law strung up by his balls. Instead, the Papacy seems to be asking the public for forgiveness so it can be infallible once more.

And the evangelical, Republican president took his wife and daughter to kiss the pope’s hideous hand, while Methodist Hillary knocked back whiskey with Catholics in PA.

4. Enrollment is down in Catholic schools across the nation, despite approval to use vouchers for tuition. Say it ain’t so! Maybe the nuns should sharpen their rulers and visit a few parents in their sacred penguin costumes.

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By Joan, April 15, 2008 at 1:20 pm Link to this comment

Richard,

Ya’ll have a good time trippin’ in the California forests…
No matter the liberty you take recontructing my words, I believe there is something beyond me, greater than myself that unites everything. We are in a unity, coordinated. Note the term universe… “uni” meaning “one” and “verse”. The very term itself reflects this very basic intuition.

Joan

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By Richard, April 11, 2008 at 1:27 pm Link to this comment
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“Wired in” sounds more like Maani’s good karma, dry water, and other hippy stuff than it does, “I am the way, the truth and the life,” or “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”

If you think they’re related though, perhaps you should send $10 to the Church of the Sacred Bleedin’ Heart of Jesus [located somewhere in Los Angeles]. They’ll say your prayers on the radio, and you’ll really get wired in. All of your dreams will come true.

Ha! Ha! I’m just teasing. Have a great weekend. I’ll be out of touch, up in the forest of Northern CA with my own hippy friends. I’ll be throwing discs and fantasizing about a girl with far-away eyes.

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By Joan, April 2, 2008 at 11:04 am Link to this comment

Richard,

I actually do believe there is something other than myself that I connect to…a greater intelligence than mine is present and I am somehow wired into it…it is the common demoninator through which all of hunmanity and the universe are linked… I do believe this….

For Hitchens or Dawkins or Harris to suggest that Christ did not exist demonstrates the prejudice that infiltrates their supposedly scholarly works…

Joan

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By Richard, April 1, 2008 at 5:50 pm Link to this comment
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I never said anything about conspiracy.  I said maybe there was a rabbi named Jesus, and maybe there wasn’t. The stories were not corroborated, and that’s as far as I’ll go with it. I’m not alone here. I think Hitchens did say that historians never mentioned Jesus. There are a lot of skeptics besides Harris, Hitchins and Dawkins too. I’ve read these arguments in other places.

I don’t know. When was the first time somebody disputed the historical Odyssus, from Homer?

But that wasn’t my main point. My main point was, so what? Do you guys really believe that the creator of this vast universe visited Palestine and walked around in sandals?

Joan, you said God somehow helps you through the dark times. Do you really believe that invisible beings, controlled by the creator, are buzzing around us, controlling the outcome of events, or do you just “believe in belief?” It’s a nice story, sort of like Santa Claus for grown-ups?

And my key point for you, Maani, is still this: You say you believe in peace. Did God, or did he not, kill more than 2 million human beings in the sacred book? If Jesus is all about peace, why revere the murderous Father? What is the point of becoming the “lamb” to satisfy his own requirement for blood sacrifice?

And the killing still isn’t over. Does the message of Jesus, or does it not, threaten me with a second death if I refuse to believe?

I’ll re-visit my views of Karma and Dharma [Robert M. Pirsig described them more like yin and yang in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance]. You need to say something more convincing if you want me to re-visit my views of Jesus.

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By Maani, March 31, 2008 at 10:15 am Link to this comment

Richard:

First, I believe you are incorrect in your understanding of the definitions of “karma” and “dharma.”

“Karma” is defined as “the force generated by a person’s actions held in Hinduism and Buddhism to perpetuate transmigration and in its ethical consequences to determine the nature of the person’s next existence.”  Thus, it can be either “positive” or “negative.”

“Dharma” is defined as “the basic principles of cosmic or individual existence; conformity to one’s duty and nature.”  Thus, it is the “broader” term, and helps to determine whether one’s karma is “positive” or “negative.”

Second, re the existence of Jesus and your claims about Paul.  Do you not see the absolute inherent absurdity of what you are suggesting?  That Christianity is, in toto, nothing more than a HUGE “conspiracy” about someone who did not even exist?  A conspiracy that ONE PERSON (or let’s even say a couple of dozen people, if we include the apostles and close disciples) was able to foist on the entire world, even causing TIME ITSELF to be divided by this non-existent person’s approximate birth?  A conspiracy that was simply accepted at face value - with NO serious opposition or discussion (which would unquestionably have been noted in the histories written at the time) - by the vast majority of those living at the time?

What happened to Occam’s Razor?  Or has the edge of yours dulled?  LOL.

No, your theory simply does not hold any water, as it assumes FAR too much that flies in the face of logic, common sense and even the scientific method.

Indeed, I know of very few scientists - rabid atheists all - who question the EXISTENCE of Jesus, or the supportable historical aspects of the gospels and His life and ministry therein.  Certainly they vehemently argue against virgin birth, divinity, miracles, resurrection and the like; i.e., things that fly in the face of known science.  Heck, even Harris, Dawkins, Hitchens et al do not question His existence, but only the religion built around Him.

Sounds like you want to be among those who make Harris et all look positively agnostic.  LOL.

Peace.

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By Joan, March 30, 2008 at 6:43 pm Link to this comment

Richard,

I am talking about people stepping forward and denying the stories told about Christ. To me that is noteworthy.  Those to whom the New Testament was directed never stepped forward to deny it. Historians did not note controversy where surely it would have been a potential hotbed, given the astounding claims made about the activities of Christ.

Feynman and other particle physicists make claims that they never have demonstrated…maybe they have some mathematical calculations standing behind them to permit their conjectures but as far as having physical evidence, none at all at times…this is not unusual at all in that field as far as I understand it, admittedly at a distance.

Furthermore I have heard scientists assert that if the perfect math of the universe was off by a just the teeniest fraction of a smidge, there could be no life…so indeed I do hold that the universe was surely brought forth deliberately with life in mind…believing such an occurrence, such perfectly coordinated math distributed over such a complex and massive span as our universe, could be accidental to me requires oodles more faith than believing in God…

Speaking candidly, Richard, what you cite as Christianity is not what I have been trained to practice as a Christian, meaning the traditional Catholic version of Christianity…I could not abide in your model of Christianity either. As I said in a prior post and Maani followed up in greater detail…Christianity is about having faith in a God that is loving, not evil, and second trying to live the ideal to treat others the way you want to be treated…really this is pretty much my practice of Christianity from which all other loving ideas of how to live daily flow…There are other bits of wisdom in the Bible that make sense to me but I have never and was never taught in Catholic school to surrender my reason in favor of blind obedience to the ridiculous…I was taught to trust God through the dark moments however. In these times I was assured He would guide His hand as a loving God not a vain and not vengeful one. 

The Catholic Church in the Middle Ages, under Thomas Aquinas conjoined the philosophy of Aristotle and the activity of reason with faith…I suspect the sect of Christianity that you experienced did not undergo this kind of transition…

What you describe is like the Christian version of the Taliban. I am totally unfamiliar with the Christian experience you reflect in your posts…I am with you… that is not for me either. My deep respect for Christ is that he lost his life challenging the high priests in order to liberate the common people from that kind of heavy-handed, asinine, rule- oriented religion. That is why he disobeyed the Jewish law and healed on the Sabbath, teaching his followers that the law was made to serve man …not that man was made to serve the law, which is the religion you describe…this is anathema to the teaching of Christ… Those who taught you the version of religion you reflect, missed Christ’s teachings by light years.

Joan

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By Richard, March 30, 2008 at 11:19 am Link to this comment
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That’s exactly what I’m afraid of. The text of the ten commandments (Exodus 20 or Deut 5)even tells you how to treat your slaves.

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By Joan, March 30, 2008 at 10:34 am Link to this comment

Richard,

Regarding Maani’s commentary…me too!

As that famous pharoah, Ramses (really Yul Bryner) so often commands in the ‘Ten Commandments’, with regard to the distinction Maani makes with respect to faith and religion, 

“So let it be written. So let it be done.”

Joan

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By Richard, March 30, 2008 at 10:06 am Link to this comment
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I don’t think I’m dogmatic. I’m realistic about what acceptance of a leather-bound book with gold-foil edges can lead to. I’m also dedicated to saying “BS” when somebody doesn’t present a good argument.

How can you separate belief in the main characters from belief in the things the book says? Does it or does it not threaten me with a second death if I refuse to accept it? Saying “peace, and love” doesn’t remove that threat. It just creates a ridiculous contradiction.

It’s interesting that you coughed up the word “karma.” I think that’s what this whole argument is about—judgment. [By the way, karma is always a bad thing, so I don’t think you were using the word correctly. It means “you get what you deserve,” but always in a fearful sense. The opposite in Hindu philosophy was “dharma,” which means “justice,” or getting your due reward. The word “karma” is used very loosely these days to signify some sort of good feeling . . . “Give me a tie-died t-shirt, some rainbow suspenders and a pair of sandals. Let’s sit back, burn one and just dig on how much love there is, man. Wow, this life is far out.”]

Getting back to judgment though. Why should the concept always be presented as the decision of the gods about us? Why should there be an acceptance bias towards the idea that invisible beings have the power to observe everything we do (and don’t forget those thought crimes), then either “save” us or torment us after we’re dead?

What about our judgment of them? This backlash by Harris, Dawkins, Hitchens et all, is really just that. They are saying, both to the main characters of the stories, the believablility of the stories themselves, and the history they have caused . . . “MENE MENE TEKEL UPHARSIN: You have been weighed in the balances and found wanting.”

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By Richard, March 30, 2008 at 9:34 am Link to this comment
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I’m a skeptic, not a revisionist.Go back and read what I said. I postulated that maybe Paul invented the whole thing towards the end of the first century. I find it very interesting that the long list of historians didn’t mention Jesus or his cult.

The earliest Christian writings, outside of the NT are letters from Ignatius of Antioch and 2 Clement. A date in the second half of Trajan’s reign (A.D. 98-117) or a bit later fits the picture reflected in Ignatius. Eusebius says Ignatius was martyred around that time. The so-called “long recension” is a 4th century revision. The “middle recension” is generally accepted as authentic, although arguments have always been made calling it into question.

The approximate date of the written sermon by Clement is A.D. 140-160. 2 Clement cited the Old Testament and an apocryphal gospel that has not survived.

Clearly these texts were written for a reason, and there was a church that they addressed. By that time the members of that church probably accepted Jesus as the name of their Messiah, and they were being killed for that name. None of this proves that Paul didn’t invent the whole thing towards the end of the first century.

The revisionists were the people who controlled the libraries, and did things like the 4th century revision of Ignatius, emendation of Josephus, and very early dates for things with the word “Saint” in front of them.

The texts about women keeping their mouths shut are supposedly the “command of the lord.” The text also says you can’t have your own interpretation. If you’re going to expurgate the text to do away with those things, why not just believe in “love thy neighbor” and throw out all of the remaining baggage?

What’s so lovable about the God of the Bible or the Jesus who supposedly issued the threats in Revelation?

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By Maani, March 29, 2008 at 9:18 pm Link to this comment

Richard:

Holy cow! (Well, in India, anyway…LOL)  And you accuse Christians of being dogmatic!  You display a mania for dogma that most Christians would consider, well, hopelessly fundamentalist.

You need to let your karma run over your dogma, pal!

I think I can speak for both Joan and myself when I say that neither of us (nor, I’m sure, most Christians we know) are anywhere NEAR as dogmatic and doctrinaire as you somehow believe it is necessary to be in order to be a “good” Christian.

Is there a place for dogma and doctrine within Christianity?  Yes.  But that place is secondary.  As the old expression goes: “religion” is about laws, rules and behavior; “faith” is about a relationship with God (and, for Christians, with Christ).  There is certainly a place for “religion” within “faith,” but “faith” must come first - and must be paramount.

Jesus said that the “whole of the law” is within the two commandements, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind” and “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.”

I would say that 90% of “true” (a word I realize is loaded) Christianity is based on these two commandments, plus three other things: Matthew 5 (which includes the Beatitudes, the “love thine enemies” passage, and the “Ye have heard it said…but I say to you” “re-interpretations” of some of the law), 1 Corinthians 13 (re love), and Paul’s phrase, “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved” (which is the basis for salvation and redemption).  The rest is details.

Ultimately, it sounds like you have a problem separating what you believe Christianity is “supposed” to be from a purely dogmatic and doctrinaire perspective (possibly based legitimately on the fact that many Christians DO practice it that way - or at least TALK as if they do) and what the “heart” of Christianity really is (or, at least, should be), based on Jesus’ life and ministry.

I assure you that all the hopelessly picayune detail that you think “need” to be part of faith (and even “religion”) do not need to be.  Faith is a “feeling,” a “touching,” a unique “in-spiriting” that one senses innately and distinctly.  It is neither describable nor provable.  Unless and until one experiences it for oneself, it will remain an impossible-to-fathom (much less empirically prove) thing - as mysterious to those who have not felt it as boolean geometry or quantum electrodynamics would be to the Bushmen of the Kalahari.

Peace.

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By Joan, March 29, 2008 at 6:35 pm Link to this comment

Good grief Richard…Are you tellng me that Jesus did not exist? That there were no Christians? No Roman arenas? no adoption of Christianity as the official religion of Rome by Constantine to quell religious tensions? There was Christianity but no Christ…Talk about your revisionist history… get a grip.

Re: comments about the Bible and women, I see them as a reflection the culture. I am a bit of a cafeteria believer…same with regard to comments about slaves…I go by two basic Christian teachings regarding behavior that overrides all other teachings in the Bible ... Love God and treat others the way you want to be treated.

Joan

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By Richard, March 28, 2008 at 12:31 pm Link to this comment
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Maani:

I think we’ve discussed this topic before, and I didn’t agree with you then. You say that Jesus was only about peace, but please remember the Jesus of Matthew, who said, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to SET A MAN AGAINST HIS FATHER, AND A DAUGHTER AGAINST HER MOTHER, AND A DAUGHTER-IN-LAW AGAINST HER MOTHER-IN-LAW; and A MAN’S ENEMIES WILL BE THE MEMBERS OF HIS HOUSEHOLD.”

You may choose to interpret this passage differently than I do. That doesn’t change the brutal history of Christian civilization, or one word of “Onward Christian Soldiers, marching off to war.” Get with it. Don’t you know your buddies are gearing up for another one in Iran?

And if Jesus is so in love with peace, why did he also adore “the Father” so much? If you go through the Bible and count the number of people killed by the Father, you come up with 2,270,365. And that greatly underestimates God’s total death toll, since it only includes those killings for which a body count is provided. It does not include a count for the victims of Noah’s flood, Sodom and Gomorrah, or the many plagues, famines, fiery serpents, etc., with which he killed human beings. You should add tens of millions more if you want to include those souls. Also, don’t forget those killed in the crusades by his agents, millions of Jews killed by Hitler for being “Christ killers,” or millions of hottentots killed by the Dutch, who believed they had a new [tertiary] covenant with Christ to move into their promised land.

I would agree that we should not count the more than Afghans and Iraqis killed in our latest holy wars. That was all after the whole world was taught about your peace loving Jesus.

How many human beings were killed by “The Satan” in the Bible? We can only find ten (all in Job 1). And those killings, he also shares with “the Father,”  because Yahweh instructed “The Satan” go go do it. The Satan was not a dweller of the netherworld at that time, but a member of the Lord’s court. He only became the master of hell after the Greeks had their way with Biblical truth, as I’ve also pointed out.

Throughout the remainder of history, you’ll be hard-pressed to find anybody who killed in the name of Satan. Occasionally some teenagers freak out and sacrifice a black cat on Halloween. It’s a holiday that probably wouldn’t exist if not for superstitions like yours.

The very last story of the Bible is a tale of future events, in which the Father will do even more killing. Following a prolonged series of very nasty plagues that he causes, he ends human history. Once and for all, he tosses everybody who does not agree with him into the lake of fire (today that number would be about 6.5 billion minus the 144,000 who get a border of red on their glistening white garments). The father even wakes up the dead (including the ones he recently killed), so he can kill them a second time! This was supposedly the “Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him” and he then he gave to John.

Not your favorite Jesus? Mine either, but it’s all good. You can make up some story of your own, bind it in leather, and in a few decades people will think it’s the absolute truth. It worked for the Book of Mormon.

Have a Nice Day

PS: If you love truth, justice, etc., why would you need this Jesus to begin with? I’d rather believe that we all live and die just once (the love we receive equal to the love we give). I’d rather not think that anybody will ever suffer and die twice, just for falling short of the “glory” of your murdering God.

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By Richard, March 28, 2008 at 12:23 pm Link to this comment
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The following historians of that period did not mention Jesus or his cult:

Dio Chrysostom, Dion of Prusa or Dio Cocceianus (ca. 40–ca. 120): Greek orator, writer, philosopher and historian of the Roman Empire.

Justus of Tiberias  (second half of first century AD): wrote a chronicle of the Jewish people from Moses to Agrippa II; blamed Josephus for the troubles in Galilee.

Livy or Titus Livius  (59 BC – AD 17): wrote Ab Urbe Condita, a history of Rome from around 753 BC through the reign of Augustus.

Lucius Anneus Florus  (Time of Trajan and Hadrian [ca. 53-ca. 138]): Author of Epitome de T. Livio Bellorum omnium annorum DCC Libri duo, a brief sketch of Rome from around 753 BC to the closing of the temple 25 BC); also identified as the poet Publius Annus Florus.

Philo or Philo of Alexandria or Philo Judaeus (20 BC - 50 AD): Philo used allegory to fuse and harmonize Greek philosophy and Judaism. There is record that the early Christians enthusiastically received Philo, but he never mentioned them.

Phlegon of Tralles (Second Century AD): Author of the Olympiads, sixteen books of history covering 776 BC to AD 137. Also of interest was his book On Marvels, with stories about ghosts, prophecies by heads, Siamese twins, hermaphrodites and giant skeletons. A lover of the fantastic might have been expected to mention several resurrections.

Pliny the Elder or Caius Plinius Secundus,  (AD 23 – August 24, AD 79): Natural philosopher and military commander who wrote Naturalis Historia. Famous for saying “True glory consists in doing what deserves to be written; in writing what deserves to be read.” But he never wrote one word about the “glory” of Jesus or supposed doings, or of his followers.”

Plutarch or Mestrius Plutarchus (46 AD - 120 AD):  Wrote primarily about Lives of Greeks and comparable Romans. There are many lost Lives. His works contain many details absent in other sources. He also dedicated a great deal of effort to discussing the moral character of great men. The Lives would have been a great opportunity to plug the tremendous moral character of the “historical” Jesus, whom the NT portrays as more Greek than Hebrew.

Quintilian or Marcus Fabius Quintilianus  (ca. 35 – ca. 100): Wrote a twelve-volume textbook on Rhetoric titled, Institutio Oratoria. What, and he didn’t mention the greatest Preacher of them all?

Quintus Curtius or Quintus Curtius Rufus  (reign of Emperor Claudius [41-54 CE]): Wrote Historiae Alexandri Magni, a ten-volume biography of Alexander the Great. Two volumes are lost, and the remaining are incomplete. Ignorant of geography, chronology and technical military knowledge. Focused on character without mentioning the (supposedly) greatest character in history.

Seneca The Elder or Lucius or Marcus, Annaeus Seneca (ca. 54 BC- ca. 39 AD): Wrote a history of Rome from the beginning of the civil wars almost down to his own death, after which it was published by his son. Also wrote ten books of imaginary legal cases called Controversiae.

I’ve seen lists with many other names that I’ve been unable to confirm. Others were poets or geographers I could confirm, but whom I didn’t think deserved inclusion. 

While it would be very easy for the Church to destroy writings of somebody who disputed the historicity of a Rabbi named Jesus, it would be a lot harder for them to add mention of Jesus and his cult. Then you end up with the kind of thing that appears in Josephus.

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By Richard, March 25, 2008 at 6:26 pm Link to this comment
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Come on, Joan! You know better than that. You said you were a philosophy teacher. You must understand logic. You can’t really decide that something did happen because of what you don’t see. You can guess that something didn’t happen because of what you do or don’t see though.  Extrordinary claims demand extrordinary evidence, and so forth.

I’m willing to say maybe there was a Rabbi named Jesus. So what if there was? I also think it’s fair to be skeptical that Jesus ever lived. There’s good evidence that there was a would-be messiah named Theudus, whom the Romans beheaded. Maybe somebody with a lisp tried to say Theudus and it sounded like Jesus, and he also had a very active imagination, so now we have all of these stories.

Even if I do allow for a Rabbi named Jesus, I’m certainly not going to conclude that he raised people from the dead. People who die stay dead everywhere but in fiction. I’m not going to believe he cured diseases by casting out demons. No disease has ever been caused by a demon. Demons only exist in the mind of superstitious people. I’m not going to believe the other things that follow, like ascent into heaven in bodily form. I’m certainly not going to believe he was the creator of the universe, walking around in sandals!

You’re right. I won’t give your argument from lack of evidence any weight. You’re insisting that silence of the historians (I’ve listed them below) is evidence that the Gospel accounts are indisputable. Maybe the gospel accounts were just ignored for the first three centuries because they weren’t considered significant, or they were thought to be “figurative” from the start. It’s also possible that historians who heard didn’t make it a priority to pay for copies, and then waste paper disputing such unbelievable stories. The stories did a good job of discrediting themselves. Paper wasn’t cheap back then, so perhaps the historians had a policy of focusing on less fantastic material.

Haven’t you ever just ignored somebody because what they said was too crazy to even dignify it with a response?

And here we go again with fallacious comparison to theoretical physics. Feynman may have an argument that’s convincing, mathematically. I don’t know because I’m not a physicist or mathematician. Because of the physics homework, this may seem worthwhile enough to try to devise instruments for testing the idea. No serious scientist will worry too much about the particles before tests can be devised though. We’re not going to fall down and woship them, that’s for sure.

It sounds like the kind of thing a “young earth” creationist would love. Yahweh created a universe that’s 78 billion lightyears in every direction, and expanding (just to F#$% with our heads and test our faith in the Word), then created particles that travel backwards in time so the speed of light can’t be used to reliably measure its age. Then he appeared on this one little planet so he could do a magic act and come back to life after being dead for more than a day. Wow! That makes this little earth (and me) seem way more important than I ever previously thought.

I definitely don’t see the cosmos as something that’s “precisely coordinated” to support human life. I see struggle for survival, and a tremendous amount of suffering around the world.  The poor beasts are even worse off than humans. I have been very lucky. Others have not. I find great fault with the idea that this was all deliberate and I was “chosen” for some reason. It must be random, and I’m just lucky to have had such a good life.

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By Richard, March 25, 2008 at 6:01 pm Link to this comment
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If you claim Christianity, it shoves you into a box. People point out scriptures you’re supposed to abide by, or ask you to go fight a war. “If you’re not with us, you’re against us.” Stand up and salute. Kneel down and pray. Don’t you dare revile the Great Leader. Don’t use vulgarisms. Keep your shirt buttoned up.

Christ’s death provides “salvation” and “redemption” from what? Only the very fear it creates! It’s like paying the mob for protection. Name one other other thing it “saves” me from, and I’ll name a bunch of BS that it compels me into—a way of life I can’t stand. How about going to church (which is boring as hell)? “Do not neglect the assembling of yourselves together as is the habit of some.” Hebrews 10:25.

How about paying tithes or offerings to those who conduct that boring BS? “Do you not know that those who perform sacred services eat the food of the temple, and those who attend regularly to the altar have their share from the altar? So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel.” 1 Cor. 9:13-14.

Money have I none. What I have is kids to put through college and a tase for expensive wines. I also work my ass off, and I want my reward for doing it to be a nice house, car, furniture and clothing. Occasionally I contribute to fundraisers, food bank, toys for tots, etc. When most people approach me with their hand out though, my answer is “I gave at the office!” It’s a different age we live in, with welfare being paid for out of our tax dollars and thousands being taken away every year for that and holy wars.

Love of money is supposed to be the root of all sorts of evil (I Timothy 6:10), and it’s real convenient for the church to tell you that, then ask you to give yours to them. But money is what I get in exchange for the hours of my life that I spend at work. If I don’t love money, I don’t love my own life. Of course, I’m not supposed to do that either. I’m supposed to “take up my cross and follow him.”

[Demanding money for goods and services is the best way to deal with one another. The only alternative is coercion—providing goods and services because you have a gun in your face. I love money. Bible lovers have historically favored slavery.]

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By Richard, March 25, 2008 at 5:40 pm Link to this comment
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Perhaps Joan would like to comment on some other aspects of expected Christian behavior:

“As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silence in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as even the law says. If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church. What! Did the word of God originate with you, or are you the only ones it has reached? If any one thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that what I am writing to you is a command of the Lord. If any one does not recognize this, he is not recognized” (1 Corinthians 14:33-38).

“A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression.” (I Timothy 2:10-14).

Maybe she wouldn’t mind giving up her jewelry and makeup. She could walk around like an SDA woman from Australia. “I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments.” I Timothy 2:9.

The injunction against pre-marital sex just interferes with what people want to do with their own bodies. It manufactures guilt over something people shouldn’t feel guilty about. The Church continues to shpeel this BS in the third world where the only thing taught should be condom use.

And where in the hell we get the law, in some US states, that the “missionary position” is the only proper way for a husband and wife to make love? From the Church, of course. Those paternalistic SOBs want to govern what goes on in my bedroom? I wish there was a hell so they could all just go there. My wife and I are going to keep doing it real nice and nasty.

The injuction against divorce remains, along with the Sarlet Letter. “What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.” If somebody can’t stand spending the rest of their life with somebody else, the situation should be permitted to end. Common sense dictates an equitable arrangement with regard to property and child custody. It isn’t always the outcome of the courts, and men typically get the shaft, even if it’s the woman decides to quit the marriage.  That is mostly because of the passages above telling women to keep quiet, which made also men responsible for their welfare.

I’m revolted by the idea of sex with a man, but I must admit that homosexuality has become socially acceptable. There also seems to be some evidence that people are born into it. It isn’t moral, according to the NT though (Romans 1). This passage also appears to prohibit anal sex. As if that’s anybody’s business but two people behind a closed door.

Any of these things can be and are moralized over constantly by the clergy, because they are the sacred word. The clergy are just other people sticking their noses into people’s lives because they are invited to do so, to say what morality is or what Jesus would do. There’s no other good reason. The priests are the absolute worst.

The unnecessary “faith v. science” propaganda of the latter day Christians is a prime example of the box you get shoved into once you claim the faith. Scientific discoveries may have seemed like an outgrowth of faith on the part of some people. I’m inclined to think that those people accomplished what they did in spite of faith. Or maybe people simply would have done those things with or without faith. There are many people who manage to produce while having very strange beliefs. I’ve known a few who are so heavenly minded that they’re no earthly good.

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By Joan, March 16, 2008 at 4:49 pm Link to this comment

Richard

The moral of Fric and Frac, which you hooked into was that a historian would not discount an event because eye witness accounts were not identical. Such a historian would look for other evidence.

Now you want to argue there is not much evidential support for the existence of Christ and his life story but archeological digs find more and more support for reports in the Bible…like the manner of Christ’s execution for example or the existence of the ancient cities, rather than discrediting the history the Bible offers. As for discounting what we call miracles, I am aware of no reporter in those days who has ever stepped forward and said …that did not happen, no matter how incredible you or Harris or Dawkins think it is. This says something. You are unwilling to give this any weight.

Now here is a parallel situation with science. I am inclined to say of negative particles traveling backward in time ala Richard Feynman is incredible, unbelievable…or I do not believe that. A physicist may say… well, such a thing may well be the case. My lack of knowledge is to my disadvantage because I am not versed on the nuances of particle physics and to date such a thing is not demonstrable nor may never be demonstrable.  No matter how phantasmogoric this may be, I have to respect my limitations in understanding of physics. I do not dismiss physics as utterly ridiculous for that reason, that I do not get it.

Now I agree with you that I am going to take the stance that shows belief. Likewise, you will take the opposite stance to demonstrate rejection of belief. But to do so, you reject evidence to the contrary…you want to discount the historical Christ and the miracles that went unchallenged in the reports on his life.  His life happened, your beliefs notwithstanding. I would find it refreshing if you just said… look, I don’t want to be bothered with all that religious stuff because I want to do what I want to do. I want my own way in life and stop throwing up these strawmen reasons. 

The Bible for me is a re-counting of people’s experiences with God but God is not the personal author. As for a sacrificial Christ I do not see that part of story the way mainstream Christians do…I believe that Yahweh can visit perfect justice on His people without the sacrifice of another and that He did not need a sacrifice from another and that He was saddened by the way Christ died…Pretty big departure…I believe that Christ was from his Father and knew the risk he took by doing what he did, ruffling the feathers of the powers that be. He did sacrifice his own life to bring us the message about how to live in accordance with his Father’s expectations of us. The partaking of body and blood that Christ demonstrated at the Last Supper was his way of emulating the act of his Father who places His very divine substance in His people many times in their lives when we may need such sustenance or find it pleasurable.

Now as we learn more about the world, scientifically, we see it as an evolving, highly complex dynamic, whose numerous parts are precisely coordinated with one singular end, sustaining human life. If you can believe such a precise universe could come about chance, I do not see how you can fault me for thinking it was deliberate.

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By Maani, March 16, 2008 at 4:30 pm Link to this comment

Richard:

“I was never asked to dedicate my entire existence to the BMOC, to believe that his death is the answer to every question, to live by his idea of what constitutes true morality, decide which science is true or false based on the writings of his forbears, or worse, to decide when to go to war against other peoples who teach differently, with the high ideal in mind of giving up my life for the cause.”

Whoa!  This is an AWFUL lot to put on the shoulders of Christianity!  Let me see if I can address these individually:

“...dedicate my entire existence to…”  Well, that depends what you mean by “dedicate.”  I live my life like any non-believing human being.  Indeed, unless you knew I was a believer, you would not necessarily know it by my words (though I eschew profanity) or actions.  Yes, I “dedicate” my life to Christ, but this is a “private” matter, not a public one.  And if it “limits” me in any way, I am quite happy to accept those limitations, since most of them are things I would not say or do even were I not a believer.

“...to believe that his death is the answer to every question…”

The only “answer” that Christ’s death provides is the answer to “salvation” and “redemption.”  I realize you believe in neither, and that is your prerogative.  But I think your comment is, at best, poorly worded.

“...to live by his idea of what constitutes true morality…”

And well should we all!  Consider the main precepts of His ministry: love, peace, forgiveness, humility, compassion, patience, charity, selflessness, service, justice, truth.  Are you suggesting that there is a BETTER “moral” structure than this?  Jesus was perhaps the most all-inclusive spiritual-religious figure in history.  He offered His message to all and sundry, and left each person free to accept or reject that message - without judgment, condemnation or scorn.  Please tell me (i) what is wrong with Jesus’ “moral structure,” and (ii) what you would consider a better one.

“...decide which science is true or false based on the writings of his forbears…”

This is patently absurd.  You are now (deliberately?) conflating who and what Jesus was and taught with the anti-science attitudes of latter-day Christians.  This is simply unnecessary “faith v. science” propaganda, since, as you well know, many of the greatest scientific discoveries were made by men of faith for whom those discoveries were an OUTGROWTH of that faith, and not in conflict with it.  Please, at least be intellectually honest.

“...decide when to go to war against other peoples who teach differently…”

Jesus NEVER preached this.  In fact, he preached STRONGLY against it, consistently.  You have read the Beatitudes, and Matthew 5, so I know you know very well that Jesus Himself did NOT believe in a so-called “just war” theory,” which is a much later construct - to say nothing of a complete negation of His ministry.

I will address other parts of your most recent posts soon.

Peace.

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By Richard, March 15, 2008 at 11:45 am Link to this comment
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Joan and Maani:

Your responses were predictable and catholic (in the adjectival sense I described). Your method of reasoning allows you to maintain faith in something there’s every reason to disbelieve.
Let me reason a different way: Let’s suppose that 300 years from now the Encyclopedia of North American Sports History says that in 2007 the Red Sox beat the Rockies in the World Series. The Encyclopedia has various statistics about the game, etc., but says nothing terribly surprising. Why not believe it? Somebody then hands you a book, recently published, that says the Red Sox beat the Rockies in2007, and the final game was delayed because a flying saucer landed in the infield, and little green men came out demanding to see the President of the United States. Which account should you believe? Imagine the story offers, as evidence, that everybody in the stands witnessed this, but it never gives a single name or corroborated testimony. Imagine it also says that the little green men are now assisting our Government, and it is our manifest destiny to control the world, but only a select few are allowed to talk to the little green men. Imagine the book tells you it’s the most important truth in life, and that faith in it is the key to eternal happiness. Ask the people in your Bible study class what they think of that scenario, Maani! It’s a better analogy than remembrance of the BMOC.
Conflicting stories about the BMOC would be innocuous. I was never asked to dedicate my entire existence to the BMOC, to believe that his death is the answer to every question, to live by his idea of what constitutes true morality, decide which science is true or false based on the writings of his forbears, or worse, to decide when to go to war against other peoples who teach differently, with the high ideal in mind of giving up my life for the cause.
Your three types of scripture are very convenient. Those categories can be used to make the whole collection essentially impervious to logical analysis. Whenever there’s something that evidence backs up, you say, “Look how the LORD is bringing the truth to light.” Whenever something is blatantly wrong, it was just “figurative.” Things that haven’t been tested yet are automatically true. Severe criticism is always based on “mere human wisdom.” Lack of faith is just evidence that you are in love with sin.
The boy with epilepsy (Mark 9), cured by the casting out of a squealing demon—truth or figure? The resurrection of dead people—truth or figure? Bodily ascent into the clouds—truth or figure? How about going back to the beginning. . . an earth hewn out of a watery “deep” and existing before the sun (Gen 1)—truth or figure? Yahweh battling Leviathan in the “deep” (Job 41)—truth or figure? Jonah visiting the “deep” in the belly of a fish—truth or figure? Jesus calming the surface of the waves—truth or figure? And if that one was figure, why believe any of the other miracles? Let’s go to prediction of the end. . . a new world with no ocean (Rev 21)—truth or figure? What will the new creation look like, or is it a spiritual realm? Should I even care? Why would I want to spend eternity with a god who ever required blood sacrifice? Or was that just figurative too?

What is the mechanism by which faith in a blood sacrifice gives me eternal life? Do I change the mind of the creator of this universe? Was this universe created by an invisible man who watches everything I do and requires a scapegoat? Was that scapegoat a man in sandals who lived on a very small piece of land, thousands of miles away from my home, and thousands of years ago, and who wasn’t mentioned in the history books? I think it’s all figurative, fictional and absurd.

Have a nice day.

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By Richard, March 15, 2008 at 11:06 am Link to this comment
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Joan and Maani:

Your allegories are not very helpful, in the way you used them. However, Joan’s scenario presents a very real possibility. Fric and Frac from Xenex find books, videos and recorded blogs saying that Muslim fanatics never drove airplanes into the twin towers and Pentagon. The airplanes that disappeared were taken somewhere else and the people were disposed of. Then agents of the U.S. Government piloted unmanned aerial vehicles laden with explosives into the twin towers, and then also set off explosives that were pre-planted in the buildings. They also flew a missile into their own command center, the Pentagon. Lots of people died on that day, but no Jews. They were all forewarned to stay home from work.

Translation from ancient languages will be the least of their problems. The real problem will be looking at all of the physial evidence, analysis that was done by engineers, historians, etc., and then deciding what happened based on the most believable accounts and reduction of data. Without question, they will be able to determine that something flew into the twin towers, and they came down. Reducto ad absurdum will probably convince them that madmen committed the acts.

A better way to look at this is to not to consider the life of Jesus and his mythical works of wonder, but an important building that all historical accounts said existed and then fell. We know that the Second Temple of Jerusalem was destroyed in CE 70.

However, if 300 years from now, somebody steps forward in a $3,000 Halloween costume with a tall hat, and says that 40 years before the twin towers fell, there was a man roaming around the United States, curing diseases by casting out demons, raising the dead, and turning water into wine, and that he had left one man in charge of the earth (the predecessor of the man in the costume, through the laying-on of hands). . . . You get my point.

The gospel writers told many interesting stories. Their tales have been disputed since the day they surfaced. And let’s not forget that there was a long period in history, beginning at a key juncture, when you would risk death by torture if you questioned one word of the cannon.

It’s very revealing that dozens of historians recorded the events of that period. None of them make credible mention of Jesus or even Christianity. I will list them under separate cover. 

It’s no use poisoning the Harris, Dawkins, Hitchins well. Their books are bestsellers for a reason. I have listened to Harris. I just don’t remember him saying anything specific about the NT. I reiterate that I recommend The End of Faith and Hithins’ God is Not Great to anybody who is questioning their beliefs. There’s very good news. According to a recent news story, that is at least 44 percent of Americans. They have either changed religions or given up religion altogether. Perhaps Popper is right, and episteme is dead. Hopefully the day will come when the vast majority of people believe only in things there’s reason to believe, and that won’t include magic, even if it is described in a leather-bound book with gold foil on the edges.

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By Maani, March 12, 2008 at 2:59 pm Link to this comment

Richard:

Joan says, “It seems unrealistic to demand that accounts of an event would be identical in order to accept that an event occurred.”

Let me offer the example I give in my Bible studies classes when this issue comes up.

The BMOC (“big man on campus”) of a college - smart, fun, gregarious - spends his sophomore, junior and senior years palling around with four friends.  They spend a great deal of time together, and share in numerous events and adventures.  Sometimes one of them might not participate at a particular time, sometimes another, sometimes perhaps only two do.

Thirty years later, the BMOC has passed away prematurely, and the four friends are asked to write their recollections of their time together.  What do you expect would happen?

Much of what they remember would overlap exactly, some would differ in details, some might differ dramatically (depending on how they remembered it), and some would be included in one or two or three recollections, but not in all.  That would be the EXPECTED outcome of such an endeavor.

And this is EXACTLY how the four Gospels read: much of their text overlaps, some differs in details, some differs dramatically, and some accounts appear in one or more but not all gospels.

Thus, why would this be considered strange?  As you note, the Gospels were not written until 20, 30 perhaps even 40 years after Jesus’ crucifixion.  So OF COURSE they are going to differ in some ways - even perhaps dramatically at times.  Indeed, I would find it odd if that were NOT the case.  In fact, that is why I believe the Gospels to be fairly accurate accounts: because they do NOT overlap in EVERY detail: THAT would prove to me that they were as phony as a six-dollar bill.

You say, “There’s no way for it to make sense unless you “wrest the scriptures,” and change things from what they say to what they specifically do not say or rule out.”

This assumes that ALL Scripture is to be read “literally” (and I am not referring to the claimed “inerrancy” of Scripture).  But that is not the case, and never has been.

Most Scripture is indeed to be taken at its literal meaning, unless the context clearly suggests otherwise.  However, some Scripture is “interpretive” (can be read in more than one way, though usually only two; a “literal” and a “figurative”), while other Scripture is allegorical (clearly does not mean what it literally says, but is a “mystery”).

It is in understanding the three types of Scripture that one comes to a clearer realization of why it is inaccurate to suggest that the seeming “contradictions” in Scripture are reason to dismiss the accuracy, much less the value, of them.

Peace.

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By Joan, March 12, 2008 at 12:28 pm Link to this comment

Richard,

In the year 4008 AD Fric and Frac are earth historians from the planet Xenex and they are reading accounts of 9/11 they unearthed from somewhere. They are also reading the ancient texts in the earth language of 2001. So at times they must guess about what certain terms mean like the difference between fireman and policeman. They have come across several eye- witness accounts saying there was a great explosion but there are discrepancies in the details. Suzie for instance says there were 100 police killed and Georgie says there were 103 but fireman also died.  Johnnie says the buildings fell 20 minutes apart but Joey says—- no, it was 33 minutes. So logically Fric and Frac conclude that given these discrepancies that 9/11 never happened. Right?

Anyone who has had to work from ancient texts will tell you the difficulties with translating them. This is a major problem in working from Greek when studying Greek philosophy like Plato and Aristotle. We don’t however say because of it or the discrepancies that Aristotle did not exist or did not do philosophy. The important point here is that various eye- witness accounts like the ones you site are not sufficient to overrule the existence of Christ or his works of wonder. I also notice some things you just dismiss because of your own feelings about the subject.

The gospel writers wrote for the people of the times. Upon reading the recounts of the Christ stories, no one ever said there was no woman who wept at Christ’s feet and dried them with her hair. It seems in those days a lot of women were named Mary or Merriam. So maybe the people the writers wrote for expected their audience knew which Mary was referred to as we would if someone mentioned that Brittany again did something bizarro. It was tacitly understood perhaps.

Likewise no one ever said—-gee, there was no resurrection or that Jesus never healed the daughter of Jarius. No one ever said at the wedding there was no water changed into wine or—- I was there at Cana and there was no miracle of water to wine or my grandfather was at that wedding and that never happened. No one contradicted the dilemma of Pontius Pilate no matter how he came to his end or his personal reputation. Leastways, I have understood that Pilate was ever worried about a Jewish rebellion and would appease the high priests at times, which speaks to a ruthlessness when it comes to not sparing Christ. So there are a few ways to interpret Pilate’s actions.

What is outstanding here, what is inescapably glaring is…the people for whom the gospel writers wrote never came forth and said these things, these extraordinary events, did not happen regardless of the minor discrepancies you point out that would be expected. It seems unrealistic to demand that accounts of an event would be identical in order to accept that an event occurred. Prosecutors see discrepancies all the time in trials but it they do not conclude that the crime never happened.

And good…don’t bother to read either Harris or Dawkins…they do not do their subject justice….

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By Richard, March 11, 2008 at 10:49 pm Link to this comment
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PS: I never read anything Dawkins or Harris said about the NT. I studied theology at a Christian institution and made up my own mind after considering the textual and historical evidence.

There’s no way for it to make sense unless you “wrest the scriptures,” and change things from what they say to what they specifically do not say or rule out. You can also decide that the contradictions really shouldn’t affect faith in the story. We have a special word for that—“catholic,” used as an adjective. It’s just not the way I think.

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By Richard, March 9, 2008 at 12:10 pm Link to this comment
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Maani:

There may have been a traveling Rabbi named Jesus who was crucified by the Romans during Pontius Pilate’s rule. I don’t think it’s an absolute certainty. The gospels can hardly be called historical. They were written by anonymous authors, probably living quite far from the area, after the fall of Jerusalem. Problems affecting their credibility are almost countless.

Josephus’ history of the period is very large, and there is only one brief mention of the Christian cult. That passage appears only in Greek translations controlled by the Church, and has obviously been tainted by emendation. Its authenticity has been called into question since the day it was first quoted by Eusebius in 324 AD.

Even if you were to have picked up a copy of one of the gospels in the second century, you couldn’t have called it “history.” You would have to lend it credibility based on faith, or decide there’s no reason to believe any of it. The same is true of many claims in Paul and the pastorals.

Pick a book. You don’t get very far before you start to have doubts. Matthew and Luke both open by saying that Jesus was born of a virgin. Right there we have good reason to consider the books very nice works of fiction. Then, when you compare books, you notice that the gospel writers cannot agree with one another. They all copy Mark and the hypothetical source, “Q.” Then they add their own, confilicting stories of the nativity, death and resurrection.

Mark is the oldest by textual evidence, so I’ll use it as a baseline.

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By Richard, March 9, 2008 at 12:00 pm Link to this comment
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Matthew says Joseph and Mary took Jesus to Egypt from Bethlehem until the death of Herod, to escape the “massacre of the innocents,” and then they returned to Nazareth. Luke says they went from Bethlehem to Jerusalem for the circumcision of Jesus, then they went to Nazareth. The historicity of the “massacre of the innocents” is highly questionable anyway. No other contemporary source mentions it, and I find it impossible that they would fail to mention Herod ordering up the slaughter of all Jewish boys under two years old.

In what order did Jesus meet his disciples? Matthew and Mark say he met Andrew and Simon at the same time, as they were casting nets, then they met James and John. The book of John says he met Andrew and “one other,” Andrew then went and found Simon and brought him to Jesus, then they met Philip and Nathanael. 

Mark says Jesus’ first miracles were the casting out of demons and healings in Capernaum. John makes a big deal of saying that turning water into wine was the “first of his miraculous signs.”

The stories of Jesus calming the wind and waves (Mark 4) and walking on the water (Mark 6) are very mythological. They harken back to the day of creation and primordial battles with Rahab (or Leviathan).

In Mark 5 Jesus cast a legion of demons out of a man, making them enter a herd of 2,000 pigs, which ran off and drowned in the lake. If it was known that the pigs acted on his command, he would have been held accountable for destruction of enormously valuable property, not just asked to leave the area.

In Mark 5 Jesus also resurrected a dead 12 year-old girl. Unbelievable.

Mark 9—The transfiguration, Elijah and Moses appear beside Jesus. Very mythological!

In Mark 9 a boy has epilepsy. Jesus heals him by casting out a demon. Epilepsy is not caused by demons.

Mark 11—“The Triumphal Entry” In John this happens five days before Passover. Jews hailing Jesus as king and chanting “Hosannah” would have been met with immediate violence by Pontius Pilate. In CE 45 a would-be messiah named Theudas claimed he was going to cross the Jordan with dry feet and liberate Israel. The Romans beheaded him and killed many of his followers, and the group disbanded. This is an example of an authentic messiah story by Josephus, by the way.

The portrait of Pilate as symathetic is contrary to the only other contemporary accounts. Philo of Alexandria and Josephus both say Pilate was removed from office for being excessively brutal. The NT makes him appear incompetent and wishy-washy. He wanted to release Jesus but only executed him because he was intimidated by the Jews?”

The clearing of the Temple. Mark has it after the “Triumphal Entry” to Jerusalem. John has it much earlier, before most of his miracles in Capernaum and Galilee.

The “passion in the garden.” In one place there’s no garden. In another there’s no passion. John also leaves out the “last supper.” Instead Jesus washes his disciple’s feet.

Mark 14 (also Matthew 26)—Two days before passover, at Simon the Leper’s house in Bethany, “a woman” breaks a vial of expensive perfume and pours it over Jesus head. In Luke, Simon the Leper’s house is in the city of Nain (40 miles from Bethany). They dine there shortly after Jesus resurrects the widow’s son. In this book, “a woman who had lived a life of sin” kisses his feet, wets them with her tears, then perfume, then wipes it with her hair.

In John, they are in Bethany, six days before Passover, at the home of Lazarus, Mary and Martha, not Simon the Leper. It is Mary who annoint’s Jesus feet and wipes them with her hair.

Mark says that whenever the gospel is preached this story will also be spoken of in memory of her. Unfortunately, like most of the rest of the gospels, the writers can’t decide what the story is, how to tell it, or when and where it happened. The stories probably began, by word of mouth, after Paul created Christianity.

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By Richard, March 9, 2008 at 11:50 am Link to this comment
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The betrayal and fate of Judas: If Jesus was a public figure dangerous enough to arrest, why did somebody have to point him out? It seems like a story made up just to make the life of Jesus jive with prophecy. 

In Matthew, Judas throws the thirty pieces of silver to the priests at the temple, then goes and hangs himself. The priests buy the Potters Field and name it “Field of Blood” because they can’t return blood money to the treasury. In Luke Judas buys a plot of land, mysteriously falls there, and his innards blow apart. That’s why they name it “Field of Blood” (Acts 1:18).

In Mark 14 a disciple cut off the ear of the high priest (John says it was Peter). What, no reprisal for that?

Mark says that Jesus was crucified the day after Passover. John says he was crucified the day before Passover.

The Theif on the Cross: Mark 15 says those crucified with Jesus hurled insults at him (Matthew also). Only Luke says that one thief rebuked the other, and was told “today you will be with me in paradise.”

Matthew’s account of the moment of Jesus death is fiction—the temple curtain torn in two, an earthquake. There’s no written or geologic record of an earthquake at that time. There’s also no record of, people coming out of their graves. Who were those “saints,” and what happened to them? Did they move back into their original homes and jobs? Were their families also resurrected? Did they die again after they had their proper threescore and ten years, or did they ascend to heaven in bodily form like Jesus?

Mark 16—The Empty Tomb. This story makes no sense. A tomb was a lavish burial, even in those days. Jesus was a convicted criminal and would have either been left on the cross for the birds to eat or thrown into a mass grave to be consumed by dogs, not wrapped in fine linens and placed into a tomb that no body had ever occupied. It’s doubtful that any afluent person (Joseph of Arimethea) would want to be associated with him, risking similar treatment. So there wouldn’t have been a tomb to begin with. If there had been a tomb, it would have been venerated by his followers. There’s absolutely no evidence that a tomb was ever venerated, which probably means there was no tomb.

In Mark, Jesus makes no post-resurrection appearances. There are just some women who find the stone rolled away from the tomb, the tomb empty, and a “young man” in white who tells them Jesus is risen, and that they should go tell the disciples to meet him in Galilee as previously instructed. They never repeat the message, yet somehow the writer of Mark finds out about it. 

In Matthew, Mary of Magdala and “the other Mary” see the living Jesus. In John, Jesus confronts Mary of Magdala and tells her to go tell his brothers he is going to ascend, so she does it. In Luke the two women are confronted by two men in dazzling garments who gave them a short message. They return and report everything to all eleven.

The supposed appearance in the upper room in Jerusalem—in Luke and John, Jesus appears to all of the disciples. Matthew makes no mention of it. Instead it says all of the appearances were in Galilee.

To highlight problems with the rest of the NT, and trying to make a good story out of the whole:  In I Corinthians 15:4-7 it says that Jesus appeared to the twelve apostles (so Judas was honored with a visit), then Jesus supposedly appeared to more than 500 people. Nobody mentioned the 500 until Paul; why not? Why didn’t the historians write down their names? Somebody coming back from the dead would have been very significant, and this is supposed to be evidence. There’s no way to go verify it.

You don’t even need scientific method to reject all of this. Logic is a good enough tool.

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By Maani, March 3, 2008 at 6:21 pm Link to this comment

Richard:

“I think it’s fair to be skeptical about the historical Jesus….[T]here were many people claiming to be messiahs around that time. The historians mentioned some, but nobody named Jesus.”

Have you read Josephus?  He is widely considered the most reputable historian of the period.  And he mentions Jesus by name.  Indeed, I have never seen ANY other specific names mentioned by any other scholars or historians.  Please provide these if you have them.

“There are a lot of things in the gospels that don’t make sense and seem made up.”

“Seem” being the operative word here.  As for things that “don’t make sense,” if you have specifics, please provide these, and we can look at them.

“Religion doesn’t like to be investigated. It always says, ‘thus far shalt thou go, and no farther.’ So it begins and ends as a supposed certainty, while using the language of faith…Attempting to collect data about god is blasphemy: “You shall not put the LORD your God to the test…”

This is where you and the entire scientific community (particularly anti-faith zealots like Dawkins, Harris et al) make your biggest mistake.  It is not that religion “doesn’t like to be investigated” or that “attempting to collect data about God is blaspehemy.”  Rather, by your own (correct) admission, “Science backs up theory with experiment. The truth about an experiment is in the data. It is collected, reduced, and made available for review. Models are refined, and giants stand on the shoulders of giants.”

Thus, while there may be areas where SOME attempts at study can be made (e.g., the efficacy of prayer), faith is CLEARLY not within the realm of empiricism or the scientific method.  So attempting to apply it is not only doomed to failure, but only makes the scientific community (via polemicists like Harris and Dawkins) look foolish.  Indeed, I know quite a few scientists (rabid atheists all, including my mother) who believe that Harris, Dawkins et al are doing science a SERIOUS disservice via their arrogance and extremism, and their attempt to “overlay” empiricism and the scientific method onto something which, by its very nature, is anathema to them.

As well, you note the “language of faith.”  And I believe that such a language exists - and that unless you are a person of faith, you cannot truly understand it.  But there is a parallel in science: there are certain areas in science in which the language used to discuss them is so arcane and “particular” that only a few people can understand it; not even most other scientists can.  So I don’t believe it is fair to criticize people of faith if they cannot explain themselves accurately to non-believers.

Joan said, “If you only believe in the material, I am afraid you will be limited in your understanding of the world… religious belief or not.”  This is a good paraphrase of Shakespeare: “There is more in heaven and earth, Horatio, than is dreamt of in your philosophy.”  Words to take to heart, Richard.

Joan adds, “The understanding comes from trying to practice the values Christ maintained.  Then you learn the nature of the spirit or divine spark. And it is important to separate the spirit of Christianity from any organized religion as I have said for the umpteenth time.”

To this, I can only say “ditto.”  In the strongest terms.  (LOL)

Peace.

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By Joan, March 3, 2008 at 4:34 pm Link to this comment

Richard,

For someone who presents himself as scholarly, I am quite shocked that you would dismiss any work before even looking it over…this is just prejudice not enlightenment. Schonborn’s work is very philosophical. It addresses issues that are beyond the material level of understanding. If you only believe in the material, I am afraid you will be limited in your understanding of the world… religious belief or not.

You denied my contention that the main activity of the Christian was to seek his God. You gave me an entire slew of biblical verses to supposedly support your contention…Schonborn’s quote refutes your assertion…candidly speaking, I do not think you understand this Christian ideology which is only touched upon by books. The understanding comes from trying to practice the values Christ maintained.  Then you learn the nature of the spirit or divine spark. And it is important to separate the spirit of Christianity from any organized religion as I have said for the umpteenth time. 

Acceptance of Christianity comes from understanding that what you have heard about from Christ is true, based on your personal experience of it. This is no different than observing that the laws of gravity maintain…there is spiritual law so to speak… a way of being in our spiritual lives that works constructively for us and ways that are destructive to us… you believe it is all destructive so I sense you have been engaged in a very destructive strain of Christianity that you ought to reject. I suggest you take look at the scant words Christ spoke and evaluate their merit. And then see if you get a more accurate idea of Christ’s philosophy.

Eden is a matter of proximity to God, not the object of an archeological dig… we are all born into the possibility of Eden, in my estimation…

If you want to know where Harris and Dawkins are unscholarly look at Crean’s work…but you refuse to read the refutations…one glaring error Harris makes is hinging his arguments on a methodology long rejected by serious philosophers…he is attempting to put something over on lay persons though which to me is reprehensible…that is the condition that every statement be provable empirically…philosophers realized this was a self defeating test for knowledge…we could not say many things if we had to be able to demonstrate everything we said. This empiricism was rejected almost as quickly as it was suggested and as a once philosophy major, Harris should be well aware of this… So his entire thesis falls short. There are numerous scientific statements that are not demonstrate- able and it is an act of faith on your part to assert that they will be demonstrated ultimately…you have no way to prove this contention…so why hold religion to that impossible standard, one that science itself cannot attain. This is poor scholarship and poor analysis. So there is one example of what I mean here…

Joan

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By Richard, March 1, 2008 at 4:09 pm Link to this comment
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I saw the quotation on the Schonborn site. Sorry, but I wouldn’t read his book if they were giving it away. I have a huge backlog of reading, and I don’t have the patience for anything written by a cardinal. I can’t figure out why I should respect a cardinal’s opinion on one single thing. I had a strong gut-level reaction to just seeing Schornborn’s picture. I despise the cardinals and everything they stand for.

Their history of brutality is the biggest reason. There are other factors, and I’ve written on them before:

1. Fearmongering for control

2. Presumption of superior knowledge about the important questions of human life

3. Paternalism and presuming to decide what’s best for us

4. Refusal to back down on birth control and condom use, which would improve the lives of millions

5. The role playing expected of us in support of them

I’m sure there’s more I could add.

I think it’s fair to be skeptical about the historical Jesus. There are a lot of things in the gospels that don’t make sense and seem made up. Also, there were many people claiming to be messiahs around that time. The historians mentioned some, but nobody named Jesus.

Your remark about certainty reveals our difference. I’m not on a quest for certainty, just reasons to believe or disbelieve. I’ve quoted popper before. Consider this one: “The old scientific ideal of episteme—of absolutely certain, demonstrable knowledge—has proven to be an idol. The demand for scientific objectivity makes it inevitable that every scientific statement must remain tentative for ever. . . For the worship of this idol hampers not only the boldness of our questions, but also the rigour and the integrity of our tests. The wrong view of science betrays itself in the craving to be right; for it is not his possession of knowledge, of irrefutable truth, that makes the man of science, but his persistent and recklessly critical quest for truth. [all emphases Popper’s]” From the final chapter of The Logic of Scientific Discovery.

There’s a paradox here. Although science can only lead to “faith” in theories, our body of knowledge is certainly growing. There are a lot more things we can have confidence in today.

Science backs up theory with experiment. The truth about an experiment is in the data. It is collected, reduced, and made available for review. Models are refined, and giants stand on the shoulders of giants.

Religion is only theory. People may think they experiment with god in their own lives. There are no controls; typically a bias towards acceptance. Religion doesn’t like to be investigated. It always says, “thus far shalt thou go, and no farther.” So it begins and ends as a supposed certainty, while using the language of faith. And why believe it? Becsause so-and-so said “blather blather”?

Attempting to collect data about god is blasphemy: “You shall not put the LORD your God to the test. . . ” Nevertheless, experiments can be done, like the recent one on prayer for healing. Similar experiments could probably test for a god who supposedly sees people through adversity. The results to date haven’t reinforced the efficacy of personal relationships with deity. The presence you say you experience may just be a physiological response to what you imagine. In any case, it’s not an argument for anybody else.

Do you really believe there was a Garden of Eden somewhere, that the current state of human existence is because we fell away from a prior utopia? I don’t think there’s any archeological evidence for that! I was mainly countering your assertion that looking at nature makes us think of order and intelligence. There’s a great deal of disorder and fault.

PS: I’d like to know specifically where Harris was un-scholarly. Maybe it’s something I’ve already read and you can help bring an error to my attention. I haven’t read anything by Dawkins yet, only seen him in an interview or two.

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By Joan, February 25, 2008 at 3:36 pm Link to this comment

Richard,

Note quote in black box on top of this website…under title “The Schonborn Site” …

http://www.cardinalschonborn.com/

Joan

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By Joan, February 25, 2008 at 1:47 pm Link to this comment

Richard,

Part 2

Personally it seems to me your fight is with the brutality of organized religion. There I join you in condemning very brutal histories. If you want God to smooth the wrinkles you have in your perceptions in other planes of understanding, you may give Him a chance to get in a word or two once in a while.

You are extremely passionate in you feelings and pretty authentic. I highly respect that. So in your quest for certainty, I strongly recommend two books “God Is no Delusion” Thomas Crean, O.P. and “Chance or Purpose, Cardinal Christoph Schonborn. I think they are both paperbacks and not terribly pricey.

These are fairly scholarly works unlike that grade school level and inaccurate claptrap Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris write…check them out. And believe me Harris and Dawkins are shockingly inaccurate for supposed scientists.

They are available from http://www.Ignatius.com 

Joan

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By Joan, February 25, 2008 at 1:45 pm Link to this comment

Richard,

Part 1

In the face of so much evidence despite Dawkins rants on the subject, denying the historical Christ is just silly…and, yes, Paul was a major architect of Christian theology for what that is worth…would never spin theology out of my own revelations and I do not think people should. There is plenty in the Bible to anchor a believer. There is no need for future revelation to further confuse people…not sure John Paul or Mother Teresa were saintly…

And the masses, well they ineptly follow all sorts of ideologies, from worshipping thinness as salvation to adoring Dear Leader in North Korea…People fall under the spell of all sorts of power hungry, vain people who want to control the masses. Historically,  these leaders are far from benevolent. Religion has no monopoly on this phenomenon and you know this. We have brains and information. If people blindly follow ideologies that is their doing in this day and age, especially in the Western world.

No matter what we are taught, we think for ourselves and draw our own conclusions…I believe that the metaphysical truths embodied in Christianity, many of them are self- evident.

Regarding my relationship with my own mind, you must realize logically that I could not possibly encounter in myself what I do not have there. What I experience is not within me as a source but within me I have a capability to experience something other than myself that transcends me. I know it is another presence because I can distinctly recognize when it is absent…and I cannot have the experience at will.  Nice try but I know what I am and what I am not…

RE: God and nature…

Your idea of God is that for God to be respectable, He should have given us an Eden. Whoops…Genesis claims He did just that and man did not like the terms…God’s idea of man is that he should be of solid character…So let’s blend these two notions…

After His rejection in Eden, it came to pass that if men did not include God in his life then men would have to go it on their own. Seems pretty logical to me. While God is in the character building business, He keeps the doors of Eden open to those who will uphold their part of the bargain… if God is the co-pilot, He will man that adversity that He deems necessary to sculpt His creation into a higher form of being together with you. You will not be in the depths of adversity alone but enfolded in His mantle. Seems pretty even-handed and generous to me. He will maintain you in that Eden in the face of adversity. But He will not undo His nature for you. He is of strong character Himself and it is His gig, this creation. He designates us as a natural creation but gives us also a spark of Divinity that can give us a different set of eyes to conceive of and understand the world. He will see which path you commit to and respond to you accordingly. The doctrine of free will is in full play. Put in other terms less mystical…both my daughters were high-level gymnasts. They did not achieve this but other then sweat, tears persistence and both physical and emotional challenge and suffering, personal injury. They were state ranked and benefited in so many ways from that rough and arduous path I cannot even begin to describe them. The benefits overwhelmingly outweighed the adversity.

Joan

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By Richard, February 24, 2008 at 5:13 pm Link to this comment
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It’s more likely that Paul invented Christianity than that a person named Jesus did the things described in the gospels. Regardless of anything in the text that you consider revolutionary, or the tortuously slow metamorphosis of religion into the make-nice thing it is supposed to be now, it still has inherent dangers. It teaches people to blindly follow. No matter what, you must first believe.

That faith is used to control the masses. Christianity has been used by authoritarian bastards from Alexander to the present to justify atrocious crimes. Good people will do good things without God or religion. Bad people will do bad things (then maybe go ask forgiveness). To motivate good people to do bad things, you need priests.

Whether you want to interpret the text blindly, take a purely personal, devotional approach, or use historical critical method (my preference), there’s no reason to really believe the source. Theology can only be based on revelation, on “Somebody else said blather blather, and he talked to God.”

I think you are developing a “relationship” with a figment of your own imagination, albeit one backed up by thousands of years of tradition. You would never have this kind of “relationship” with any other individual; you’d think it a one-way street. What if I gave you my phone number and said, please call me every night? I’ll be there, and you can talk as much as you want, but I’ll never say anything. You might imagine you hear me breathing; that’s all. That describes prayer, the prime ingredient of a “personal” relationship with today’s most popular deities.

I was taught that there could be post-Biblical revelation. “There will be many false prophets.” “To the Law and the Prophets. If they speak not according to this Word, there is no light in them.” If there wasn’t the possibility of true revelation, we wouldn’t have been given such tests.

So what about modern day people who claimed revelation from God? They have all turned out to be liars – like Joseph Smith and Ellen G. White.  That led me to think that anybody who ever claimed revelation could also have been a liar. I started to dig more deeply. I found inconsistencies, impossible scenarios, and probable fabrications in all of the texts.

I don’t believe that anybody was ever a saint either. Just because the Church says they were saints, doesn’t make it so. If you follow the discussion and criticism of Pope John Paul II and Mother Theresa of Calcutta, for example, you’ll learn there many reasons to think they were less than holy. And lies are being told to keep them on the fast track to sainthood. It was probably always the same routine, with the ones already canonized.

I’m glad you think you can hold your private ideas that heaven, hell and purgatory are figurative. Millions of people have lived their lives in constant fear of them being literal, and that’s certainly what your Church teaches. They hired artists to carve hideous demons into the arches of the chapels to make sure people never forgot the horrors of hell.

When we learn about nature, it’s puzzling to think there could be a deity involved in it at all. If everything I see is random, there’s nothing to fear. If there’s a deity behind it, that deity must be totally arbitrary (or above our knowing, which is effectively the same, from our inferior position). That deity should be hated, not revered. Have you essentially just cried “Uncle?”

There’s a paradox, in that what’s evil for one can preserve another. A tsunami wipes out entire families, giving only the survivors the chance to hand down their genes. Predators grow when nurtured by the flesh and blood of their prey. A medicine that provides tremendous relief for parents leads to monstrous deformities in their newborns. If a divinity authored those laws, they are just the sorts of things I’m talking about. Why revere that deity or the sons of bitches who thrive on belief in it?

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By Joan, February 21, 2008 at 3:55 pm Link to this comment

Richard,

Christ brought about a revolution in organized religion, which is where you seem to hail from. Admittedly there are Christian sects that want to interpret God blindly on text and law. They do not understand Christ. Christ made a radical departure. He taught law was made for man not that man was made for the law. He then proceeded to heal on the Sabbath in clear violation of Jewish law. He also demonstrated by his example that his followers were to develop a personal relationship with his Father, addressing the Deity as “Abba”, Father, as he did. It was in the example of his life that Christ gives witness to my position that we are to develop the relationship before we can begin to understand the richness of Scripture…no one in their right mind can just blindly ascribe to the Bible without some spark of Divinity making sense of it. It would be meaningless information without our experience of God. That goes against all the reason with which we are endowed. Granted we do not understand everything as we do not understand all of science. Likewise quoting scientific laws with no observations of the universe to make sense of them would make the info in a science book seem nothing more than gibberish.  I know of no one who preaches the Bible is a complete revelation. It is the revelation of those who had revelations.

The relationship with God as paramount is very much a part of Catholicism, which differs radically from Protestant sects that are heavily biblically oriented. Catholicism reveres saints who are believed to have experienced God like Teresa of Avila. So, no, I am not making any radical departure here at all.

As for heaven and hell and purgatory maybe they are more figurative than literal…heaven would be that state of being in reconciliation with God; hell when one is not so and purgatory when one needs some revision or some mentalities purged before he can reconcile or bond with a Deity…

I do not agree with you that knowing about religion is not knowing about the world… by getting to know God, man gets to know about nature which I believe is reflected in His creation…intelligence, order, physicality and spirituality…cause and effect as well as probability ...evil destroys and good preserves…plants grow when nurtured and so do people. Both die when trampled or mistreated ...knowing scientific law is secondary knowledge compared to know their underpinnings…namely, the nature of Divinity that authored that law.

Joan

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By Richard, February 17, 2008 at 12:15 pm Link to this comment
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Your idea of a God who is acknowledged to be a matter of private interpretation, or who can be updated to reflect current understanding, is very atypical. Fundamentalism prevails because of passages like:

“I the LORD do not change.” Malachi 3:6

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings. . .” Hebrews 13:8-9.

“Every word of God is pure; He is a shield to those who put their trust in Him. Do not add to His words, lest He rebuke you, and you be found a liar.” Proverbs 30:5-6

“The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever.” Isaiah 40:8

“And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts; knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.” 2 Peter 1:19-21

“I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.” Revelation 22:18-19 [two of the last four verses of the Bible].

What’s more typical is an idea of God like Maani’s. It has been altered and amended, but believers don’t even know when it happened, and it was not amended in a way that improves understanding or becomes more reasonable. Instead it piles absurdity upon absurdity, because what went before is assumed to still be true even though it contradicts what is added on. The confused set of concepts then masquerades as eternal truth.

The discussion I was having with Maani provides a prime example. People didn’t always believe in disembodied spirits going off to heaven and hell, and there’s very little support for the idea, even in the Bible. There was no firey hell or floating off to heaven. And what ever happened to Sheol?

Nevertheless, today the churches teach heaven, hell and purgatory too, and anachronism is also piled upon anachronism in attempts to show it was always true.

Pointing out these sorts of flaws is, at worst, blasphemy. At best, it’s impolite conversation; never seems to be a time or place for it.

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By Richard, February 17, 2008 at 12:10 pm Link to this comment
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Faith in a scienctific theory is due to the preponderance of observations. Religious faith is an observation-impervious assumption of truth. Comprehension is not related to the natural world, but separated from it. Understanding is only knowing about religion. It is never knowing about the world.

It’s impossible to say that people have ever gotten a single thing correct about a god. It’s inevitable that people get things absurdly wrong when talking aobut their gods. Almost every time somebody asserts anything about one, I find fault with it. The traits He [or She] is supposed to possess are constantly disproven by the evening news.

I think that humans are noble creatures, and our awareness of the feelings of others led to our moral teachings. It didn’t come from revelations or the authoritarians who perpetuated belief in them. Children need to be reminded of the feelings of others, or they behave improperly. Adults usually know how to behave, even if left to their own devices. Priests only pervert matters, and they do great harm by saying that morality can only be based on absurdities.

I will repeat. I find no reason to believe that any person ever born was able to talk to a god, particularly a god who is assumed to have the complexity required to create this universe. Any person who ever made that claim has committed one of those absurdities.

If I encounter a bad doctor, I go find a better one. The best doctors also seem to be good scientists by training. Quackery is often based upon faith, a hold-over from the days when the priests controlled medicine. I wish more doctors would do research before prescribing and operating. They treat a lot of different conditions, and can’t possibly have learned enough about all of them. Lots of data is available to them. Often they don’t take advantage of it and are overly impressed by their own expert opinion. I recently saw a doctor regarding an elective surgery. He was unable to tell me how often my problem recurs, but said it shouldn’t. He was also unwilling or too busy to go research the numbers, even though another “expert opinion” said recurrence was inevitable.

If a religion has bad clergy, it often is a direct result of their teachings. For example, as Hitchens pointed out: “You could say that sexual abuse of altar boys by Catholic priests was the result of sexual repression, rather than any doctrine of the Church. But then again, sexual repression is one of the doctrines of the Church.”—paraphrased from God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.

Kids who are brought up in church tend to think of the voice from the pulpit as being the voice of God, particularly if that church has a hierarchy of go-between heroes like the papacy. Kids are very susceptible to abuse of that hero status because they tend to be good and obedient. Their fear of being wrong will motivate them to simply bend over and take it from somebody in power.

You’re right. It ain’t over ‘til it’s over, and I’m open to seeing something astounding before I die. I won’t live in fear of Judgment after I die, though, and govern my whole life based upon that scenario. I’d also rather tell my children “there is no god,” than permit them to grow up in fear. They will be strong, independent, freethinking, and considerate of the feelings of others because those are the atitudes that will make their own lives satisfying. Those are principles that were instilled in me by my agnostic father just as strongly as my religious mother, if not more so.

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By Joan, February 9, 2008 at 6:35 pm Link to this comment

Richard,

Scientific knowledge is relative to the knowledge we have at any given moment. It is not absolute but rather under revision in light of supposedly new insights.  So is knowledge of a Supreme Being.  Over time we may evolve to understand His Supremacy better too as we do supposed scientific knowledge. In fact knowledge is just knowledge at that and we probably have very little of it, in the grand scheme of things. Our observation base and comprehension is ever changing and with that so are our conclusions. Just a bit of epistemology here.

Just as people have gotten a lot wrong in science, people have gotten a lot wrong about God undoubtedly. I think they have gotten a lot correct about God too. I base this on my personal experience, concluding the people in Scripture describe the same God I know personally in my own way.  But having the expectation that we know 100% about God is probably an expectation that is a tad high. We do not place this expectation that we know 100% on science. 

Just because one uses a bad doctor, it does not follow that medicine is bad. Just because a religion has bad clergy, it does not follow that religion is bad or God is dead. Religion, for all its failings, has brought order to our minds at times. Man left to his own devices is not the innately noble enlightened creature Harris likes to caricature. Left to our own devices we often have no idea about what to think or how to behave in certain circumstances and science will not provide the answers.  Religion can give order to our moral quandaries. No matter its failings, religions, especially Christianity, have extended the hand of brotherhood and charity so necessary that others, notably these high-minded, morally enlightened but rather self- absorbed atheists, have failed to extend.

You may no longer seek but that does not mean the world is void of a Deity. And like the Giants showed us last week…it ain’t over ‘til it’s over. You do not know what will happen to you yet that may have you re-visit your decisions. I actually re- visit my belief all the times and it comes back to haunt me.

Joan

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By Richard, February 7, 2008 at 9:58 pm Link to this comment
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We are willing to cut scientists a lot of slack because we continue to be gratified by what they prove and disprove, and the feedback loop between science and technology. Everything we learn is used to improve technology, and then technology is used to improve science. Amazing things are being done with nano-structures, in physics, biotech, and health. 

If we science had not been given some slack, medicine and cosmology would still belong to the priests. The belief that spirits control outcomes would still prevail, and we wouldn’t have nanotubes.

Conversely, religion hasn’t contributed a single useful new idea in thousands of years. I see no reason to cut it any slack at all.

I used to think I experienced God personally. Then I decided I was just imagining something that comforted me and I had grown up hearing about, and always backed up by a supposedly infallible revelation.

I think all revelations are ultimately flawed in some way, usually very important ones. They just don’t set themselves up to be tested. They set themselves up as unquestionable because of the Source they are assumed to come from.

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By Joan, February 2, 2008 at 2:27 pm Link to this comment

Fascinating post, Richard, really good. Of course, I see what you are saying about verification. My point is somewhat subtle. Many scientists presume as you do that these points will ultimately be verified …not sure that will happen but I digress.

My point is that dark matter, for instance, is inferred by gravity. And we are willing to cut scientists a lot of slack here, taking them seriously, as they meander along to find dark matter ultimately verified. Now I too have difficulties with revelation as a source of truth on its own. And you have talked with me long enough to know I have a sort of a unique view of God that diverges from mainline religion. I think we have to experience God personally and then we begin to make inferences like the way scientists have inferred dark matter from gravity. If you do not connect to God personally, in my mind it is hard to know which revelations you think are accurate.  I think to be open-minded, we should cut folks some slack …who knows…God may ultimately be verified too, as may dark matter be verified…I am not with you in sharing the presumption that all in science will be verified…I do not see a basis to believe that or thinking we are capable of comprehending all that it is occurring in the universe. 

Joan

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By Richard, January 25, 2008 at 10:10 pm Link to this comment
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Joan:

I am somewhat familiar with string theory and notions of parallel universes. Various theories have emerged that appear to resolve some of the difficulties with attempting a unified theory, and with differences between prediction and observation of cosmic energy. I am not a physicist or mathematician, and I have only a layman’s knowledge of these issues.  However, I am confident that, regardless of mathematical appeal, the theories will be considered speculative until tests are devised and they are not disproven.

I’d like to recommend a couple of articles that highlight a big difference between my way of thinking and what you are saying. The first article is in the October 2007 Scientific American, “New Beginnings,” by Charles Q. Choi. He discusses the ekpyrotic scenario proposed in 2001 and the cyclic model, derived from it in 2002. He says most cosmologists are extremely skeptical of the theories. One reason is that they posit “ripples before the big bang that passed the daunting barrier of a singularity.” Also, “the models were originally couched in terms of string theory, which many scientists disdain, because it calls for undetected extra dimensions of reality beyond those of space and time.”

Choi discusses new theories that propose real alternatives to inflation and do not require those extra dimensions. Two models arose independently and suggest a “strong push that kept the past universe from collapsing to a point.” The force comes from a “fluid of exotic particles that can exert more pressure than even dark energy.” Loop quantum gravity is another alternative to string theory that appears to explain a lot.

Choi says that future, very sensitive new telescopes could help to support the idea of a time before the big bang, but that, for now, inflation seems to be more compelling. He concludes the article by saying, “At the end, however, experimental data will decide between the alternatives.” In other words, the things you are talking about have not been accepted by science. They are still conjectural, and cosmologists won’t just accept them on faith.

String theory is not sacrosanct like Maani’s “True,” “False,” “He is,” “He is not,” based on assumptions of divine revelation to the magic sons of Abraham, and the subsequent wisdom of interpretation by rabbis and Jesuits. It is a fallacy to say that the hypotheses of cosmologists and faith in revelation are in any way similar.

I have never looked at the cosmological equations, but I am skeptical of the extra dimensions. I am even more skeptical of an eternal, extraordinarily complex being living in one of those dimensions, allowing It to exist everywhere in our universe, to know everything that’s going on (including my thought crimes), and to control the outcome of events (answers to prayer, the divine plan).

Furthermore, if there is such a being, I don’t find any reason to worship it, or even to believe it has my best interest in mind. I watch the evening news, and I’ve read some history. I have had a very good life. I care about other people, and I can’t accept that I’ve been favored by a supreme being. If everything that’s going on is random, I have no problem with it. If there’s a god in charge, then I do.

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By Richard, January 25, 2008 at 9:58 pm Link to this comment
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The second article I would like to recommend on this topic is also from Scientific American, the December 2007 issue. It was a fascinating biography of physicist Hugh Everett. It reveals the epistemological difference between true science and intellectual snobbery.

Hugh Everett was the first to seriously propose the idea of alternate parallel universes. He put forth a mathematically consistent model of his “many worlds” hypothesis that produced alternate universes from quantum mechanics equations, rather than assuming his “truth” as inputs. His professors apologized to the physics establishment for Everett’s work, because it broke with tradition. They said he certainly wasn’t trying to question the established wisdom, but augment it. They severely expurgated his thesis before publishing it.

Everett had said the Copenhagen Interpretation of physics (the established wisdom) was a philosophic monstrosity. He quit theoretical physics and went to work at the Pentagon. A loner and an alcoholic, in 1982 he died of a heart attack at the age of 51.

Everett’s unexpurgated thesis was resurrected, and the whole field of quantum computation is now based on his work. David Deutsh, a founder of that field, said “A great deal of harm was done to progress in both physics and philosophy by the abdication of the original purpose of those fields: to explain the world. We got irretrievably bogged down in formalisms, and things were regarded as progress which are not explanatory, and the vacuum was filled by mysticism and religion and every kind of rubbish. Everett is important because he stood out against it.”

A sidebar to this article illustrates the enormous epistemological difference between the Papacy and Phillip Pullman, the controversial author The Golden Compass. Catholic schools pulled Pullman’s books from the shelves when his atheism came to light. But what does Everett have to do with Pullman? Pullman’s fantasies take place on parallel worlds, and it’s no coincidence. The sidebar notes that a physicist in one of Pullman’s stories mentions Everett’s 1957 hypothesis. In another story, experimental theologians propose a “many worlds” heresy.

Everett and Pullman rejected the traditional model in their own fields in favor of better ideas. The model in Pullman’s field is The Chronicles of Narnia, which Pullman called “one of the most ugly and poisonous things” he’s ever read. (http://www.cbn.com/cbnnews/274798.aspx).

The establishment despises and destroys the Everetts and Pullmans of the world. They cannot be tolerated because they question important things. Stand up and salute. Kneel down and pray. Don’t exceed the speed limits. Stay in a nice, straight line. Most importantly, however, don’t be a Galileo, Darwin, Everett or a Pullman.

I don’t think we were “designed to comprehend the entire universe.” I think comprehension helped us to survive, yet I know that humans are terribly flawed. That’s why science needs a testing program. It helps us determine where assumptions were wrong. It’s probably the next phase in our evolution.

Assuming that something is beyond our comprehension is just a cop-out though. I think we should always inquire, doubt and ridicule the ridiculous, even if the Jesuits say you’re committing blasphemy (like when they demanded that Stephen Hawking and his associates not inquire of anything before the big bang).

There’s a lot I don’t understand, but nothing I’m afraid to try understanding, and nothing so sacred that I’m afraid to delve into, doubt or make fun of.

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By Richard, January 25, 2008 at 9:44 pm Link to this comment
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Joan:

You ask an interesting question about the book and the divine being. As I’ve said, theology can only be based on revelation, and I see no reason to believe that any person ever born was able to talk to god.

I wondered about the book and the divine being in college, and have been asking believers about it for many years. Most of them cannot separate one from the other. Give it a try. Ask a few believers if they first believed in a god, and then found one in the Bible that fit their beliefs, or first believed that the Bible is the word of God, and then learned about God from reading it. They will probably just be confused by the question because they grow up in a world where neither idea is ever in doubt. Ironically, a lot of ideas are mere tradition, like Maani’s theology below.

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By Joan, January 25, 2008 at 5:52 pm Link to this comment

Richard,

I am just passing through but here are some thoughts that linger in my mind as of late…dark matter, parallel universes…these are serious ideas proposed by serious scientists who infer entities like dark matter that are not directly observable…they are inferred by observing forces like gravity or mathematical equations in string theory for instance.

1.Why is it all right to accept what science infers but cannot demonstrate? How is this different from a person inferring God from different experiences, and

2. What makes you assume that we are designed to comprehend the entire universe? Isn’t that a bit like trying to drink the entire ocean, even though we can drink some water, does it follow that we can drink it all? What is you basis for thinking our species evolved the capability of perfect comprehension of everything? 

3. Do you ever conclude you do not understand something?  Is there more going on than you personally can possibly comprehend and why is this so unacceptable?

I could never be convinced of God’s existence by reading a book or hearing an argument. I think we know God first and then read our books.

1. Is your disagreement more with a book or with a Superior Being, Entity or Force Itself?

Joan

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By Richard, January 25, 2008 at 2:59 pm Link to this comment
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Maani:

Notwithstanding your ruminations about extra dimensions, and the absurd notion of an eternal, infinitely complex being creating itself, I am amazed at how certain you sound. Answering 1-7 of Locke’s with “True,” “False,” “He is,” “He is not.”

My main point in sharing my knowledge of what apparently is and is not biblical, is to highlight the fact that the whole theological construct you are talking about is man-made. We can look through historical theology and see exactly when various ideas were tagged on, yet you have such a determined faith in them!

The whole construct gives me so much doubt that I cannot swallow any of it. I have questions that cannot be answered. You seem to have answers that cannot be questioned. How is that possible, when these are just the ideas of men?

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By Richard, January 12, 2008 at 10:57 pm Link to this comment
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I have never written to Skeptical Inquirer, and I normally only use the pseudonym “Richard” on this site.

1 through 7 was my report about how Locke presents God. I don’t believe any of it.

A lot of your theology appears to be from tradition rather than the Bible.

1. “Shekinah” does not appear in the Bible. It’s a rabbinic term associated with the “glory of God,” or the angel of God that signified his presence. Yahweh was always represented as male. Then, of course, Jesus was supposedly a male incarnation of God.

2. It’s more probable that we are the creators of God. There are as many different gods as people believing in one. Most everybody worships a God like Joan’s—a personal conception that cannot be shared. In other words, the god only exists between their ears. Fundamentalism can’t even change that, but constantly tries.

3. No comment!

4. The Hebrews believed in a God who created everything and was responsible for everything, including evil (I Kings 22:19-23).

“The first of God’s creations: Lucifer/Satan?” This is not a biblical idea. Genesis 1:3 says the first of God’s creations was light (three days before he created the sun, with the sun and the possibility of photosynthesis coming one day after vegetation, but never mind all of that).

Satan was not an important figure in the OT. One would expect mention if the Satan/Lucifer/Devil/Serpent/ thing was not a mere composite of later theology. There was not a single mention of the character in the most important events of Hebrew history:

<li>The adventures of the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—not a single mention of Satan, Devil, or Lucifer</li>
<li>Joseph in Egypt, the Exodus, wanderings in the desert, receipt of the law – no mention</li>
<li>Entry into Canaan and conquest under Joshua – no mention</li>
<li>The period of the Judges, the united and divided monarchies – no mention </li>.
<li>150 Psalms, Proverbs, the Wisdom literature – no mention.</li>
</li>Exile and return , major and minor prophets – no mention </li>

5. Saying something is beyond our comprehension merely discourages free inquiry. It’s used as a cover for the things we do comprehend in the Bible, yet detest. It’s also used to cover the problem of suffering.

6. We discussed this Judge concept before—everything ever done by every person who ever lived (including their “thought crimes”), on every world in this infinite universe? How could such a complex being exist purely by accident? Ironically, this idea is upheld by people who contest evolution.

7. The idea of a burning place originally came from Gehenna – a composting garbage dump in a valley outside of Jerusalem. The OT said people made their children walk through the fires there for foreign gods. It was never an other-worldly place where people went for eternal punishment. That idea is more Greek than biblical. It came into Christian theology from the idea of Hades.

Heaven, as a “place where the eternal spirit lived in the presence of God after its bodily existence,” is also not biblical. In the OT, heaven was a gigantic, quasi-metallic dome that sat on pillars and covered the earth. God lived up there somewhere and poured water through openings from above. People didn’t go there after they died. They went to a place called Sheol –all of them. And there was no awareness of anything there (Ecclesiastes 9).

The New Testament talks about remaining in a grave, awaiting bodily resurrection at the end of time, not existence as a departed spirit. There’s a first resurrection for the righteous, and a second resurrection for the damned (Revelation 20). Those who take part in the first resurrection eventually live on a new earth which has no oceans [that is very mythological; good thing, it wouldn’t please the sailors and fishermen]) (Revelation 21).

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By Joan, January 6, 2008 at 6:24 pm Link to this comment

Maani,

Thank you for your thoughts on my thoughts. Re# 2, God is the Creator of even Himself. I think this is a fascinating idea.  I at times fancy that God, some utterly powerful essence or “beingness”, consciously decided on how to make Himself what He is. He chose His own dimensions like physicality, emotion, intelligence, creativity, spirituality, negativity (ie bad things are possible),choice. We the people are actualized expressions of the dimensions He sculpted into His own being.

I am worried I may be sounding too Heidegger? Heidegerian???. Is God just manifest existentialism? Do I still know what I am talking about?


Happy New Year all and to Tebaldi wherever you are!!

Joan

Joan

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By Maani, January 6, 2008 at 9:39 am Link to this comment

Richard:

Hi.  First, congrats on your letter in SI.  (I’m assuming it was yours.)  Not sure if you saw mine a couple of issues earlier. (It was the one that got a huge response based on my comment about Hitler; it was also one of the first letters in SI to carry the title “Rev.”  LOL.)

I want to address both your response to me and your response to Joan; the latter first, the former in a separate post.

I agree with Joan that the description given of God is “silly.”  Let me go through the points quickly:

1. God is Male.  This, of course, is silly.  Since Judaism is the first of the Abrahamic religions, it is instructive to note that they give God two spirits: a male spirit (usually referred to as Yhwh) and a female spirit (called the Shekinah).  It was Christianity that “combined” the two.  However, even here, the use of the male gender was simply a convenience; SOME pronoun had to be applied, and in a patriarchal society, “He” and “Father” won out.

2. He is the creator of everything.  (Including Himself?  Now THERE is a question for the ages!  LOL.)  Actually, I agree with this.

3. He is omnipresent (interestingly, that means He cannot move).  That depends on your definition of “move.”  If God inhabits additional “dimensions,” the very term “move” may have little or no meaning to those of us who live in four.

4. He is good (God cannot choose what is not good; He is determined by it).  I disagree.  In fact, this does not follow logically from #2; if God created everything, then He must have created “evil” as well, and must include “negative” attributes as well as “positive” ones.  The Judeo-Christian construct “transfers” this “evil” to the first of God’s creations: Lucifer/Satan, whose pride caused His downfall.

5. He is beyond our comprehension.  True.

6. He is the Judge of our deeds (everything ever done by every person who ever lived, including “thought crimes”).  True.

7. He will make every deed known, deal out rewards and punishments, including heaven and hell.  In general, true.  Re heaven and hell, it is important to keep in mind the original definition of “hell,” which simply meant “a place out of the presence of God.”  In other words, “heaven” was a place where the eternal spirit lived in the presence of God after its “bodily” existence, while “hell” was the spirit’s removal from God’s presence for eternity. The fire and brimstone stuff is a later construct.

Ultimately, Joan is correct when she says that one’s “personal experience” of God “cannot be shared.”  This is not only true per se, but also because the “language” doesn’t exist to adequately explain faith.

I’ll get back to you on your response to me soon.

Peace.

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By Joan, January 5, 2008 at 6:18 pm Link to this comment

Hi Richard,

I am glad you are reading that book. It is too long ago for me to remember all that much of it and I am getting too old to care all that much. But I did want to say Hi…”Hi”! 

The comment I want to make to you is this…the way God is described here is a bit silly and too literal for my taste. My conception is different and makes more sense to me but it probably cannot be shared, just personally experienced…it is a personal sense of divinity, if you get my drift.  Another thought I wanted to share with you is that I did not know Christians did not respect science as a source of knowledge until I read it on truthdig. You see all the nuns I had in school who taught math and science and my Christian family and friends, they did not get the memo. What a relief never to have to worry about education again. It’s so bloody time consuming.

Other than that things are rolling along pretty good for me and my imaginary Friend, God.

Joan

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By Malini, January 3, 2008 at 5:03 pm Link to this comment
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Happy New Year Everyone!

It is great to see the discussion coming up alive again!

My personal belief is that the topic in question is nothing but trouble to all… I mean man and animal.

Wishing happiness to all,

Malini

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By Richard, January 3, 2008 at 2:34 pm Link to this comment
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Joan:

Sure I’ll talk to you. I think of you every time I pick up my copy of John Locke’s An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. I read it almost every weekend. I’m about halfway through, and i’ts interesting.

He begins with the typical assumptions about God: 
1. God is Male
2. He is the creator of everything
3. He is omnipresent [interestingly, that means He cannot move]
4. He is good [God cannot choose what is not good; He is determined by it]
5. He is beyond our comprehension
6. He is the Judge of our deeds [everything ever done by every person who ever lived (including “thought crimes”)]
7. He will make every deed known, deal out rewards and punishments, including heaven and hell [he equivocated about eternal misery, but said it was very possible, and followed that up with a form of Pascal’s wager]

Some of the things he says are archaic, having been disproven by science:
Repeated assertion that we are perfectly designed for the world we live in. Survival advantage confered to individuals that adapt, and constant adaptation to an environment we are not well suited for is a much better explanation of observed reality.

I like Locke. He was very open-minded and skeptical of what was said in his day. Locke opens the whole essay by lambasting people for their intellectual laziness. There were many things they had called “innate.” He said it was just an excuse for not investigating them further. He also said that too much use was made of “borrowed principles,” which make absurdity acceptable.

For example, the operations of the mind were all attributed to Sprit. He said the only reason that was done was that people could not imagine how they could be attributed to matter. He said the concepts of “body” and “spirit” were useless for answering the questions of philosophy. How he would be vinidicated by the things we’re learning with FMRI!

I really liked sections XX, “Modes of Pleasure and Pain” and XXI, “Of Power.” His discussion about contemplation of happiness helped me wrestle with some troubles I’m having. It was just his discussion of the human mind that related. I don’t share his belief in God (any of 1-7 above), and it had nothing to do with anything I’ve found likeable in his essay.

I found validation of what I was saying about the Founders. Locke called concern for happiness, “the unavoidable concomitant of consciousness.” That definitely goes more in line with what I was saying about the Declaration. The focus was on what is right for man, due to his very nature, not the relation of it to some assumed Creator. 

In one very lucid passage, Locke contrasts the desire for exactness, in defining terms and concepts, with the kind of pseudo-intellectualism I’ve repeatedly encountered in life: “But this neither accomodating men’s ease or vanity, nor serving any design but that of the naked truth, which is not always the thing aimed at. . . loose application of names to undetermined, variable, and almost no ideas, serves both to cover our own ignorance, as well as to perplex and confound others, which goes for learning and superiority in knowledge. . .”

I totally agree with Locke’s separation of ideas into Real and Fantastical. Real ideas “have a foundation in nature; such as have a conformity with the real being and existence of things. . .”
Fantastical are “such as have no foundation in nature, nor have any conformity with that reality of being to which they are tacitly referred.”

I find 1-7 above to be borrowed principles belong to the Fantastical category. Understanding based on faith and religion invariably lead to loose application of names to variable ideas. I hope to see all areas of inquiry continue, without fear, in the direction Locke lead us—towards a natural understanding, using scientific method.

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By Joan, January 1, 2008 at 2:16 pm Link to this comment
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Not talking to me anymore, Richard…and where has Tebaldi gone???

joan

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By Richard, December 30, 2007 at 10:06 pm Link to this comment
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Maani:
My eyes are wide open. What I see is a history of violence committed in the name of the God of Abraham, and not just in the distant past. Very recently 80 children were turned over to the police by the Bishop in Rowanda, and then the little “cockroaches” were murdered just for being of the wrong race. As Hitchens said, “Perhaps you recall the apology that came out of Rome over this. Of course you don’t. There wasn’t one.”

When I began this discussion with you in ‘06, I hadn’t read Harris (other than the subject article), or Hitchens. This year I read Harris’ The End of Faith, and I’m most of the way through Hitchens’ God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. I would recommend them to anybody who has even a hint of doubt about their beliefs. Of course, I know that isn’t you. You have a “true” faith. Not one like the one I used to have but lost (because that isn’t really possible).

Harris and Hitchens seem to be onto something. Harris’ thesis was that even though many atrocities have been committed by the faithful throughout history, and right up to the present, faith itself has never been questioned, but it should be. It’s automatically assumed that faith is a good thing. How often have you heard somebody say, “YOU HAVE TO HAVE FAITH?” Faith is said to be the solution to the problems, never the cause. It supposedly softens the heart and makes people care more for others.

Hitchens, in particular, brings recent history to illustrate the point that religion itself is seldom to be credited for anything good. He has traveled the world as an investigative reporter, and has been right in the middle of the action. He says that the worse the voilence and more atrocious the crimes, the more devout the perpetrators turn out to be. They invariably have the backing of very powerful organizations, as with the Rowandan Bishop.  Good things done by the faithful are often done despite religion, not because of it. The majority are probably good. However, they are easily led into things like the crusades and Hitler’s genocide. Their faith becomes a convenient tool to use in leading them around by the nose. All you have to do to fire up an army is quote a little scripture. Onward Christian soldiers, marching into Iraq!

The trend may be changing over time. However, Harris points out that the doors of religious moderation were not opened from inside the organizations. The churches had their walls and doors beat down by people who were tired of having their lives run by what illiterates passed down orally, scribes recorded, and then clerics interpreted to their own advantage. The whole definition of infalibility has been changed, for instance. It used to include all aspects of life, which is why Galileo was excommunicated. Now my Catholic friend says the Papacy is only infallibile in matters concerning morality and faith (or some open-ended BS like that).

The accomplishments of science cannot be ignored, and the success of scientific method poses a great problem to religion with its reliance on a faith that has repeatedly been shown unjustified. So now we have guys like Haught, calling for less literal interpretations of scripture, and new theologies that embrace science, and an evolutionary understanding of the world while delving into the “hidden dimensions” [that science is supposedly incapable of delving into].

My question to Haught regarding those “hidden dimensions” is the same one I’m sure I’ve asked you more than once with regard to the Abrahamic religions: Why should I believe that any person ever born is able to tap into those “hidden dimensions”? What reason do I have to believe in the revealed word of any prophet, priest, shaman or fortune teller? Revelation is the only thing that a theology can be based upon. Why should I accept anybody’s claim of revelation?

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By Maani, December 8, 2007 at 9:55 pm Link to this comment
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Richard:

Re “God’s Warriors,” you are walking around with blinders on.  Yes, there are extremists in all religions (though Christians seem to have the fewest - at least at the moment.  LOL.)  But ANY religious (or, indeed, political) system can be (and usually is) “hijacked” at its extreme ends by those with narrow, radical agendas.

Are you suggesting that the ~100,000 Christians who participated in the Crusades represented the entirety of Christianity at the time?  They were but a small minority even then.  Nor does the current crop of fundamentalist evangelicals in the U.S. represent the majority of U.S. Christians (indeed, their number, and influence, has been shrinking slowly but surely; witness the fractionalization of the so-called Religious Right over the Republican candidates.)  Nor have Jewish extremists ever represented more than a small minority of the Jewish people.  Even in Islam, the actual number of “radical fundamentalists” is only a very “vocal” (and visible, given its violence) minority.  There are ~1 billion Muslims in the world.  Are you suggesting that those who commit violence in the name of “jihad” against the West - or even those who tacitly support that violence - represent a significant portion of that number?

Be serious.  While it by no means mitigates, lessens or justifies the reality or effects of the violence, the OVERWHELMING MAJORITY of believers of ALL faiths - including Islam - practice their faith quietly and privately, and do not support the violence done in the name of their faith.  Indeed, moderate Jews and Christians have been increasingly vocal about their non-support of their more radical brethren.  And although this is not happening to the degree that it should in Islam, it is beginning to.

Scientist or no, I did not realize that you buy into the Harris/Hitchens view of faith and religion; I thought you were more “reasoned” than they are.

Peace.

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By Burke, December 7, 2007 at 7:43 pm Link to this comment
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Y’all gotta slow down a little.

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By Richard, August 21, 2007 at 10:21 pm Link to this comment
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A timely special report began on CNN this evening, called “God’s Warriors.” This is the real news about the the work the faithful are doing to destroy each other and possibly our entire world.

Tonight’s piece about the Jews is already past, but it could be re-run. It’s not too late to catch tomorrow night’s piece on the Muslims or Thursday’s on the Christians.  All episodes are at 9:00 EST.

The series is reported by Christiane Amanpour, who did a fine, professional job on the first segment.

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By Joan, July 13, 2007 at 10:54 am Link to this comment
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Richard,

I agree with you and Popper that science correctly understood is an epistemology that delivers information based on what is demonstrably known at a given time. To me this is a very excellent conception of the endeavor. But that is not the popular conception of science. The popular perception of science is that it is more concrete and less fluid. In this perception, science delivers truth about the universe and that is the perception of science I am addressing. Armed with the this so called truth(?), there are people and, I believe that Harris is among them,  who are attempting to use science to disclaim God and there are people who are going to assert God’s existence using science, on the flip side of the coin.  As I see it, for these people, science is the new god. I believe that Karl Popper would agree with me though that yesterday’s science is often today’s heresy.

“The Economist” is a cutting edge magazine on any subject it undertakes to expound on. It routinely covers diverse topics, certainly other than economics. Its rendition of the world politic is, I think, unprecedented. So please do not be put off by it’s title. Any article I read there I am certain is well vetted.

I think there are some truths out there. I mean even Scully and Mulder operated on that premise. What I think are spiritual truths may not be what organized religions call spiritual truths. I am talking about a metaphysic rather then ideas like virgin births (that incidentally do seem to occur in the animal kingdom) or ascensions into heaven, body and soul. The truths I am thinking about are things like human life being a journey that is deliberately designed to develop one into a very full entity, maybe it is a journey of character development for instance for lack of a better terminology. I think what you take issue with is a set of dogma one isn’t allowed to question without fear of damnation that certain religious sects seem to foist on their followers. I don’t think that is necessarily good way for everyone to undertake this journey. But I do think it works for many.  Alternatively, we are given minds that explore for a reason, by deliberate design. I think there is a Higher Power that has designed us for this journey and certain groups of people in organized religions try to lead us to that Power, our final destination. But these groups are run by humans and humans are prone to error. So to me it is important that each individual think through for themselves their own reaction to certain spiritual beliefs and see what their own voices tells them about the rightness of certain doctrines, not just in religion but in science and politics whatever. But also this Higher Power pulls us with His invisible Hand along through the basic metaphysics of being human that He has designed and endowed us with. So He will guide each of us in the face of the numerous errors about life we encounter, in His own inimitable way. I believe that and I feel that pull like a strong magnet. And we are indeed electrically wired, an aspect of the scientific nature of our physiology.  I believe that biblical inerrancy is a tough doctrinal stance to maintain…to deal with the notion of inerrancy I use my personal experiences and juxtapose them against what I have learned of the Bible. And for me the spiritual lessons found in the Bible, many of them, I see played out on the stage of life.  This is the verification of the Bible that comports with the practice of science to demonstrate many of its spiritual claims. Neither science nor the Bible should be read as stories and merely taken at face value. 

Joan

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By Maani, July 13, 2007 at 7:41 am Link to this comment
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Richard:

I completely agree that the “scientific method” isn’t about “having the truth,” but being able to test it through falsification, reproducibility, etc.

However, the “arrogance” of science (and scientists) is that whatever is the “theory” at the moment is, for science, “THE TRUTH,” only slightly less so than the “received truth” of believers.  For example, scientists have, for almost 150 years, accepted Darwinian theory as “THE TRUTH.”  They have espoused it as being essentially unassailable, and battled ANY challenge to it from believers: not just “irrational” challenges that stem from fundamental “creationism,” but even rational challenges from believers who nevertheless have a deep understanding of and respect for science.

Yet right now there is a new paradigm being talked about in which it appears that other factors - including what they call “evo-devo” (evolutionary development) and even psychology - had as much or more to do with natural selection and even random mutation as many of Darwin’s claimed underlying causes.

And while it is true that these new developments serve to even more strongly support the overall theory of “evolution” (i.e., speciation and the move from ape to man), they are nevertheless proving Darwin WRONG on many counts - despite the absolute certainty of science over the past 150 years that Darwin was correct in all major regards.

So, yes, science is willing to “change its tune” as new developments in various areas arise.  But in between those developments, they are as “fundamental” about science as many believers are about their faith.

Peace.

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By Richard, July 12, 2007 at 9:48 pm Link to this comment
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Joan:

I meant to comment on your remark about “yesterday’s science.” The ability to modify or even overturn yesterday’s highly regarded ideas is the primary beauty of science. As Popper put it, “If you don’t hold your ideas up for possible refutation, you don’t take part in the scientific process. [paraphrased]” Science isn’t about “having the truth,” it’s about being able to test any idea that’s worthwhile.

It is religion that claims to have received THE TRUTH from a Higher Source, one which cannot be questioned or tested. Claims of Biblical inerrancy naturally follow. Truth cannot contradict truth.

I wouldn’t go to the Economist to read science, but then again, Scientific American has monthly features by economists. Last month, by the way, there was an article discussing a molecule even simpler than RNA or DNA, which could have had something to do with the beginnings of life on this planet.

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By Joan, July 11, 2007 at 1:36 pm Link to this comment
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Harlon57,

First off,I find your comprehension of the parameters of science different from mine.

On another note, Joan says,  “Personally I find those who harbor animosity against faith- based persons for past actions of organized religions really will not be influenced by anything I say about these past actions. There are just people with animosity against faith- based persons for various and sundry reasons and that’s the way it seems to be. Why should anyone who is rational for instance expect me to assume responsibility for the Crusades? 
I think it is a shame and travesty that certain contemporary illuminati like Sam Harris and Chris Hitchens and Richard Dawkins disguise intolerance of faith-based persons as the new enlightenment, however. This intolerance is on their shoulders, I think. “

Thank you, Harlon, for making my point so beautifully in your last post about the irrationality and intolerance directed at faith- based persons.

Harlon says, “In human discussion, what is prized is novel thought” And, Harlon also says “…, when they attack your character, they exhibit a lack of human decency and a lack of intellect.” Here Harlon is correct and I would think he for the most part intends to practice what he maintains.

BTW, I do have a couple of degrees in philosophy. I tell fellow contributors this as a courtesy so they know upfront that I have a background in disputation, the history of the evolution of thought and I hence have an unfair advantage. Were I dialoguing with someone with special expertise on a subject, I would want to know.  It is their choice if they want to continue the dialogue under these circumstances. I have not found my credentials to be problematic. I am not trying to win here or make converts. I am trying to enjoy discussion and companionship and keep my mind sharp. As one main contributor here, Tebaldi says, we have a friendship like barroom buddies here, maybe differing in viewpoints but attracted to the discussion for our candor and interesting perspectives that fall out of us after a few proverbial drinks. And if you read the posts on this particular thread I think you will see that that overall dialogue has been rich and challenging. As evidenced by dialogue on this post, regular contributors have accepted me, degrees and all. They have also accepted Maani and his atheist background and his having a career as an evangelical minister, his preaching, his remarkable knowledge of the Scriptures and his humor. We regular contributors have divulged at times personal and delicate viewpoints with the trust in human decency that they will be treated with respect, no matter how different or averse to another’s ideas. That is tolerance in my book. That is a major part of the American dream, toleration of differing viewpoints particularly on religion because America was to be refuge from religious persecution. You violate that needed trust when you deliberately look for a post for the sole purpose of maligning someone who takes you on or stands his/her ground.  On this thread if we had a bone to pick with a contributor (and this certainly has happened), we were forthright and resolved it in house. Many times when the road of opposition we were traveling got bumpy, we often smoothed it over with humor. Frankly, Harlon, I would be very hesitant to dialogue with you because if you got all annoyed with me, I would wonder if I cruised around would I find my name besmirched on some other thread. But like Maani I welcome you to the discussion in the spirit in which it occurs here, if you are so inclined.

Joan

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By Maani, July 11, 2007 at 10:14 am Link to this comment
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Harlon:

Since you are obviously also a completely humorless sort, it seems I have no choice but to, once again, put you in your place.

In the Love-Bombs thread, when I accused you of being a “fraud,” you came back and accused me of not knowing how to use the word in a sentence.  Yet I provided the Webster definition of “fraud,” and showed that it was YOU who did not know its meaning - and that you were, in fact, a fraud by the Webster definition.

Now the word is “lie.”  You accuse me of lying because two statements that I made seem not be consistent.  But that is not “lying.”  According to Webster, to “lie” is to “make an untrue statement with intent to deceive” or “create a false or misleading impression.”  In neither case do my seemingly different statements rise to the level of “lie.”

By the first definition, even if the statements seem not to be in agreement, there was no “intent to deceive.”  Re the second definition, the only “impression” I intended was that I was raised atheist, became agnostic, and then became a believer.  Since BOTH statements, however differing, lead to that same impression, the definition of “lie” does not apply here either.

Although I have no obligation to justify myself to you, for the record - and you can quote me here as often and as much as you like, because this comports with 99% of all statements I have made in this regard - I was raised atheist, became “spiritual” (agnostic) at about 15, a “believer” (in “God,” but not Christ) at 18/19, and chose to be baptized as a Christian at 22.

As for “conversion,” you use this word incorrectly as well.  I did not “convert” (“to [actively] bring over from one belief, view or party to another”) from atheist to agnostic, nor from agnostic to Judeo-Christian.  It was a “progession” (though I admit that the moment at which I changed from atheist to agnostic is something I remember to this day.  And though I do not remember the exact date, that is not of any consequence here).

On the other hand, I DO remember the exact date of my “personal Pentecost” (the event that led me to “give up the world” and become a minister) - because this WAS a truly “epiphanic” experience.  (It occurred over 48 hours from 5/31 to 6/2, 2002).

Finally, by lumping me with “the religious,” you show a lack of understanding of the word “religion.”  Correctly put, “‘Religion’ is about laws, rules and behavior; ‘faith’ is about a relationship with God (and Christ).”

I am a person of faith, not religion.  Yes, there is a place for SOME “religion” WITHIN my faith, but it is not what you clearly mean when you use the word “religious.”

Ultimately, you are not going to change the minds, hearts or spirits of the faith-based here, no matter how cogent your arguments.  Nor are the faith-based - no matter how well-grounded in science, psychology, philosophy, etc. - going to change your mind about faith and religion.

So feel free to continue engaging in LEGITIMATE, HONEST discourse/debate on all issues.  But don’t do it with some notion of “converting” anyone - and ESPECIALLY don’t do it if you cannot help yourself from resorting to personal attack, denigration, dismissal and character assassination.

Peace.

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By Harlon57, July 11, 2007 at 7:20 am Link to this comment

Actually I am tired of discussions with god-botherers.

You are willing to believe silly things, all the while science whittles away at the remaining questions. Questions, I might add, that are never answered by religion. Religion long ago uttered it’s last pronouncement on the world, and it was invariably wrong. And they prosecuted those who were right.

Maani’s latest post makes a joke of the fact that he did in fact lie about his background.

Even in the face of proof that he lied, he can’t bring himself to tell the truth. That is certainly sign of a weak character.

That says enough to me about the religious.

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By Maani, July 10, 2007 at 11:09 pm Link to this comment
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Since neither of you seems to want the other to have the last word on me, perhaps I might have the last word on myself?  (Though I doubt that Harlon will allow this…)

Okay, I am a liar.  Not only that, I am also a thief: I steal candy from babies.  I also knock over old ladies and hurl iceballs at tourist-filled buses just for fun.

My IQ is actually quite low, though thankfully I rank somewhere above “moron.”  I never graduated high school (much less went to college), and actually never got above a C in any class (except gym).  I did get my GED, and hope to go to a technical school to become an air conditioner repairman.

My mother is actually a secretary for an eyeglass company, and never even earned her B.A.  My father was a salesman in a local candy store.

I have never had a conversion experience; in fact, the only conversion I have ever undertaken is from dollars to euros.  I am actually an atheist who believes that Sam Harris is God.  In fact, I believe that Sam Harris is God, Richard Dawkins is Jesus and Bill Maher is the Holy Spirit.  (I’m trying to figure a role for Chris Hitchens here…Perhaps my “religion” can have a “quadrune” God?)

Ultimately, I am a hopeless prankster who comes on to websites simply to play with people’s heads, and cause havoc and mayhem wherever I go.  Apparently, I’m very good at it.

Hopefully, this confession…er…mea culpa will satisfy Harlon at least enough that he will be able to continue his discussions, both here and elsewhere, without feeling the need to refer to me every 15th line.

Peace.  (And carrots)

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By Joan, July 10, 2007 at 7:34 pm Link to this comment
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Harlon57,

Regarding statistics…I am not entering that slippery slope of uncertainty of accurate stats. Clearly, people kill lots of other people to attain power and prestige. They can wrap themselves in any ideology they please, be it a religious one or an atheistic one. The motivations and the executioners are all the same… The killers are cut from the same cloth.  Again I stand by my position that those who kill are godless no matter what they call themselves.

I feel no obligation to defend all doings of practioners of all religions as you probably feel no obligation to defend all the deaths in the Middle East as a result of American presence there.

Personally I find those who harbor animosity against faith- based persons for past actions of organized religions really will not be influenced by anything I say about these past actions. There are just people with animosity against faith- based persons for various and sundry reasons and that’s the way it seems to be. Why should anyone who is rational for instance expect me to assume responsibility for the Crusades? 

I think it is a shame and travesty that certain contemporary illuminati like Sam Harris and Chris Hitchens and Richard Dawkins disguise intolerance of faith-based persons as the new enlightenment, however. This intolerance is on their shoulders, I think.


Joan

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By Joan, July 10, 2007 at 7:10 pm Link to this comment
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Harlon57,

I am not sure where I have claimed transcendence is proof of God. I personally take transcendence to be an experience of God for me but I don’t believe I have ever shared such an idea with you. Proof of God for me would be maybe of a different sort…more like the Paley’s watch approach. Neuroscientists on both sides of the question about God’s existence claim evidence for their positions. No surprise here.

Does it bother me that we can stimulate portions the brain to get certain effects, not especially. Many seem to presume that God’s universe is not physical and we are not specifically physically designed for union with the Divine or Divine purpose. I do not. I think we are designed to experience the Divine, physically as much as spiritually.  We stimulate certain parts of our bodies and we get pain or pleasure.  Medics in the killing fields of Iraq are applying nerve blocks virtually on the battlefield to stop nerve paths from forming between the injured area and the brain, fooling the brain about the presence of an injury in order to facilitate healing. Does it mean that there is no injury? Of course not. 

The idea that God is only an external Being is only half true. I believe there is a Divinity separate from me but that I am designed to absorb that Divinity would I want to. I am a receptor of sorts. And the God I know is the epitome of physicality.  Drugs like peyote and opium are brain stimulants that people have claimed enhance the experience of God. If we were not of such a puritanical culture, we might be open to exploring such notions instead of being so restrictive about God and what He has wrought. How can the rational person look at all the sex here and about and the pleasure connected to it and deny that God has His Hands deep in the physical? It seems to me He is up to His Elbows in the physical nature of things, including the chemistry of the brain.

As for the neuroscience debate about God’s existence, neither side can rightfully claim victory at this point in time. Each side interprets its results with prejudice. You are incorrect…the reverse, using science to assert God is certainly being explored, perhaps more famously in the intelligent design debate centered on cellular complexity and probability thereof but I believe you should check out Newberg’s work for a more expansive view of the debate than yours thus far. 

Joan

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By Joan, July 10, 2007 at 6:33 pm Link to this comment
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Harlon57,

Let’s start with the last being first, you know how biblical that is. You elicited my assertion about not underestimating me through YOUR OWN PERSONAL CONDESCENSION towards me, teaching me the brain can be tricky and there are sleep states in which we dream and waking states et al. Who’d a thunk??? Whatever would I do without a manly male here to enlighten me????

Maani has nothing to do with my comments toward you about underestimating (read here…condescending) me.  And I am wondering if you can writea post without reference to Maani. To put this to bed, at least for me, you were very ungentlemanly towards him, sought out a post to malign him on which you are not a participant and undertook your character assassination, threading together cut and paste comments more than likely to me taken out of context because thus far you have been pretty loose with threading together assumptions about me being like Maani, as a case in point. Have you ever hear of the correspondence theory of knowledge? It is a theory knowledge that requires assertions have some correspondence to the state of affairs in the world, unlike the “I wish it were so theory”, which includes dreams and more wishful thinking… 

My positions do stand on their merit. And you will see that if I engage further with you. You however, thus far strike me as taking license and seem prone to making assumptions as an interlocutor. Thus far you have made false assumptions about Maani and me. I will now read further into your comments and see if I am on the right track about this. And I stand still by my position. You don’t’ have to agree with someone and you don’t have to believe what they say. I am all for healthy skepticism. But to seek out a new thread for the sole purpose of character assassination especially based on your dubious case in particular strikes me as nothing less than vicious. You owe Maani an apology. I believe you should have kept your differences with Maani in house. What you did is not forthright behavior and gives Maani no way to cover his back. Your quotes are right on the money i.e. personal attacks on others are signs of indecent human behavior.

Joan

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By Harlon57, July 10, 2007 at 5:21 pm Link to this comment

Joan, you said “Just a tip…You are setting yourself up if you assume I am mindless.”

I can’t help but notice that like Maani, you feel the need to warn me that you are smart. Is it some feeling of insecurity that forces you to tell me I could be in trouble if I take you lightly?

Why not let your powers of persuasion convince me?

Next thing you know, you will be telling me about your PhD, NAS rabidly atheist, geologist, scientist mother, and how much she approves of all you do.

That is exactly how Maani went about finding some source of authority to back up his claims.

“Gee, my mother has an impressive (but probably false) background, and she thinks I’m swell but you represent all things that are bad.”

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By Harlon57, July 10, 2007 at 5:08 pm Link to this comment

Joan, Please read the following, and check out the link to the entire interview.  I think you will find this work has been replicated, and is showing a physical basis for the feelings you consider transcendence, not, as you say, proof of god. You are the one who will be sorely disappointed, not I:

“I’m taking part in a vanguard experiment on the physical sources of spiritual consciousness, the current work-in-progress of Michael Persinger, a neuropsychologist at Canada’s Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario. His theory is that the sensation described as “having a religious experience” is merely a side effect of our bicameral brain’s feverish activities. Simplified considerably, the idea goes like so: When the right hemisphere of the brain, the seat of emotion, is stimulated in the cerebral region presumed to control notions of self, and then the left hemisphere, the seat of language, is called upon to make sense of this nonexistent entity, the mind generates a “sensed presence.”

Persinger has tickled the temporal lobes of more than 900 people before me and has concluded, among other things, that different subjects label this ghostly perception with the names that their cultures have trained them to use - Elijah, Jesus, the Virgin Mary, Mohammed, the Sky Spirit. Some subjects have emerged with Freudian interpretations - describing the presence as one’s grandfather, for instance - while others, agnostics with more than a passing faith in UFOs, tell something that sounds more like a standard alien-abduction story.

It may seem sacrilegious and presumptuous to reduce God to a few ornery synapses, but modern neuroscience isn’t shy about defining our most sacred notions - love, joy, altruism, pity - as nothing more than static from our impressively large cerebrums. Persinger goes one step further. His work practically constitutes a Grand Unified Theory of the Otherworldly: He believes cerebral fritzing is responsible for almost anything one might describe as paranormal - aliens, heavenly apparitions, past-life sensations, near-death experiences, awareness of the soul, you name it.”

http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/7.11/persinger_pr.html

The reverse is not happening, as you put it.

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By Harlon57, July 10, 2007 at 4:48 pm Link to this comment

Joan, as I previously stated, Maani thought there was significance in the conversion story. He uses it all the time. I previously stated that I didn’t find any significance in it, other than noticing that Maani thought it was effective.

I refuse to apologize to a man who lied about his background in an attempt to gain leverage.

My source for the numbers killed by the religious, and by secularists were provided by Maani. 

I chose to use them, even though I assumed they were falsely stacked in his favor, because I could show that the religious killed an outrageous percentage of the people alive during their reign of terror.  As I originally said, that doesn’t negate those killed by Stalin, Hitler, etc.  So I am not using statistics to lie. I am using them to provide some perspective.

By any measure, the percentage of the population killed by the supposedly religious, is outrageous.

Now, if you wish to say, well, sure, religion killed tens of millions, but secularists killed more, I think you are failing to put religion in a good light.  Your side has the obligation to prove that religion is holy, not deadly.

You see, I don’t believe in god.  Therefore, I think the killing done in the name of religion is done by the same kind of totalitarian barbarians that killed for all other reasons.

The cogent point would be that for a thousands of years, religious people killed non-believers, and those who believed in different versions of their religion in the name of god.  Certainly not solid evidence that religion makes people holy.

The last century provides many examples of christian religions backing fascist dictators in Italy and Spain, as well as Hitler’s National Socialists.

Religion has been a source of hate towards those who were not compliant for thousands of years.

Only the lack of efficient killing methods kept them from killing more people. But that didn’t stop them from torturing mercilessly then slowly killing millions of people.  All in the name of the god.

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By Joan, July 10, 2007 at 2:58 pm Link to this comment
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Harlon57,

A few other points…I know the difference between the sleep state of dreaming and the waking state of transcendence.  And dreams can be scientifically evidenced. Harris is even realistic enough not to deny the experience of transcendence. Furthermore, I know that it does not follow that that which cannot be demonstrated empirically is not necessarily non- existent.  And you might check out “Why God Won’t Go Away, “by Andrew Newberg, M.D.  The predicament of not being able thus far to empirically demonstrate the transcendent may soon be resolved as our understanding of the workings of the brain advances together with our medical technology. Harris and other atheists are naively banking on science to eliminate God but the reverse may happen. Stay tuned.

I think the assessment that religion is supposed to be the source of all good is simplistic.  I would think that religions, those ones taking the high road in societies and cultures,  hope to help people find their way to God. Good things can certainly be derived from other sources than religions, such as Martha Stewart and her good things, for instance.

Just a tip…You are setting yourself up if you assume I am mindless.


Joan

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By Joan, July 10, 2007 at 1:11 pm Link to this comment
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Harlon57,


If there are no implications to a supposed conversion as you have just maintained, what would be the motivation for Maani’s assertions about his own conversion?

Several regular posters and I have engaged with Maani on this thread for the better part of the last year. He has been a diligent and sincere interlocutor, despite our differing positions. I find that when one makes personal attacks, instead of arguing points or positions that one is arguing from frustration and a position of weakness.  Despite your accusations elsewhere of a lazy intellect in appealing to quotes,  I will offer some quotes regarding your vicious assault on this thread that you made against Maani, asserting here that he is lying. 

“In human discussion what is prized is novel thought.” Harlon57

“…when they attack your character, they exhibit a lack of human decency and lack of intellect. “ Halron57

I could not agree more. So given your own words, it is puzzling to see your assault on Maani’s character here on thread at which you have no history.  What exactly are you doing, going from thread to thread to execute character assassinations? I think you owe Maani an apology.

I don’t ever avoid Maani. We differ at times, sometimes very fiercely. We agree at times. He is interesting and methodical and most of all very sincere in his love of and commitment to God.  I have been trying to remove him from the equation to bring you back to arguing positions as opposed undertaking to personal assaults and not to avoid Maani. 

As for lying… in general, a lie is deliberately attempting to mislead one about the state of affairs. Disagreeing with another’s opinion is not the basis for maintaining one is lying. Lying occurs when one is knowingly giving out false information. I am more inclined to say Harris is a sloppy academic than accusing him of deliberately misleading the public as to the role of religion and world violence. It is silly to say that religion is the only major source of world violence while standing face to face with Kim Jong Il. But I believe Harris is more riding the carpet of wishful thinking for his one size fits all assessment of the human condition as opposed to outright lying, even though he is. 

Regarding your statistics, I will tell you there is a wonderful book philosophers refer to titled,” How to Lie with Statistics”, since the topic at hand seems to be lying.  You can give me sources for your numerical claims about the number of people killed at the hands of religion and maybe they have merit. But I think many statistics serve merely as parlor tricks. They are pulled out of the hat that serves the purpose at hand, bedazzling the unsuspecting with their spectacular side effects. I will automatically grant that scores of people have died in the name of religion. We saw that easily on 9/11. But in the end those who have died in the name of supposed religion, have really died at the hands of the godless, no matter what religion they appeal to for sanctuary for the atrocities.

Joan

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By Harlon57, July 9, 2007 at 5:36 pm Link to this comment

Joan, their are no implications that can be drawn from a supposed conversion.

The mind is an amazing simulator. Every night, you
dream things that exist only in your mind. People hallucinate during waking hours as well. Both the dream and the hallucination can seem quite real.

The mere fact that someone has a moment that feels transcendental does not in any way prove anything supernatural, nor does it confirm anything religious.

Harris has an opinion that I feel is too polemical.

Your point “I think Harris is a liar when he claims religions are responsible for inordinate amounts of cruelty in the world.” Is just as polemical. You claim he is a liar because he thinks an inordinate amount of damage is caused by religion. He has an opinion, you call it a lie.

Feel free to call him a liar because you dislike his opinion.

I call Maani a liar because he told varying stories about his own history. That is not analogous to Harris’ opinion.

Put it this way. Religion is supposedly the source of all that is good.  I would say that the fact that during their heyday, religion was responsible for killing 15%-25% of all people alive at the time, would be inordinate for a group supposedly giving us our morals.

Think about it. Religions killed between 1 out of 6 and 1 out of 4 people on the earth during their reign of terror. That reign of terror lasted for centuries. There was no escaping it.

Certainly Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot and the like killed more people, but less than 2.5% of the people alive at their time. Very deadly to those involved, but a small percentage of the earth’s population.

Religion, given modern methods of killing, well, who knows just how many more they would have killed? They were pretty damned effective killing machines given their poor technology.

I know you want to avoid Maani, but I don’t.
Maani was the one implying that there was a significance to his conversion.  My point is that the conversion was made up because Maani thought it would assist his argument.

His supposed conversion not only did not convince me, his lack of ability to keep his story straight proved his undoing.

as the liar Maani liked to say, Peace

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