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A Reply to Mark Frank

This reply is too long to put in the comments section to the previous post, so I am making a new post.

Frank writes: “There is an important difference between believing things to be true a priori and having faith.”

BarryA replies: It depends on what you mean by “faith.” The first entry in the American Heritage Dictionary is what I mean: “Confident belief in the truth, value, or trustworthiness of a person, idea, or thing.”

Take your example. Yes, it is true that you don’t accept 2+2=4 on faith. But back up a couple of steps and you’ll find faith at a deeper level. You believe this mathematical formula is true, because you believe in the law of non-contradiction, which in turn means you believe we live in a non-chaotic universe in which there is meaning and in which logic prevails. You believe this not because you can demonstrate it to be true (Popper says, correctly I think, that universal statements can never be verified), but because you have a confident belief that it is true – i.e., you believe it on faith.

“To believe something out of faith is to believe it independently of logic and evidence.”

Not true. It is true that some people have a faith that is independent of logic and evidence. We call this “blind faith.” But one cannot extrapolate from that fact to the conclusion that all faith is blind faith. Blind faith is a subset of faith. I once read a novel called “The Skeleton in God’s Closet” about an archeologist who claimed to have conclusive evidence that he had found an ossuary containing the bones of Christ. I won’t spoil the suspense by telling you how the book turns out (I recommend it). I mention it because in the novel a liberal pastor was asked in a TV interview if it were true that the bones of Christ had been found would it have any affect on his faith. He said it would not because he had never really believed in the resurrection anyway. The reporter then asked a conservative pastor what he would do if the bones were proved to be those of Christ. He said, “I would despair.”

I agree with the conservative pastor. My faith in Christ is based upon my belief in his claim to be the Son of God who came to sacrifice himself to take away the sins of the world. My belief that Christ’s claim is true is not based on blind faith. It is based on a reasoned analysis of the evidence. Christ demonstrated his Godhood through many signs and miracles, the most important of which was his victory over death demonstrated by the resurrection. If it can be proved that Christ did not rise from the dead, my faith would be shattered. So you see, my faith is not independent of logic and evidence. Just the opposite is true. His tomb is empty and from that follows . . . everything.

“It may be that logic and/or evidence will support your faith, but what kind of Christian would give up their faith because they come to have doubts about the ontological argument?”

I can’t speak for others, but the ontological argument has never impressed me that much.

“Atheism in this sense is not a faith”

Again, it depends upon what you mean by faith. Based upon the dictionary definition I quoted above, it most certainly is.

“I don’t think it [atheism] is an a priori belief either.”

I never said that it was. I said that believe in metaphysical naturalism (which seems to me to be a necessary corollary to atheism) is held on an a priori basis. Surely you don’t dispute that.

“Most atheists come to their position because they can see no evidence for a deity.”

Not true. Any child can see the evidence for a deity. It takes someone with a lot of pride in their own limited wisdom (i.e., a fool) to deny the obvious evidence. Atheists don’t come to their position because they see no evidence; they come to their position by suppressing the evidence in their mind.

“Atheism has no logical implications for any kind of relationship with another being or for how to behave.”

Mark, I am sorry I must speak so forcefully, but this statement is simply absurd. For the ethical implications of atheism I will let Dostoevsky speak: “If God does not exist, everything is permitted.” The 20th century’s wars of atheism were caused by people who were not restrained by a belief in a transcendent ethical system established by God. If that is not an implication for a “relationship with another being or for how to behave” I don’t know what is.

“The morality of an atheist does not stem from their atheism. It comes from other sources such as a desire for compassion and fairness, which is just as much as a human desire as the desire for self-preservation.”

Not true. There are two and only two grounds for a system of morality. (1) a transcendent moral order; or (2) a subjective moral belief (i.e., each person makes it up as he goes). Let me ask you this: “If an atheist’s subjective desire to have sexual relations with a child is stronger than his subjective desire for “compassion and fairness,” on what principle should he choose “compassion and fairness?” There is none.

“Hitler was not an atheist. His religion was all mixed up but he was not anti-religious and to some extent he justified himself with religious language and there is no reason to think he was insincere. To quote from Mein Kampf . . .”

First, I don’t care what Hitler said about his religious beliefs (or anything else) in Mein Kampf. He was a mass murderer. He was also a liar. It seems to me to be the acme of naiveté and credulity to accept his word as any evidence, much less conclusive evidence, for any proposition.

Hitler was a pagan atheist. He was heavily influenced by the militant evangelical atheist Friedrich Nietzsche, who suggested the practice of a kind of neo-paganism, and that is probably the mixed up religion to which you refer. Nietzsche’s paganism was not based upon belief in a deity, and neither was Hitler’s. Hitler was fanatically anti-Semitic as we all know. But he was also fanatically anti-Christian. That is why Deitrich Bonhoffer and others were martyred by his regime.

“Communism does have atheism as one of its foundations but it is hardly the essence of communism . . . Had Marx decided that religion and communism were compatible the whole horrible business might have happened in much the same way.”

This is like saying, if red were really green everything would be different. It is not simply a historical coincidence, as you imply, that Marx and Engels and Lenin and Stalin and Mao and Pol Pot, etc., etc. were militant atheists. A commitment to metaphysical materialism (and its corollary, atheism) is in fact at the very essence of communism. That is why every communist regime has always had the repression of religion as its first order of business. That was true in 1917 in Lenin’s Russia, and it is true today in, for example, Belarus, where the communists are making a comeback.

“Although the sheer numbers of deaths due to communism outnumber all others it is not at all obvious this was due to the leaders’ atheism.”

Not true. Wars of atheism are and will always be much bloodier than wars of religion for the simple reason that religious violence is by definition committed by religious men. And while their acts of violence are reprehensible, as I have already said, they are at least checked to some degree by the ethical demands of their religion. There is no such check on the violence of an atheist. See Dostoevsky above.

“Western Europe is full of atheists and yet these countries are relatively free of massacres . . .”

Where do you think the Nazis and the communists came from? When they were in charge in Western Europe there were massacres such as the world has never seen.

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29 Responses to A Reply to Mark Frank

  1. Hi Barry,

    You make some good points concerning the potentially disasterous implications of atheism. There’s just one thing I don’t understand. You call Hitler a “pagan atheist”. Although he does appear to have drawn considerable influence from Nietzsche, I haven’t seen any evidence to suggest that he held such atheistic beliefs. I’ve always thought that Hitler was an occultic paganist who drew from a menagerie of religious systems. Can you cite any quote that he made which would suggest that he eschewed all deities?

  2. I had rather believe all the fables in the Legend, and the Talmud, and the Alcoran, than that this universal frame is without a mind; and, therefore, God never wrought miracle to convince atheism, because his ordinary works convince it. It is true, that a little philosophy inclineth man’s mind to atheism, but depth in philosophy bringeth men’s minds about to religion;
    – Francis “The Father of Science” Bacon.

    The essay is “Of Atheism” and can be found at http://www.philosophyofreligio.....heism.html

    Thank you again, Dr. Dembski for showing what depth in philosophy can do.

  3. Dictators, killed about 125,000,000 people under their rule in the 20th century. This is about three times as many as the 38 million killed in all wars of the 20th century. Communist dictator alone killed about 85 to 100 million.

    The presupposition of naturalistic materialism is thus demonstrably the greatest danger to life, liberty and civilization.

    The acts of communists are detailed in: The Black Book of Communism, Crimes, Terror, Repression. Stéphane Courtois, Nicolas Werth, Jean-Louis Panné, Andrzej Paczkowski, Karel Bartosek, Jean-Louis Margolin. ISBN 0-674-07608-7
    http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog/COUBLA.html

  4. Barry,

    Quoting:
    The reporter then asked a conservative pastor what he would do if the bones were proved to be those of Christ. He said, “I would despair.”

    A conservative pastor would know that such a proof is impossible. Instead, he would say, “In the Bible, which is 100% the inspired Word of God, God gives us the good news that Christ is arisen. His bones are not available for scientific analysis.” Any pastor that claims to be conservative and would answer otherwise is a fraud.

    Agreed, and that is what the pastor said in the book. But pressed to assume for the sake of argument that the bones had been found he said, “I would despair.” BA

  5. “Communism does have atheism as one of its foundations but it is hardly the essence of communism . . . Had Marx decided that religion and communism were compatible the whole horrible business might have happened in much the same way.”

    Actually, had Communism combined with a religious belief that strongly emphasized an absolute morality, I don’t think their proponents would’ve condoned the mass murders witnessed in the past century.

  6. Crandaddy

    How about this:
    “National Socialism and religion cannot exist together.” Adolf Hitler, quoted in Hitler’s Secret Conversations, 1941-1945 (New York: Farrar, Straus and Young, 1953), 6. Other, similar, quotes are gathered here:

    http://www.answers.org/apologetics/hitquote.html

    How do I explain Hitler’s religious blithering. Easy. There cannot be the slightest doubt that he took Machiavelli to heart:

    “Therefore it is unnecessary for a prince to have all the good qualities I have enumerated [religion was one], but it is very necessary to appear to have them . . . For this reason a prince ought to take care that he never lets anything slip from his lips that is not replete with the above-named five qualities, that he may appear to him who sees and hears him altogether merciful, faithful, humane, upright, and religious. There is nothing more necessary to appear to have than this last quality, inasmuch as men judge generally more by the eye than by the hand . . .”

    Niccolo Machiavelli, “The Prince,” Chapter 18, online edition: http://www.online-literature.c.....li/prince/

    Some might object that I said there was no reason to believe what Hitler said in Mein Kamp about being a Christian. Why should I now believe him when he said he was not. The answer to this is that the latter conclusion is consist with his actions; the former is not.

  7. Barry A stated: “Wars of atheism are and will always be much bloodier than wars of religion for the simple reason that religious violence is by definition committed by religious men. And while their acts of violence are reprehensible, as I have already said, they are at least checked to some degree by the ethical demands of their religion. There is no such check on the violence of an atheist.”

    If the historical (pre-20th century) wars of religion were fought with the same hardware that was at Hitler’s disposal, then the body counts would have been very similar, and the apparent distinction between religious and atheist conflicts would melt away. Religious conflicts were more limited in scope only because of technological constraints.

    Additionally, I am not convinced that religious wars were any gentler or restrained in relative terms than their 20th century counterparts. Karl Von Clauswitz said that “war is an act of violence carried to its utmost bounds”. Study any historical war launched by any party, and one will find Clauswitz’ dictum vindicated time and again by the pattern inherent in each conflict: escalation, liberal bloodshed and the rabid consumption of military and civilian populations alike.

    Most “religious” elements in historical wars were religious in name only. In the vast majority of cases these groups acted with the same brutality as members of any atheist group. Many “soldiers of God” were really de-facto atheists who were religious in name only. One must not confuse proclaimed religious identity with genuine religious identity.

    Best regards,
    apollo230

    Your first point is pure speculation; as such it cannot be refuted; nor is it very powerful. Your second point is belied by history; and with your third point you will find no disagreement here — BA

  8. Apollo230: If the historical (pre-20th century) wars of religion were fought with the same hardware that was at Hitler’s disposal, then the body counts would have been very similar,
    Actually four of the top five death toll via war occurred in age of swords and bows and those wars were instigated by pagans. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_toll

    Interesting chart. Thanks for the link. Yes, those bloody wars were instigated by pagans, but they were not religious wars per se. — BA

  9. Greetings, Barry and Tribune!

    When I contended that technology goes a long way in determining a body count, I had in mind the fearsome slaughters of World Wars One and Two and the hardware (on land, sea and in the air) that facilitated it. However, I neglected to consider the most valid point that what a rampaging army lacks in hardware can be more than made up for by its bloodlust, numbers, and the time/opportunity it has on hand to wreck havoc on a particular geographic area.

    Best regards,

    apollo230

  10. Yes, those bloody wars were instigated by pagans, but they were not religious wars per se.

    Good point!

  11. Wars of conquest are fought for one thing. Power. The ’cause’ of the war is rarely more than a justification by the rulers to get the population to help them sieze power. If you go by that ideal, then there have been no religious wars, just people who have used religion to allow them to lead their people into a war.

    The acts of Hitler and Stalin, or Ghangis Khan, the Roman Empire, Napoleon, Syngman Rhee and Kim Il-Sung, Mao, or any of the Crusade/military Jihad leaders were to increase their own power. Their justifications for their actions were excuses they used with their population.

    Today, the same could be said about George Bush. He has justification to go into Iraq, but how much of his motivation to do so is from doing the right thing, and how much is from the personal (for him and his close allies) gain from the actions is uncertain.

    In the days of the crusades, the best way to get the population on your side was to use religious reasoning. In the 20th Century, ideology was further seperated from religion (in the communist states at least), so the same justification came from the unquestionable ideas of the party rather than the unquestionable ideas of God. As long as you still have the fallable priests (politburo, kings, politicians, etc.), those unquestionable ideas will be twisted to the peoples own ends.

  12. It is logical that leaders would use whatever ideas that were best established in a population to motivate them into war. In an age were religion was a primary force, religious justifications for war would abound. In modern times, when the power of religious organizations seems to have faded somewhat, other rationales for war (nationalism, Marxism and other belief systems) would have assumed more prominence.

    What you and TANSTAAFL say has much truth in it, but is is not the whole picture. The sad fact is that sometimes the leaders themselves are motivated by misguided religious zeal. Cromwell in Ireland is a good example. — BA.

  13. Barry

    There is such a lot to respond to here and I don’t have to time to address it all. So I will try and stick to the essentials. Even then the post is overlong.

    I think there are three key questions under discussion:

    1) Are the horrors of the 20th century due to atheism?

    This is a very important question – but I don’t think there is time to discuss it usefully on a forum like this and I regret responding to your statements in this area. It is a question of history, not logic, and as such requires extensive gathering of evidence and references. You might like to ponder this question. Looking forward to this century – if you had the option, would you take nuclear weapons away from atheist China and give them to theist Iran?

    2) Does being an atheist remove any basis for morality?

    This is, of course, a very long-standing debate and I am conscious of recycling well worn arguments. But you appear to ignore these arguments so I guess I might as well repeat them. You ask

    “If an atheist’s subjective desire to have sexual relations with a child is stronger than his subjective desire for “compassion and fairness,” on what principle should he choose “compassion and fairness?”

    You don’t need a principle to choose compassion and fairness. They *are* principles. Choosing to ignore them is breaking those principles and is wrong. Any attempt to try and provide some “transcendental ethical system” to support these principles runs into the well-known problem: is X good because God/the system says X is good, or vice versa.

    I might ask you “If a priest’s desire to have sexual relations with a child is stronger than his desire to do God’s will, on what principle should he choose God’s will?” Any attempt to derive an “ought” from an “is” – even if the “is” is “this is what God commands” will eventually fail. So why not recognise that there are some things we recognise we ought and ought not to do – and that is part of human nature.

    3) Is atheism different in kind from religious faith?

    In one sense this is obviously true. It is a negative belief, while all religious faiths are positive in that they believe one or more things do exist. The most interesting sense in which faith is different from atheism is the type of evidence required to support each belief. In my post I said that faith is belief independent of logic and evidence. This needs qualification. I was talking specifically about faith in the context of religion and you can always play with meaning of words like “logic” and “evidence”. So I will rephrase it as: “Faith, in its religious context, relies on different rules of evidence from other types of belief”. The logic of atheism rejects these different rules. You can call that metaphysical naturalism if you like. It still means that atheism is not comparable to religious belief.

    In this context it is important to distinguish the psychological question – what kind of events and observations in practice cause people to become atheists or to adopt a religion – from the logical question – what kind of evidence is logically required for atheism as opposed to a religion. I was guilty of mixing the two up in my previous posts and I apologise.

    The psychological question is beyond the scope of this post. It requires a survey of atheists and believers and a detailed analysis of how they came to their position.

    Now coming to the logical question. What counts as evidence in the case of religious faith?

    You say any child can see the evidence for a deity – but you don’t specify what that evidence is. So I will have to make some guesses.

    I have come across three types of evidence for religious belief.

    a) Religious texts such as the Bible. This clearly would not be accepted as evidence in a non-religious context. We do not generally accept that X must be true just because someone wrote that in a book, particularly one written hundreds of years ago by many authors of which very little is known. We do not, for example, take the Odyssey as evidence for the existence of Cyclops.

    b) Miracles. E.g. You say that if it were shown that Christ did not rise from the dead then your faith would be shattered. I will leave aside your reasons for believing in the insurrection in the first place. Even if you were able to observe the resurrection yourself (or any other miracle) what kind of evidence is this? Making bodies vanish is a fairly trivial trick. And doctors are already able to revive bodies that have been dead for some minutes. Suppose that in a few hundred years they can do this for bodies that have been dead for days – do they then become divine? This is the trouble with using any miracle as evidence for belief. Essentially, a miracle is the appearance of the impossible – but we are bombarded by apparently impossible things all the time – some are performed by men, others are just inexplicable phenomena. We do not normally accept an apparently impossible event as evidence of anything much – rather we regard it as a phenomenon we don’t understand for which will seek explanation. It is peculiar to religious faith to argue “I don’t understand how that could have happened. Therefore, God must have done it.”

    c) Logical arguments such as the argument from first cause, the ontological argument or the argument from design. Each of these has their weaknesses which are discussed extensively elsewhere. But the big point is that you would not use them as evidence for anything else. They are peculiar to faith.

    You may of course have other more conventional forms of evidence for faith and I would be interested to hear them.

    Now compare this to atheism. The argument for atheism is simply that I will only use the same standards of evidence that I use for all other phenomena. I am not convinced by what people write in stories, apparent impossibilities and specious logical arguments. Show me repeatable, observable evidence for your hypothesis.

    So coming back to Dawkins. He was over-strong when he described religion as “non-thinking”. But I don’t think he was being deceptive. For him religion is based on an approach to evidence which he would not accept. I am convinced that is a sincere belief.

  14. “The sad fact is that sometimes the leaders themselves are motivated by misguided religious zeal.”

    I would have to agree with this, and I did miss that idea out. However, rarely is that the core cause of a full scale war of the sort that was being discussed before.

    And even then, I do not think that that many secular (or atheistic) philosophies have inspired such zealous acts without an ultimate motivator beyond it. Such philosophies are normaly a means to an end, which brings it back to the power idea from before. They are excuses, as religion is (most of the time), for the conflict that benifits the leaders.

    The other question you should ask is why that zeal exists in the first place. Cromwell was a Calvinist Protestant, and followed that path to its extremes. But I doubt that he would have come to the same extremist views if he had been left alone to decide his views with only a bible and time.

  15. As some have said, faith has many connotations. I am not sure I agree with the first entry in the American Heritage Dictionary that Barry offered. Faith must have a significant component of doubt. Several years ago I had a discussion with a Jewish gentleman who was an adjunct professor and we were sharing the same office while teaching. He said faith must always have doubt attached to it otherwise it isn’t faith and I bought his argument because it seemed to apply to my understanding of faith. We do not have faith that the sun will rise tomorrow or as Mark Frank said that 2 + 2 = 4. We have knowledge. People have faith that God gave Moses the ten commandments or that Christ rose from the dead or that an angel spoke to Mohammed in a cave or that there will be a life after death or in the personal area that someone we know very well will support us in time of need. There is no hard proof of any of these. On the other hand faith does not mean there is no evidence but only that no conclusive evidence exists and there is the possibility that what we believe may not be true.

    Under this definition, atheism is a faith. There has to be doubts about it. It hard to imagine what Mark Frank says that they can see no evidence for a Deity especially for someone as educated as Dawkins. That has to be nonsense. I could go into the litany of arguments that we all know pointing to design in the universe and in life. Even Dawkins must know some if not all of them. It does not mean he believes any of the litany but only that he knows they have some merit and might be a possibility. So even Dawkins and other atheists 1) believes something independently of logic and evidence (the arguments for design are over whelming) or 2) has some doubts about his position and thus either way his atheism is faith according to both Mark Frank’s and the definition I prefer.

  16. Mark Frank said:
    “What counts as evidence in the case of religious faith? You say any child can see the evidence for a deity – but you don’t specify what that evidence is.”

    It’s the same evidence that led you to the following conclusion.

    “You don’t need a principle to choose compassion and fairness. They *are* principles. Choosing to ignore them is breaking those principles and is wrong. Any attempt to try and provide some “transcendental ethical system” to support these principles runs into the well-known problem: is X good because God/the system says X is good, or vice versa.”

    The proof of moral principles is self-evident. So is the proof of a deity.

  17. Mark: Ponder this question. if you had the option, would you live in atheist China Circa 1950-1970 or present day theist Iran?

    It really comes down to values. They come from someplace. Mine come from Christ and yours do too to a very, very large degree, even if you should have happened to be raised in a non-Christian home.

    The thesis of this country is that we have inalienable rights and they are endowed by a Creator. Do away with with the “endowed by a Creator” part and all you end up with is a cheap counterfeit that will melt in a low heat much less a fire.

  18. Re #17 – You assert that values come from some place – but you don’t offer any arguments to support this. You even tell me where my values come from without evidence or argument! In particular you don’t explain the age old problem: “Is X good because God says its good or vice versa”.

  19. Mark:

    You said that I assert that values come from some place but don’t offer arguments to support this. That’s a hard concept for me to get around — that something that inaurguably exists should not be considered axiomatically to have a source.

    But maybe what is causing confusion is the meaning of “values.” For instance, it shouldn’t be disputed that you have certain beliefs as to right and wrong — that are probably not much different than mine — that you learned at your mothers knee. In turn, she learned them from someone, who in turn learned them from someone else down the line and traceable to various historical events — Martin Luther King’s “I have a Dream Speech” for instance, or the Declaration of Independence or the Sermon on the Mount.

    Or maybe the point you are making is something along the lines as to whether “right and wrong” is intrinsic (or not) to human nature regardless of culture. I would argue that it is, which is why culture is important because culture is inevitable and bad culture will pervert “right and wrong” and bad culture is inevitable without the firm grounding that certain truths are self-evident including the existance of a specific Creator, namely the one described in the Bible.

    So X is good because it is good and God says it’s good because God is good. And Y is bad but someone or something says it is good and some believe it and burn their children in the fire.

  20. I absolutely agree that our morality is intrinsic to human nature – although modified to some extent by culture. We learn the specifics of our morality from parents, peers, school etc. But even a three year old will start to show pity and a sense of what is fair (I can’t quite remember about 2 year olds).

    “So X is good because it is good and God says it’s good because God is good.” You have made God’s role in this to be a sort of guide and policeman to help us stay on track and stay true to our nature. That makes logical sense, but it also implies that X is good whether God says so or not. And that is where atheist’s get their morality. They don’t believe the guide and policeman exists but they are still humans.

  21. “So X is good because it is good and God says it’s good because God is good.” You have made God’s role in this to be a sort of guide and policeman to help us stay on track and stay true to our nature.

    No, no, no. We have a say in this. We can choose to seek God’s guidance or reject Him. I believe (and have observed) that in the latter case the good in us will die and we will become worthless.

    X is good whether God says so or not. And that is where atheist’s get their morality.

    But that leaves us to ponder another intrinsic aspect of human nature — namely the universal belief of every three-year-old (and up) that he is the center of the universe and deserving of unswerving worship and service which trumps innate goodness everytime unless directed away.

    And the belief that Man’s innate goodness suffices and God is unnecessary has a track record in which innate goodness loses everytime.

  22. Re #21. You have a very bleak view of human nature!

    There are plenty of examples of individuals who are both atheist and have a strong moral sense (Bob Geldof, Bill Bryson, Jonathan Miller, David Attenborough, and my wife (!) for example). So I think you must be referring to atheist societies.

    But what do you mean by an atheist society?

    One that happens to include a relatively high percentage of atheists? That would mean present day UK, France and Germany – none of which are particularly immoral compared to the worst theist societies.

    Or do you mean societies where there is no state religion – well that includes the USA.

    Or do you mean societies where the government is explicitly anti-religion? The only societies I know that fall into that category are communist. Which brings us round to an earlier discussion. Many (but not all) of these have been indeed been very immoral but it is hard to determine how much of that is due to atheism and how much due to other aspects of communism.

    So I don’t see how you can back up your claim that innate goodness loses every time.

  23. You have a very bleak view of human nature!

    A realistic one .

    I don’t personally know the people you cited and I wouldn’t judge them if I did. If you want the name of an atheist whose deeds I respect there is Hirsi Ali and I can’t say I blame her for her athiesim. She’s being pushed out of “enlightened” Europe for the embrace of Christian America because her countryman are afraid to be near her because she is the target of killers. I think that makes her atheistic, tolerant neighbors not much better than the killers.

    Concerning anti-religious governments there is an almost perfect correlation between the degree to which a government hates Christianity and the amount of state-sanctioned terror to maintain order.

  24. You don’t seem to be prepared to assess the moral standing of any atheists who might be known to us both. So there seems to be no way of supporting or disproving your claim that “innate goodness loses every time” with respect to individuals.

    Concerning anti-religious governments there is an almost perfect correlation between the degree to which a government hates Christianity and the amount of state-sanctioned terror to maintain order.

    I have no idea how you came up with this correlation but correlation is not causation.

  25. Mark

    Do you really believe in the Noble Savage?

  26. Tribune7

    “Noble Savage” is vague. I believe that people have innate desires which are moral in nature which compete with other motives. These are found to some extent in all cultures at all times. However, societies with more technology, more sophisticated government and legal systems, and above all, more education, tend to give greater power to moral motives and to codify them both formally and informally. Most noticeably they extend their moral feelings to wider and wider circles i.e. from family and tribe to other nations, races and even species. There are, of course, counter-examples – but that is the trend and a cause for optimism.

    I also note that these societies tend to reduce the number of Gods they recognise and attribute to those Gods that remain a less direct and less human-like role in affairs. I do not propose and causal relationship between the two trends – it is just another trend.

    How long do you want to keep up this dialogue? It seems to me it is getting a bit sterile.

    Rgds
    Rgds

  27. We can wrap it up. We agree that there is “good” that is good of itself and Man has this in him. But whenever it has be inculcated into a society that this innate goodness is all that’s needed, that society becomes a living hell.

    This experiment has been done several times. Everytime that has been the result.

    And life, and people, are not more respected today than 50 years ago. There is far less concern for protecting the week and helpless and those in pain — emotionally as well as physically. It seems to me that society is being reorganized for the convenience of the strong.

  28. Mark wrote:
    a) Religious texts such as the Bible. This clearly would not be accepted as evidence in a non-religious context. We do not generally accept that X must be true just because someone wrote that in a book, particularly one written hundreds of years ago by many authors of which very little is known. We do not, for example, take the Odyssey as evidence for the existence of Cyclops.

    This is a weak argument! First of all there is a lot of archiological evidence for the bible let alone Jerusalem and other sites, so there is evidence for the Bible, thus there is credibility for the authors that wrote the book. Secondly why should anything written hundred years ago be less valid than things that have been truly established yesterday? I believe we can take the bible to a very large extend to be a historical account. We also agree that the Odyssey was a fictional not historically wirtten text. Further there are mere 2 accounts of Hanibal (247BC-181BC) crossing the alps and defeating the Romans. This is a accepted historically everywhere even though the written accounts were written 600 or so years later. So why should I not believe in the credibility of the new testament where more than 1000 scripts are availabel from different sources all pointing to the same evidence. Why should I discard the historic evidence of Hanibal due to lack of evidence?

    Mark wrote:
    b) Miracles. E.g. You say that if it were shown that Christ did not rise from the dead then your faith would be shattered. I will leave aside your reasons for believing in the insurrection in the first place. Even if you were able to observe the resurrection yourself (or any other miracle) what kind of evidence is this? Making bodies vanish is a fairly trivial trick. And doctors are already able to revive bodies that have been dead for some minutes. Suppose that in a few hundred years they can do this for bodies that have been dead for days – do they then become divine? This is the trouble with using any miracle as evidence for belief. Essentially, a miracle is the appearance of the impossible – but we are bombarded by apparently impossible things all the time – some are performed by men, others are just inexplicable phenomena. We do not normally accept an apparently impossible event as evidence of anything much – rather we regard it as a phenomenon we don’t understand for which will seek explanation. It is peculiar to religious faith to argue “I don’t understand how that could have happened. Therefore, God must have done it.”

    Well you can fool yourself with this one. Any body that does not receive oxigen to its brain for longer than 7 minutes or even less will not be able to recover. And in the time between loss of circulation and 7 minutes every second will cause severe brain damange. It is mostly about seconds to revive a body that does not have blood circulating. There is also people that freeze their body or heads after they have died (in liquid nitrogen or something) that think that in maybe 50 or 100 years they can be brought back to life and so on… From my oppinion it is impossible to bring yourself back to life after you have been dead for three days. No tell any Houdini that he should try it and he will tell you to loose it. Further, even if any doctor should be able to do such a thing you would agree that Jesus had very advanced medical techniques more than 2000 years ago, so this argument fails as well. Now you can except that miricals happen and ascribe these miracles to God, or you can leave it at athiest thought and reduce it to mere chance or some strange not yet explained phenomena (take a look at yourself for a moment, you are such an unexplained phenomena). Also it is not peculiar to religious faith to argue “I don’t understand how that could have happened. Therefore, God must have done it.” that is agian blind faith. I mean if I have an accident in which I almost die I can thank God that I survived, or I can say hey mhh I am alive because the other car hit me at a certain angle with a certain speed so that my body did not take a fatal blow or wound. It is either a miracle to me (and the doctors who wonder how I survived in a car that has now the size of 4 by 4 foot) and I thank God for preserving my life or I reduce it to “I got lucky due to physical laws acting on the car and my body”.

    There is also a third approach to evidence for belief! Start taking the bible at face value and see what happens. See for yourself if there could be evidence for God by applying what the bible tells us about him, to get in contact with him and start a relationship with him. If you truly try it and nothing happens, take the bible and burn it in your front yard, at least that is what I would do with a useless book.

    The things I valued most and strived for in my life independently from religion (love, truth, forgiving acts of misconduct) happend to be the same things I found in the God of Christianity. So I accepted Christianity and its God to be true (act of decision, after ten years of struggle and collectiong evidence) hopeing that he really exists. Now after I started to accept him I gain more and more experience living with and through him, which turns my hopeing to evidence that this God really does exist. (A friend of mine (Physisist) told me this recently)

    Believing in the truth of something uncertain is an act of decision (at first) which then can be either discarded (proof of the contrary) or strengthend upon experience and more evidence that this believe is really the truth.

  29. Should’t I discard the historical evidence for Hanibal (2 incidents only) due to lack of evidence? I wanted to say!!

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