Some Thoughts On
The Creation Of The Gods
Mike

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From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To:
Subject: Re: Positive_Atheism_Letters_Section
Date: August 19, 2001 12:27 PM

I'm not sure I understand what you mean by "timeline."

Cliff Walker
Positive Atheism Magazine
Six years of service to
    people with no reason to believe

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Graphic Rule

From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To:
Subject: Re: Positive_Atheism_Letters_Section
Date: August 20, 2001 9:24 PM

No. The only timeline I use is that of regular (secular) history.

I do not take any religion's claims about itself at face value. Rather, I look at religion the same way an anthropologist would. This means that I deal with (for example) Roman Catholicism only as regards those facts which both a Muslim and an atheist can agree are true about Roman Catholicism. Or I deal with Islam only as regards those facts that a Roman Catholic, a Hindu and an atheist can agree about. A good timeline I've been using lately is the one in Microsoft Encarta. However, this one is about secular history, and does not reagard the claims of the religion.

In fact, I castigated Encyclopaedia Britannica because they were talking about Jesus as if the claims of Christianity were true. An encyclopedia ought to be an impartial reporter and never take sides on an issue. The issue here is that many are now questioning whether a historical Jesus even existed, but EB is taking this much further than even an encyclopedia should.

Cliff Walker
Positive Atheism Magazine
Six years of service to
    people with no reason to believe

Graphic Rule

Graphic Rule

From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To:
Subject: Re: Re:Re:Re:Re
Date: August 21, 2001 6:01 AM

Much of what goes on is that an old god gets a new name when a new political regime installs itself.

Of course, the regime would prefer to be able to call all the shots, but the people tend to like their superstitions, so the best that the regime can accomplish is either to execute all indigenous dissenters or give the resident god a new name or convert to the dominant religion of the land. The former is what Judaism, Islam, and Early America did, the second is what Christianity did and what the modern Christian spin-offs such as Mormonism have done, and the latter is what's happening in America today, with political power plays being made to look like Evangelical Christianity.

But to trace the "heritage" of this or that deity figure is iffy at best, because there are no clear delineations. This is because whatever is done during these political transitions and takeovers usually takes place with a great deal of deception and cover-up, and the new regime gets to rewrite the history books. Thus the trails are not always easy to follow. During the last half of the nineteenth century through the early parts of the twentieth, many tried to associate the biblical Jesus with various Pagan deities of old, and although most of the arguments made sense, none of them were rock-tight. Similar studies were made by Protestants trying to associate Roman Catholicism with ancient Paganism, contrasting it with the biblical Jesus. These studies were more alike one another simply because there are only so many ways you can try to establish this case before you go the full route of exposing the biblical Jesus himself as a pagan deity who was simply given a different human biography.

I predict that you will not be able to find two attempts that agree with each other, and you will never be able to construct one that everyone will find agreeable. I find this to be the case when comparing the various "Historical Jesus" and "Jesus Seminar" write-ups: no two agree on everything, and many disagree on even the basic picture.
 

The Argument from Evil is, to me, one of the two most formidable objections to the Christian notion of deity. Thoroughly stated, this one would ask, "If a God exists who wants the amounts of suffering and premature death to be much less than they are, and who is able to reduce these amounts, and doesn't have any interests that would conflict with this goal, then why are the amounts of suffering and premature death still at the high levels that we observe on Earth?"

The other formidable argument, I think, is the Argument from Nonbelief. Since this argument is more formidable against Christianity than it is against many other religions, I will formulate it as an argument against the claims for the existence of the Christian god. This one, stated thoroughly, would ask, "If God sent his Son to die for the sins of humankind, and the only way for humans to accomplish salvation is to believe the propositions of the Christian Gospel at the time of death, and if God wants humans to accept this gift of salvation, and if God is able to reveal Himself directly to humans so that they will believe these propositions when told of them, and if God has no conflicting interests, then why do so few humans believe the Gospel of Christian Salvation?"

In other words: "Why are there so many heretics?" or, "Why does a god who wants us to know who He is allow so much difference of opinion as to who He is go unanswered?" or, "If God wants us to know Him, why are there so many atheists and members of false religions?" or, "If God wants us to know Him, why does He remain so hidden?" The "Hidden God" is a vexing problem amongst the more sophisticated Christian theologians. But the "Hidden God" situation is not a problem at all for Deism, which states that God is revealed in Nature, and besides, He doesn't care if we believe in Him or not.
 

One element I especially like that has come of my quest to find "Positive Atheism" is my decision to presuppose that theists have (or think they have) valid reasons for believing the way they do. To me, we all have much more in common than we have differences, and most of us do not have the luxury to debate the god-question because we're too busy trying to get along and keep the peace. When we can, for example, log on to a forum and discuss the god-question, I am always seeking for truth, not simply to win the argument.

What I am finding lately is that faith is not necessarily about finding the truth, but is tied in with other elements mostly having to do with belonging to a group. Belief in God is always the key test of one's membership, and each group also has additional elements of their confession of faith that determine if someone is a member. This explains why so many theistic arguments are so easy to shoot down: they are not designed to withstand a reasoned attack, but are designed to test the believer's loyalty to the group. All the more, then, would they want a doctrine that is easy to answer!

If their argument were air-tight, then belief would not be a test of loyalty, but would be a test of someone's ability to reason their way through an argument! If the question of God's existence (or Christ's death on the cross or whatever) were as plain as the existence of the Sun and the Moon, then faith in these propositions would be no test of loyalty at all.

So, when I am debating a theist, I am not engaged in a mutual struggle to find the truth. Instead, I am being used to test someone's loyalty to their totem. Thus, the best I can hope for is to be able to document for my fellow-atheists what's going on, and perhaps we can all see what's happening when some of us feel that tug to go join the group again rather than remaining free and independent as atheists.

The evangelists are wiley and they know all the emotional hooks that have ever worked. They have been honing their presentation for two thousand years, and are highly trained and very organized. We, on the other hand, are simply individual atheists, each relying solely upon his or her own powers of reason. With all this power at their fingertips, you'd think they'd be more successful at converting us -- if their arguments actually were air-tight and rock-solid. The fact that they don't succeed in many arguments even with all these other resources tells me that their case is not a very good one. The only time they've succeeded in converting a large majority of any nation is when they've used violence.

Of course, today's America is a strange exception, and I think this has much to do with the powerful tools of communication that can be used for deceptive ends very effectively. Even then, the figures we read about America's religiosity are misleading, and not all that many Americans are as devout as the polls say. Recently, sociologists have been comparing the results of these polls with the diaries of those who work at tracking down contagious diseases. These diaries describe what certain individuals were doing at certain times on certain days. Only a small fraction of those who tell the pollsters they were at church last Sunday wrote down on the Health Department's diaries that they were at church last Sunday. These figures do not match up! Would people be more likely to lie to a couple of pollsters asking if they're religious or to lie to the health department trying to find out where someone's family member caught a dangerous disease?

I cannot tell you why so many people are religious. I can tell you why I am not, though, and this is the most important thing I have to say, here. The sooner we can explain why we think we're better off without religion, the sooner we will begin to enjoy the freedom of being able to tell the truth about our beliefs without fear of repercussions. And this is the most important thing that I have to offer: Let's find out what it takes for us to be atheists without fear.

Cliff Walker
Positive Atheism Magazine
Six years of service to
    people with no reason to believe

Graphic Rule

Graphic Rule

From:"Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To:
Subject: Re: Re:Re:Re:Re:Re
Date: August 22, 2001 1:39 AM
 

I had a discussion with Tom Bratcher about multi-dimensional research. He was claiming that the Bible predicted this research. I am skeptical enough of the research itself that I have no problem at all dismissing the biblical links without giving his claims much of a look.

I asked Mr. Bratcher to describe for me this extra-dimensional research, knowing that it's very speculative. Then I asked him to show precisely how one could link this research to the Bible. In other words, is this the only way to interpret these passages? Specifically, is this what the authors intended to say (that they were talking about extra-dimensional research)? For this to be any kind of proof of the viability of the Bible, he would need to show that this is the only possible reading of the Scriptures, and that this particular interpretation is air-tight. He would need to show the viability of both the research and the interpretation of the scriptures before he even started to have a case. Without both of these points, he is simply making noise (as First Corinthians 13 so aptly puts it).

Unfortunately, even if he were able to show both of these things, this doesn't begin to address the whole world of other significant problems that the Bible has, and I would probably be forced to call this a fluke -- even if he were able to make both of the points. This is no different than some tribe telling us that their creation myth describes the universe as having been created out of nothing. Well, the Inflationary Big Bang Theory suggests just this, but either the Universe came from something or it came from nothing: this is a binary question, and the chances of a myth getting it right by chance is so great that it would prove nothing.
 

The research done by Andrew Newberg and others suggests that this question is backwards. (See "Andrew Newberg's 'Why God Won't Go Away'" with Gilbert De Bruycker and "Newberg's 'Reality': Experientially Or Externally Real?" with James E Archer.) Newberg examined the images of brain activity when Tibetan Buddhists meditated and when Franciscan nuns prayed and found a function of the brain that distinguishes between the self and what is not the self. This same function also handles the organism's ability to orient itself within its environment. When this function "goes to sleep" (my metaphor), the individual loses touch with the boundary between self and everything else, and feels as if she or he is "at one" with the Universe.

I suggest that the god-idea comes from these and similar experiences, which Newberg says are natural functions of the brain. Well, I'd be willing to call this disabling of the Object Orientation Area "natural" if he were willing to call an opium trip "natural" -- considering that opium is a naturally occurring chemical and that the molecules of its drugs fit precisely into certain neural receptors in the human body.

But the point is that we can see that the brain is doing certain things and can even predict how it would "feel" if your brain were doing these things -- and that's precisely what the monks and nuns describe when asked how it feels!

Although Newberg tries to make it seem as if this shows the existence of a god (in that this he has discovered the method with which that god communicates with humans), I am far from convinced. This not only fails to show the existence of a god, but can be said to point in the opposite direction -- suggesting that we have now discovered the source of the various god-claims that have been reported throughout the ages.

It raises the question, "Why would a god use the impairment of a certain brain function as His main (or only) method of revealing Himself to humans? particularly if that God had great powers and could utilize any number of less-suspicious methods for communicating with His creation?" It's not unlike asking, "If you had supernatural powers, would you demonstrate to others that you have these powers by pulling rabbits out of a hat" (suggesting that you're a parlor illusionist)? In the same way, when I look at Newberg's research I am compelled to ask, "If you had access to all the methods one would think are available to a deity powerful enough to create the Universe and life in it, and assuming that you're concerned with establishing credibility amidst a plethora of money-grubbing charlatans, dreamers with their reports of colorful visions, power-mad politicians, and desperate individuals just begging to be handed answers to all the tough questions on a silver platter, why on Earth would you utilize, as your main way to communicate with humans, a method that involves the diminishing of a brain function (suggesting that this experience is along the lines of a hallucination)?

It seems much more likely to me that we have stumbled upon verification of something very close to the hallucination model. I don't think Newberg's experiences quite fit the definition of a hallucination even though they result from the diminishing of a brain function -- that function which distinguishes the individual from its environment. Nevertheless, we have validated at least one explanation for these claims and experiences that is an alternative to what the individuals think these experiences mean: these experiences do not indicate that a god necessarily exists.

Cliff Walker
Positive Atheism Magazine
Six years of service to
    people with no reason to believe

Graphic Rule

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