An Egocentrism That Insist
On The Utter Renouncment
Of Authority
Jack

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From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Johnorosz"
Subject: Re: PA-via_Positive_Atheism_Index
Date: Tuesday, June 27, 2000 9:20 PM

No. Do you? Are you God?
 

How do you know this, if your knowledge is incomplete?

And how can we distinguish your claims from all the other claims that all sound like so much charlatanism?
 

Particle physicist Victor Stenger told me that the universe is almost completely random. How, then, can we get a message (order) from virtually complete chaos?

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine

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From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Johnorosz"
Subject: Re: PA-via_Positive_Atheism_Index
Date: Thursday, June 29, 2000 4:30 PM

We may agree on this point, but your arrogant misrepresentations of my position have led me to suspect that you think you know more about what I think than I do.

Rather than pontificate on what others think (since only they can know), I choose, rather, to adhere to liberal scientific method, wherein any and all knowledge is always open to dispute.

This is why I am so precise in stating my position on claims for the existence of deities: I speak of no deities, but only of claims for the existence of deities. I have heard no claims that hold water; thus, I needn't believe any of those claims.

In lieu of a claim that both makes sense and holds water (and also eliminates all alternate explanations, rendering them impossible or highly implausible), I remain unconvinced. I remain an atheist.

An atheist is someone who simply lacks a god belief -- for whatever reason. Atheism means "without theism": it does not mean "I know everything there is to know."

This is what an atheist is: for you to suggest that we think we know everything (or that the atheistic position requires this) is pure falsehood. The ploy you have used has been popular among Roman Catholic theologians for centuries, but this does not make it correct. (I don't blame you, though, for using this ploy; a preacher probably taught it to you, and I don't blame you for thinking that preachers ought to be honest and upright. I have discovered otherwise, though!)

The description of the atheistic position above has been the majority viewpoint among atheistic philosophers for the 250 or so years that the Christians have allowed us to live long enough to think about such things.

I suggest that, in the future, you deal with atheists as if we hold the traditional atheistic description of our viewpoint rather than the Roman Catholic description of our viewpoint. Don't use the "how can you know everything" angle unless and until an atheist tells you he or she is dogmatic in her or his pronouncements that "no gods exist" (and there are such atheists: I deal with them all the time and spend much energy pointing out the absurdity of that atheistic position). But be careful: you still have the burden of proof in that you are the one making the claim -- not the atheist!
 

The difference is this: you are the one making an existential claim (a claim that something exists), not I. Since I am making no claim (I simply lack a god belief; I simply remain unconvinced that your claims hold water), I am not obligated to try to prove or otherwise bolster my position.

You, on the other hand, are claiming the existence of something that I cannot see or otherwise detect. Therefore, it is your responsibility to make your case. If you could make a clear and indisputable case, I would probably begin holding your opinion and become a theist. If you can't make your case, then I rightly ignore your claim.

It's like this: Suppose I told you that an invisible green leprechaun lives under my Chicago Cubs hat. All you need to say in response is "I doubt it!" It is my responsibility to demonstrate the truthfulness of my claim (and all it is, at this point, is a claim). If I can't (or if I can't explain how something can be both invisible and green at the same time), you rightly write me off as a kook -- at minimum, you rightly remain unconvinced or outright skeptical of my claim.

The bottom line in such discussions is that one person is making an existential claim (a claim that a thing exists) and is trying to convince another that his or her claim is truthful. If you were claiming that the Sun exists, you would have a very easy time making your case; but since you are claiming that the Son exists (but that you cannot to meet him and shake his hand -- and check his ID), you have your work cut out for you.
 

Many find it quite easy to accept claims that a Creator exists (be it Yahweh, Jesus, Allah, the Native American elders, the Hindu deities). In most cases, this is because they have been trained since childhood to state that they believe a Creator exists, and never had the luxury of challenging those creeds once they became adults.

It is very difficult for me to think in terms of a Creator simply because I was raised without religion of any kind. Atheism is the "faith of my fathers" as novelist Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., put it.

Many people had religious or quasi-religious upbringings, but later examine their faith and find it wanting. One part of the purpose of this magazine and website is to help such people come to terms with their atheism.

This wouldn't matter except that some people who de-convert experience bitterness and a profound sense of betrayal. Can you imagine discovering that your own parents lied to you, as a child, about the very meaning of life itself? This is what some people feel, which is normal. We seek to help people outgrow this initial bitterness and to get back in touch with the more compassionate emotions that make us uniquely human.
 

So you are suggesting some variation of the line: "I doubt the Christian claims for the existence of their deity so that I may be free to commit evil."

First, why would I want to commit evil in the first place? Why would I want to do harm to my fellow humans or my animal cousins or damage our home and environment?

And, even if I wanted to commit evil (though I don't), I could easily find some justification for it in the Bible. Many, many biblical passages are very vague, and I have seen numerous preachers and theologians pick and choose which passages apply to us and which do not.

Secondly, I don't think very highly of the various Christian ethical systems. The key word is various because no two systems of ethics that have been derived from the Bible agree with one another.

But this is a minor point compared to the main one: Christianity does not teach doing good and shunning evil for any natural, humanistic reasons, but holds up the prospect of reward (Heaven) and the threat of torture (Hell) as reasons one should do good and shun evil. For example, there is nothing in the biblical prohibition on adultery that mentions that we wouldn't want to damage our relationship with our spouse. In fact, the biblical adultery prohibitions are one-sided in that one can only commit adultery with a man's wife: any married man can have his way with any unmarried woman. The woman is not so fortunate when these laws are carried out as written; the woman only received justice after the biblical precepts were toned down or fortified with humanistic values.

Nevertheless, I don't see what you mean by ethical deviations: the best I can do is make decisions which result in the least amount of harm to all considered (and not necessarily the least amount of harm to my own situation).

You seem to be arguing in circles by, on the one hand, that ethics involve absolutes and, on the other, accusing me of "ethical deviations." Please make your case that ethics involve absolutes, that ethics are not the dim thoughts of the feeble minds of finite humans and the negotiations which inevitably follow such thoughts. After you have made this case and we have come to a mutual understanding and agreement, then we will be in a position to accept and discuss the notion of "ethical deviations."

Meanwhile, I want you to give me an example, from my life, where I have committed evil that a conversion to Christianity would have prevented me from committing. The only "evil" I am guilty of is not believing the Gospel. And if the Gospel cannot be shown to be true, I have committed good by disbelieving it, not evil. Other than that, I am as ethical and moral as anybody could hope to be, and have been since I adopted the ethical system that I developed after reconfirming my atheism about a decade ago.

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This so-called information is highly controversial: the vast majority of those who have encountered the Bible think it is falsehood. Even most Christians think it is, at best, a collection of myths and metaphors. Very few Christians believe it is literally the dictated word of the Christian deities (there allegedly being three Christian deities: Father; Son; Holy Ghost).

Your biggest challenge is to demonstrate that your claims to having a supernatural revelation are any different from similar claims made by others (the Koran; the mutterings of a wizard; etc.). In any event, you must demonstrate that your Bible is the revealed word of a god that exists, and to do this, you must demonstrate first that a god exists and second that this god has spoken and third that those utterances are contained in the Bible.
 

This sounds like a serious charge, but when I examine it, I must admit that I don't have a clue as to what you are really talking about.
 

I agree that this is one of the results of faith. This is why I prefer to use reason and to adhere to liberal scientific method, wherein all "truth" is always subject to revision or complete overthrow, and no person or group holds the power to dictate to others what is or is not truth. We are all free to pursue truth so long as we openly offer our opinions up to public scrutiny. If my most dearly held "truths" are up for grabs, where does that leave my meager assumptions?
 

Are you implying that I think differently? If so, you err.

If I were about seeking pleasure, I would be out getting laid right now instead of seeking truth and patiently comparing my position with that of a Christian (lest I be wrong in some area).

If I were about avoiding pain, I would certainly not have endured the direct pain of scoliosis for ten years while refusing numerous offers of prescriptions for narcotic pain medication. Only after the pain so devastated my quality of life that I could no longer have even a semblance of a life did I relent and start taking the narcotics. (The damage to my back is so obviously painful to any doctor who examines me, that no doctor has examined me in the past eleven years without offering me some kind of powerful pain medication, be it the tried-and-true narcotics or the newfangled high-risk stuff; it is only within the past nine months or so that I have begun accepting their offers.)
 

I think the question "Why do I exist?" does not matter. I exist, and that is good enough for me.
 

I exist because the universe exists (and I accept the Inflationary Big Bang as being the most likely model, based upon the most current scientific knowledge). I exist because the Sun happened to form itself (according to accepted physical laws) in such a way as to have one planet which is conducive to the formation of self-replicating molecules.

I exist because a young woman, in 1956, had sex with a man and got pregnant. I exist because that young woman chose not to have an abortion (though the location of my birth indicates that her family probably had enough money to obtain an abortion -- even in 1956). I exist because the family who eventually adopted me took very good care of me, keeping my survival one of their foremost priorities.

I exist because the infections that ravaged my body while I was an infant did not take me out (thanks to Dr. Jonas Salk and others who developed medicines which allowed me to survive these infections). I exist because I didn't drown in the ocean in 1978. I exist because a robber didn't pull the trigger on a lonely exit in 1985. I exist because many stupid, high-risk things I have done didn't pan out the way they could have.

I continue to exist because I want to exist -- I love life -- and because fate has yet to thwart my desire to exist. This last reason is the only one that really matters to me, because it indicates my love of life and of humanity, and my desire to continue existing for as long as I can. Disease and disability has robbed me of the quality of life that I otherwise could have enjoyed, but I still do the best I can with what little I've got -- nobody can do more.

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Please elaborate.

This is, perhaps, my most important question for you.

Please give specifics as to why I should distinguish your claims from the others.

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A television is not random but is very organized. Electricity, far from being invisible, is very detectable: I have a meter in my closet that is probably older than I am, that is designed to measure various aspects of electricity. Your son should not deny the existence of electricity because if he is old enough to stick his finger in a lamp socket, he is old enough to detect the existence of electricity.

The universe is likewise very detectable. As far as we can tell (and instrumentation designed to detect such things is much larger than my home -- much less my closet!), the universe is almost entirely random. Randomness is the very lack of information. Nevertheless, you tell me that the universe ("the heavens") have a message for me: they "declare the glory of God."

My question remains: How can randomness (the lack of information) contain a message (information) for me?
 

I have read Psalm 19 (and Psalm 137:9) and have never understood the logic behind it. It sounds like so much loyalistic religious pontificating that we find in all alleged supernatural revelations. It certainly is not the result of the most sophisticated research we have amassed over the centuries since ignorant, flea-bitten, nomadic goat herders once repeated these ands other Psalms to one another while sitting around their campfires at night, waiting for the sun to provide them with sufficient light to eke out their meager existences. They lacked the knowledge even to provide the most basic defenses against predatory insects, and to provide sufficient light to free them from the limitations of a daytime existence; why should we take seriously their pondering of the universe which, to them, was a lid over the flat earth?

Now, the existence stars can be explained through natural means. Read any grade-school primer on astronomy, and you will see drawings of how the process of star formation works. Stars are very simple objects, really, and do not require an external, intelligent Creator to form -- any more than raindrops require the intervention of a supernatural deity to form.
 

And just because you choose to cloak your ignorance of such things as the essential randomness of the universe does not mean that "There is tremendous order in the universe." I have heard religious folks make this claim, but science tells us otherwise.

According to the almost unanimous opinion of physics and astronomy and cosmology, the universe is almost entirely random, containing zero overall energy (and having required zero energy to begin), and the universe shows very, very little order. Science tells us that within this chaos lie tiny, tiny (very tiny; extremely insignificant) knots of order which, science tells us, can be expected within a universe that is constantly expanding.

One of these tiny, very unimportant knots of order is our solar system. Within this solar system, the most sophisticated knots of order that we have been able to detect is the nervous system of a human. While ours is only slightly more sophisticated than that of a bonobo chimp, and while it certainly is not all that capable (I took the word perfect out of my vocabulary long ago), it is the most sophisticated system of order we have encountered.

Herein lies meaning and all "purpose": our bodies (our selves) are where all meaning lies.

The big picture, the meaning of the universe or the cause (or "reason") for its existence means nothing to us -- even if such a reason could be established. All meaning is the meaning that we, as individuals, give to ourselves and to our relations with other humans and other animals and our environment.

You claim that meaning lies in "God" and "Christ" but you have yet to make even the feeblest attempt to convince me that such things as a "God" or a "Christ" exist.

What I have left is what I have been able to observe and to discern through my own powers of observation and reason, and through my willingness to submit to the game-rules of liberal scientific inquiry and open discussion with my fellow humans.
 

How do you come up with this? How does this follow?

Please start addressing some of the objections I have raised to your claims.
 

I don't have a clue what you are saying, here, or how it would apply to the previous discussions. This sounds like so much of those NewAge (rhymes with "sewage") scientific-sounding pontificating that I heard while I was in California last week.

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine

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From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Johnorosz"
Subject: Re: PA-via_Positive_Atheism_Index
Date: Thursday, June 29, 2000 7:46 PM

I am remotely related to the alligator, as evidenced by some common genes and by my response to having been crossed -- a trait I share with my distant, distant cousin.

I hope you would pull some of the challenges to your claims that I have presented and at least address them: either come up with a better argument or tone down your stance a bit and admit that we don't know enough to make the assertions that you have made and thus that we ought not be so dogmatic in our stance.

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine

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