Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Great Debate

I like to debate/discuss my newfound knowledge on Facebook with my Christian friends and their Christian friends. I've been debating a Christian philosopher, as he calls himself, and have been in 'the thick of it' for several days now. Our conversation consists of well over one hundred comments between the two of us.

The discussion started over the story about the Illinois professor of a public university who got canned for telling his personal opinion that homosexuality is immoral. He was teaching a class on Catholicism and went beyond just saying what the Catholics teach to what he personally thought. He was dismissed based on being charged with 'hate speech'. I took the schools side and thought they were right to be upset but thought that a lesser disciplinary action would have been appropriate. My opponent stated that it's an exercise of 'fascism' to not be allowed to express ones personal opinion on a religious matter. I pointed out that there is a lot of extra baggage involved with calling homosexuality immoral. It also implies that this person is evil and worthy of nothing more than spending an eternity in hell as they burn in agony. I stated that this is in the public arena and our tax dollars are, atleast partially, going to the financing of the school and its curriculum.

I made an analogy to the situation by comparing hate towards homosexuals to the hate against blacks. I stated that calling homosexuals immoral is akin to saying something insulting toward black people for the color of their skin because of all the baggage that it holds. Blacks were lynched just for the color of their skin. Homosexuals will spend eternity in hell for their sexual preference. My opponent said that my analogy didn't hold any water unless I could prove that there was a biological basis for homosexuality just like there is for race. This took me on a wild goose chase. In the end, I found that there are genetic and environmental factors that influence a young person to become a homosexual. In my relatively brief research, I didn't find any evidence that there was a 'gay gene'. And, yes I do apologize to any readers who were misled by my saying that there was a gay gene in a much earlier posting. I also struggled a bit with this from an evolutionary perspective. My opponent suggested that homosexuality would have been eliminated long ago through the processes of natural selection. I furthered my research and found some somewhat unconvincing reasons to believe otherwise. They suggested that many homosexuals do still procreate, but this happens primarily outside of the U.S.. The term escapes me at the moment, but I also learned about a process where a maternal line will carry more fertility toward the females when the males are homosexual thus nature and evolution has a sort of way of 'balancing things out'.

I will turn to another two topics we discussed quickly before sharing a brief segment of our debate. We talked about the Amalekites and how god ordered the complete destruction of everything that breathed in their city. Well, he threw everything at me but the kitchen sink. It was kind of like the dart board effect. You just keep throwing stuff out until hopefully something hits and answers the concern adequately. He said it could have been allegorical as the early church supposedly thought but has since changed. He said that god didn't really kill all of them just some as evidence supposedly shows. He said that the scripture is often misinterpreted by us where it is meant to be descriptive and not prescriptive. Basically, he said a whole host of things that would have one conclude that it was anything but literal. I told him that I could consider it an allegory but what else would I then have to consider allegorical since the Bible is replete with barbaric nonsense. He accused me of a slippery slope fallacy.

We discussed the Sermon on the Mount and how I believed that the advice was poorly given. Subjects like the golden rule and worry were discussed. My opponent seems to not ask for much out of a deity as I do. I expect Jesus' words to be the most profound words ever written since he is a deity.

Finally, we argued about who has the burden of proof. He insisted that I do have atleast a fair share of it because saying that a god probably doesn't exist is a truth claim which requires evidence. He stated that lacking a belief in god is agnosticism while I insisted that a weak atheist, as I claim to be, lacks a belief in god. I asked him if I had to prove to him that the Lochness Monster doesn't exist and he stated that it was basically a category mistake because god is nothing like the lochness monster. God has a strong religious tradition to back him and he is omnipotent and all that bs. I stated that a lot of religions have very strong traditions and creeds. He hasn't really responded to that point. He stated that miracles are not more improbable than natural occuring laws because natural occuring laws haven't been proven to be inexorable.


My opponent: (NOTE-some of this is not summarized above but you can probably get the point of our arguments.)

Your interpretation of Jesus' advice on worrying is wildly, and I mean wildly, off the mark. It's almost as if you look for the worst possible interpretation of biblical passages. God can provide for you THROUGH the actions of others by placing them in your life. God's healing and God's provision do not work in opposition from human effort, but along with it. The point is that we are to leave such provisions in God's hands, and focus on doing His will. God will provide basic necessities either by providing us with a job, or providing people in our lives, or in rare cases by providing it directly. That's the nature of divine providence.

There most certainly are objective standards of interpretation, and that fact is not subverted by the fact that there is disagreement over many issues, the vast majority of which are minor and inessential anyways (like interpreting certain OT passages and the like). In the past, most Christians would actually not have interpreted that passage literally, since the first 5 or so centuries of the church used much allegorical interpretation. But even if most Christians interpret it that way now, certainly you are not suggesting that we do an ad populum fallacy. Just because some people, even most people, misinterpret hardly means there are not objective standards.As for the Samuel passage and those like it, in a football game, we routinely use hyperbolic statements like, “KILL EM ALL!” or “ANNIHILATE EVERY LAST ONE OF THEM!” It is certainly not beyond the realm of plausibility to read these commands in this way. In fact, there is independent evidence for this interpretation in the text in the simple fact that the Israelites did not kill every last one of them.

You keep going back to the point that “God could have been clearer” and so forth, but quite frankly this does not move me much at all. Yes there was great debate in the early centuries, even over central issues. Yes there is still disagreement over the particular interpretation of certain texts in the Bible. But the point is that over the years, Christians have come to an overwhelming consensus on the central teachings of the faith, as is evidenced in the main creeds of the church. I think you would expect that since we are dealing with human beings, since the Bible was written over the course of 1000 years of differing cultures, and since religious matters often have moral dimensions, that people would often disagree on how to interpret the Bible. This does not mean there is not agreement on central things, and this certainly does not mean that if you want to know the truth, that there are not objective standards that you can discover to find it out. This is a very common argument: there is disagreement, therefore we cannot know the truth. It simply does not follow. And even an omnipotent and omniscient God cannot get around fallible humans missing the boat, either in small ways or even in big ways. The evidence, however, is that God was overwhelming successful in communicating His revelation to the church on central doctrines, as the creeds clearly evidence.

IMO, God has given us sufficient evidence. Besides, God is not interested in convincing any joe shmoe that he exists - he wants us to come to know him, which may very well require our seeking.The point about theistic belief, which i made amply clear, is not that you should believe them just because many intelligent have. It is that you should not flippantly dismiss them as you would stories of Big Foot and the Lochness monster. They are not analogous. Indeed, the fact that MANY religious traditions – traditions of billions of people, many of which are smart and education – believe in a deity of some kind is all the more reason not to dismiss it lightly. It does not guarantee its truth by any means, but it should give pause to people like Dawkins who assume that religious belief is automatically irrational. And finally, I agree that Josephus' text there was probably edited and snazzed up by later Christian scribes, but it is indisputable that the original at least mentioned Jesus.

My reply:

Yes, God will provide you with that new lucrative job you were wanting but he will let hundreds of thousands of children that stretch the globe starve to death of malnourishment and neglect each year. Pardon me, but what pompous arrogance this view holds to! "Dear Lord, please bless this food to the nourishment of my body, while thousands of defenseless children starve to death right now." You must suffer from a serious case of cognitive dissonance or delusion to find any logic in assuming that god will answer your prayer about the pain in your big toe but could care less about dying children around the world.

Of course, you should worry about basic neccesities and make sure that you've done everything required to continue to obtain those things. Do you honestly think this god cares more about you having clothes than the child dying of Malaria and malnourishment? Or, does he care more about your needs than the animals who live in such hostile environments and are eaten alive daily? Presumably, they feel all the physical agony of the process and do not deserve it. This whole ridiculous Adam and Eve story which casts the blame on down generation to generation for something we didn't have anything to do with is, to put it bluntly, bullshit. What needless suffering despite this god who cares about meeting your needs. I don't understand how Christians don't see how illogical, unreasonable and arrogant they sound when they presume such nonsense.

And, yes, it's wonderful that there may be evidence that the Israelites didn't kill EVERYONE under gods loving commandment but are we saying that not even a single innocent babe was murdered under gods orders? One is one too many.I'm still waiting for this objective standard that you're speaking of. You already said that may of the early Christians considered many passages to be allegorical but now many don't. Why is this, if there really is an objective standard? Probably, because there isn't an objective standard by which to interpret the scripture. It's 'survival of the fittest' whoever is holding the power and the influence determines what scripture really means--perhaps anciently and currently.

Again, you don't expect much out of this god of yours. I look at the universe and am simply in awe of its complexity and elegance. The vastness of space with its many galaxies, planets and stars... the transitional change of life through the marvelous self-guided process of evolution and the beauty of nature. If there is a god, I think the Bible underestimates him/she/it drastically. If there is a god, he certainly doesn't interfere or intervene in our lives and the universe doesn't revolve around you as much as the Christian would like to assume. Contrary to your opinion, god has failed at clearly communicating his opinion as I already pointed out many posts before when distinguishing the views of Paul and the author of Matthew. On another note, there are passages in scripture which state that baptism is a prerequisite to salvation and others that seem to imply that it is not. I think you would agree that the method of salvation is an important central component and doctrine of the church. Some passages claim that the law must be followed for salvation and others do not. We had a battle between Marcions, ebionites, and gnostics, to name a few, before the canon of scripture ever arrived in it's final position. It was not some supernatural intervention that finally placed the chapters in there current resting spot but humans quarrelling over what should be placed in scripture and what should be discarded. In the end, the ones with the most power and prestige won and the one's that were egalitarian lost. In the ages since, much blood has been spilt to convert 'evildoers' from their pagan practices and 'idol' worship into Christianity--a fate that a omniscient god should have been well privy of. Slavery and the subordination of women, as well as, Hitlers germany can well be attributed to the Bible and it's aberrant teaching. Hitler himself was well inspired by Martin Luther who called Jews children of the devil. Where does that sound familiar??? It doesn't matter if this was an intentional result of gods love letters to humanity or it just happened as a result of humanities fallibility. God was well aware of the facts before he ever even 'invented' humans but he still let it all transpire just the same.

It may be easier to pick on the examples of the Lochness Monster or Unicorns but you can't dismiss the fact that there are a multitude of other religions out there, all reflective of their culture, that all claim to have the truth. They too are rich in tradition and creed. In the end, this just means that humanity is prone to seeking answers for the unexplainable--we are prone to symbolism and pattern seeking by nature. we want to gain a sense of understanding and control over nature and death so we invent ways of doing so through culture and tradition. But, then modern science came along and slowly started filling in the gaps for us. There is still much to learn but science is trying while religion is hindering via such idiotic political fronts as the Intelligent Design agenda. Contrary to what the bible teaches, the earth isn't flat and standing on four pillars. The sun doesn't revolve around us and we certainly are not the center of the universe! I suppose god didn't counsel with Galileo before inspiring his writers to write such nonsense.

My opponents reply:

Okay, at this point this is becoming too unwieldy. There are good answers to all of the "arguments" (mostly mischaracterizations, supercharged rhetoric, and ad hominems) you give, but it will be impossible to answer all of them adequately here, as you have just thrown as many as possible into one message, often unhelpfully mixing together distinct arguments. You typically do not answer the force of my arguments, but instead go around them and right back to the ridicule of either the theist position or theists in general, dumping more and more half-arguments in along the way. This is regrettably all-too-typical of those who are of the "new atheist" proclivity, such as Harris, Hitchens, Dawkins, and their ilk. Instead of patient argument and counterargument, we are presented with a salvo of rhetoric, emotion, and bare assertions.I will say one thing: if God does not exist, you have consigned all of the starving children and those who die of horrible diseases to oblivion. There will be no justice for them, and no possibility of happiness whatsoever. They go up in smoke as monuments to the absurdity of life. But if God exists, there will be justice for all, and the possibility of eternal happiness for all. In all of his pseudo-morally-based outrage, the atheist ends up throwing out the only thing that can make everything right at the end of it all.

My Reply:
don't confuse being passionate about my stance as ad hominem attacks, I knew once I put the heat on you would yield. I have nothing against you and actually value this discussion and your opinion but I also hold passion for the truth. I can not apologize for the truth or the fact that children end up suffering needlessly only to not be vindicated by an imaginary sky daddy. It is the cruelty of nature which we are observers of on a daily basis both in the homo sapien landscape and in other species.

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