Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Conversations with Theists #1

Here's a really old internet conversation I had with a former coworker of mine who is/was a fundamentalist Christian. It's really long but I put it up for those of you who like this kind of thing. I'm the yellowish font and he's the red one. Enjoy.

1) Referring to Deuteronomy 13:6-10, considering the fact that you defended it during our conversation, are you admitting that you think that it was ever okay for someone to kill another person because they didn't worship Yahweh?

To understand why there were rules about killing, like in Deuteronomy 13, you first need to have an understanding of the character of God. God is pure and holy. Going back to Deuteronomy, God wanted to have a relationship with His chosen people, however, God cannot coexist in a relationship where sin is prevalent. [Here is an example that might help. God is light. Sin is darkness. They cannot coexist.] For God to be in communion with man we must rid ourselves of all sin. The standard to have a relationship with God is to have a holy life. So, for the Israelites to have a relationship with God they had to rid themselves of sin, including the worship of pagan gods/idols. The good news is that God has made a way through the death of Jesus so we no longer need sacrifices and purifying rituals. When Jesus died after living a sinless life he made it so we no longer have to try and purify ourselves. Now when we believe in Jesus like Romans 10:9 says that when we believe Jesus rose from the dead we will be saved. When we give our lives to Jesus his victory over sin and death becomes our victory too. We are now free from the power of Satan and can live in a relationship with God through Jesus. 

So, to answer your question, yes, I believe in the Bible and what it says.

I’m sorry [name withheld], but it really makes me lose a lot of respect for you when you tell me you agree that it was ever okay to do what our society has placed the title of ‘murder’ on. Worshiping another god/idol/plant/whatever is not a good enough reason to kill someone. If someone is immediately threatening your life or someone you love or what have you and it is for self-defense, then I can understand killing someone because at that point it becomes a necessity. But the fact of the matter for something like that, it is completely unfair to the person being killed. In addition, the word “holy” when assigned to God, is almost completely arbitrary, and loses all meaning because it is given to a person who condones vile and monstrous things like murder and slavery (Exodus 21:2-21). Even if there was a good reason to think the god of the Bible exists, there is no way I could think he was moral, and I really don’t understand how someone else could, especially someone like you, who for the most part is a decent human being (though you scare me when you agree with stuff like this). 

2) Would you ever kill a person if you believed God told you to?

This is one of those questions I don’t know if I can answer without experiencing it. The best answer I can give is this, I always hope I will listen and obey what God wants me to do. I do not believe He would ever tell me to kill someone. I don’t think I have it in me to just go and kill a person.

I don’t really understand why you don’t think God would ask you to kill someone else, when there are several mandates for it in the Old Testament, and while though that’s a little less personal then talking directly to someone, it’s essentially the same thing. So it makes me wonder, is the reason you don’t think you have it in you to kill someone is because you realize that there’s something fundamentally unjust in violating another person’s right to live, especially if they’re doing something pretty much harmless like worshiping another deity (like said above)?

3) I have included a link to Deuteronomy 21:10-14, and was wondering if you think this was ever okay to do to a woman? This was included in the Mosaic Law which means according to the Bible, that God included this among the rules that Moses was to give to his people.

In this passage the shaving of the head meant mourning or turning back from a lifestyle. Men aren’t to treat women slaves like a piece of meat and just use them as a slave for sexual pleasure. They are to give them dignity to mourn then they can marry them. And if they no longer wanted them for a wife they could not sell them but the women were free.

While I disagree with you that shaving of the head means turning back from a lifestyle, I think that’s partially missing the point of what I’m trying to say (though if it does actually literally mean that, it makes it even worse). You should not just be allowed to take people captive, and then force them to marry you. I don’t care if you let them mourn for a whole ten years, marriage is supposed to be a mutual relationship between two parties and if you force someone in to it you are violating their rights as an individual. It doesn’t even matter if you let them free if they don’t please you because that’s still just as bad because it’s not because they are unhappy, it’s because you aren’t satisfied with them.

4) What reason do you have for believing that God is real, that Jesus, Moses, Abraham, Adam & Eve, or really most of the Biblical characters ever existed, much less performed miracles? I ask this because there is little to no evidence of any of these peoples' existence.

There is evidence for the Biblical account of history. For example, the kingdom of Assyria and the city of Nineveh were for a long time thought to be nonexistent. From what I know up until the mid 1800s the Bible was the only record of the kingdom of Assyria and the city of Nineveh. Then in the mid 1800s Austen Henry Layard and Paul Emile Botta discovered the ancient remains of three Assyrian cites, including Nineveh. So the Bible was proven historically correct even when there was no outside ‘evidence’ to back it up.

[I'm condensing this part down because it's several paragraphs long and all the information can be found here, however he fails to mention that none of those sources are from the time when Jesus is said to have lived, as a point out in my response.]

Kevin, other things are, for one, the evidence of countless changed lives. Many different cultures have similar accounts as the Bible like stories of a flood or creation that we can’t just write off as coincidence. I pray this information has helped.
I apologize for not being more clear in the first message, but what I meant to say, in referring to the accounts of Jesus’ life, is that there are not contemporary, or eyewitness testimonies. There is absolutely, no accounts about Jesus that were written during his lifetime, which makes the stories akin to a game of telephone because what was most likely to have happened was that people heard the stories about a guy name Jesus, regardless of whether he was real or not, and started telling other people about it, the stories changed over time and they got written down by some people and then some people believed them. (I’d also like to mention here that the passage you cited from Josephus here has been known to be a fraud for a long time now, but I won’t get hung up on that.) Don’t you think that if some person had actually been performing miracles, that some person would have written something down about it? Not everyone in the time of Jesus was illiterate so it would have been very likely that at least one person would have written something down who would have actually met Jesus to transcribe the events, but the fact remains that there are no such writings. This doesn’t even address the fact that even if there were, I still would not believe them as true. I would never accept a claim of a miracle as true merely from someone telling me that it had happened, which is ultimately what the Bible is, just a person telling me about it. Why would you? 
Did you know that there are actual accounts of Muhammad’s life from people who lived with him and met him? This is a point in Islam’s favor because their claimed savior has contemporaries, as opposed to Jesus. However, the miracle claims are all anecdotal, so there isn’t a good reason to accept them. When addressing this issue I like to tell this story to illustrate: 
“When I came to work one day I was told by my coworker Paul that a man came running through the parking lot yesterday, jumped, smashed a car, and then flew to the moon. A little later another coworker of mine, Aly, said that Paul was wrong but that the man actually came running through the parking lot, picked up the car, and threw it to the other side of Moorhead.” 
Now, if that were you, would you believe either of them? Even if they had people on both of their sides saying that they saw it too, and that they were telling the truth? I wouldn’t. Extraordinary claims need extraordinary evidence, and someone just claiming something isn’t sufficient for believing that claim. What’s happened here is that you’re committing a fallacy called Special Pleading. This is when you have the same amount of evidence for two different claims of the same type (extraordinary, ordinary, etc.) but you accept one, but not the other. This is a bad employment of logic, and usually leads people to believe things they don’t have a good reason to. I hope you see what I’m getting at.
In regards to what you said about the creation stories and flood stories, they actually can be written off as coincidence. Each culture has a different creation myth, and almost every region on the planet has some area that suffers from flooding. If these stories were true they would have an abundance of geological evidence to support them, but they don’t. Like I said before, claims, especially extraordinary ones, don’t stand as true on their own. There needs to be sufficient justification to back them up, and when it comes to creation myths, flood stories, and miracles, they don’t.
About the evidence of miracles in number four, a miracle is something that I cannot explain to you in scientific terms. In your reply you said "This doesn’t even address the fact that even if there were, I still would not believe them as true. I would never accept a claim of a miracle as true merely from someone telling me that it had happened, which ultimately what the Bible is, a person telling me about it."
So I'm curious to what you're wanting me to say about miracles. I can't prove to you that they happen, so I'm not quite sure what you want me to say.
Well, the reason I say that is because of the fact that they are such extraordinary claims, and yet cannot be demonstrated (at least the ones in the Bible, it is actually possible to demonstrate a miracle), why would you, or anyone else for that matter, believe them? It’s a confusing matter to me because the events of these stories are so completely unsupported.

5) I’d like to come back to when we talked about the story of Adam and Eve because I feel like our discussion about it just kind of fizzled out, and I’m not sure I was communicating my thoughts very well so I’d like to address it again. Even if this story were true, I find it highly immoral. For one, Adam and Eve were punished for not knowing what right and wrong were, when the wrong thing in God’s eyes was knowing what right and wrong were. Since Adam and Eve had not eaten from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, there was absolutely no way to know what Good and Evil were. That means it was impossible for them to know whether or not following God’s orders was the right or wrong thing to do, at least before they had eaten from the tree, so why would God punish them for doing what was wrong, when he should have known that they didn’t have the capacity to understand those two concepts, and created them gullible enough to follow the serpent? Most theists like to say that Adam and Eve had free will to choose whether or not to eat the fruit, but I’m sorry, free will is utterly irrelevant in a situation where you don’t have any understanding of what right and wrong is (E.g. A toddler may have some basic form of free will but when they do something that we consider wrong we don’t completely place blame on them because the concepts of right and wrong have not formed in their head yet, equivalent to eating the fruit) and you’re as gullible as they are. God was the one who created them plus he was omniscient, so he couldn’t have been unsure of how gullible they were, or that they didn’t know the difference between right and wrong, yet he condemns them to a life outside of the garden, and increases labor pains in women, how is that fair/just? AND to top it all off, he passes the blame on to all future people because they will be descendants of Adam and Eve, what sense does that make? I am not my father. If he gets convicted of a crime, I don’t go to prison with him, because I didn’t commit the crime. When Adam and Eve committed the “crime” of eating from the tree, God decided to punish everyone else too. Seriously, it doesn’t make any sense! How can you call that character good, fair, and just? It actually makes me very upset that people can read that story, think that it’s true, and the guy with the anger issues was the good character in the story
About your next question, the Adam and Eve one, in your question/argument you use both the term 'right and wrong' and 'good and evil' seemingly interchangeably. In the Bible God commanded them to not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, notice it does not say the tree of right and wrong. Nowhere in the Bible can I find a place that says Adam and Eve did not know what right and wrong were before they ate from the tree. I believe that they knew that following God was the right thing to do and disobeying Him was wrong. From what I understand, eating from the tree gave them the knowledge of good and evil. The knowledge opened their eyes to the temptations and horrors of evil and they were able to see what not following God's commands did. Why we are affected today by Adam's decision and in need of redemption is that before they ate the fruit the world was perfect. After they disobeyed God a curse was placed on the world because of their act. (Read Genesis 3).

Here's an analogy that might help. -"Let's say you built a white model of a forest. You start carving people to populate your perfect forest. Then someone paints a black dot on your creation, it is now no longer perfect. You can't just paint over it because underneath the black dot will still be there. You could scrap this model and start over, but you love it so much and want your people carvings to live in your forest, but every time you move the people around they get a little of the black dot on them and are no longer your perfect creation."

This, I feel, is a good illustration of what happened. But the good news is that the story is not done yet.
-"You take out your paint remover and send it to your forest (this represents Jesus coming to earth) you don't force any of the people to wash in the paint remover but it is open to any who will receive it. The people who wash are cleaned and can live now how they were intended to live.

But if God is omnipotent, wouldn’t it be just as much of a breeze to create another perfect, “sinless” world? Why would he need to have his creations live in a world that was no longer perfect? It seems to me that, that would be a weakness of God if he can’t do something as simple (for an omnipotent entity) as to create another perfect forest for someone to live in, especially because they would be possibly subject to a place of eternal torture for not accepting it. Not even to mention that’s it not as simple as a choice, in order to “accept the paint remover”, you have to believe things that in an everyday context are completely absurd and unsupported by evidence.

Plus, wouldn’t you say that the serpent in the Garden of Eden was evil, along with the temptation of eating the fruit? For the sake of argument, let’s say you’re right about the distinction between right and wrong and good and evil, (I don’t necessarily think you are, but for the sake of argument I’m accepting it) by the definition of evil you gave, with the temptations and horrors and such, that would classify the serpent who fooled them as evil. Therefore, it would still be unfair to punish Adam and Eve for gaining an understanding of the concepts of good and evil by eating from the tree, because if they would have understood them beforehand, they probably would have been less likely to eat from the tree, because they could have seen that the serpent was evil, and not been tempted by it. And even if they had understood them before, and were still tempted by the serpent, well then that’s God’s fault, for making them so easily tempted. He shouldn’t expect them not to be tempted when he created them to be so easily tempted.

Evil is usually a label we put on people who we’ve classified as doing things that are morally wrong, or the morally wrong actions we consider evil actions, so I think if you were right about them understanding right and wrong before they ate from the tree, then chances are good that they knew good from evil as well, because while they might not technically be exactly the same, they are very related, so much in fact that if you know one, you probably know the other.

Would you consider the actual Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil an evil thing? Because it seems that would fall under the category of one of those temptations (if you look at Genesis 3:6 it's pretty clear that the fruit and the tree was tempting to her) but if she could not understand good from evil, how is she to be responsible for understanding her temptation? She really couldn't have known that it was a bad thing.

Now I'd like to ask you a few questions:
1) What do you believe happens to us after we die?

I don't believe there is an "us" after we die. Our minds’ existences are contingent upon a functioning brain, if our brain gets damaged our mind doesn’t function in the same way it did before. Once we die, our brains cease to function and therefore no longer support our consciousness, and our bodies exist but no longer are able to function. So I believe when we die that's the end of our lives, the natural world continues on but we don’t technically exist. Until evidence is put forth that our minds travel elsewhere, I believe that death is the end.

2) Do you believe that we, as humans, have any purpose to our lives? And if so, how do you support that belief?
I believe we make our own purpose. We don't need a divine being to bestow purpose upon our lives. For example, you and I both enjoy film, and shooting projects gives us a sense of purpose. A lot of people like to play sports, some people really enjoy their careers, in addition to their families, friends, intimate relationships, etc. These all give people enjoyment in their lives and give them a reason to keep living. I wouldn't want a greater power to decide that for me, otherwise what would the point of living be if someone else has already made your goals for you?

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Sunday, May 22, 2011

What's the harm with religion?

I think it's a damn shame that so much time and money was wasted on this rapture nonsense. While this was a small sect, the percentage of Americans who believe that Jesus will come back in some form of apocalypse is astoundingly high. The truth of the matter is that even while that number is only around 45% (still too high for comfort), the number of Americans who believe that Jesus was resurrected from the dead is still about 75%, and even more believe that some religious figure performed some sort of miracle, in addition to some god existing, a claim that has never been substantiated.

There are many people who think that it's wrong for me to challenge people's religious beliefs, because they don't see what the harm is. Allow me to provide you with an example:

While this is an example from the rapture, it's still a valid example, because this is not simply a matter of people being swayed by the most recent rapture claims, this is a matter of people accepting claims (particularly extraordinary ones) without demanding evidence. Essentially, this means if you're basing any of your beliefs on faith, you're setting yourself up to be scammed. Once someone has gotten you to accept an initial claim without evidence, you are then vulnerable to future claims that fall under the umbrella of the initial claim (cough cough the rapture cough). It doesn't follow by necessity that if a god exists that it cares about the earth, wants you to stone gay people, or made the earth 6,000-10,000 years ago, but once someone gets you accept that first claim without evidence, then in many cases it's downhill from there.

This is the reason why I think it's important to be a vocal proponent of critical thinking, particularly in areas where faith is required because the fact of the matter is I care. I care about the well-being and rights of myself and others. It saddens me when I see stories like the one above, a story that could have been avoided if only she had asked for evidence. If we care about our future, I think it's absolutely necessary to promote doubt towards religion. Religion is the primary reason why people deny evolution, global climate change, and try to deprive people of rights. It is the impediment to progress and is a proponent of ignorance, and the more ignorant we are, the easier it is to make decisions with negative consequences. If you identify with what I'm saying I encourage you to vocalize your objections when people say something that is verifiably false, when possible, because to do otherwise is allow people to bathe in misinformation.

"Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities."

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