Author Topic: Ab Initio  (Read 2756 times)

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Offline C

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Ab Initio
« on: November 18, 2009, 09:51:49 PM »
Hello,

I'd like to first introduce myself and then move onto slightly confusing questions that I've encountered over the course of my time before hesitantly becoming an atheist. I have been hovering around this forum for a week or two and read some topics throughout the site. I was interested by the more 'intellectual' and somewhat of a 'jovial' atmosphere in this forum than the other websites which have all-out flame wars between the religious and the non-religious; youtube comments being one of them.  &)

Firstly, I checked out the rules (Below) for newcomers and FAQ and haven't located the restriction of introduction threads. However taking the example of "I WANT TRUTH"'s thread, I will start by introduction and funneling down to the questions that have pecked at my mind for the past year or so.

NOTE: If you would just like to skip over the introduction part, you can just go to the questions I have at the bottom.
I have tried not to make this a "tl ; dr" post, so I made some fonts and paragraph spacing


http://whywontgodhealamputees.com/forums/index.php?PHPSESSID=a45cc13abc53ef4a882aa5bc67f67a3d&topic=5628.0
http://whywontgodhealamputees.com/forums/index.php?PHPSESSID=a45cc13abc53ef4a882aa5bc67f67a3d&topic=4259.0
http://whywontgodhealamputees.com/forums/index.php?PHPSESSID=a45cc13abc53ef4a882aa5bc67f67a3d&topic=3998.0
http://whywontgodhealamputees.com/forums/index.php?PHPSESSID=a45cc13abc53ef4a882aa5bc67f67a3d&topic=3998.0



To start off, my name is C, my age is 16, and I live in PA. &)
I, like many of you it seems, was born and raised in a Christian household.
From age eight to present day, I have had troubling questions that made me feel abnormal compared to other kids in Christian communities. It all really started with the culture shock of seeing Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia's children just like me in utter poverty; living in abandoned stone temples with feet for shoes and skin for clothes, surrounded by hundreds of black ants and alone in a life of begging.
The sights troubled me, a year later my Grandfather died, then two years later my grandfather on my mother's side died. The latter was an intriguing experience. My mother and I along with my brother basically raced from the Eastern coast of the U.S only stopping to sleep in an airport terminal in Los Angeles then finally arriving in the Republic of South Korea, only to find that my grandfather had died just an hour after we landed. I was taken aside and told that both my grandfathers were now residing in Heaven.



I accepted the "fact" of heaven but still slightly questioned why God, this loving Father that watched over me, my parents, the world would let poverty run rampant, let my grandfather die before my mother even reached the hospital?
I pushed all these questions away for that period of time until a third death struck into my life.

A Thirteen year old boy, the exact same age as mine at that time, fragile, innocent, and isolated in hospitals rarely going to school or venturing to the outside world. My cousin died of cancer/leukemia, I was never told, all I knew was that his hair never grew, he couldn't grow much, and I thought he was just having some difficulty but would still live to a considerable age. He died at the age of thirteen, finally cracking my belief that God watched over him or us. The irony was that my cousin was a fervent believer, a Christian with a poster of Jesus on his wall and gospel quotes all over the house. Again, I was taken aside and told that God called him and he went to heaven.

My doubts sprung up in the forms of questions and actually reading the Bible. I was astounded by the mere fact that I had never thoroughly read the Bible, and that I only embraced God for Heaven and "eternal life" and glossed over his seeming unwillingess to help those children in Africa, to stop rapes and murders, and to stop natural disasters. After the day of me blurting out loud "Why should we trust such a stupid book?" during the middle of "Bible Study" for young students; I decided to research religion, specifically Christianity.


So, with Christianity, I:
Prayed (Before the events above)
Went to a Catholic school and observed the rituals/worship.
Went to mass every sunday and kept reading the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, trying to interpret passages on my own.
Tried conversing with other Christians, though I failed to do so.
Went to the Internet and searched for other peoples' opinions in forms of blogs and forums such as these.
Read some scholarly books regarding Christianity
Read many accounts of prayers being answered and including contacting Lee Strobel after I read his "Case For Faith Student Edition".
....and many other things that people here probably have done.


During all this I saw many examples of Christian beliefs in the forms of protests against homosexuals and abortion usually with the words "Hell", "Fags", "God Punishes" involved. I witnessed contradictions and clashes of religion with a very dependable tool called Science, and annoying Christian advertisement from door to door often intruded; though I solved this last one by borrowing my friend's Kippah(Yamaka) and telling them I was Jewish.

Then I realized there were multiple religions and mentally slapped myself for not really realizing it; so I asked a few Jewish, Muslim, and Hindu friends to see if I could go with them and their families to each cultural and religious sites (i.e synagogues, et cetera) and even observed some of their own "rituals" and what their traditions are in an effort to be open-minded.
I also read up on these religions through "World Religions" and other books. I also asked my grandmother to show me Buddhism and what she practiced.



So after months and a couple of years, I was forced to conclude that if there is a God, then it is impossible to look for him through all these religions that differ from each other and until I am proven wrong and shown personally to gods or a God, that I will become/remain an atheist. When I announced my belief to some of the church community's youth members, they became a bit distant or as one said to me "You're going to go to hell." which I admit made me stubborn and consolidated my position on the matter.


Of course, my parents are still struggling to show me that God is real and that the Trinity; Holy Spirit, Lamb of God, and Father has looked over us and the world and told me that I must have interpreted the holy scripture wrong. So I was convinced to talk to my pastor because I was still a bit inclined towards the idea of eternal life and I really, really wanted to be convinced. Which leads me to the questions that arose from my conversation with Pastor. Through emails I asked him questions varying from common sense and morals to Noah's ark, and of course to Jesus, original sin, God's omniscience, the Laws (slavery, rape, etc).

This is the email below:


From: Pastor K


Quote from: Email
C, Very quickly for now, I would just say two things.  Thanks for engaging with me however, I appreciate your thoughtful dialogue and words.  I hope we can talk lots more. I am leaving D.C. and going to L.A. soon so I will write a few things quickly. 

1) You, me, and no one was around even 50 years ago, let alone at creation, the time of Noah, the time of "Big Bang" as evolutionists believe, etc.  You, if you don't believe in God and what the bible says, that is ok.  But what you say too, you were not there and without evidence for it, whatever you believe or think is subject to the same questions.  Moreover, you may think that you have empirical evidence for your views, but it is theoretical and from a subjective starting point.  It is no different in many ways from what you say about Christianity.   You  show your subjective critique of Christianity.  That's fine.  But remember, it is subjective.

2) As to your questions about God, you miss a major element of who God is in all your questions about him...the work and person of Jesus.  I am not trying to convince you that I am right, I am just letting you know that you cannot ask all those questions and question God without understanding the purpose of Jesus in all of it.


So I responded by saying I read the Bible, I know what Jesus did and who he was and what he did after he came back to life according to the Bible then he said this:


Quote from: 2ndEmail
C, the Holy Spirit is everywhere, around you, in you, and in me and everyone else. Yes, I take the Bible as an accurate historical manuscript :?, like I said before, your critique of Christianity is subjective. And yes you were using Science not common sense to try to critcize Christianity; but what exactly is common sense? How can we flawed humans have this sense without Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior? Because Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins and as he was the ultimate sacrifice for mankind, God has given us this new covenant in which we can personally pray to him and receive what he is willing to give, you ask why there is suffering in this world. It's because God has a plan for everyone to relieve them of original sin when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit.


He really didn't answer any of my questions. So I thought to ask the questions here where the posts make much sense and people here are helpful in providing information whether through links or posts.


I will start with the basic questions I have:

1) Due to the assortement of various religions on Earth, is it possible that even one of them may be the "true" religion?

2) In some books, Christian authors point out to the delicate and firm balance of 'life/molecules, et cetera' needed on Earth to sustain life which should require intelligent design and a designer but not random chance. Is this true?
 From what I know, Christians pointed to the structure of the eye in the past as proof of intelligent design, but it was later proven that the eye is anything but "perfect", but the amount of specific matter needed to support life isn't something I looked into.


3) If we rule out omniscience in the factor of God, would that make the image of God better?


4) For Christians/Theists, I received many answers from a lot of Christian friends and community members regarding some aspects of the Old Testament. They say that some parts of the OT is not actually literal (Garden of Eden, Flood) and that certain laws regarding the rights of women only applied to Israelites long ago and not now. Your opinion?

5) Without religion, would the world be a better place? A scenario would be a nihilistic society, without religious morals, would there be an increase of crime or the opposite?

Lastly (For Now),

6) Although historical factors are involved (i.e Constantine, Western Civilization, international missions), what is the point of Christianity and the worship of Jesus if the Savior was "only sent to the lost sheep of Israel.” (Matthew 15:24)?


I appreciate that this forum,the website, and the people are available. I also realize that some of these questions might be considered mundane by some here, but I will be looking forward to your replies and opinions.


- C
                               



The Second C

Offline ParkingPlaces

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Re: Ab Initio
« Reply #1 on: November 18, 2009, 11:25:45 PM »
Welcome C.

No one source of information can answer all of your questions, but the important thing is that you're asking.

At the risk of contributing the the non-delinquency of a minor ( ;D) I give you my answers to the questions at the end of your post.

I will start with the basic questions I have:

1) Due to the assortement of various religions on Earth, is it possible that even one of them may be the "true" religion?

Since you're asking a bunch of atheists and agnostics, the predictable answer here is "No." Or at least "Very probably not." That's what I would say.

No religion started out universal. That is, each one has begun in some small corner of the planet and those that gained traction have grown to varying degrees. Since we live in a christian nation, I'll concentrate on that version. According to the believers, their god made the universe, whipped out a planet, churned up a muddy first person (obviously going for the drama there. He didn't need dirt for anything else) and through a series of mishaps kind of got his story through to the descendants of this first human.

I find it interesting that if we all descended from Adam (and later Noah), the general idea of the creation story would have inevitably survived the break off cultures that went on to create the great civilizations in Africa, India, China and the Americas. But instead, each culture has come up with its own creation stories. The common thread is that there are often such creation stories. The uncommon thread is that they vary far more than necessary if there was one true creation tale set in motion by an omnipotent (or otherwise, as you as ask below) skydaddy.

I also find it interesting that many cultures had stories about children of gods born of virgin mothers, long before jc showed up. Obviously the other stories are false, as per my christian friends, but why would a well-educated god who wants to be worshipped and loved, etc. use the same basic storyline for introducing his kid into the world? Why couldn't he come up with something both original and a bit more convincing? A culture that descended from other cultures that had stories of virgin births, etc. might understandably come up with a divinity story that somewhat resembled the other, older, also false stories. But an omnipotent or semi-omnipotent guy with a message to get across would have been better served by thinking first and impregnating his teen girlfriend second.

Each version of religion, christian or otherwise, came out of a culture that was consistent with the story. Mountain religions weren't full of whale stories, American Indian religions didn't include giraffes. A true religion would, IMO, have some universal components that went far beyond what the originating culture could muster. It might talk of germs when germs weren't known. It might tell why there are earthquakes and storms using a scientific explanation. It might explain the cycles of life and why locusts occasionally swarm or why famine can hit a region. Just getting huffy about a few golden calves and excited about overly vocal burning bushes doesn't move the story beyond the known and imagined in the culture of a religions birth.

So no. As far as I can tell, there is no one true religion. None of them offer enough to have a supernatural origin, as far as I can tell.

Quote
2) In some books, Christian authors point out to the delicate and firm balance of 'life/molecules, et cetera' needed on Earth to sustain life which should require intelligent design and a designer but not random chance. Is this true?
 From what I know, Christians pointed to the structure of the eye in the past as proof of intelligent design, but it was later proven that the eye is anything but "perfect", but the amount of specific matter needed to support life isn't something I looked into.

The quickest way to raise the ire of a non-believer on this site is to argue against science with a kindergarden level education in the sciences. Even as I write this other threads in this forum are populated by believers who would be better educated if they would read the back of just one cereal box that taught something about anything. The tend to think that the world is the way they want it to be, and since science doesn't match up with what they want, then science must be wrong. They either bring incredulous attitudes ("Something can't come from nothing!") or implausible ignorance ("Something something something, therefore god must have done it!")

I became an atheist at when I was 11 or so and science wasn't a factor. I was much more heavily influenced by the realization that there were thousands of religions and creation stories and such. You are young, and no matter how well you've done in school, unless you've spent your spare hours on science web sites and blogs and taken the initiative to self-educate yourself, your knowledge level on the subject is probably relatively low. High school science teaches mostly the basics in various subjects, and in most schools contentious subjects such as evolution are not taught with enthusiasm.

Your first sentence in the above quote reveals that you haven't had enough science to fend of the claims of those believers. The answer to your questions is "yes". Yes there are believers who say there must be a designer because a) something like this do-hicky here looks too complex to have come about naturally and b) natural stuff messes up my limited worldview, so I have to diss it. But no, what we humans define as complex stuff in life and other stuff in nature is not outside the bounds of the possible, as per science. Evolution is the most proven scientific theory we have. We have evidence up the ying-yang, and all of it points to a natural process that has brought life to where it is now.

Sunday school lessons are a heck of a lot easier to learn than chemistry, biology, geology, paleontology, etc. One book, one test to pass, classes only once or twice a week and no homework. What's not to love. Other than the resulting ignorance. Getting the information you need in the sciences to understand what we're talking about when we say evolution has been proven, or how the age of the universe was found doesn't require a college education, but it does require a desire to learn something and the energy expenditure needed to actually do it. But with YouTube, ten thousand science blogs, public libraries, podcasts and actual curiosity, you can learn enough to reassure yourself that this science stuff is real.

Quote
3) If we rule out omniscience in the factor of God, would that make the image of God better?

If a big guy were to show himself in the sky and say "Hi, I'm god, and boy have I screwed things up. I thought I knew everything then I made the universe and earth and a few folks and boy, did things go sour fast. I tried again with the flood thing and boy did things go sour fast. I've been sitting out back pondering for a few thousand years and decided I'm going to ask the atheists out there what I've been doing wrong. I can't ask my believers because they're suckers for a sob story..." Him I could believe in. Other versions. No. The omni-everything-but-the-kitchen-sink type god hasn't done too well.

Quote
4) For Christians/Theists, I received many answers from a lot of Christian friends and community members regarding some aspects of the Old Testament. They say that some parts of the OT is not actually literal (Garden of Eden, Flood) and that certain laws regarding the rights of women only applied to Israelites long ago and not now. Your opinion?

The nice thing about christianity is that you can get any answer and any opinion you want. You have 38,000 denominations to choose from and if you're careful, you can get every belief you want while rejecting all the bad stuff you've decided you don't like. Slavery? Oh that. If you look carefully, you can see that god wanted people to be nice to their slaves. Hence it was okay. Women as second class believers? No. Well, maybe in the old days and baptist churches today, but not here in our little sect that has everything right. Hell hot and miserable? Not in our church. If you go there you get nothing but re-runs "Full House" for an eternity. But it ain't hot. If you don't want to believe it is.

The fiction of religion allows for multiple versions. That's nice and all, but don't be impressed. The resulting inconsistencies make for bad press and multitudinous wars.


Quote
5) Without religion, would the world be a better place? A scenario would be a nihilistic society, without religious morals, would there be an increase of crime or the opposite?

Religion isn't likely to be the deciding factor in whether or not the world can be improved. I've known many a wonderful human who believed in god fervently and would have never hurt anyone. I assume I've known some pretty mean atheists. We humans run the gamut from nice to horrible, generous to stingy, giving to selfish, sweet to icky. The power-hungry have no trouble finding folks to oppress, the kind no trouble finding people who need help. On a planet with nearly 7 billion individuals, it will be screwy no matter what beliefs drive us.

Your question can't be answered. People are involved.

Quote
6) Although historical factors are involved (i.e Constantine, Western Civilization, international missions), what is the point of Christianity and the worship of Jesus if the Savior was "only sent to the lost sheep of Israel.” (Matthew 15:24)?

As an atheist for almost 50 years, I can't answer this one. Out of my league, and I'm happier for it. Perhaps others can put in their two cents worth.

My opinion is one of many available here. I trust that you're smart enough to listen to more than one, and smart enough to find advice and opinions other places as well. I raised my sons as atheists, and they never had to go through the sometimes wrenching decisions you are trying to make now. Nobody should have to. Keep in mind that you are simultaneously going through major brain changes (something evolution tossed into the teenagers life just to make things a bit more exciting), and by the time you're 20 you will be less emotional and perhaps a tiny bit more confident in your ability to make decisions. So be patient. And hang around. We have lots of fun here.

P.S. If anyone is interested in the teenaged brain, listen to this podcast:
http://docartemis.com/brainsciencepodcast/2009/11/bsp63-bainbridge/



Never trust an atom. They make up everything!

Offline xphobe

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Re: Ab Initio
« Reply #2 on: November 18, 2009, 11:32:30 PM »
Welcome C!  I will read your intro when I have more time, but for now...

1) Due to the assortement of various religions on Earth, is it possible that even one of them may be the "true" religion?
Yes.  It is also possible that none of them is.  In fact, since the assortment of religions on Earth is but an infinitesimal subset of the total possible religions in the Universe, the probability of the latter is infinitely greater.


Quote
2) In some books, Christian authors point out to the delicate and firm balance of 'life/molecules, et cetera' needed on Earth to sustain life which should require intelligent design and a designer but not random chance. Is this true?

Arguing that the universe is fine tuned requires knowledge of other not-fine-tuned universes for comparison.  Christians don't have this.

In contrast, I've also read that the tuning constants of the Universe could vary by a large amount and still some kind of life could form.

Furthermore it could be argued that the Universe is not fine tuned for earth life, because if you were to drop earth life almost anywhere in the universe except certain specific places in a very thin shell on one planet (Earth) it would be immediately destroyed by vacuum, intense cold or heat, or ionizing radiation.


Quote
3) If we rule out omniscience in the factor of God, would that make the image of God better?

Sounds like you're saying that God might be more probable if we didn't constrain him to be omniscient.  Yes, that's true.  He might be even more probable if we didn't constrain him to be omnipotent.  But then he wouldn't be God, merely some advanced but still non-godlike alien.  The first question to ask when someone posits "God" is, what exactly do they mean?  Invariably they can't answer.

Quote
4) For Christians/Theists, I received many answers from a lot of Christian friends and community members regarding some aspects of the Old Testament. They say that some parts of the OT is not actually literal (Garden of Eden, Flood) and that certain laws regarding the rights of women only applied to Israelites long ago and not now. Your opinion?

Cherry picking.  Who determines what is literal and what is not?  When confronted with the atrocities of the OT, Christians love to point out that Jesus was "kinder and gentler", and that his message of love somehow supersedes the OT.  Yet he himself said "not one jot or tittle" of the old law was superseded by his coming.  Furthermore he was not all kind and gentle, and you can google why that is.  Finally, those same Christians who would throw out the entire OT are quick to nail up the Ten Commandments in courthouses, or use the OT to justify their homophobic attitudes, or teach pseudo-science in our classrooms.

Quote
5) Without religion, would the world be a better place? A scenario would be a nihilistic society, without religious morals, would there be an increase of crime or the opposite?

This is a sore subject for me.  I am an honest and nice person and a good parent, and I give to charities.  Treating others fairly (altruism) can have survival value.

Morality and the Golden Rule pre-date the Bible.  If there were no morality how could pre-Biblical cultures have survived?  Yet they obviously managed to.  For that matter, many Asian cultures have survived to the present day without being guided by the Bible.

You could turn it around and say that a moral system that was based on fear of a judgemental invisible super-being isn't much to brag about.  I'd prefer to "be good for goodness sake".

 
Quote
6) Although historical factors are involved (i.e Constantine, Western Civilization, international missions), what is the point of Christianity and the worship of Jesus if the Savior was "only sent to the lost sheep of Israel.” (Matthew 15:24)?

Good question.  My answer would be "It's all just a fable".  Who knows how a Christian would justify it.

Cheers!
xphobe
I stopped believing for a little while this morning. Journey is gonna be so pissed when they find out...

Offline GetMeThere

Re: Ab Initio
« Reply #3 on: November 19, 2009, 12:04:25 AM »
Hi C,

Your pastor speaks exactly like so many visitors here. He argues from ignorance: "Well, you can't really know anything. You weren't there." etc.

And then, HILARIOUSLY, recommends that people should claim to KNOW something utterly fantastic and without ANY evidence at all!!

What crazy thinking. He asks you to ignore evidence, because you can "never be sure of anything," and then ACCEPT something with NO evidence as absolutely true.

It's really not necessary to proceed any further than that. It's already certain that what you are observing in such a person is a COGNITIVE DISSONANCE. And it demonstrates that he is ACTIVELY attempting to twist his mind in such a way as to allow him to believe in something that offers no rational reason to believe it.

Offline voodoo child

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Re: Ab Initio
« Reply #4 on: November 19, 2009, 12:07:25 AM »
don't worry too much C, you have picked good company and there is tons of information here. you have taken your first step into a bigger world.

 Religion to me is; self made guilt, fear of the unknown, and completely ridicules, a waste of ones ability's that maybe some folks have yet to discover, had it not been for a detour of servitude to the compleat unknown.  

no way to be free, on bended knee.    ;)
The classical man is just a bundle of routine, ideas and tradition. If you follow the classical pattern, you are understanding the routine, the tradition, the shadow, you are not understanding yourself. Truth has no path. Truth is living and therefore changing. Bruce lee

Offline Noman Peopled

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Re: Ab Initio
« Reply #5 on: November 19, 2009, 06:07:50 AM »
Quote from: quoted email
But what you say too, you were not there and without evidence for it, whatever you believe or think is subject to the same questions.  Moreover, you may think that you have empirical evidence for your views, but it is theoretical and from a subjective starting point.  It is no different in many ways from what you say about Christianity.
"I'm right 'cause you don't know either."
There's no such thing as theoretical evidence.
This is the old "religion and science are both equally valid" crap. No they're not. Just because two people agree to disagree doesn't make them both equally probably right, and it doesn't make both their viewpoints subjective either.

Quote
And yes you were using Science not common sense to try to critcize Christianity; but what exactly is common sense? How can we flawed humans have this sense without Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior? Because Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins and as he was the ultimate sacrifice for mankind, God has given us this new covenant in which we can personally pray to him and receive what he is willing to give, you ask why there is suffering in this world. It's because God has a plan for everyone to relieve them of original sin when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit.
Waitwut?
I could literally write ten times as much about why this paragraph is just crap, ranging from fallacies to ... well, it's pretty much all fallacies. I see a red herring (actually, up to two), a non sequitur, several baseless assertions, and a generally bad rhetorical structure (let alone argumentation).
For example, just by saying your opinions and his are equally subjective, the whole discussion is moot. First he says you were applying science, not common sense, than goes off on a tangent about the method he said you didn't employ. No, actually he goes on about its source. Plus, he raises new questions. Jesus died so we could have common sense? Where's that even canonical? Why is anyone accountable for what Rib-Girl and Clay-Boy did? How is suffering intensely for a few weeks and then going to heaven the ultimate sacrifice, exactly?



Quote from: C
1) Due to the assortement of various religions on Earth, is it possible that even one of them may be the "true" religion?
Technically, sure. I don't know all of them so I can't even form an opinion about most of them. But all those that I encountered started out with a dogma and were inaccurate as well as self-contradicting. Not to mention I disagreed with a lot they had to say. (Just recently two girls tried to sell me the idea of thoughtcrime again. I had fun.)
I guess if I were looking for a true religion, I'd pay attention to differences to all other religions. Something that makes them stand out. Most of all, I'd be looking for one that hasn't changed at all since its inception. Good luck with that

Quote from: C
2) In some books, Christian authors point out to the delicate and firm balance of 'life/molecules, et cetera' needed on Earth to sustain life which should require intelligent design and a designer but not random chance. Is this true?
 From what I know, Christians pointed to the structure of the eye in the past as proof of intelligent design, but it was later proven that the eye is anything but "perfect", but the amount of specific matter needed to support life isn't something I looked into.
It is true that to allow for life as we know it, the universe has to be pretty much like it is. Big surprise. We simply don't know if other sets of constants wouldn't allow for different life. We also don't know how likely it was for the universe to "get" the "right" set of constants in the first place.
In any case, this argument will always fall short - even if the chances for a universe to bear life is astronomically infinitesimal and our universe is the only one, being alive is a prerequisite for asking the question. I mean, imagine that the chance of any sentience existing is 1:Big Number. With the first throw of a metaphorical multidiminsional dice, the universe nails it (let's go with one although we don't know how many throws there were). You and I pop up and say "nah, that's so improbable it can't have happened naturally".

Quote from: C
3) If we rule out omniscience in the factor of God, would that make the image of God better?
No, but a tad more plausible - or rather, not more plausible but more realistic. There's no such thing as omni-anything, except as a human concept, an abstraction, very much like "perfection". But then, why worship an imperfect god? Oh yeah, that hell thing.

Quote from: C
4) For Christians/Theists, I received many answers from a lot of Christian friends and community members regarding some aspects of the Old Testament. They say that some parts of the OT is not actually literal (Garden of Eden, Flood) and that certain laws regarding the rights of women only applied to Israelites long ago and not now. Your opinion?
Heh. Back to those two girls again ... Yeah, no shit it isn't literal. The trick is, how do you know what's literal and what's not? It's not like the bible itself tells you that. You choose on some other basis - so at the very least, the bible is incomplete. (Also, funny how pretty much no "real" believer goes to a linguist to determine which passages are literal and which aren't.)
And of course there are some pretty harsh rules in the OT that even hardcore linguists would have a hard time describing as anything but as literal as language allows. So ... fathers basically selling raped girls into institutionalized slavery was okay then but now it isn't? One might think the bible would have an explanation ready. Like, why?
So, again, on what basis do people ditch the one about stoning and not the one about loving thy neighbour (which, btw means "tribesmen", not "everybody else")? How can one see the story of Eden as metaphorical, but claim that the resurrection story is a documentary?
(And don't even get me started on "literal". Or do so, if you want a rant ;) )

Quote
5) Without religion, would the world be a better place? A scenario would be a nihilistic society, without religious morals, would there be an increase of crime or the opposite?
Another misconception.
Assume all the religions in the world are wrong. Which means that there was no basis there for morality in the first place. Nonetheless, people were behaving morally. Clearly, there are other sources of morality, and always have been for as long as people were people.
It's not absolute though, it changes.
This is much, much different from nihilism. Instead of morality arbitrarily having been assigned by god, it is now non-arbitrarily, but also non-randomly to a high degree, assigned by sociological forces. We can actually influence it, too.
I can see why losing faith in an absolute morality might shake up a person but in all likelihood you will maybe have lost a few moral tenets that you only paid lip service to because of the church. You may revise your reasons as to why you believe them, but that's about it.

Personally, I would describe myself as an objective nihilist, and a subjective conventional moralist.
The first phrase meaning that, yeah, in an absolute sense, there's no such thing as good or evil, and that it doesn't matter one bit objectively if I go into the supermarket shooting around me with an Uzi.
The second one meaning that I fully accept that morals aresubjective, and that most of my personal moral tenets I got from convention (evolutionary sociology should probably be in there somewhere, too), but I don't accept the convention completely.
The latter means that I'm pretty much like your average christian in many moral areas; I wouldn't kill someone unless I had a really good reason (like self-defense with no purely defensive maneuver possible), I don't steal and won't until it becomes economically necessary, I support a few charities, I'm there for my friends, I don't discriminate against minorities unless it's for their political agenda, I will honor my parents until they go into a supermarket with an Uzi and start shooting, I don't cheat on my girlfriend (who is, sadly, as hypothetical as the Uzi), etc.

Better or not? Dunno. It's hard to imagine that a huge driving force like religion could vanish without leaving behind a vacuum that'd be filled with who knows what. Religious fundies aren't the only fundies out there.
There's something deeply human about religion, and I don't think it'll ever be fully gone. There's also the question how much religion actually influences people to act "evilly" rather than people just interpreting their religion the way they see fit. You can read both peace and war into any doctrine longer than half a page.

Quote from: C
6) Although historical factors are involved (i.e Constantine, Western Civilization, international missions), what is the point of Christianity and the worship of Jesus if the Savior was "only sent to the lost sheep of Israel.” (Matthew 15:24)?
Well, in terms of memes I'd say that the meme-plex of christianity (and judaism before that) had elements that were very conductive to expansion, and as new expanses were covered, the meme adapted. Of course it got all political very soon, which proved a very stable combination for centuries.
Basically, if you take the whole bible to be a single, coherent thought construct, then you have a problem (just as if you did it with Perry Rhodan). In other words, this problem disappears if you don't assume the bible is the inerrant word of an inerrant god (and it's not the only such problem by any means). Many theological debates, often hundreds of years old, boil down to "dude, it's just a book, now get over it".
"Deferinate" itself appears to be a new word... though I'm perfectly carmotic with it.
-xphobe

Offline velkyn

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Re: Ab Initio
« Reply #6 on: November 19, 2009, 10:38:53 AM »
Hello C.  I'm from PA too, Harrisburg.

I'll take a stab at #6

Quote
6) Although historical factors are involved (i.e Constantine, Western Civilization, international missions), what is the point of Christianity and the worship of Jesus if the Savior was "only sent to the lost sheep of Israel.” (Matthew 15:24)?
If one takes it that Jesus is to be the Jewish messiah, ignoring the fact that he does not fulfill the supposed prophecies in the holy book, then of course he was only there to get the Jews back on the straight and narrow.  But when a supposed "messiah" fails, of course it's the people that are wrong, and Paul and other early "Christians" went looking for greener pastures e.g. the "gentiles".  O
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Offline shnozzola

Re: Ab Initio
« Reply #7 on: November 19, 2009, 06:52:24 PM »
HI C (orange)

I'm PA too, home of the Amish.

You seem like a smart cookie, C.  I’m not smart enough to answer any of your questions, but I think if we atheists are wrong and all end up in hell, if we band together there must be a way we can get milkshakes on Thursdays.

I do think there are many good lessons for life in a variety of religions, and while salad bar religiousness mixed with blasphemy seems to be frowned upon by the world’s regimented, I haven’t been struck down for practicing it.

Enjoy your life and DON”T PUT ANYTHING OFF UNTIL TOMORROW.
 (Oh yeah, nice post, ParkingPlaces)
« Last Edit: November 19, 2009, 06:56:05 PM by shnozzola »
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Offline ParkingPlaces

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Re: Ab Initio
« Reply #8 on: November 19, 2009, 07:07:42 PM »
Thanks shnozzola. I didn't know Jimmy Durante was an atheist!

Edit: Forgot to give you kudos for "Hi C (orange)". Made me smile.

Hope C comes back and reads some of the stuff we've put up for him (or her, don't think gender was specified). C put a lot of effort into that first post, and some of us have done the same in return. Hope its not all for naught.

(I used "Jimmy Durante" and "naught" in this post. Does that give away my age or what?)
« Last Edit: November 19, 2009, 07:09:38 PM by ParkingPlaces »
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Offline C

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Re: Ab Initio
« Reply #9 on: November 19, 2009, 08:35:01 PM »
Thank you for all of your replies, I was a bit surprised to see similar thoughts coinciding with my own as I read through the posts regarding morals and other things. I really appreciate your thoughts on this as you put effort and time into your posts and in my view, time is perhaps one of the most valuable currencies spent on this planet.

Quote from: Parking Places
Religion isn't likely to be the deciding factor in whether or not the world can be improved. . . On a planet with nearly 7 billion individuals, it will be screwy no matter what beliefs drive us.

Yes but by how much will the world deteoriate or improve? If a destructive belief drove half of the Earth, then I'm sure that belief will cause more damage than the current religions today. It, depends on the types of beliefs I suppose.


Quote from: xophobe
Sounds like you're saying that God might be more probable if we didn't constrain him to be omniscient.  Yes, that's true.  He might be even more probable if we didn't constrain him to be omnipotent.

Correct. Thanks for interpreting my loosely asked question. However I can't seem to let go of the notion, that if there is truly a "being" that presides over the universe or elsewhere, that it is impossible to comprehend the very, hard to say, but "state" of the being. As in its ideas, actions, and so on.


Quote from: xophobe
Who determines what is literal and what is not?

I was confused about that too earlier, I tried to look for a disclaimer in the first or last pages of the Bible to see whether it said any of its passages were metaphorical or literal.


Quote from: Noman Peopled
Better or not? Dunno. It's hard to imagine that a huge driving force like religion could vanish without leaving behind a vacuum that'd be filled with who knows what. Religious fundies aren't the only fundies out there.
There's something deeply human about religion, and I don't think it'll ever be fully gone. There's also the question how much religion actually influences people to act "evilly" rather than people just interpreting their religion the way they see fit. You can read both peace and war into any doctrine longer than half a page.

Do you think though, religion will some day, not today or the next generation, but some day dissapear in most of its form?
Many of my Jewish (Non-orthodox) friends told me that their families do not literally believe in all the divine acts nor some parts of YHWH in their religion, rather they look to it as a structure for culture and tradition to raise a family in.
Religion is part of culture too, what if that vanished? Or would religion be not religion if it was looked to rather a form of morals/structure than actual "religion"?


Quote from: shnitzzila
Enjoy your life and DON”T PUT ANYTHING OFF UNTIL TOMORROW.

Thank you, and I like to say it feels great to be welcomed in here!
« Last Edit: November 19, 2009, 08:36:52 PM by C »
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Offline ParkingPlaces

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Re: Ab Initio
« Reply #10 on: November 19, 2009, 09:06:20 PM »
Quote from: Parking Places
Religion isn't likely to be the deciding factor in whether or not the world can be improved. . . On a planet with nearly 7 billion individuals, it will be screwy no matter what beliefs drive us.

Yes but by how much will the world deteoriate or improve? If a destructive belief drove half of the Earth, then I'm sure that belief will cause more damage than the current religions today. It, depends on the types of beliefs I suppose.

First of all, its not fair you you have quoting down better than anyone else on this site. You make me feel old.

Edit: My quote boxes were out of control. After complimenting C and broke every rule in the book and this post was downright ugly. Fixed the quote boxes. Couldn't do a damn thing about my text  ;D

Much of the bad stuff that happens on planet earth has little to do with beliefs, and a lot to do with greed, anger, unusably high expectations and the urge to fulfill illegal needs. Drug runners can be religious or not, sleazy businesspeople can be religous or not, etc. Many can set their beliefs aside when they are inconvenient, and the presumably catholic italian mafia would qualify as a case in point.

Yes beliefs do cause a measureable part of the problem. However I suspect they used as an excuse as often as they are used as a justification. It seems that we humans are naturally inclined to identify most strongly with smaller sized groups, and many of us go on autopilot and hate people who aren't one of 'us'. This can happen on a benign scale in high school cliques, and a fatal one in the Israel/Palestinian conflict. Not all such conflicts are based on religion. Sometimes is cultural or national or at least regional. Historical memories can kill as fast as a disagreement over new nuclear capabilities, so apparently we folks will kill for any reason we consider good the moment we pull the trigger.

I would assume that if we could wave a magic wand and make religion disappear today, it would improve a few situations, but I've little doubt that replacement evil thoughts would arise rather quickly, and soon we'd be killing each because of a dispute over the size of the marshmallows that we put in hot chocolate. "Die, you mini-marshmallow loving scumbag!" would be the war cry, and no doubt a few would voluntarily immolate themselves because they thought they would get 72 s'mores when they got to heaven. A non-religous heaven, of course.

Life is far too complex to have just a few reasons for unfortunate happenstance's. People tend to want to simplify all of their explanations for others doing wrong, or for taking action against a perceived ill. Eight years after 9-11 Americans still can't understand why the Arab world is unhappy about US forces occupying the middle east. We can't seem to reverse the situation and imagine how we'd feel if a huge muslim army had heavily armed forces on all of our borders and inside the country as well, just waiting for something to happen. The suicide pilots can't be justified in any way, but their motive should be far less a mystery than we make it out to be.

So we don't know how the world will behave if religion is removed. I suspect the change would in itself do little good if that was the only change that occurred. Finding a way to introduce true compassion, creating a predisposition to share and introducing an appreciation for differences as well as similarities would do far more good, whether religion survived or not.
« Last Edit: November 19, 2009, 09:41:19 PM by ParkingPlaces »
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Offline C

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Re: Ab Initio
« Reply #11 on: November 19, 2009, 09:25:20 PM »
Quote from: Parking Places
First of all, its not fair you you have quoting down better than anyone else on this site. You make me feel old.

It's all thanks to the Quote FAQ Guide  ;D . And some experience with many other political/religion forums before I came here.

Quote from: Parking Places
Much of the bad stuff that happens on planet earth has little to do with beliefs, and a lot to do with greed, anger, unusably high expectations and the urge to fulfill illegal needs. Drug runners can be religious or not, sleazy businesspeople can be religous or not, etc. Many can set their beliefs aside when they are inconvenient, and the presumably catholic italian mafia would qualify as a case in point.

Agreed. However certain belief is certainly a factor to some misery on Earth.

Quote from: Parking Places
Yes beliefs do cause a measureable part of the problem. However I suspect they used as an excuse as often as they are used as a justification. It seems that we humans are naturally inclined to identify most strongly with smaller sized groups, and many of us go on autopilot and hate people who aren't one of 'us'. This can happen on a benign scale in high school cliques, and a fatal one in the Israel/Palestinian conflict. Not all such conflicts are based on religion. Sometimes is cultural or national or at least regional. Historical memories can kill as fast as a disagreement over new nuclear capabilities, so apparently we folks will kill for any reason we consider good the moment we pull the trigger.

Still, religion influences one of the epicenters of the most delicate and controversial politics: Israel/Palestine conflict as you've mentioned, but does not that conflict produce even more conflicts, such as the unfortunate Hamas rocket attacks and the occupation of the Gaza Strip leading to even more conflicts in the area of politics? Not saying religion is the stem of our troubles, but again, certainly a major factor. Looking at ancient times, that holds true especially during the Roman Empire's split.
So basically one of your given factors are the painful results of humans naturally organizing things including other humans into certain categories which causes many problems taking the example of both Japanese and American propaganda during WWII.

Quote from: Parking Places
I would assume that if we could wave a magic wand and make religion disappear today, it would improve a few situations, but I've little doubt that replacement evil thoughts would arise rather quickly.

Lol at marshmallow analogy. On a more serious note, is religion then necessary for humanity regardless of the belief, i.e Christianity in which some atheists have decried as a mentally crippling instrument?


Quote from: Parking Places
So we don't know how the world will behave if religion is removed. I suspect the change would in itself do little good if that was the only change that occurred. Finding a way to introduce true compassion, creating a predisposition to share and introducing an appreciation for differences as well as similarities would do far more good, whether religion survived or not.

Yes but so far in human history, "true compassion" was often displayed from religions taking the example of Islam, one of its "laws" is to actually give to the poor or take them into the house and feed them; which defines an aspect of compassion, taking another example: Mother Theresa, it seems to me that religion is the only current way to hold "true compassion" and appreciation for life (differences, similarities) or will most of the world be like most of the users (realizement of death/life) in the forum? Highly unlikely.
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Offline ParkingPlaces

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Re: Ab Initio
« Reply #12 on: November 19, 2009, 10:02:04 PM »
I doubt we're in much disagreement about who and what causes conflicts on this planet. Even though I'm an atheist, I have little trouble appreciating people who happen to be both peaceful and religious. And the compassion that is a part of islam is very touching and humane. Inconsistencies (death to infidels) take away from the effect, however.

I've often thought that if all people were really good warriors, then conflict would decrease because there would be no weak to exploit, no wimps to beat up and no easy pickings anywhere. If every person on earth had the training of a shaolin monk and a navy seal, plus a fully armed F-16 in the garage, everyone would think twice about being mean to their neighbor.

If we were all superman, none of us could use kryptonite. That sort of thing.

Interesting note on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. The rats in Israel are more cautious than the same species across the border in Jordan, where things are generally more peaceful. This is according to researchers. However, I wonder if the need to be more careful as a researcher in Israel might not have colored their conclusions.  :)



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Offline ksm

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Re: Ab Initio
« Reply #13 on: November 19, 2009, 10:35:19 PM »
Hi C! Welcome to the forum.

I will skip straight to your questions and answer as best I know how.

1) Due to the assortement of various religions on Earth, is it possible that even one of them may be the "true" religion?

It is possible. Since I have not examined the claims of every single variant of every single religion out there I cannot make any positive claim as to "how possible" it is.

2) In some books, Christian authors point out to the delicate and firm balance of 'life/molecules, et cetera' needed on Earth to sustain life which should require intelligent design and a designer but not random chance. Is this true?
 From what I know, Christians pointed to the structure of the eye in the past as proof of intelligent design, but it was later proven that the eye is anything but "perfect", but the amount of specific matter needed to support life isn't something I looked into.

Apparently by randomly adjusting the various fundamental constants of the universe, about 25% of the universes "generated" will support the formation of stars, which is a requirement for life.

As for the eye, there exists throughout the animal kingdom almost every graduation of the eye from a simple light sensitive pit on the skin right up to compound eyes and our sort of eye exists. This is evidence that the eye is not irreducibly complex.

3) If we rule out omniscience in the factor of God, would that make the image of God better?

It would make the god in question look less cruel, and more like an extremely powerful, yet slightly incompetent alien (Like "Q" on Star Trek: The Next Generation).

In the case of Yaweh, it still doesn't detract from "his" other reprehensible behaviour.

4) For Christians/Theists, I received many answers from a lot of Christian friends and community members regarding some aspects of the Old Testament. They say that some parts of the OT is not actually literal (Garden of Eden, Flood) and that certain laws regarding the rights of women only applied to Israelites long ago and not now. Your opinion?

I'm an atheist but I will answer this anyway. This is often called the "Magic Decoder Ring", which allows the believer to magically determined which parts of the divine scripture applies to them, which parts do not, which parts are literal truth, and which parts are metaphors.

Every believer has a different Magic Decoder Ring, which seldom produce exactly the same result as someone else's ring. The magic decoder rings often seem to reflect the prevailing opinions of the society into which the ring wearer was accidentally born. Many of the magic decoder rings produce results that directly contradict each other even though they are supposedly decoding the same text from the supposed same god.

The magic decoder ring can also be called SPAG - Self Projection As God, a term coined by a forum member DTE (IIRC).

5) Without religion, would the world be a better place? A scenario would be a nihilistic society, without religious morals, would there be an increase of crime or the opposite?

Possibly. At the very least there would be one less rationalization for bad behaviour.

Instead of saying "We're invading your country because God gave it to us!", you would need to say "We're invading your country because we don't like you and want to steal your land."

So things might be more straight forward at least.

Lastly (For Now),

6) Although historical factors are involved (i.e Constantine, Western Civilization, international missions), what is the point of Christianity and the worship of Jesus if the Savior was "only sent to the lost sheep of Israel.” (Matthew 15:24)?

Just reading the question as written without any analysis or research I wuld answer: None.

Offline Omen

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Re: Ab Initio
« Reply #14 on: November 20, 2009, 02:01:15 AM »
I will start with the basic questions I have:

1) Due to the assortement of various religions on Earth, is it possible that even one of them may be the "true" religion?

Complex question and a fun one to ask an atheist.

Lets consider, what does it take to know something?  This is the territory of epistemology, where we seek to understand what comprises 'knowledge' and how exactly do we claim 'knowledge'.  Now, I can't exactly give you the fully educated details on the background and development of epistemology as it relates to general human philosophy in such a brief format as this forum.  However, I do wish to stress that with anything that we consider 'knowledge' we often have an accompanying methodology to claim that knowledge.  That is a system that even if we cannot determine if something is absolutely true or not, we can at least determine its shared objective qualities based on our limited perceptions.  Note that this is a far different statement then simply saying 'subjective' like one of the respondents above ( and he should be taken to task for that ), when we say subjective we are referring to a position of personal perceptions that are not shared or cannot be known objectively.

When your friend up there responds with,"Remember.. its subjective." He is really pleading nonsense in the face of a base methodology of knowledge, the entire basis of how any epistemology works.  The silly part is that he's claiming one position to be subjective, when it is not but his terms would mean that his position is equally subjective ( and thus equally meaningless ).  We often call this solipsism because its retreats into ignorance in order to claim that we can't know anything.

Now, this is all important for a reason:

What is a religion's primary method of 'knowing'?

How do they know? What do they use to claim they know? Well, they don't.  They use subjective pleading, using terms that are meaningless in an objective manner and convey no information that can be shared meaningfully.  They may also simply claim something is true, regardless if they know or are willing to demonstrate how they know or not.  That leaves us with qualifiers like faith, that are often used in conjuction with a claim of belief such as,"I believe in god because of faith!"  How is that any different from make believe?  How is faith nothing more then a word to replace the fact that you simply claimed something on terms equal to just making it up out of the fabric of your imagination?

So, considering the above, what if one religion was actually true.  Well, amazing as that what if situation would be, who would ever actually know it to be true?  Remember, that the means and method of claiming to know, don't have any accompanying method of knowing so even if it were true you would never know if it were or were not.  The last people who would ever be able to discover if it were true or not, are the very people who claim to believe in it.

This situation could be taken to extremes, what if the only true religion is the religion of the hamsters who have secretly lived among us entirely sentient and seemingly the single divine creation of some giant space hamster god.  What if the only true religion is Marflarg on planet Bugaroo, of the alien species called the Rego?  What if none of them are true?
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Offline Noman Peopled

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Re: Ab Initio
« Reply #15 on: November 20, 2009, 05:04:54 AM »
However I can't seem to let go of the notion, that if there is truly a "being" that presides over the universe or elsewhere, that it is impossible to comprehend the very, hard to say, but "state" of the being. As in its ideas, actions, and so on.
Yes, that's a problem many atheists have with many theists. Theists can often describe their god quite accurately, but when you asks hoe "merciful" relates to "starving children", he/she/it is suddenly unknowable.
The deist doesn't have this problem (although there are others).
Supremeness, perfection, omni-anything etc are just human abstractions - and even if I thought them real, I think we still wouldn't to be able to comprehend them. Add to that that most theists will tell you god's not only incomprehensible (and wants you to give money to an old fart named Ratzinger) but also supernatural. Which, if true, completely invalidates anything anyone says about god.
Perhaps it'd be a little clearer if we were talking about something with less baggage.
(There were mystics in the dark ages who argued that god is not good, god is not great, god is not merciful, etc; exactly because he's so far beyond our terminology we can't even begin to understand him. Of course, that - to the mystics, anyway - meant trying to experience god directly as if emotions were somehow more valid.)

But just like you can't arbitrarily assign values to a god concept, you can't just subtract them either. God remains unknown (if not unknowable), except as a thought experiment.
We know how not omni-anything fictional beings behave; all polytheist cultures have, to my knowledge, refrained from bringing absolutes into the mix.


Quote from: Noman Peopled
Better or not? Dunno. It's hard to imagine that a huge driving force like religion could vanish without leaving behind a vacuum that'd be filled with who knows what. Religious fundies aren't the only fundies out there.
There's something deeply human about religion, and I don't think it'll ever be fully gone. There's also the question how much religion actually influences people to act "evilly" rather than people just interpreting their religion the way they see fit. You can read both peace and war into any doctrine longer than half a page.

Do you think though, religion will some day, not today or the next generation, but some day dissapear in most of its form?[/quote]
On a long enough timeline, sure. At some point, humankind will cease to be human as we understand it, whether through technology or evolution or both (or go extinct). Brains and minds can change just like every other part and process of the body. (That's assuming no extinction and no series of continual throwbacks.)
But whether it'd be hugely beneficial depends on context, and also the nature of the faiths present; atm, I don't think the world would become a worse place if, say, 50% of the Muslims, Jews, Christians, and other religions whose crimes I'm less familiar with would wake up with the thought: "Wait a second, what was I thinking?"
In other words, all other things being equal, yes, I'd like religion gone.

However, this is not how it goes. You don't remove a huge factor from a system and arrive at another one (you can't expect to remove Vista from your computer and expect it to work better). Faith plays many roles for many different people. Something else would take their place - like, in many parts of the world, the local church is equal to the local community. In many parts, religion is the only thing for many individuals that makes life bearable (or rather, it's the most easily accessible tool to make it bearable). The cultural implications are also severe, as they are vital for our sense of individuality as well as belonging. Etc.
It could easily be, however, that wars would then be led over cultural rather than religious differences, and that areligious dogmatism could limit the sciences just as much (see Lysenkoism) as religious dogma. (My father has an old communist dictionary where "cybernetics" is described as "bourgeouis parascience".)

That said, in the long run I think all functions religions is used for could be adequately replaced. Paraphrasing Christopher Hitchens: "Can you think of a good deed that could not have been done by an atheist? Can you think of an evil one?"
"Deferinate" itself appears to be a new word... though I'm perfectly carmotic with it.
-xphobe

Offline FSM

Re: Ab Initio
« Reply #16 on: November 20, 2009, 12:10:12 PM »
Hi, C, and welcome to the beginning of what is hopefully your lifelong quest for truth :)

Your pastor's statements are typical vacuous religious doublespeak.  These sorts of statements are usually very heavy on emotion and very light on facts.  They're meant to be vague (and vaguely threatening) in order to guilt/scare you away from questioning the fatuous dogma of your religion.  He speaks like this because he has no real answers, and nothing to offer you but fear and guilt.  Although I'm sure he'd be glad to accept your generous monetary donations.  Therefore I'm not going to comment any further on him or his statements.

Now to your questions:

Quote
1) Due to the assortement of various religions on Earth, is it possible that even one of them may be the "true" religion?

Short answer: No.

Long answer:  Almost certainly no.  But this is only because nothing can ever be completely ruled out.  However, you can place probabilities on things.  Just because a viewpoint cannot be disproven does not mean it has an equal probability of being true as anything else.  That any of humanity's man-made religions are "true" is on the same order of probability as an entire new universe spontaneously flying out of my butt.  Or a herd of pink elephants spontaneously appearing in your living room.  It's within the realm of possibility, but the chances of it happening are so vanishingly remote as to be practically nonexistent.  

There are literally tens of thousands (perhaps hundreds of thousands) of religions that have existed throughout the long span of human history.  The vast majority are mutually-exclusive.  Now ask yourself, if there was one "true" religion, and it was the religion of the perfect and infallible creator of the Universe, wouldn't it be obvious to everyone that this was the right religion?  Wouldn't everyone be instantly persuaded to join this religion?  Wouldn't it have happened a long time ago?  How could an omnipotent being fail to do this and condemn practically its entire creation to eternal torture?  For that matter, why would a such a being condemn its vastly inferior creations to eternal torture when it is responsible for making them the way they are?

I highly suggest you read Sam Harris' The End of Faith, or Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion.  Both of these books do a much better and more succinct job at explaining all of this than I can.

Quote
2) In some books, Christian authors point out to the delicate and firm balance of 'life/molecules, et cetera' needed on Earth to sustain life which should require intelligent design and a designer but not random chance. Is this true?

Short answer:  No.

Long answer: Just because something is very complicated does not mean it couldn't have arisen through natural processes, and just because we can't explain something just yet doesn't mean God Did It is the only answer.  In fact, if you're going to invoke a supernatural being, you've just made your job of explaining things infinitely harder, because now you also have to explain who made that supernatural being?

If you're referring to life on Earth  and human beings, we didn't arise by "random chance".  We arose through a very non-random process known as evolution.  There are thousands upon thousands of good explanations for the layman of how evolution works on the Internet.  There are also a great number of books on the subject.  Richard Dawkins' Climbing Mount Improbable does a good job of illustrating how life arose from its very simple beginnings to the more complex life we see today.  Things were not always as complex as they are today, not by a long shot.  They got that way through a very gradual non-random and natural process that took place over billions of years...and it's still taking place today!

Quote
3) If we rule out omniscience in the factor of God, would that make the image of God better?

Short Answer: No.

Long answer: The Judeo-Christian God is an evil bastard by any reasonable moral standard.  If God were put on trial in a federal U.S. court for the crimes committed in the Old Testament alone (just the ones he is directly responsible for, not the ones he is indirectly responsible for...which is pretty much everything bad that has ever happened) then he would be convicted and sentenced to death.  The more powerful a being is, the more it is responsible for what goes on within its sphere of influence.  If you see a toddler wandering into the middle of a busy street, you are morally obligated to try to remove that toddler from danger if you are physically capable of doing so.  In the Judeo-Christian God's case, that responsibility is infinite.

The Greek philosopher Epicurus had this to say on the matter, 300 years before Jesus was supposedly born:
Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?

If a god is not omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent, then it's not really a god.  It's just a very powerful being.

Imagine that there are a race of aliens who:
1) Have technology so advanced beyond ours that they can instantly manipulate any form of matter into anything they want.
2) Have used their technology to learn all there is to know about how the Universe and everything in it works.
3) Have technology that allows them to sense the electrical signals output by your brain over vast distances, thus being able to instantly read your mind from anywhere.
4) Have evolved emotionally and socially to such a degree that they are incapable of doing things which we would define as "evil".

They do all of these things through perfectly natural, technological means.  Are they gods?  Why not?

As Arthur C. Clarke said, Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

Quote
4) For Christians/Theists, I received many answers from a lot of Christian friends and community members regarding some aspects of the Old Testament. They say that some parts of the OT is not actually literal (Garden of Eden, Flood) and that certain laws regarding the rights of women only applied to Israelites long ago and not now. Your opinion?

Short Answer: Isn't it telling that, depending on who you ask, some things in the bible are to be taken literally and some metaphorically?  Isn't it even more telling that, depending on who you ask, which things are literal and which things are metaphorical are entirely different?  The next time someone says this to you, ask them to find the verse or verses in the bible where it specifies which parts are to be taken literally and which parts are to be taken metaphorically.  Be prepared to wait for a long time.

Long Answer:  No long answer required.

Quote
5) Without religion, would the world be a better place? A scenario would be a nihilistic society, without religious morals, would there be an increase of crime or the opposite?

Short Answer: This is a loaded question, so there is no short answer.

Long Answer: Modern humans have existed for hundreds of thousands of years, and morality existed long before religion was invented.  When your very survival depends on the good will and cooperation of others (such as when you are part of a small tribe living in prehistoric Africa) then it is evolutionarily advantageous to treat others well so that you might be treated well in return.  Those that did this left more offspring than those who did not treat others well, and the genes responsible for treating people well were passed down through the generations to us.

Morality evolved and continues to evolve along with humanity because being moral has survival value.  Morality was not invented by the bible.  You can see it in action even in the more recent past.  For example, slavery used to be considered completely moral, but now it is considered immoral (although the bible still endorses slavery).

In reply to the question, there is no "religious morality", there is only evolved morality.  Since morality is part of who we are because we evolved that way, not because some book tells us so, then humans would not cease to act morally if religions suddenly disappeared (an extremely unlikely scenario).  In all likelihood, the elimination of religions would only increase morality and ethical behavior.

EDIT:  Somewhat related, I just stumbled across this article which does a good job of illustrating the "morality" demanded of us in the bible.  This is also a pretty good blog in general.
http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/2006/03/wwjd.html

Quote
6) Although historical factors are involved (i.e Constantine, Western Civilization, international missions), what is the point of Christianity and the worship of Jesus if the Savior was "only sent to the lost sheep of Israel.” (Matthew 15:24)?

There is none, other than to allow certain humans to exert power over other humans for the sake of power and money.  Of course, your question assumes that you believe in the bible and that Jesus Christ actually existed as a real historical person.  It's kind of meaningless if you don't.

A very eye-opening book for me in regard to totalitarianism and thought control (of which religion is a form) was George Orwell's 1984.  I highly recommend it.

I hope my answers are helpful to you.  It looks like you are on the right track.  My advice to you is to never stop learning about the world around you.  Good luck!
« Last Edit: November 20, 2009, 12:58:00 PM by FSM »

Offline ParkingPlaces

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Re: Ab Initio
« Reply #17 on: November 20, 2009, 12:19:34 PM »
Welcome fsm. Good stuff.

We have a ksm here who has been around a lot longer than me. You two related?  ;D
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Offline FSM

Re: Ab Initio
« Reply #18 on: November 20, 2009, 12:56:59 PM »
Welcome fsm. Good stuff.
We have a ksm here who has been around a lot longer than me. You two related?  ;D

Hey thanks!  Nope, no relation.  I'm an only-deity. ;)

Offline ParkingPlaces

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Re: Ab Initio
« Reply #19 on: November 20, 2009, 01:24:54 PM »
Welcome fsm. Good stuff.
We have a ksm here who has been around a lot longer than me. You two related?  ;D

Hey thanks!  Nope, no relation.  I'm an only-deity. ;)

Oops, missed the capitalization. You're THAT FSM. Please forgive me for not being saucy enough! :-\
Never trust an atom. They make up everything!

Offline Grimm

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Re: Ab Initio
« Reply #20 on: November 20, 2009, 03:06:24 PM »
Hey guys!  C, FSM -


Quote
2) In some books, Christian authors point out to the delicate and firm balance of 'life/molecules, et cetera' needed on Earth to sustain life which should require intelligent design and a designer but not random chance. Is this true?

Short answer:  No.

Long answer: Just because something is very complicated does not mean it couldn't have arisen through natural processes, and just because we can't explain something just yet doesn't mean God Did It is the only answer.  In fact, if you're going to invoke a supernatural being, you've just made your job of explaining things infinitely harder, because now you also have to explain who made that supernatural being?

If you're referring to life on Earth  and human beings, we didn't arise by "random chance".  We arose through a very non-random process known as evolution.  There are thousands upon thousands of good explanations for the layman of how evolution works on the Internet.  There are also a great number of books on the subject.  Richard Dawkins' Climbing Mount Improbable does a good job of illustrating how life arose from its very simple beginnings to the more complex life we see today.  Things were not always as complex as they are today, not by a long shot.  They got that way through a very gradual non-random and natural process that took place over billions of years...and it's still taking place today!
[/quote]

FSM is utterly and totally right.  I'm going to poke a bit more at this point, however, as it's near and dear to my heart.

The argument you mention, C, is worse than argument from incredulity - it's actually a post hoc fallacy neatly hidden in among the argument for the existence of god, crossed happily up with the anthropomorphic fallacy.

What the arguer in this case is doing is.. well.  He's telling you that if the parameters were different, we wouldn't have what we have now.. .that's right, as far as it goes.  Heck, if you changed nothing and 'rolled back the tape', you near-certainly wouldn't get what you've got now!  Evolution works by a combination of random change and environmental pressure - minor changes aggregate into creatures that are 'more fit', not into specific configurations of necessity.

If the comet that killed the dinosaurs hadn't hit the earth, chances are we'd all have scales and hiss a lot - if we, meaning the apex intelligent species, even came into existence at all.   Humans only became human because intelligence was a thing that made us 'more fit' to survive.  If it hadn't, if mindless brutality was, to give just one example, the best way to exist.. well, we'd have been mindless brutes.

But.  Leave the conditions the same, rewind the timeline, start over from there... you probably wouldn't get 'human' again.  You might get intelligent saurians, or possibly dolphins exploring the world in amazingly effective dry-land ROVs or something.. but you wouldn't likely get primates in our configuration with our genetic signature.

The argument presented by the theist in this case is a post hoc fallacy simply because we know what is now, but we have absolutely no idea what would have been in the alternative.   If you changed something, it would be different, certainly.  That doesn't mean we are somehow.. special, for things being as they are.  Simply, things are as they are.   

WE aren't the purpose of the universe. (Anthropomorphic fallacy.)  We are simply one of the results of the universe being how it is, and in the grand order of things, we're not even all that special. 

"But to us, there is but one god, plus or minus one."  - 1 Corinthians 8:6+/-2

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Offline ksm

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Re: Ab Initio
« Reply #21 on: November 20, 2009, 08:16:20 PM »
Welcome fsm. Good stuff.

We have a ksm here who has been around a lot longer than me. You two related?  ;D

Not that I am aware of! I have a KHM, HPM and recently added ZWM in my household. I am related to a TRM, a DMM and a KLM (who is now a KLK).

But if FSM stands for Flying Spagetti Monster, maybe KSM stands for Kinky Spagetti Monster?

Offline ParkingPlaces

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Re: Ab Initio
« Reply #22 on: November 20, 2009, 08:31:55 PM »
Welcome fsm. Good stuff.

We have a ksm here who has been around a lot longer than me. You two related?  ;D

Not that I am aware of! I have a KHM, HPM and recently added ZWM in my household. I am related to a TRM, a DMM and a KLM (who is now a KLK).

But if FSM stands for Flying Spagetti Monster, maybe KSM stands for Kinky Spagetti Monster?

Don't think there's any maybe about it... :D
Never trust an atom. They make up everything!

Offline IAmFirst

Re: Ab Initio
« Reply #23 on: November 20, 2009, 08:40:40 PM »
Welcome to our forum, C and FSM! This is quite a good story from C, not much different from mine. (I'm from the PA area too, loads of relatives in Lancaster County.) I considered myself an atheist since around age 15. My family was not entirely devout, but I attended private catholic school from pre-school through high-school and was actually encouraged to study the religion, not just listen to what I wanted to hear.

Your conversations with your pastor are pricelessly funny! How exactly does he equate common sense with a belief in Jesus, a man no one can prove existed except by saying, "The lord works in mysterious ways", or "We are not worthy to understand god".

I'll jump back on the questions you posted later, C.

Again, welcome and I hope we can help.

--- IAF
« Last Edit: November 20, 2009, 08:46:48 PM by IAmFirst »
2nd of all, if all you believe in is peer-reviewed papers, you won't go very far in life...

-- Shin :D

Offline anthony_retford

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Re: Ab Initio
« Reply #24 on: November 21, 2009, 01:06:42 AM »
Hi C. You wrote "From age eight to present day, I have had troubling questions that made me feel abnormal compared to other kids in Christian communities. It all really started with the culture shock of seeing Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia's children just like me in utter poverty; living in abandoned stone temples with feet for shoes and skin for clothes, surrounded by hundreds of black ants and alone in a life of begging.

As I have said before there is nothing like travel to other places where you can see poverty and degradation to open your eyes to the spuriousness of religions. I saw similar things in Sudan just last year, and have seen pitiful beggars in many places in China, where I am now.
People are 'erroneously confident' in their knowledge and underestimate the odds that their information or beliefs will be proved wrong. They tend to seek additional information in ways that confirm what they already believe.
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Offline IAmFirst

Re: Ab Initio
« Reply #25 on: November 21, 2009, 02:53:08 PM »
Quote from: C on November 18, 2009, 09:51:49 PM
1) Due to the assortement of various religions on Earth, is it possible that even one of them may be the "true" religion?

I am surprised at most of the answers you are getting from this forum on what I think is the most obvious.

The answer to this question is a big, no, no, no, no, no. It is impossible for a religion concerning a higher being to be "true". All religions are man-made, and all gods and goddesses are man-made. These sets of beliefs and supernatural beings are entirely made from the imagination of humans.

As the stories spin, the questions are posed. "Is this the right religion? Is this the right god?" Well, of course it's "right." It was based on your people, your circumstances, your needs according to your society. Nonsense. I'm sounding like Pastor K just by typing that.  &)

If anyone can ever try to show me a religion that is "true", a natural one that does NOT stem from fiction, then you can send your resume to Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron.
2nd of all, if all you believe in is peer-reviewed papers, you won't go very far in life...

-- Shin :D

Offline IAmFirst

Re: Ab Initio
« Reply #26 on: November 21, 2009, 02:59:46 PM »
C, I'm answering the questions out of order because I think others have hit the nail on the cross, so to speak. :D

Quote From C:
3) If we rule out omniscience in the factor of God, would that make the image of God better?

I don't see how. If you told me, yes, he exists, he's just not omniscient. I'd say, Oh! Doesn't know everything, eh? So THAT'S why the executions of women happened for 100 years and why the kids in Sudan all have AIDS and starvation. So, he's not all knowing, but he's still just as powerful. He can still hear prayers, can't he? We've prayed for the kids in Sudan, he did nothing. So he knew and turned his back again, just like he did with Ammonites, Philistines, and Mezpah, Jepthah's daughter, who died for him as a sacrifice.

It would make him look a LOT worse, C. A lot.
2nd of all, if all you believe in is peer-reviewed papers, you won't go very far in life...

-- Shin :D