...Occasionally, I get e-mail from people who check out my site and have this comment or that. Most are supportive. Occasionally, I get some interesting personal attacks insulting me, my family, my ancestry, my kind... whatever... Strangely, most of these attacks come from "loving Christians"....
...This one took a bit longer to reply to than I expected. Work pressures mostly, but it is also hard to reply to "scattershot" letters like this sometimes. Jumping from one topic to another is hard on the thought processes at times. I finally just gave up and published :-)
My words are in blue, his in red
Envelope-to: webmaster AT wildlink.com
I'm sure you get plenty of rants from Christians and other theists about the "Freelink" section of your site. I stumbled on it by accident surfing the 'net one day at work =)
...Not as many as you'd think :-) Guess my page doesn't make it high on too many surf lists... But that's ok.
I'll be honest, I'm probably about everything you think is ridiculous: theist, Christian, conservative, and far, far worse: a Microsoft developer (C#, VB mostly)!
...No problem till you hit that MS developer! :-)
But before you file this particular email in 'folder 13', I hope you'll hear me out.
...No folder 13. Much better to read and reply. Your message took time to write and is thoughtful, so it deserves a thoughtful response (or as much a thoughtful response as I can generate late on Friday nite :-)
Really, though I disagreed, I thought your stuff was alot more coherent than plenty of Christian debate, especially on the net. I've dabbled in various online religious debates and usually throw up my arms because you have 20 people all arguing their dumb point illogically. So I figured I'd give it a shot and see if you wanted to chat a little on the subject.
...I know what you mean about debates online. I do tend to hang out in debate rooms, and occasionally we get the influx of theists trying to convince us we are wrong. Even when their arguments have holes the size of Alaska, they keep using the same old lines... sigh... :-/
More than anything, your writings left me with a list of things I'd like to ask you.
For example, I read in your bio that you've read "The Tao of Pooh". I assume you have "The Te of Piglet" on your nightstand.
...My bio is ancient... I'm way too slack to update on a regular basis :-) but yes, I did read and quite injoy "The Te of Piglet".
Have you read "Mere Christianity" or any other C.S. Lewis? He gives what I think is a pretty sensible explanation for Christianity and faith in general, along the same lines as the Tao and even some of the stuff you wrote... If not a theological work of his, as a sci-fi-guy, I'm sure you've read the Space Trilogy. What did you think?
...Hmmm trying to think of when I read "Mere Christianity". Its been years. Prolly back in college. I don't remember too much about the book, except that I wasn't won over by it. I'll put it on my list of things to read over the summer.
...I found Shermer's "Why people believe weird things" a good book at explaining faith and why people believe things even when they know they are wrong. Uri Geller still makes money despite being debunked numerous times... and faith healer Peter Poppof still sells out when he hosts a revival.
Or another question from the bio. "Life is far too important to be taken seriously." I'm not sure if you meant it, but I assume you have reason enough to think life is important or has some sort of meaning.
...Well, of course its important. You only get one shot at it, and you usually can't take mistakes back. But at the same time, spending all your time worrying about things and where you are going means you will miss out on life as it rolls by. Life is about the journey, not the destination.
...As for meaning... hmmm... I've attempted many times to come up with a concrete "meaning" for life... but the best I can do is say I don't find life meaningless. Many little thing add meaning to my life. My wife and kids. Friends. Sometimes work and knowing I'm making a minor difference there helps. My writings give me some meaning. In general, I find meaning in working to make the world a bit of a better place after I'm gone than when I got here.
I'm not asking "what's the meaning of life," but why bother with silly things like loving your wife or caring for your children? Does your wife know that your love for her is just the by-product of a few thousand years of evolution, and just a chemical reaction in your nervous system? Do you tell your children they are really not any more special than your cat, except that they have a few more brain cells and may have evolved a more complex self-awareness? I know that sounds silly, but I've always been curious to hear an atheist explain those sort of things rationally.
...Rationality sometimes sounds cold, but that's just the way it is sometimes.
...Off the cuff and speaking not as a researcher nor someone terribly knowledgeable about evolutionary biology (tho fascinated): "Love" is a byproduct of us being a communal species. We need others to survive. At barest minimum, we need others while we are babies and young or when hurt or otherwise unable to take care of ourselves. An advantageous trait would be one that would cause us to want to be near others, since that would naturally improve our chances of surviving problems that would kill us when alone. Mothers would want to be near others to help her take care of young, and her offspring would have a better chance of surviving and thus passing along the desire to be near others.
...We aren't the only species that helps its injured, or protects its young. So why is it strange when humans do it too? Watch any animal documentary and you see caring for the young goes across the board, and especially in mammals and other "higher" creatures.
...I love my wife because I find being with her better than being alone. I love children because they are children and need our protection and help. I love my children because they are my children. It may be some chemical reaction in my brain, but that doesnt make it any less real or powerful a feeling.
In a similar vein: I know you mentioned "goodness" in your writings, but I'm really particularly interested in hearing how you jive any concept of morals- relative or no- with atheism. Most of the fathers of 20th century atheism advocated rising out of the trap of "morals". You know, Nietchze's Superman and all that.
...I find Nietchze's work (what I've read of it) to be interesting, but more of a thought game than any real basis for life. Somewhat like writers who use any other excuse to come to wild conclusions (how many Christian writers used the bible to excuse opressing Indians, blacks, or to keep women from the vote).
...As to how morals jive without a god, lots of cultures throughout time seem to have done ok without the Christian commandments. India and China have their faults, but people don't go kill each other or steal more often than their more "enlightened" cultures.
...A counter question: How do you jive morals with the 10 commandments? Before Moses, did people know not to kill each other? Did they know not to steal? Did the Jews look at the tablets and go "Doh! That's a good idea there!"
...I mentioned above that we are a communal species. It doesn't do much for a species to turn on each other, especially when we need each other to survive. Those traits that help us live together are what we call "morals". You know, don't kill, don't steal, etc.
I've always thought that if I were an atheist I would just do whatever brought me the most pleasure, and not really care what other organisms thought.
...Really? If I could prove to you beyond the shadow of a doubt that god didn't exist that you wouldn't still be a basically good person? Would you go on a killing rampage because people ticked you off? Would you rob from your neighbor because you didn't care about what they thought?
...Think about it. Really think deeply. I'm sure you will realize that nothing much would change. You'd still be a good person, like most people in the world are good people, god or no.
...If you think deeply and decide that you would, in fact, be selfish like that, then you really need to ponder just why you behave good. Is it because you fear hell or dream of heaven and personal salvation? If so, then I would posit that you are actually being more selfish now.
I've read the writings of some of these high-school kids like Luke Woodham and the Columbine kids (whose names escape me now). That's pretty much what they came to. I know not all atheists are amoral, and to be sure there've been plenty of "bad Christians", but it just seems like the logical conclusion in a universe where there is no God: Do what you want, all morals are illusion. Why one wife? Why marraige? Why not kill someone just to see what it's like?
...Well, morals are a bit of a an illusion. I've written before on how morals are not absolute and how they can and do vary with time and by situation. But this is a simpler question.
...Why not kill someone to see what it's like? Well, even without god, we still have laws. If I go out and kill, I open the door to others killing me. Don't have to think much to see the problem there.
...How would god change the equation? Not much. The person could go kill even with god (many have claimed to do so in the past, even in the Bible, he has commanded that people kill in his name, why can't he do it again?). One could kill "for the thrill" and while waiting for the electric chair, recieve salvation and accept Christ and make it to heaven. Win-win... They get the experience of murdering someone and still get eternal salvation.
And one more (for now =) in a more scientific realm. We observe order in the universe. What Mandelbrot called the "fingerprint of God", or what ancient Greeks called "divine proportion". How does such exact order come about from chaos? Sure, thermodynamics allows for some order to arise in the universal push towards entropy, but from the looks of things, order's been the name of the game since day 1. Not just once or twice, but very similar order across creation (or whatever =). The spiral of galaxies share proportions with that of the human body (A is to B as B is to A+B), and a whole lot of other natural occurances. In your writing on faith, you mention that faith is not the same as a scientific person saying "I don't know" to those sorts of questions. But what's the difference? I believe that the universe was created and is held together by God. You believe that the universe has a finite beginning in which it emerged from nothing and is held together by some unexplainable means. At the very least, you have faith in "general reliablity of the senses." Meaning you don't believe yourself to be in the Matrix. You have faith that what you observe is real. You have faith in the observations of scientists and in laws of non-contradiction. If not, why do you believe in them?
...That's the road to solipsism. We could argue down to the question of the senses, but the question hurts you as much as me. The "general reliability of the senses" just gets us to the point that we can observe the universe. When we observe it, we both come to different answers to the observed facts, but that doesn't weaken the "general reliability of the senses".
...What's the difference between saying "I dont know" and "god did it"? Well, with "I dont know", I open the doors to looking further. To finding out how something happens or what else may be out there.
...When you say "god did it", you are implicitly saying "no need to look further". You are closing the doors to investigation and exploration because you have come to the answer. A necessary part of looking into something means you may find other answers, and you are not interested in anything that may provide a different answer.
...If people hadn't been willing to look beyond "god did it", we wouldn't understand lightning, disease, genetic defects, weather, sickness, or a host of other things that looking for answers has given us. Aren't you glad that "god did it" isn't a good answer?
...Does the universe have a finite beginning? I don't know. It seems to be held together by various forces that we mostly understand
One other side note. I've often thought that even atheists really believe in God. I contend we are both theists, I just believe in a more infinite God than you do. When you understand why an atheist can't tell his grandmother there are four lights, you will understand why I must believe in one light.
...No, I don't believe in a "god", certainly not any thing that you would consider a "god". If you want to water down the concept of "god" to mean "natural laws", you are free to, but by that point, you've created a meaningless concept that bears no resemblance to what millions go to church, temple, mosque or whatever for.
...Do you really worship "natural laws"? Or is your god-concept more than that? And when you "worship" god, you certainly do it differently than I would "respect that what we understand as "natural laws" is likely true".
...So no, atheists do not believe in god.
Look forward to hearing from you.
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