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Debate: Which has a better case, the Bible or Atheism?

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Debate: Which has a better case, the Bible or Atheism?
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InfernoContributorUser avatarPosts: 2298Joined: Thu Apr 30, 2009 7:36 pmLocation: Vienna, Austria Gender: Cake

Post Re: Debate: Which has a better case, the Bible or Atheism?

Hello everybody! After an incredibly long three months full of studying and other activities, I have finally finished my answer. I have a somewhat complete one, 7.597 words (can be found here), that will be posted in another thread. In this reply, I will focus on what I think are the most important points and offer a counter-challenge in the last 500 or so words. I want to keep this reply under 2,500 words, even though I have to reply to about 60,000 words. If you're suicidal, you're more than welcome to "print it out and read it on the potty". ;)
Short version count: 2.5479
One thing I'd ask of you the next time, Bryan, is to not replace "and" by "&". At least for me, it makes for distracted reading, it makes it difficult to find quotes and I always get this nagging feeling that some edit has been made to the quote. It also seems to me that this practice might take quite some time?!

Very well, have fun reading.



Bible health benefits

You start your introduction by once again pointing out the health benefits that apparently stem directly from the Bible. Let me point out a couple of things here:
1) As explained before, at most three of the blue zones but realistically only one of them are Christian in any meaningful sense to this discussion. (Namely the Adventists of Loma Linda.) It seems to me highly subjective to look only at the Adventists and say "Look how grand the Bible is." Instead, I suggest that we look at all of them and conclude that the reasons for longevity are not found in the Bible, instead they were written into the Bible because of the pre-found knowledge of the people at the time. To make this simple: Not God is the reason, Man is.

2) Many of the things people do to keep fit are not mentioned in the Bible, while some things mentioned make no sense when it comes to health what so ever. For example, your article suggests that SDAs completely abstain from alcohol, yet red wine has beneficial anti-oxidizing functions. Or take the ban against lobster on the other side. That may have been a good law at the time, but it's certainly outdated now.

3) Black-and-white thinking. This is what I touched upon with "red wine" issue above: The Bible paints a very black and white picture of the world, even though there are many shades of Gray in between. The dose makes the poison, right? I haven't heard of a single instance where one turkey or one pork chop were harmful. It's this black and white thinking in the Bible that has no impact on health whatsoever and also prohibits temporary indulgences aka fun.
Also, if God loves us so much, why don't we live to 255 like some species of turtle do? Why do we need sustenance in the first place? It all seems like an incredibly wasteful way to make living beings if you're an omnipotent designer.

Carl Sagan, the level six atheist

A little later, you quote Carl Sagans: "An atheist has to know a lot more than I know."
This is one of the very few times I must disagree with Carl Sagan. If we go by the Dawkins Scale of Belief, then Carl Sagan was a six, which is the same as most atheists believe. Carl Sagan was talking about a "level seven" atheist, something one will encounter very rarely indeed.

Image

This is sometimes called a "Tooth Fairy Agnostic" or a "99% atheist", which all boils down to the same thing: I can not know for sure, but there is not enough evidence, if there is any at all, to persuade me that I should believe in a God.

Naturalism vs following the evidence?

In the Intro to your Intro, you provide us with two possibilities and, this I have to assume, suggest that position B is the atheistic/materialistic position. What you're doing though is completely disregard what I said in this post of the "What evidence would you accept?" thread, by claiming that we demand "higher standards of evidence" for ideas we have an inherent "bias against". But I already showed that you're misusing that quote, that "extraordinary evidence" doesn't mean "different evidence", it simply means "evidence proportional to the claim". I gave the example of neutrinos going faster than light vs my daily dietary habits. In the latter case, it would be sufficient for me to state that I ate X and you would immediately believe it. In the former case, me simply stating it would not make you accept it, because it is such an extraordinary claim. You would expect me to provide tonnes of very solid evidence to back up my claim and if I failed to produce said evidence, you would rightly dismiss my claim as absurd. The same happens with regard to you claiming the existence of God.

What you fail to understand then, is that methodological naturalism makes no a priori assumptions it has to stick with, as I showed in my very first reply to you, when I said the following:
Inferno wrote:1) The Universe exists.
2) We can learn about the Universe. (Note: Both of these directly oppose solipsism, a philosophical position that doesn't seem to be helpful at all.)
3) Building on number 2), the Universe is most probably only a naturalistic world. (If magic were to exist then 2) wouldn't be possible because the natural laws could be suspended at will.)


Our observation is that we can learn about the universe, which strongly suggests that the universe is natural, because otherwise we wouldn't be able to learn about it. If there is evidence of a single time when the laws of nature were actually suspended, then Methodological Naturalism (MN) would immediately be rejected. So in summary: There is no inherent bias to MN, there are no traditions, "extraordinary claims" DO require "extraordinary evidence" and both positions you described (A and B) are actually the same, even though you wanted to twist the latter to be something it's not.

As I've already shown before, methodological naturalism does not adhere to any a priori axioms, but instead one acts as if physicalism were true, i.e. supernatural explanations are not per se excluded, but would have to be proven true first to make someone reject methodological naturalism. And that's basically the point of this debate: Is the case of the Bible, that there is a God with specific attributes, justified or not?
You're trying to end this debate by suggesting that we accept a supernatural agent from the outset, which perversely is something you yourself reject. Because if we don't accept said supernatural agent, then we must start from a physicalist perspective and wait for evidence of a supernatural agent. Which, as I will argue, has not yet been the case.

There's another problem here, too: If not methodological naturalism, which philosophy should one adopt to make sense of the world? Until proven otherwise, I hold that methodological naturalism and the related theories mentioned above are the only ones that can help us make sense of the world. I guess this will come up at some point in this discussion, so let me stop these ideas in their infancy: The Transcendental Argument fails.

Active Church Participation

You're missing the point of these studies. The point here is that these benefits arise from participating in Church life, which means the benefits (if there really are any, and that is up for dispute) come not from following a particular life style, at least not in this case, but from group mentality. To my knowledge this isn't well studied at all, but I'd suggest the following: If you were to survey a group of people who all did the same activity, say hiking or doing Tai-Chi, and who were also atheists or agnostics, you'd find the same pattern emerging that you, or rather Neil McQueen, suggest for Church goers.
It's incredibly easy to study this pattern in Church goers because you will always find a very homogeneous group of people, while the reverse is true of atheists. I don't know of an "atheist Tai-Chi" class or any other related godless group that could be studied in such a way, so studies that don't account for that will always have an inherent amount of error. This is also the same problem I have with studies that compare a group of people who care about their health in some way or another, like vegetarians in general, with the populous at large who obviously don't care about their health as much. Is it really surprising that a person who cares about their health is healthier than a bloke who munches a burger with fries and a large coke for every meal? Compare vegetarians in general with any group of meat-eating people who also care about their health and I'll almost guarantee that the differences will entirely disappear or even be slightly reversed.
Note: I draw the above conclusions (that the differences are due to group activity instead of following any one doctrine) because it doesn't matter to which religion you adhere, the benefits are always there.

For example, this study (N=98,975) suggests that religiosity is responsible for "mild" benefits, but no specific religion is mentioned, as does this one, this one (Religion's effects ... generally protective, but modest in strength) and most importantly, this one:

"Even though most studies have been conducted in the United States in Christian populations, in the last few years several of the main findings have been replicated in samples from different countries and religions."

This is just a small sample of mostly meta-studies (see large sample size), and only ones concerned with religiosity's link to mental health, there are virtually thousands of individual studies on this subject and related ones. The outcome is always the same: It's not any one particular religion that gives alleged benefits, it's religion in general. Whether you're Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Christian or any other religion, you will always "reap these benefits". But as I already explained above, that's not really a fair sampling at all.

I'd also like to point out that you cherry-pick your studies. You suggest that "Belief in God" improves moral behaviour. Apart from the obvious mentioned above, other studies disagree.

The most interesting thing I've found, and this really was interesting to me, was that out of the tens, maybe hundreds of studies I read on this topic, about 2/5ths find a positive correlation between religion and morality, 2/5ths find a negative correlation and 1/5th suggests no correlation either way. All other topics (benefits in marriage and psychology, drug use, etc.) were all fairly clear.

The big challenge

You propose a challenge in section 2, point 7, wherein you ask me to produce another society with better laws/rules/regulations and so on. But if you only understood history, you'd understand why that's a futile task. I once again recommend Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond. In it, he powerfully argues why European societies (and not others) could proliferate and survive. Spoiler alert: It has nothing to do with religion. If you're not willing to buy the book, then at least read the (incredibly good) Wikipedia article on it or if you're up for it, read the pdf version.
Once you've done that, you might understand why your challenge is a bad one. Don't misunderstand me, it's not at all an impossible challenge, it's simply one that has absolutely no meaning.

To answer your very last question: I don't deny the existence of the facts. I do however deny that half of them were found by rigorous research methodology, instead I pointed out the incredibly sloppy work that went into the research most of the time. I also deny that the other half have any importance to this topic whatsoever. Remember that atheism doesn't have any rules or regulations whatsoever, it has nothing to do with morality nor with immorality. The only thing it suggests is that there's likely no God. As such, all of your stats about health are entirely irrelevant. I also deny that the Bible was the first book (or that Judaism or Christianity was the first culture) to stumble upon any good messages you happen to find in that dreadful book. I was easily able to show that by only taking one book, in this case the Bhagavad Gita, you can find the same (and often better versions of these) laws centuries earlier.

My 500-word counter

Now that I've put to rest the various myths you put forth, let me advance my counter-challenge.
Even if I grant that everything you so far claimed is absolutely 100% true, ignoring for a second that I showed most of these claims to be in error or irrelevant, what does that prove? Does it prove or even suggest that there is a God? Because even if I were to grant you that your claims are true, that would at best suggest that there's an advanced society around, nothing more. Were the Europeans "Gods" when they first came to the "New World"? They might have been regarded as such, but they sure weren't. Remember Arthur C. Clarke's third law: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."

So here are a few things I'd really like to know: Is there anything you can say with absolute certainty about your God? Can you say with absolute certainty that an afterlife exists? Can you even say, with any certainty whatsoever, that a God exists? And if you can, is it yours?

Now as I've shown before, so much of the Bible directly conflicts with what we know from science. The first two chapters of the Bible are not only inconsistent among themselves, but they're also inconsistent with science. The order in which the Bible depicts the creation of the earth is exactly opposite of what science suggests.
In one part of your text, you state that there are " scientific concept that limit evolution to creationist levels of evolution". But that can't be right because we've already seen speciation happen, something that creationists used to suggest can never happen, we know that whole genera can be traced to a common ancestor, something creationists won't even accept theoretically, and we can even trace back the common ancestors of many other, and seemingly unrelated, species, which makes us able to construct a "tree" of life. (Other metaphors have been suggested to more aptly explain what this "tree" looks like, I'm quite fond of the "tumbleweed" concept.)

Given what we know about science, (see the "Relativity of Wrong"-video I linked to above) how can anyone suggest that we look to a book that doesn't change? If you knew anything about science at all, and I must now point out that it's clear you don't, you wouldn't be able to suggest something like that.
If there is a next reply from me, and please understand that I will stop replying if your next text exceeds 10.000 words (I suggested no more than 1.500 before) because I simply don't have the time to go through pages and pages of unrelated, utter nonsense.
To give you an idea of what might convince an atheist, here's a video by TheFightingAtheist titled How to convert an atheist Part 1. Take a look at that and use some of the suggestions, because what you're doing now is utterly pointless.
"Sometimes people don't want to hear the truth because they don't want their illusions destroyed." ― Friedrich Nietzsche

"I shall achieve my objectives through the power... of Science!" --LessWrong
Thu Jul 05, 2012 5:05 pm
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