Saturday, September 06, 2014

This I Believe

I believe there is more to life than meets the eye.
I believe there is a deeper meaning to most everything that we encounter.
I believe that we have an existence that goes beyond this physical reality.
I believe that God is greater than anyone can imagine.
I believe that our attempts to define God have been inadequate.
I believe that love is the key to knowing God to the fullest extent that we are able.
I believe that Jesus came the closest to knowing God and I have no problem calling him the "son of God."
 But I do not believe that Jesus' intent was for everyone to worship him. Nor do I believe that he would condemn those who do not.
I do not believe in "hell" or any kind of eternal damnation.
I do not believe that God is as egotistical and jealous as the Old Testament makes him out to be. I believe those passages are an example of the authors trying to define God in their image, rather than the other way around.
I believe that God wants everyone to be "saved" eventually and is patient enough to see that happen. 
I do not believe that any of the man-made religions or philosophies, either individually or taken as a whole, have discovered or revealed all that there is to know about God.
But I do believe that most religions serve a good purpose and that there is a communal benefit to worship, praise, Sunday school, Bible study, prayer groups, and so forth.
I believe that science is the best means for explaining the physical universe, while religions are the best means for explaining the meta-physical universe.
While I believe that the Bible is a wonderful book that should be read and studied, I do not believe that it is something that should be worshiped and idolized. I believe the Bible was written by people to express their faith and their understanding of God. I believe that some of the Bible was inspired by God, but it is not by any means inerrant or infallible.
I believe that what we think we believe is not as important as how we live our lives and how we treat other people.

Enough already!

Note: This is Robert Shearer's response, dated Sept. 7, 1986, to my second essay and marks the end of this first exchange on this topic.

Dear Mike,
Enough already! We're going to pummel each other to death with essays. I can see the paper now;

Ex-debators never know when to stop"

Dallas — The incredibly handsome and world-renowned debater Eddie "Phred" Shearer was found dead in his tastefully decorated studio in Plano yesterday by an adoring fan. Collin County Coroner Jack O. Lantern in his autopsy report filed late last night (waiting for which, we held the presses) stated that Shearer died from typist's cramp of the pinkie while preparing another essay on an old high school buddy's idea of God.
While the FBI did its best to keep the buddy's name secret, it was leaked to an angry mob that Mike Thomas, a Fascism student at Texas A&M, was to be the recipient of the essay that caused Shearer's death.
The mob found Thomas sodomizing freshmen corpsmen on the A&M campus. He was summarily tar and feathered, drawn and quartered, burned at the stake and force fed Chicken McNuggets before his remains were recovered by National Guardsmen using riot gear. The exact whereabouts of the body are unknown, but sources with the Guard, speaking on assurance of anonymity, say that it was flushed down a toilet in the quartermaster's bathroom.
The Reagan administration issued a statement of condolences to the family of Phred Shearer, while at the same time revoking citizenship rights of Thomas' family.
In a related story, the entire cast of the Kilgore Rangerettes checked into the Phylis Schafley Convent of Women Who Have No Plans For Children.

Do you want that on your conscience? And what are you doing sodomizing freshmen?
No, I am not, nor have I ever put you in the category of religious fanatic. Au contraire, I admire the way you have tempered your faith with reason. I wish I could say the same about my college professor friend. I sent her both your and my essays, and I got her reply yesterday. She is an atheist. She referred to your essay as "worthless drivel," and was equally uncomplimentary to you. Being your friend, I naturally defended you (I told her that you had been unable to think clearly since you had got herpes of the earlobes) But seriously, she really hated it - so much so that she didn't - no, refused to - finish it. You really don't want to know the rest.
She did like mine, though (Nya, nya!).
The subject won't die, however. Note my version of "My Philosophy" at the end. As you can see, it is complete. By all means, complete yours - I am intrigued....

My Philosophy

Not believing in God is no guarantee he will leave you alone.

R.E. Shearer

In Answer to a Refutation (Aug. 1986)

Note: This is the second part of my response to Robert Shearer's refutation of my previous essay all of which is posted below.

I sincerely appreciate R.E. Shearer taking the time and effort to write his refutation to my essay entitled "Refuting Secular Humanism." It has given me the opportunity to see how many of my ideas were unclear and could be easily misunderstood. I would now like to expand on some of my ideas, clarify others, and refute the arguments brought up in Shearer's paper entitled "Refuting Thomas' Refuting Secular Humanism."
One of the first things that Shearer brings up in his paper is my use of the "dangling preposition." In response to this I ask — Is it not the author's privilege to create his own style of writing? Perhaps "dangling prepositions" are my style, then again maybe I just goofed. But this is not an important issue here so I will drop it.
I would like to begin by clearing up a few points about my idea of faith. In my first paper I was trying to point out that faith is a necessary thing and all people are compelled to have faith in something. Since I was limiting my discussion to science and religion, this statement was not sufficiently supported. I will expand on it with the following two points; 1) There are other things that you can have faith in besides science and religion, some examples are - money, democracy, communism, the overall goodness of man, the overall rotteness of man, and so on. 2) You can have faith in more than just one thing and in varying degrees as well.
Shearer is not happy with my attempt at defining faith as an antonym of doubt. I admit that it is difficult to come up with a working definition of a term like faith, but my point is that when you put your faith into one idea you are at the same time denying the opposite of that idea. Shearer argues that this statement is invalid and cites an example of an indecisive motorist trying to get on a freeway. This argument does not work because though it is true that the motorist can change his belief in the blink of an eye, he cannot hold, let us say, a positive and negative belief of the same idea at the same time, unless of course he is for some reason mentally unsound. But all of this seems hardly relevant to the theme of the paper and might prove to be, as Shearer stated, "space eating rhetoric."
My next point under attack is that a person who denies God is leaving a large gap in his faith and must find something to put his faith into. Shearer claims this statement to be a fallacy and cites an example where he says that "...greed has sufficiently taken the place of faith."
This is actually an example of someone placing their faith in money, thus the faith is still there misdirected as it is.
My statement that "blind faith is not good and should be accompanied by reason" is not very clear since blind faith = faith - reason. It would be better stated as blind faith is not good, faith should be accompanied with reason. Therefore I assume that when Shearer talks about "...reason accompanying blind faith..." which doesn't make sense, he means reason accompanying faith. Shearer rejects my idea that science requires a certain amount of faith to be believable and uses gravity for his example. I don't doubt that the law of gravity works whether you believe it or not (Arthur Dent may disagree) but think of the scientists who are using faith everytime they make a hypothesis. Everything cannot be empirically proven to the full satisfaction of everybody so there are many things that must be taken on faith. Very few people have actually seen an atom, or even a germ for that matter, but they have enough faith in science to believe that they are there. He also rejects that "blind faith is not good and should be accompanied with reason" but I feel that his idea of blind faith is similar to the idea of common sense and it could very well be defined in that way. My idea of blind faith is an ignorant kind of faith that can be very dangerous. It occurs when people stop thinking for themselves and just believe what they are told. I believe that it was faith suach as this that was a major factor in Hitler's Nazism.
I enjoy Shearer's sense of humor in his next argument, but I don't feel he has made a very serious attempt to refute or understand C.S. Lewis' ideas. It was not the definition of opposites but Lewis' sense of right and wrong that eventually led him to become a Christian. In his argument, Lewis is comparing the 'good' world to a straight line and the 'screwed up' world to a crooked line. He then asks - How is it that we consider the world we live in to be the crooked line? Where did we get our sense of what the straight line should look like? It would make more sense if we, being a part of the world, called it the straight line the way it is now, but we don't.
Shearer states that "Deities were invented by the ancients to explain all sorts of natural phenomena for which they did not understand." This is very true, but if Shearer will study these deities and religions more closely he will be able to see the difference between the deities who were products of the people (Zeus, Odin) and the people who are products of their God (Jews, Christians, Muslims).
Shearer then asks if " will finally reduce the number of gods to zero...", I am afraid that it cannot however what would be tragic is if the number of people believing in God were reduced to zero. But I can assure you that this will never happen during my lifetime.
I was very much surprised by Shearer's next statement "...a person who thinks he can reason everything out without a faith in something not only has 'thought about it enough' but has accepted the limits of his thinking and ignores the rest." I personally am offended by the idea of a limit to my thinking and could never accept such a limit. (To think there is a thought that I could not think) I don't claim to be able to answer all of the world's problems but I would not shrug my shoulders and quit thinking about it. And to ignore the rest!? Where do you think the word 'ignorance' comes from? This is the kind of thought that is often used against believers and here it is now being used as an excuse to deny God.
I still believe that the question why is an important question. It is also a disturbing question. It is always present, it can't be ignored, and it can't be shrugged off as being insignificant. The situation for which why is asked might be insignificant to your or even to everybody, but the question why will still be there. It is disturbing because we don't always have an answer for it and though we may not need the answer we still feel insecure in our ignorance. Faith in God does not mean that you stop asking the question why (or any other question), such a state of consciousness is reserved for those with the infamous 'blind faith'.
I had asked what the consequences of of a complete faith in science are. I will rephrase that to say what are the consequences of having no faith in God? The answers that I gave, and which I still stand by, are not meant to imply that this iw how people behave and act, but that these are the ultimate realities that they will have to face if they really believe what they think they do. I will change my first one to say that man has no immortal soul.
Shearer asks "...what makes him think that life has meaning anyway, and what is it if there is?" I've tried to explain a little of what I think in "My Philosophy", also, C.S. Lewis had a good argument that I might not have explained clearly in my first paper. He asks if life has no meaning then how is it we were able to find out that it has no meaning? He then uses the analogy that if no one had eyes we would not know that it was dark and dark would have no meaning. But we do have eyes and we can see that ther is darkness, we also have something about us through which we can perceive meaning.
I notice that Shearer likes to quote Tolstoy. Here is another quote from Tolstoy... "If the thought comes to you that everything that you have though about God is mistaken and that there is no God, do not be dismayed. It happens to many people. But do not think that the source of your unbelief is that there is no God. If you no longer believe in the God in whom you believed before, this comes from the fact that there was something wrong with your belief, and you must strive to grasp better that which you call God. When a savage ceases to believe in his wooden God, this does not mean that there is no God, but only that the true God is not of wood."
An important and often asked question that Shearer brings up is "how much sense does it make that a good and just God allows so much suffering in the world?" God does not allow suffering in the world, we do. As I explained in "My Philosophy" we are the ones that make evil in the world through the choices that we make with our free will. For God to end all suffering on Earth, he would first have to take away our free will and force us to obey his laws, but he is not going to do that. Instead, God has provided us with the means to end all the suffering on our own through the teachings of Jesus Christ. If everyone lived by Jesus' teachings there would be no more suffering on earth. As it is though, even the people calling themselves Christians don't follow Christ's teachings. Only a few people have ever come close to following Jesus' example - Gandhi, Marting Luther King Jr. to name a couple.
Shearer's next statement is what inspired me to write "My Philosophy" because I could see that he was becoming prejudiced and starting to categorize me with all of the other stereotypical evangelists and bible-thumpers that he has been exposed to. As it is I do not believe that God manipulates everything. He set life into motion and does not need to manipulate everything. And as I have stated before, I believe that man has free will. I ask Shearer to justify how he can conclude that man has free will and choice if everything that man does and thinks is the result of chemical reactions in the brain following the particular DNA structure in his genes?
In Shearer's conclusion, he states that "A man of God must hide his head in his faith that God has a reason for all things..." A man who believes in God does not hide his head in his faith, rather he rejoices in his faith. The only thing that he must believe is that God loves him. If God does have a reason for and/or divine answer for everything he has not told me and I am free to contemplate what I will.
Shearer continues to say "The secular humanist is not shackled to this or any answer; he has a choice of answers and is free to create his own reasons and act on them as he sees fit." Would you consider it being shackled to an answer if that answer were the truth? Once a person has the true answer why would he want to choose another one? A person who creates his own reasons is not interested in knowing the truth. He reasons would be different from someone else with different perspectives on life and until he can take into account everybody's perspective he will be far from knowing the truth.

My Philosophy (13 Aug. 1986)

Note: The following is the first part of my response to Robert Shearer's refutation of my earlier paper, both of which can be found below.

Preface: I think that it is important that before I begin my refutation of your refutation I write down clearly and concisely what my personal philosophy is. This is so you won't stick me in your Swaggart & Falwell file. You will have to build a whole new filing cabinet for me. Note that these ideas are my own and not simply regurgitated material from Kung or Lewis.

My philosophy centers around the major themes of God's love for us, our free will and our individuality. Now before I begin I want to point out the difference between believing something and knowing something. When I say that I believe something it is like my hypothesis or my best guess and when I say I know something it is unshakeable truth. Under this definition it would be wrong for me to say that I believe in God. I know God. I also know that Jesus is the messiah referred to in the old testament. It is beyond the scope of this paper for me to separate and list all of the things I believe or know, so with this point established I will continue.
I believe that God made man because he wanted something to love and something to love him back. It was not enough to simply create something that would love him because that is what it was created for. In other words, if we had no choice but to love God, it wouldn't mean very much. This is why God gave us free will, so that we would not be forced to love him but could do so on our own.
God really did have to love us a lot to give us free will because free will allows for disobedience, sin and evil. You see, God did not make evil, he gave us free will and we make the evil through the choices that we make. Saint Augustine separated evil into moral and physical. I don't accept the idea of physical evil (hurricanes, floods, drought, earthquakes, plague, etc.) Real evil requires free will.
I do not believe in predestination. To say that God knows everything we will do before we do it would be to deny that we have true free will. God knows everything that there is to know, but is also open to learning new things. He knows everything you do and think. He can help you, guide you and tell you what to do, but he won't make your decisions for you. An idea I got from Joe is that God has changed his method of dealing with us as you can tell when contrasting the old and new testaments. I think that when God first put us down here he wasn't sure what to do with us. He gave us strict laws to follow and when we disobeyed he punished us with plagues and floods (a really big flood) but as he became more experienced with us he adopted different methods like we see in the new testament.
I know that Jesus is the divine son of God. Through Christ God has sent his grace that encompasses all of mankind. I feel that Christ's divinity is important, but I think that many religions today are so intent on stressing it that they are not paying enough attention to his teachings. The result is so called Christians who kill hundreds of people with car bombs and other such violence in Ireland and the Middle East. And Christians in the southern U.S. who for over a hundred years saw nothing wrong with slavery. This list goes on today. I think that by loving your neighbor (neighbor = everybody in the world) you are showing your love for or indirectly loving God. Jesus speaks often of when you do something for someone you are also doing it for him.
I think that we are all individuals with our own ideas and perspectives of the world. God realizes this because he made us this way. We are all going to have our own perspectives of God and our own ideas of how to worship him. God knows this and expects it. This is why no one religion is going to have the one and only right answer. Most religions contain different perspectives and ideas of the same truth. We can all worship God in our own way. It is not necessary to go to church to worship God, but I personally like to go to learn more about God, listen to other people's thoughts, and to enjoy the social contact.
I think that the Bible should be the guideline that we use to live our lives. I don't believe that any one person can interpret the Bible for the rest of the world. Since we are all individuals, we should read the Bible and adapt it to our own lives as we see best. For those people who are too lazy to do this they can always let the preacher interpret it for them. I believe that most preachers have good intentions and won't steer them wrong, but some might. This is the chance that these people will have to take if they don't read the Bible for themselves. I think that the most important themes in the Bible are clear enough for everyone to understand. We should not fight amongst ourselves over the interpretation of the rest of it. (I do not consider arguing and debating to be fighting.)

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Refuting Thomas' Refuting Secular Humanism - 1986

This is Robert (Eddie) Shearer's rebuttal to my paper entitled "Refuting Secular Humanism"
He called it "Refuting Thomas' Refuting Secular Humanism"

Minor Argument Paper

In his paper "Refuting Secular Humanism," Mike Thomas presents his argument against the belief of, you guessed it, Secular Humanism. He defines secular humanism as the belief that God is an invention of man and that science will reveal what have always been considered divine mysteries. Actually, to quote Thomas, he refers to "all things." However, there are many things that cannot nor neednot be explained by science or divine intervention: For example, why hickies are considered kinky when given on the thigh but not when given on the neck. I therefore make the assumption that he is referring to mysteries of cosmic scope.
Thomas later has the audacity to define faith by using a comparison to doubt. He states, "Having faith in or believing in one thing requires a denial of or doubting of something else. Usually this means doubting the opposite of what you believe in." I read this statement and can see that he has no qualms about leaving prepositions dangling in a sentence (something his teacher did not notice, but this was before competency tests). But furthermore, there are examples in everyday living that exemplify the invalidity of the statement. A typical example is a freeway driver. Many drivers, when entering an on-ramp on the freeway, hurl pell-mell towards the ongoing with the accelerator pressed deep into the carpet, content in the belief that they will enter the flow. Once at the end of the ramp, the driver will slam on the brakes, doubting he will ever enter the flow. Then again, he will sit at the end of the ramp, at a dead stop, surrounded by the belief that he will enter the flow. However, I am nitpicking, and as I am not required, as Thomas was, to make this paper a certain length, I will dispense with the space-eating rhetoric and get down to the argument.
Thomas bases much of his argument on the idea that humans require some form of faith. Man is surrounded by mysteries, and to cope with the problem of mysteries, he develops a faith in a Supreme Being or in a branch of science to assure him that things are not amiss. "When a person denies God, he is leaving a large empty space in his faith... In the case of secular humanism, a large amount of faith has been placed in science." The latter statement is true, but the former not necessarily so. "... he must find something to put his faith into." This statement, containing yet another dangling preposition, is made in support of the idea that faith is required. Once again, an empirical example bears out the fallacy of this statement. By ordering the continued manufacturing of nuclear weapons, despite the fact that our national arsenal is large enough to make the Eurasion continent glow like a neon tube, President Reagan is denying God and science, as both advocate peace. In this instance, greed has sufficiently taken the place of faith.
I reject his idea that "blind faith is not good and should be accompanied with reason and ... that science requires a certain amount of faith to be believable." If a person jumps from a building, his lack of faith in the science of gravity will not keep him from rather abruptly having his "faith" turned around.
On the other side of the coin, reason accompanying blind faith can be equally deadly. For example, should you be shot at and the sniper misses, reason tells you that (1) there must be some mistake, you've never pissed anyone off so much that they would want to shoot you; (2) he missed once, so the odds are that he'll miss again; (3) the universe is, for practical purposes, infinitely large, while you are, by comparison, infinitely small, and the bullet is even smaller; so much smaller, in fact, as to be statistically nonexistent and therefore you have nothing to worry about. On the other hand, blind faith tells you to run for cover, and unless the idea of death makes you giddy, it is much better than reason.
His next argument, mare a statement in favor of a belief in a Supreme Being than an argument against secular humanism, uses the idea that the definition of opposites proves the existence of God. He states, "A man doesn't call a line crooked, he reasoned, unless he has some sense of what a straight line looks like." This idea is actually an example of what secular humanists use as an argument against the existence of God. Since he does not know who defined straight lines, darkness or wetness (I personally believe these notions were defined by prehistoric philosophers contemplating the arm pit), he invents a God to define these things for him.
Deities were invented by the ancients to explain all sorts of natural phenomena for which they did not understand. Many things they were able to explain, and hence there were no gods of urination, aquaducts, or shoelaces. But other things, like lightening or taxes, they were at a loss to understand and therefore they invented the deities Zeus and Government, respectively (and respectfully). This human characteristic, of blaming things on gods that defy the current fashions in thinking, has perpetuated religion. However, as science has uncovered the mysteries of lightening (physics) and taxes (political science) and other sundry natural occurances, the number of gods have been reduced from entire pantheons to just one. Is it unreasonable to assume that science will finally reduce the number of gods to zero, by answering all the questions? I don't think so, although I think that when that day comes, encyclopedias are going to be rather cumbersome and very expensive (although you won't have to keep buying those yearly updates.)
Therefore, a person who thinks he can reason everything out without a faith in something not only has "thought about it enough," but has accepted the limits of his thinking and ignores the rest.
(As an aside note, I think that if man were to discover what happens to us when we die -- really know -- that the other things we wonder about would be less important - like why gas without lead costs more than gas with lead.)
Thomas goes on to state, "I believe that why is an important question." I am willing to bet that Thomas was a rather impertinent fellow in his youth and was probably lied to by his parents, as parents are wont to do when asked things they do not know. Must everything have a 'why' connected with it? The more importance placed on 'why' reduces the importance of insignificance. In fact, it brings us some rather disturbing paradoxes, for 'why' implies significance. Therefore, if 'why' is so important, why do we have insignificance? Also, how would you answer such questions as "Why does it matter?"
This emphasis on 'why,' and ensuing de-emphasis on insignificance, has some dire consequences for society. For example, we will no longer be allowed to round off calculations, making reporting our national deficit a monumental task.
Hence, I see that these questions of 'why' directed at science can be effectively and satisfactorily answered by "What difference does it make? When was the last time you cleaned your room?" This reply has been empirically proven appropriate by parents from prehistoric times.
"Is it more reasonable to have faith in science of faith in God?" asks Thomas. "What are the consequences of a complete faith in science?" He then lists what such a belief would imply. "That man is mortal." Most religions entertain this belief also; it's the spirit that is immortal. "That life is meaningless." Nonsense! Science won't erase the entry in Webster's. And anyway, what makes him think that life has meaning anyway, and what is it if there is? Tolstoy once said that "The highest knowledge that man can attain is that life is meaningless." Putting it in terms that Thomas would understand, "Why is there a meaning to life?"
He goes on, "That ethics and morals are only around for convenience sake." Here he implies that one cannot have ethics if one doesn't believe in God. Such a statement could get him slapped with a libel suit by the American Bar Association. This was one of Thomas' most unfounded; he continues "That your goal in life should be to try and make yourself as deliriously happy as possible because once you die it is all over." If believing in God means that we should try to make ourselves as miserable as possible because when we die we start over, then those who believe in God are suffering from masochism and need therapy, not faith. It is this kind of thinking that has prevented Baptists from becoming famous dancers. "That trying to make other people happy is a waste of time unless it directly affects you," he states. Hence, he implies, all philanthropists automatically believe in God. See my comment about the ABA above. "That in the end it doesn't matter how you spend your life, whether you are a millionaire or a mass murderer doesn't make any difference." Thomas is obviously not familiar with Cullen Davis, who proved it does make a difference if you are both.
"That you are an incredibly insignificant fluke of nature." One who believes in God must also reach this same conclusion. First of all, as there is nobody like you in the world, you are obviously a fluke of nature; and if you are the only one of you in the world, God did not feel you are significant enough to make more of you. Lastly, despite the fact that nearly all of us are born with the same number of eyes, legs, arms, etc.,  yet we are all different, which is pretty incredible. Hence, despite your views, we are all incredibly insignificant flukes of nature. His statement is thus irrelevant. "That the whole world could blow up the day after you die and it wouldn't matter to you one way or the other." Well, no difference what you believe, it will certainly bother you much more should it happen before you die than after.
Finally he concludes, "It is a dreary and hopeless philosophy that doesn't make very much sense. It basically denies all things and fails to answer the question why." I disagree strongly! Such philosophy is dreary only if one is overly preoccupied with death. As for making sense, how much sense does it make that a good and just God allows so much suffering in  the world? What secular humanism does is accept all things, not deny them. By freeing oneself from the belief that God is manipulating all things for reasons that answer Thomas' ever present question of why, one must conclude that one has choice; one of those choices is deciding for yourself the answer to why.
Thomas quotes Sir Francis Bacon saying "They that deny a God destroy man's nobility..." I submit that man is no more noble than any other beast on earth. No other creature continually wages war on its own kind; nor does any other creature dedicate so much of its time inventing new ways to kill more of its own kind. Hence, I reject Thomas' notion that without God man is not worth much. Man has his God now, and by standards of morals set down by that God, we are not worth much. I contend that man will only be worthy and noble when he creates his own answers to the question why, and uses his privilege of free choice to create a world like that called for in religious ethics. To follow these ethics out of fear of dying is not noble, it is irresponsible and cowardly.
Thomas concludes by saying that the secular humanist "must sit back with satisfaction and think that he is much smarter... for he has found that the answer to all things is that there is no answer. If he is really satisfied with that then God help him." A man of God must hide his head in his faith that God has a reason for all things; he must believe in divine answers that are beyond his simple capabilities to comprehend. The secular humanist is not shackled to this or any answer. He has a choice of answers and is free to create his own reasons and act on them as he sees fit.