Insist On Truthfulness:
Misrepresent PAM's Position
Dan Jarvis

Think Before You Click!
A note to some theists who write to us:
We insist on the right to insist on truthfulness in all discussions.
If you want to try to hold us accountable for something we believe or say,
please be sure that we actually said it or believe it before launching your salvos
against us. If you lie to us or about us, we will call you on it, because we
insist on truthfulness. So please, think about what you say first, if for no other
reason than that we tend to post some of the more ridiculous tirades -- just
for laffs. Then, atheists who visit this site are reminded of why we would
never convert to theism. If you have a truly challenging argument to present,
we will do our best to consider it. And who knows? We might learn something.

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From: "Positive Atheism" <>
To: "Dan jarvis"
Subject: Re: for the Editor...truth?
Date: Tuesday, June 27, 2000 2:43 PM

You should have read, more carefully, our statement: we do not "insist that there is no god"; we simply have encountered no reasons to believe that those claiming the existence of a god are being truthful. There is a big difference. When you misrepresent our position like this, you only make it less likely that people like us will take seriously anything else you have to say.

Because, in the long run, things work out better when you are truthful. For example, I might live a happier life and have more friends if I "comforted" them with tales of an afterlife. However, I see no reason to believe there is any such thing as an afterlife, so no matter how comforting that notion seems (or how popular one may be by advocating such a notion), I won't do it -- for truth's sake.

This is typical of theists' tendency to misrepresent the atheistic position in order to make the theistic position seem more moral. Unfortunately for the theistic position, the theists who describe the atheistic position this way must lie in order to do so. I know of no atheists who think the way you say we think, and certainly any person practicing Positive Atheism would recoil at such a notion.

We haven't even got that far: you have yet to convince me that a "God" exists. So far, it all sounds like the Santa Claus tale that it probably is. Give me some sound reasons to believe that you're telling the truth when you presuppose aloud the existence of a creator, and I, for one, will be glad to consider your position.

This also raises some sticky questions:

How does that follow from the former?

(Be sure to show your work.)

How does it follow that because something exists that a someone made it? This is absurd!

I do what I think is right simply because I think it is right and I do what I think is expedient simply because I think it is expedient. I am not afraid of any judgement throne or anything else along those lines. I know there is a law of gravity, which clearly describes what will happen should I jump off a tall building. Certainly no Invisible Oriental Despot Of Vast Proportions will gather me up and shake His finger at me and say, "See what you did?"

Your attempt at logic is not making any sense to me -- primarily because your assumptions about our position are erroneous. We cannot and will not answer to a position we don't even hold.

Please try again, and this time, challenge us on what we actually believe, not on what your uninformed imagination tells you we believe.

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine

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From: "Positive Atheism" <>
To: "Absolute Truth"
Subject: Re: for the Editor...truth?
Date: Wednesday, June 28, 2000 7:29 PM

You still haven't made your case that a God exists. Please get busy! Then we can talk freely about these other matters. As it stands, I don't think you're being honest with me, since you refuse even to attempt to make your case.

Please answer my question! How does it follow that because something exists that a someone has made it?

Meanwhile, I don't understand your question. Many things simply exist. The only things that have a reason for existing were created or formed.

Now, things that occur naturally may be put to use, and thus have a purpose in the other sense, but your question is unclear, so I cannot answer it.

Name the function of the pulsar PSR 1919+21. What function does this pulsar fulfill? You're the one who is claiming that all things have a function and came into being to fulfil that function. I want you to tell me the function of Pulsar PSR 1919+21 and then tell me in what ways it fulfills that function.

If you cannot do this, then we must remain open to the possibility that at least some things exist naturally, without function or purpose. Once we can acknowledge that possibility, your use of the word all here becomes invalid, thus invalidating your claim.

If you can do this, then I have some more questions to challenge your use of the word all in this claim.

You are misrepresenting what I said, translating it to fit your narrow preconceptions about the atheistic position, and then holding me accountable for what your dogma-diminished imagination wants you to think I said. This done, it becomes easy for you to condemn me within the confines of your own mind. Unfortunately for your position, it doesn't work that way in the real world of open philosophical discussion, and your position will eventually fail to prosper as a result of having advocates who get caught using dishonest tactics such as this.

I will repeat my position: "I see no reason to believe there is any such thing as an afterlife."

This is not the same as saying that I "know for fact (truth) that nothing happens after death." Do you see how you have taken my words and twisted them to your own benefit? Do you see that you are, in a sense, lying to me and about me?

I know for certain that the Bible contains many lies and presents lots of false information. I also know that the books of the other religions are in the same boat: they falsely represent the known world and make claims that are verifiably false.

Since the alleged afterlife is unverifiable, we must go to the source of the claims for the existence of the afterlife. Those claims are: (1) so-called scripture; (2) mediums and wizards. All alleged scripture makes statements about verifiable matters that are easily proven false, so we have no reason to trust them on unverifiable matters. Not one of the very strongest of the claims made by mediums can be shown to be true (that is, more likely than alternate explanations, or true so as to exclude any alternate explanations). Even those claims that, at first glance, seem to have some weight, are flawed enough so as to invalidate them as being proof of anything.

Thus, it is in my best interest to live my life as if there were no afterlife. The threat of "hellfire" will not persuade me to believe in a Jesus that I would otherwise doubt. Threats of physical violence (such as Jesus's "hellfire") are not a very good way to determine what is and is not true; this outlook amounts to bribery and nothing more.

It's not that I would ever form an allegiance with a deity who would send any of his creatures to hell, I wouldn't; it's just that since none of the claims for the afterlife hold water, I don't have to believe them.

Don't use that term with me unless you are my friend.

You are not acting like a friend, so don't falsely claim to me that I am your friend.

I certainly wouldn't have someone who acts like you have acted as one of my friends.

How so? You have yet to explain how you come to this conclusion. I have every reason to believe that you likely heard some preacher espouse this, and are now trying to defend it on your own, not realizing that the preacher probably knew he was lying to you about atheism. I come to this likelihood simply because you have failed, in two exchanges now, to defend your position -- your very false misrepresentation of the atheistic position.

No human is free to let his passions run wild in any sense. Try it some time and see what happens! You can't do it: there must be some restraint or you won't survive your actions. And if you cannot survive your actions, then I cannot say that your actions are free; if they lead to death, they are not free (unless your passion is to die). This is pure Darwinism. The religious leaders know this, but they don't think we are smart enough to catch on, so they perpetrate religious myths and afterlife scare tactics -- which also work for some people.

Tell me, if you see a beautiful woman who wants to have sex with you, but you are afraid Jesus will send you to hell if you go along with it, are you being moral?

Meanwhile, if I see a beautiful woman who wants to have sex with me, and I don't believe in Jesus, but I realize that I love my companion and don't want to damage in any way what we have together, and in particular I don't want to harm the love of my life, am I being moral? Explain your answer.

This is a low blow: comparing me with Hitler -- especially considering that he used the New Testament and the writings of Martin Luther to bring forth public acceptance of his deeds!

My system of ethics is superior to Hitler's simply because I refuse to be dogmatic about anything. I will not advocate an idea simply because St. Paul or Martin Luther advocated it. I even take Jefferson's writings and run them through the test to see if they are good ideas, to see if they would work or are fair; they are not good ideas simply because Jefferson thought them up.

Everything must be thought through. Once we have come to an answer that we all can live with, we can agree we will treat it as a law; until then, we must continually think things through and remind ourselves of the possible and likely consequences of our actions. Even if we do agree to treat something as law, later generations must still be willing to reevaluate what we earlier generations agreed upon. Until we started doing this, no progress was made; now, even most Churches play by these game rules. They do this because it works and because it generates the fewest complaints of unfairness.

In any event, if I have to make a personal decision without having all the facts (or on the spur of the moment, such as when I am being attacked), then I hold myself fully accountable for the results of that decision.

It's much more complex than this, but these are the basics.

Everything we do and each decision we make -- either way the decision may go -- has consequences. The consequence of your lying about the atheistic position (and your refusal to make an attempt to satisfy my challenge to make a case for the existence of a God) is that many atheists, gun-shy from other horrible experiences they've had with dishonest religious people, may be that much further from accepting religious people as capable of honesty.

Please document this claim.

Luther said, "The Jews deserve to be hanged on gallows seven times higher than ordinary thieves," and "We ought to take revenge on the Jews and kill them." Luther burned hundreds of Jews, and set the stage for Hitler justifying his killing of millions of Jews, homosexuals, gypsies, and others.

Hitler, seeking power, wrote in Mein Kampf, "I am convinced that I am acting as the agent of our Creator. By fighting off the Jews, I am doing the Lord's work." Years later, when in power, he quoted those same words in a Reichstag speech in 1938.

Biographer John Toland explains Hitler's heartlessness as follows: "Still a member in good standing of the Church of Rome despite the detestation of its hierarchy, he carried within him its teaching that the Jews was the killer of God. The extermination, therefore, could be done without a twinge of conscience since he was merely acting as the avenging hand of God."

In light of this, please justify your claim that Hitler "was motivated by his belief in evolution" -- especially since he wrote, in Mein Kampf, that he thought he was acting as the agent of his Creator!

But they don't work out better for such people: that's the whole point!

They didn't work out for Hitler because what he wanted, his regime to be successful, failed precisely because of his evil deeds.

You seem like such a wannabe con-artist -- trying to compare me with Hitler -- but your little game isn't working on me!

I have been given no reason to think that there exists a "Supreme Creator" -- but this does not mean that I am a god. If I don't think there are any gods, then how can I think of myself as one?

Your misrepresentation of the atheistic position is becoming tiresome, simply because you bolster it with and false accusations and false information. If you can come up with some facts to back up your claim (and if you can make a case that a God exists), then I will continue this dialogue. Otherwise, I will ask you to stop writing here.

There is no such thing as a "Positive Atheist." I developed the current Westernized expression of the philosophy of Positive Atheism -- as I advocate it here -- and since I developed and advocate this variant, I can say that anybody who practices this philosophy (namely me; I know of no one else) would recoil at the notion that being an atheist makes one absolutely free to commit evil.

I can tell.

I've known people who thought harassing others is fun.

Perhaps you think you're working for God and can do this without a twinge of conscience?

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine

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From: "Positive Atheism" <>
To: "Dan jarvis"
Subject: Re: for the Editor ... truth?
Date: Friday, June 30, 2000 4:24 AM

The only offense is that you are saying something that I don't think is true. You are being a hypocrite and expecting me to go along with it. I won't go along with it.

Friends, in particular, are very special people and I don't use this word lightly: I can count my close friends on one hand, and can count the people I would call a friend on both hands.

It is not easy for a man who is openly atheistic to make friends in America.

No. Semantics get people killed. Let's deal with the semantics for a minute.

The Roman Catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain and others have popularized the notion that atheism means "no god" and that agnosticism is some sort of middle ground between "no-god atheism" and theism. We reject this, in part, on the ground that historically, the majority of atheistic writers have gone with the position we advocate (and this is one of the reasons we advocate this position: its historical precedence). We also reject the Roman Catholic position because it is easier to make atheism mean "without theism" or "no theism" than it is to make it mean "no god."

What that leaves us is a binary description of humanity: one either has a god belief or one does not; one is either a theist or one is not (and is thus an atheist). This binary description holds true even with agnosticism (much to the chagrin of several agnostics who have written to us): one either thinks that a god exists but cannot say any more than that (and is thus a theistic agnostic) or one doesn't know if a god exists or not (and is thus an atheistic agnostic in that he or she lacks a god-belief, no knowing if there is a god).

The definition for atheist that we use is "one who lacks a god-belief -- for whatever reason." While we have considered aloud possibly accepting Michael Shermer's distinction between an atheist and a nontheist, Shermer's position has not gained nearly enough popular support to warrant such a drastic change in one of our most fundamental positions. You can read this discussion beginning with Shermer's book, my review of his statement called "Atheism & Fundamentalism," and Shermer's response to my review. You can read a very careful treatment of the historical definition for the word atheism in George H. Smith's "Defining Atheism."

You cannot, then, use such presuppositions when discussing something such as ethics with someone who rejects the authority of the Bible or is, at minimum, unconvinced that the Bible has any good things to teach humankind.

I'd hope that if the Bible is what you say it is, then the truth of its various statements would be self-evident -- that one would never need to resort to the "authority" of the Bible argue these things (circular reasoning), but could find the Bible to be consistent with all natural findings.

Indeed, the very statement in question is, "The heavens declare the glory"! If it is the heavens that are doing the declaring, then something as simple as the meaning or purpose of a meager pulsar (or even whether such a body even has a purpose or function) would be clearly evident in the nature of the pulsar itself: we wouldn't need to resort to any presuppositions at all because "the heavens" themselves would be sending a clear message.

Here's what this particular pulsar means to me, and to astronomers and physicists worldwide: This is the first pulsar ever discovered. It was discovered by British scientist Susan Jocelyn Bell Burnell, who made a major breakthrough in astronomy in 1967 at Cambridge University in Cambridge, England. Within a few months the collaborators located a number of these previously undetected stars. Her discovery overthrew previous knowledge about the nature of stars. More amazing is the fact that she was not an established scientist (yea, not a scientist at all) when she made her discovery. Einstein likewise was not a scientist when he presented his Theory of General Relativity to the world.

A pulsar is a star that is rotating very rapidly, the duration of each rotation ranging from once every four sections to once a millisecond. Bright stars at advanced stages of evolution collapse to form a neutron star -- a small, extremely dense ball of rapidly spinning matter. Key to this discussion, for me, is that the spin of a pulsar can be explained enitrely through natural means: we don't need to resort to thinking that some outside force set the pulsar spinning. Far from this being a case where "the heavens declare the glory of God" and "the stars display His handiwork," the pulsar further vindicates our search for natural explanations for natural phenomenon.

Although this pulsar has meaning for me, and although it has meaning for the scientific world, I cannot think of any reason to believe that it has any purpose or meaning in and of itself.

This Bible passage (Psalm 19) was written by ignorant goat-herders, sitting around a campfire of camel dung. It makes sense that people who thought the earth was flat and that it had a lid (firmament) above it would display such blatant ignorance of the universe. The truth is, that the universe is almost pure chaos, and chaos is precisely the lack of information which the Bible says the heavens "declare."

I hate to break this to you, but science tells us that this is a lie: the universe is mostly chaos. It has tiny, tiny (very small) knots of order, such as stars and the solar system (and particularly Earth, which is extremely ordered) but the universe as a whole is almost entirely chaos.

It has zero energy and required zero energy to begin. Far from demonstrating the "awesome power of the Creator," the a universe such as ours would have required zero energy -- zero power -- to form into what we see today. This is the latest coming from Particle Physics; this is the Inflationary Big Bang model. The whole thing appears to have been quantum fluctuation that happened spontaneously, without any outside influence whatsoever; what we have could easily have resulted from that fluctuation's attempt to fill a vacuum. In such a situation (science tells us), we can expect a very small percentage of order. What little order we do see can be accounted for by the imbalances created by the expansion.

All we can see with our naked eye is that order; we can only detect the chaos through observation with sophisticated instruments and by the resulting equations. Even what we do see is far from complex: Hydrogen and photons -- the simplest structures. When enough hydrogen gathers together from gravity and a small imbalance, a star is eventually formed.

Again: the only purpose or meaning we can detect for this pulsar is the meaning we humans give it. This particular pulsar was the first one discovered, and this discovery prompted a small revolution in science, overthrowing some previously held theories. One of the most joyful events in science is when a long-held theory or hypothesis is overthrown with new knowledge.

I don't see how a fundamentalist anything could understand this, but this is how science works: we offer our ideas up to the altar of public scrutiny in hopes that we may successfully be found wrong, that we all may enjoy a clearer understanding, a clearer picture of truth. Again, I don't see how an Evangelical Christian (or a fundamentalist anything) could possibly appreciate this aspect of liberal scientific method.

I simply haven't been presented with a reason to believe these claims -- and they are nothing more than claims, at this point.

At one of the karaoke bars I went to tonight, a woman's brother had died two weeks earlier, and person after person got up and sang the most in-your-face religious music I'd ever heard in one sitting -- and I've been to church! Not only that, they asked members of the audience to hold hands and to "sing songs to" the deceased. While I can appreciate someone's pain and loss (my all-time favorite partner Tamara died of cancer nine years ago), I walked out on this ceremony after the DJ started giving people extra turns just so they could sing religious material "to" the deceased (yes, they told us that the deceased was there listening to them sing).

I told the manager, "This is what I hate most about religion: they exploit a tragedy for the purpose of propagating their agenda. This exploitation is so vicious that if you refuse to go along with it you stand to be ostracized or worse." If nobody talks to me after this, it will be all the same to me. If I get ostracized from this social circle, there are other bars. This is not a small town by any means.

I originally went there because I was not very happy tonight. If I'd known they were going to repeat a Wake that happened two weeks earlier, I could have made an informed decision as to where to spend my evening. As it stands, I came home early and am doing a little more work on this letter before I knock off for the night.

Jesus also (according to the tale) threatened to send people into eternal fire if they did not obey his commandment to believe in him -- to love him.

This is not love, but the result of coercion.

How can this be reconciled with Jesus's use of fear, through threats of eternal hellfire, to instill loyalty in his followers?

Your web page more than amply covers this.

How can downplaying Jesus's threats of hellfire be distinguished from the "warm and fuzzy religion" that American Atheists is so apt to criticize? AA aren't the only ones: many hard-core fundamentalist Christians also look in dismay upon their fellow-believers who ignore or reinterpret this most distinguishing (and most barbaric) trait of the Bible Jesus.

I mean, just what is it that the Bible Jesus is supposed to be saving you from, anyway?

Also, you still have yet to make a case that the Bible is truth. Almost every objection I have brought fourth has either been conceded or has been relegated to the realm of "faith." What is "faith" that one can simply resort to it in order to argue that, for example, Santa Claus literally and physically delivers presents to millions of kids in a single evening?

But when I offer to challenge what you currently claim as true, you squirm and resort to "faith" and "presupposition." You have given me no indication that what you call "true" either is self-evident or can be independently verified.

Sometimes that's all you have to go on, and you go ahead and make the decision. True, it's not the best way to make decisions, but I will admit that I have made more than a few decisions based solely on fear.

Sometimes I have later found that my fears were justified (though I may not have been justified in my fear, not knowing all the facts). Other times, I discovered that my fears were groundless.

This article conveniently overlooks what I pointed out earlier: Hitler thought he was doing the work of his Creator. He was a creationist, at least some of the time. He may have given lip service to evolution for the purpose of bolstering his credibility before the public. (Hey! even Abraham Lincoln gave lip service to religion to satisfy the public! That's politics for you!) But Hitler's core beliefs were Christian, heavily influenced by Luther and the Popes, and were in line with passages such as Romans 9-11, and Deuteronomy 28, and Matthew 27:5. Hitler killed the wretched Jews because the Catholics and the Protestants before him killed them and taught that Jews, being the very murderers of God, deserved even more brutal persecution than could be imagined by the most God-loving dungeon keeper during the darkest centuries of the Inquisition.

To try to make a case that Hitler was an evolutionist and that evolution was Hitler's core philosophy, without once addressing Hitler's admitted faith in and duty to his Creator, is (to put it bluntly) chicken shit!

I don't have the time or willingness to critique your many leaps and premature conclusions, here. Proof, to me, would involve independent verification, and would preclude any and all use of logical fallacy.

I would be more strict with a claim for the supernatural than I would with a claim for something that could be natural (such as the claim that the Loch Ness monster exists): extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof.

If (as you say) the universe is so vast and so complex (though it is not complex at all) that it needs to be explained by an even bigger and vaster and more complex creator, then all the more does that creator need to be explained -- being so much more vast and complex.

The main flaw with your presentation is that it expects us to rest with God as the uncaused cause; however, if we require that the universe must necessarily have a creator, then we must also require that the creator must necessarily have been caused -- must necessarily have a reason for existing.

My position is that the universe required no energy to begin, was pure chaos during those first moments, and developed inconsistencies that eventually resulted in what we call visible matter (knots of organization). Eventually, nature smiled upon our prospects for existence: a planet orbited just far enough away from the right sized sun, and self-replicating molecules began to thrive. There has been more than enough time and there are more than enough stars to completely overwhelm the "chance" objection: the eye has evolved over six separate times, and the self-replicating molecules that are our ultimate ancestors are not necessarily the only ones ever to form and thrive here. No supernatural anything is needed for this scenario, which is commonly called the Inflationary Big Bang model.

If I can explain it naturally, then this is preferable to a supernatural explanation.

Everybody was born an atheist (as all infants lack god-beliefs), and my parents taught me no religion at all. At all. So, I remained an atheist. After a brief fling with Christianity in my mid-twenties, I returned to atheism, the "faith of my fathers."

My parents did teach me that other kids believed because their parents taught them to believe, and that religious differences were some of the stupidest reasons for getting into fights and arguments or for not being someone's friend. I learned this lesson very well, but I cannot say that many of my religious peers have ever, to this day, learned the same level of acceptance that my atheistic parents taught me and that my atheistic little mind quickly learned to practice at a very early age.

I rejected religion simply because I found the whole thing so utterly abhorrent. I have always hated falsehood and liars, and from a very early age I saw religion, especially Christianity, to patently false. I have since given it, I think, a very fair consideration. At one point, I actually wanted the Bible to be true, and read dozens of books on Christian apologetics. Every one was nothing more than an exercise in twisting the facts and skirting the issues. Josh McDowell was the worst, presenting as "fact" many arguments that all but the most conservative of Christian scholars reject as Christian falsehood of the most embarrassing variety. Some friends of mine owned an Evangelical Bible book store, and at one point refused to stock McDowell's books because they were so full of lies!

But yes, I have, throughout my life, experienced the full brunt of Christian discipleship: The whole second grade class was divided: "Are you Catholic or are you Protestant?" When they discovered that I was neither, they instantly made peace with one another so they could gang up and pounce on me. I eventually was transferred to another school -- but those kids were only being obedient to what their respective religions had taught them. At the new school, I was held after class for refusing to recite the morning prayer -- three years after Madalyn Murray-O'Hair allegedly ended school prayer!

I eventually was jailed for refusing a court order to undergo religious instruction -- in Oregon in 1988! I was let go from a technical writing job days after my supervisor discovered that I am an atheist (almost the entire company was from this one denomination). I have been threatened with physical violence numerous times and beat up at least once simply because I am "not spiritual" -- as they were so fond of saying.

As I was breaking up with my fiancée a little over a month ago, she pointed out that she knows the difference between right and wrong because she believes in a god. (She was implying, very strongly, that I didn't know right from wrong, and couldn't know this without a belief in a god. Yet, I had just moments before sent her packing for threatening to kill me!) As I think back, I'd say she still had a chance with me until she made that remark: it brought back a whole flood of memories of the countless times I have been slighted or outright wronged simply because I wish to be left alone to make up my own mind about such personal matters -- because I see dignity in my philosophical position and am not afraid to admit that I fail to see their point -- because I don't really care what losses I may suffer, I cannot tell someone that I think something is true unless I actually think it is true.

If I have to live the rest of my life a loner (as I have led much of my life up to now), so be it: I cannot call a spade anything but a spade; I cannot tell it any differently from how I see it. I don't think it is possible for my mind to deliberately lie.

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine

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From: "Positive Atheism" <>
To: "Dan jarvis"
Subject: Re: for the Editor...truth?
Date: Friday, June 30, 2000 3:52 PM

I've called the company that made it. It's a monumental piece of junk, and I've spent at least a hundred hours listening to hokey hold muzak on hold on the telephone waiting for a technician. As lousy as it is, nobody on the other end ever disputed my accusations that "You've sure come up with an exceedingly marginal device, here."

Proof enough for me!

Can you go visit the Toshiba headquarters? Can we look up the current value of their stock in any newspaper and each will report the same figures (unlike the horoscope section)? If so, then no "faith" is needed.

The element of "faith" is why each horoscope column says something different. The element of "faith" is why your interpretation of biblical morality differs from almost everybody else's. Were it a simple matter of "Thou shalt not kill," then there would be no "faith." But the same Bible god likewise commands "Thou shalt not kill" and "Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him. But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves." "Faith" tries to reconcile these incongruities, whereas Reason smells a rat.

Neither. The answer can easily come through minimal investigation on anybody's part. In other words, your findings can easily be independently verified -- even by someone as skeptical as I.

You are claiming that my brain was crafted individually? Introduce me to that person and show me his or her laboratory. I'd also like to see the plans. I'd also like to ask this person why he or she placed flaws in my brain that prevent me from being competitive in the work force.

Meanwhile, I will satisfy myself with the likelihood that I was not crafted, but was born and grew. Last week I visited the town where I was born. I don't even need to take my parents' word for it, I have independently verified that I was born there by getting records from the state. I also have many, many relatives who concur with my parents' story -- one of whom knows much more about my birth than even my Mom and Dad. I was adopted, you see, so my origins are much more thoroughly documented than those of most people my age. (Nowadays, families even film or videotape the birth!)

Also, the evidence is overwhelming that I have ancestors common with the chimpanzee and the bonobo. We, in turn, have more remote ancestors in common with all primates. Eventually, we all may have ancestors in common with a single organism (this one string of DNA code, virtually identical in all known life forms, suggests this), but the possibility remains that self-replicating molecules may have formed and thrived and died off more than once on this planet.

It depends on whether what William S. Burroughs did was rightly called "painting." Was he a painter? I don't know. To me, the only value his "paintings" have lie in the fact that he "painted" them -- with cans of spray paint and a shotgun! Is a can of Campbell's soup, autographed by Andy Worhol, rightly called a work of art? Is a forgery of a Rembrandt a work of art in itself?

Or perhaps very simple self-replicating life forms formed and some of them died off when they were not strong enough to survive in certain environments, leaving those best suited to pass on the more suitable traits to their offspring. Perhaps four thousand million years is long enough for this to have happened given the right conditions: we do know that certain clays in certain parts of the world similarly replicate themselves, and they aren't even life forms! and Professor M. Reza Ghadiri explained to me the basics behind the self-replicating peptides his laboratory has developed over the past ten years, and how these peptides cannot be considered life forms because they cannot "undergo Darwinian evolution" as he put it to me. (He also said that if man is still here a thousand years from now, very few scientists from this time period would be remembered. But one scientist who will be remembered is Charles Darwin. This is how important and how revolutionary Darwin's discoveries are to science and to mankind.)

Perhaps our planet has undergone hundreds of mass extinctions, leaving those formidable species to move on to newer, previously unavailable resources, and thus to adapt to these new situations through natural selection. Perhaps a dinosaur sneezed one day, perhaps causing another species of dinosaur to catch a virus, and perhaps this sent a ripple effect that changed whether a species of small furry animals would survive or die off. Perhaps one species of mammal emerged that made use of its hands and eyes better than other species. Perhaps one gene pool within that species experienced the rapid growth of its brain that, on evolutionary terms, might be compared to the growth of a tumor. Perhaps, eventually, this brain (which in previous species was simply good enough to get along) is now sophisticated to perform phenomenal tasks such as painting a picture. We know that Neanderthal painted pictures and had a neocortical to brain mass ratio about ten percent higher than we do; we are not a descendant, but a cousin of Neanderthal, so perhaps it is not unusual, on an evolutionary scale, for these things to occur.

Perhaps when mankind began living in city-states, discipline and control became crucial to mankind's survival. Since superstition is a very efficient way to control humans, perhaps those humans who found it easy to go along with the tribal totem were allowed to survive and those who tended to think for themselves were ostracized or executed. Perhaps this happened for so many thousands of years that the genetic tendency toward credulity (if it is genetic) is now dominant in our species, and the tendency toward thinking and reasoning is repressed in our species. This could explain why, in the face of cold, hard facts, so many people will lie to themselves and others in order to protect the reputation of a tribal totem long dead. There may be other reasons, but your philosophical predecessors brutally killed my philosophical predecessors and confiscated their estates, and those resources were used to further the power and influence of your predecessors.

You know, I just love it when you guys misrepresent the Theory of Evolution! It makes my work so easy for me! Since you lie about things that are verifiable (such as what the Theory of Evolution teaches), then I have no reason to even consider your claims about unverifiable matters (such as the existence of a God, the afterlife, or the meaning of Christ's death on the cross)!

No. I don't believe this, and the Theory of Evolution teaches the opposite of how you represent it. The Theory of Evolution teaches that life as we know it developed through natural selection of random mutations. This is quite different from the notion of "chance"!

The Theory of Evolution is not a guess, but is one of the most firmly established theories we humans have yet devised.

Your patently false representation of the Theory of Evolution severely impairs your credibility in all matters.

When you call it a "self-evident truth" then yes: you are worthy of the sternest denunciation that anybody can muster.

Were your claim true, and had you spent your adult life as a biologist, you would be able to show me that your claim is true. But, I know of no biologists who think what you say is "self-evident truth." Since you are just a preacher, I don't see the point of believing what you say about biology, considering that almost all biologists disagree with you on matters of biology.

Thus, I hereby sternly and publicly denounce you for (1) misrepresenting what the Theory of Evolution states and teaches, and (2) using this misrepresentation (this lie of yours) to portray the Theory of Evolution as falsehood.

Even if the Theory of Evolution were falsehood, your false portrayal of what it states would never be sufficient reason to abandon the theory as falsehood. We would need bona fide reasons for disbelieving it, and you have failed to provide any valid reasons for disbelieving what has been so firmly established by many different branches of science. This would be akin to me saying that the Bible teaches that Winnie The Pooh was a fascist, and we know this is not true, so therefore the Bible is false.

But they were acting in perfect accord with teachings contained within the Bible, according to their understanding and according to mine.

The only reason for saying that they were not in accord with the Bible would be to attempt to defend the Bible where the Bible has no valid defense. The Bible does teach tribal loyalism, and it does advocate persecution of those who are not loyal to the tribal totem. The only way to change this in anybody's eyes is to try to make a case that the Bible doesn't really say what it says. This is why I denounce the Bible as being unfit for children and unfit as a moral guide. This is why I denounce people who try to make the Bible appear to be a sound moral guide. It isn't, and I denounce anybody who has read the Bible and then teaches that it is a sound moral guide.

This is your own ethic, then; it is not derived from the a fair reading of the Bible. The Bible, both Old Testament and New, advocate the persecution of those who do not tow the party line, and the relegation of such individuals to an inferior status:

"Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty." (I Corinthians 6:14-18.)

We infidels -- we who do not tow the Christian party line, are "unrighteous" and "darkness" and "Belial" and "infidels" (!) and we believe in "idols" and are "the unclean thing" that Christian "sons and daughters" are to "touch not"! Meanwhile, you Christians are "righteousness" and "light" and "Christ" and "believers" (!) and "the temple of God" and are not to have anything to do with us "bastards" (whose who are not the real sons and daughters).

As an adopted child, I have struggled with the stigma of "illegitimacy" since early childhood. My "illegitimacy" mattered to no one -- except the kids who were taught Christian values such as this.

Think what you want, I know what the Bible teaches because I have read it cover-to-cover twelve times (each time in a single sitting). I have studied portions of it extensively, to the point of tediously "translating" those portions with the aid of the best lexicons available, in my attempts to understand what it says. The Bible clearly teaches that we non-Christians are ultimately kindling for the flames of hell. It also clearly teaches that we non-Christians are inferior in every respect to the Christians.

Sounds as if the leaven of post-Enlightenment Humanism, and your own innate sense of human compassion, may have crept into your understanding and may be coloring your perception of what the Bible says. When I read the Bible, it paints a vastly different picture from what you describe here.

Why? To woo him into the fold while his guard is down? (Dr. Walter Martin used to teach that this is what Mormon missionaries do, and to be wary of this tactic.)

Why would you treat an atheist with more love, when your Bible clearly teaches that you are to love your fellow-Christians the most?

But this does not speak very well to the claim that Christianity is superior to other methods at making people moral.

Meanwhile, there is an equal spread of good and evil among all philosophies -- with a few exceptions here and there (which is why they were frisking everyone with metal detectors at the Rap concert downtown last night, and why the same hall simply lets us walk in when we attend a Rock or Blues concert).

And others would point to I Corinthians 6:14-18 (excerpted above) and would be right in considering their actions those of a "true Christian."

Since you single out the Sermon on the Mount, what do you think of these Christians who wish to force all students in public schools to set aside time for a public prayer? It seems to me that they might be very un-Christian, in that Matthew 6:5-6 says: "And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly." In fact, during those (very miserable) years when I experimented Christianity, I took a lot of flack from so-called true Christians for using this passage to oppose the then-popular move of restoring the practice of school prayer. Texas football game, anyone?

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine

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From: "Positive Atheism" <>
To: "Absolute Truth"
Subject: Re: for the Editor...truth?
Date: Saturday, July 01, 2000 4:12 PM

Good for you!

Is this because students should not be subject to ideas (be they true or false) that they have yet to encounter, or is it because the First Amendment to the United States Constitution forbids it?

If the latter (that the Constitution forbids it), then is this prohibition just? Why?

If you can answer this series of questions to the best of your ability, speaking your own, honest opinion, we will have discussed the only thing that really matters to me. All this talk about whether a god exists is moot: this is the real question for me; this is the only question here that ultimately matters to me, and I don't care whether a person sides one way or the other, it's the Why? that I'm looking for.

1. Is the Gospel of Christ faith-based? If so, is it thus covered under the Constitution's prohibition against government entanglement with religion? (Two separate questions.)

2. Is a belief in a generic, unspecified "God" (out there, somewhere, whichever "God" an individual citizen wants to call it) faith-based? If so, is it thus covered under the Constitution's prohibition against government entanglement with religion?

3. Is the teaching of the supremacy of the American Way (that American law and cultural values are the best in the world) faith based? or at least subjective? If so, is it thus covered under the Constitution's prohibition against government entanglement with religion?

4. Is the teaching of "family values" (either as recommended by the Religious Right or the Liberals or whatever, or simply as generic lip service to an unspecified notion of "family values") faith based? or at least subjective? If so, is it thus covered under the Constitution's prohibition against government entanglement with religion?

5. Is the teaching of the most current ideas and findings of science (not necessarily including the value of the scientific method) faith based? or at least subjective? If so, is it thus covered under the Constitution's prohibition against government entanglement with religion?

Why would someone arguing "Yes" to the last three questions have a tough time in any American court?

Why would the same person arguing "Yes" to the second have a much easier time in an American court than she or he would on the last three?

Why is the first question pretty much cut-and-dried when it comes to arguing "Yes" to it in an American court?

If you aren't an American, please answer these questions by describing how each of these five situations would likely pan out in the courts of your country.

Just as I would ask you to describe what you mean by the term God, I will ask you to describe, in simple terms that a wide audience would probably understand, what you mean by the term irreducible complexity argument.

Why do they use the ISP number ( for the URL (web address) rather than go through the formality of registering a domain (such as I paid only $150 to register and set up PAM's domain. If they guy has $250 thou set aside to give away (assuming this thing is not rigged in some way), you'd think that he'd at least register a domain name!

Most interesting about this is that I didn't see a list of people who have attempted to collect the $250 thousand over the past ten years. At least James Randi used to post the latest attempts to collect his prize. [Randi not only describes the various attempts to collect the money, but also gives specific examples on how to collect the money, such as bend a spoon, read a mind, or levitate. See the James Randi Foundation's response to our inquiry on Hovind's offer.]

This website (like so many Creationist works) overemphasizes its claim that the universe is complex, rather than what physicists and cosmologists tell us, that the universe is almost entirely random, containing nearly equal amounts of matter and anti-matter, and containing a total energy of zero.

If the universe is as complex as Hovind and the others say it is, you'd think that the occurrence of complexities such as life forms would be common -- and thus not surprising -- rather than rare, as many scientists suspect that it is, and as Hovind holds it to be. If the universe is complex, why would the chances of life occurring be extremely unlikely rather than likely, as one would expect of a universe that truly was complex?

This is one of my big problems with Hovind's presentations: they talk out of both sides of their mouths. On the one hand, the universe (Hovind tells us) is "highly ordered" and "complex." On the other, that even though the universe is highly ordered and complex (or so Hovind says), the chances of finding knots of order as complex as we find on Earth are so remotely unlikely as to be unworthy of consideration (according to Hovind and his ilk).

Another thing to think about: even the late Evangelical leader Dr. Walter Martin used to explain how the Flat Earthers were some of the most skilled in the world at the craft of debate. Even the best scientists, if they were not skilled at debate, would walk away losing a debate against the Flat Earthers. I've seen this a lot, where the proponent of one view was very skilled at setting the stage of a debate right off the bat. Even though it was clear to all that he had his head firmly lodged up the kazoo, he technically (and often gracefully) won the formal debate.

1. How much of this is about debating skills, and how much of this is about the quest for truth?

2. How much of this is about loyalty to one side or the other (for whatever reason), and how much of this is about the quest for truth?

3. How much of this is about show, pontificating, and posturing? how much of this is about the audience who is observing this discussion?

4. Would the truth of evolution nullify your faith? If you determined that evolution were true, would you become an atheist?

5. If you became an atheist (or even a Christian who accepts evolution), could you still lead a fulfilled life? would you still be a good person?

6. If evolution turned out to be true -- and if Jesus turned out to be God -- would Jesus be mad at you for believing that evolution were true?

I never said it was. I only pointed out that more than a few Christians take this passage to heart and follow it to the level of devotion that you say you do with Matthew 5-7.

Actually, I don't think it contradicts Matthew in any important respects: they both emphasize Christian exclusivism, though to different extents.

Or so the story goes. I'm not convinced that these tales are historical.

Meanwhile, Paul and his followers had to defend the question of how the Christians could usurp God's promises to Israel. To do this, his followers did well to portray all Jewish leaders in as unfavorable of a light as possible, to "show" that God was being just when he took the Kingdom from the Jews and gave it to the Christians.

Note that the Gospel accounts were written long after Paul's teachings were published and popularized.

Also note that such sects as the Ebionites claimed to be the original followers of an entirely human Jesus (who was crucified by Pontius Pilate) and that Paul was a false apostle (whom they nicknamed Simon Magus) who deified Jesus into a Pagan Christ, the dying and resurrecting god-man who was (according to Paul) born of a virgin -- just as everyone who was anyone during those times in the Roman Empire was born of a virgin and was raised from the dead.

Nevertheless, the myth of the savior or leader or god or god-man being willing to commune with the lowest is very powerful in the human psyche. This aspect is common in a lot of savior myths, because it very effectively opens the door to fellowship to the common man.

This tale tends to contradict the exclusivism which permeates much of the Bible. Whenever I find a snippet in the Bible that contradicts the main gist of the rest of the Bible, I take this as a clue. The parts that have bothered me the most just happen to be the times when Jesus communed with Pharisees -- who are usually portrayed as the arch-enemies of Jesus.

(And besides, why are some of the arguments put into Jesus's mouth be arguments that one would expect from a Pharisee? And why are some of the arguments put into the Pharisees' mouths arguments that one would expect of the Herodians, the Saduceeans, or some other quisling sect? This is particularly true of the arguments about Sabbath healing. Could the original Jesus have bean a Pharisee? Perish the thought!)

Hmmm! Could these passages complimentary to the Pharisees perhaps be segments from an earlier account, that were left intact for some reason, even though they give entirely different pictures than the preponderance of the Gospels' anti-Jewish, anti-Pharisee position? Were the Pharisees actually on Jesus' side? Did the Gospels state differently because their writers were extremely biased against the Jews? (Show me one Roman character in the entire New Testament who is portrayed in an unfavorable light!) Why are these complimentary passages (mentioned above) in the Bible? Why do such anti-Jewish passages as John 8 and John 10 so vividly portray Jesus and the Pharisees at odds?

The Gospels (published in the Roman world after the fall of Jerusalem wiped out the Christian leadership in that city, leaving few survivors to successfully counter Paul's message) are exceedingly forceful in presenting anti-Jewish and anti-Pharisee sentiments.

Doth they protest too much, these Gospel writers?

Did Paul's Gentile followers need to make their case that the Jews had, through wickedness and unbelief, forfeited their inheritance as God's Chosen People?

Exactly! You need to be a "light" to whom? the rest of us who are in "darkness"!

According to the popular understanding of the Gospel message, as presented by Evangelicals, Fundamentalists, Catholics, and even many mainstream Protestant sects, all us "sinners" are in the same boat before God, be we liars and thieves or be we otherwise upstanding citizens whose only sin was simply to reject the Gospel message, to reject Christ.

Your job, as Christians, is to show us the way, to straighten us out, so to speak.

So, then, you are superior to us non-Christians after all! This is Christian exclusivism. This is why I reject biblical Christianity as a valid morel system. To me, the attitude of Christian exclusivism differs little from the attitudes inherent in racism. I touch on this in my May, 2000, column, "Pity For The Poor Atheist!"

I started out merely mocking what you had said, and got a little carried away with it.

If you had used the word perhaps more in your letters, they would have been a lot more credible. I, for one, would have had a much easier time taking you seriously. You seem absolutely convinced about matters that are not really verifiable one way or the other.

Using the word perhaps is an act of humility that admits that we are very fallible. Implied in every statement of every scientist who is practicing the liberal scientific method are the words perhaps or probably or maybe.

Implied in every scientific law and every scientific theory and every scientific hypothesis is the understanding that the current description of reality is up for grabs, that the current understanding could someday be overthrown by newer, more firmly established knowledge.

That's okay. This extended dialogue currently lives at:
I don't anticipate going anywhere, and you can always get back to me. I may lose focus on this or that point over time, but my values are still basically the same as the ones my atheistic parents taught me as a child.

I do this because I sort of know what it's like to suddenly (or even slowly) come to the realization that you have been betrayed into believing a creed that you now find not only false but destructive. This bitterness can destroy a person. Part of what I do and why I do it is so that those who are struggling with this problem can have just a few more tools with which to come to their own conclusions. Hopefully, one who has de-converted to atheism will still retain a love and dignity for believers; ideally, we can realize that everyone who believes has valid reasons for thinking they're right.

To me, whether a god exists is the stupidest reason in the world to get into an argument. This is why I adamantly assert that PAM's target audience consists of those who are already atheists. I engage with theists only so that I can study my position, and I post these discussions so that other atheists can watch these exchanges.

My fiercest indignation is reserved for those atheists who think that denouncing religion and religious people is where it's at. This is not where it's at! The best we can do is agree to disagree on the God part, and then cooperate to ensure that justice and dignity are available to all. This is why I got so deep with you on the school prayer issue. If you respond to no other parts, but respond to that part, I will be satisfied with this entire conversation. The existential arguments mean very little to me: I want to get along; I want theists to stop misrepresenting atheists and atheists to stop misrepresenting theists. This is why I came out swinging, at first, when you accused us of believing things we do not believe.

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine

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From: "Positive Atheism" <>
To: "Dan jarvis"
Subject: Re: for the Editor...truth?
Date: Saturday, July 01, 2000 8:59 PM

My name is in the Portland Phone Directory (much to my chagrin), because as a public figure, I have the option of leaving it out. Though not licensed to drive in the State of Oregon, I do have state ID, and used to have a driver's license in the state of California. I also have a Social Security number and criminal records in Oregon, California, and on a Federal level: I have served time in a Federal correctional institute for my work with Mexican immigrants.

I have been a public figure several times over, both here and in California, and now worldwide. I also host a website that boasts over 44 megabytes of material. I can play tapes of my radio shows to numerous people and ask whose voice that is and they will identify me by name, just based on my voice. I used to be a technical writer and have been published in technical magazines. I worked with drug addicts for many years, and am known by almost all of the (non- and anti-Twelve Step) leaders in this field (though you would be hard-pressed to get in touch with Moderation Management founder Audrey Kishline, as she was convicted last week of two counts of vehicular manslaughter). Jack Trimpey, founder of Rational Recovery, though, would probably even be able to identify my writing style in our conversations -- he knows me that well. When Oregon tried to criminalize the sale and possession of hypodermic syringes, I single-handedly and successfully argued to keep it legal to sell them, over the counter without a prescription, in Oregon.

The photo of me wearing a tuxedo was taken at the Ambassador Restaurant and Lounge, located at about 47th and NE Sandy Boulevard in Portland. The owner's name is Sammy and he will recognize the photo as being that of myself. The managers and bartenders run my credit card almost every night, and will identify me. The DJ named Kevin is a friend, and has visited my residence. He will also recognize me. The security guard, David, also knows me and will recognize me. They'll even agree as to which table I was sitting. Chopsticks Express at about 27th and East Burnside has a photo of me on their wall wearing the same tuxedo. The owner, David, the DJ and most of the bartenders and wait-staff and kitchen-staff will identify me by name when asked who that is a photo of. David has signed numerous paychecks written to my name, and has paid my taxes without incident. I also fill out his ASCAP, BMI, and Sony licencing forms for him.

I was once a board member of United States Atheists, in Portland, Oregon (though no longer even a member) and any of their current officers would identify me, as most of them have visited my residence and I theirs.

You can attend the Atheist Symposium in Portland on July 29 and meet me in person: I will be manning the "Positive Atheism" table with one of my assistants.

It wouldn't take very much time to demonstrate to all but the most impaired individuals that Cliff Walker exists.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for your "God" fellow.

It also could very easily be verified, as I have explained above. You can come and meet me on any Sunday night at the Ambassador, or you can meet me at the Symposium on July 29th. I'll even shake your hand. You won't have to take anybody's word for it.

I do.

It's all the government can do to get things right, they certainly don't have the luxury of committing hoaxes in regards to the identity of its more uncontroversial citizens. Now the FBI, in trying to build cases against certain people -- that's a different story; but the issue of an uncontested identity is not one that I could see the government deliberately falsifying.

You have a very odd sense of how to distinguish imagination from perception.

Are you all right? Should I call those nice young men in their clean white coats? Hey! They've got trees, and flowers, and chirping birds, and basket-weavers who sit and smile and twiddle their thumbs and toes!

I once ingested a hallucinogenic plant from Mexico that completely knocked out my ability to distinguish imagination from perception. I know from first-hand experience exactly what this is like, and would never want to return there.

One thing I know about this state of mind (because I'm among a handful of humans in history who has gone there and then made it back to describe the experience) is that it is almost impossible to function while in this state: even walking is difficult, and determining where you are or where you are going is next to impossible. To be able to form thoughts such as the ones you describe would be quite a feat. I doubt very seriously that someone in this state could, while in this state, put those thoughts on paper or enter them into a terminal.

Thus, I don't believe your claim, here; I don't believe this is an objection that you actually hold. I don't think you are being truthful, here.

Can you establish a motive as to why, for all these years and to all these people, I would go to the trouble of fooling friends and family and banks and lovers and business associates as to my identity?

And does it matter? I am still a physical body, so it doesn't really matter what I choose to call it as long as I am not trying to commit a crime by so doing. Someone pays the rent and utilities for my residence every month. Someone keeps replacing the money taken out of the credit card which is attached to my Social Security number. Someone's signature consistently matches that on the back of the credit card issued in my name. Someone pays the taxes which are assessed against the person in whose body I live.

Just what is "identity"? What does it matter what I call myself, except that to make life easy, I do well to call myself something. If I stopped calling myself anything, and insisted that others go along with this stunt, I would soon find others calling me something that I do not call myself: they would call me "John Doe" and would take away my belt and my shoelaces. Or, they would run my fingerprints and either call me what my mother called me or what I most recently called myself.

Identity is arbitrary; existence, when it comes to humans who are not in hiding, can easily be demonstrated.

This does not follow from the above, simply because the above is so flawed (as I pointed out above).


You don't have to accept any evidence. You can think what you want about me. I don't care.

If there were a God and if He wanted for humankind to believe in His existence, why has He done such a poor job at accomplishing this goal? Why do so few humans believe in Him?

Why can't we detect him? Why can't we independently verify the claims that he exists?

Why do so much phenomena that humankind previously attributed to the "work of God" now have perfectly simple, perfectly natural explanations?

We're not dealing with a claim for the existence of something as self-evident as the sun. You've got your work cut out for you if you wish to defend your claim that an invisible god who (nowadays) does nothing actually exists.

That's what it looks like.

Talk to your nearest particle physicist or biologist.

If anybody can give us any reason at all to doubt the current model, we will consider: this is the way of liberal scientific method. However, nothing -- absolutely nothing coming out of the present "Creation Science" camp even comes close to being worthy of consideration. It is such a far cry from the game-rules that the rest of science plays that it's flat-out embarrassing. Sorry.

Worse than that: It contains internal discrepancies and also describes physical situations (such as geographical locations) that we know are not true.

If the alternate (natural) explanations are less likely than the fact that their claims (which, if true, would overthrow almost all we've learned out our world in the past several thousand years), or if the alternate explanations can be ruled out, then we are justified in believing the claims. If not, we aren't.

Jesus didn't visit me. He didn't visit you. Even if he had visited you, you telling me about it would be no more than hearsay. It would mean nothing to me.

Even if he visited me, he would need to distinguish himself from some nut case who escaped from the farm, or some opportunist or huckster who was trying to gain money or notoriety or some warped sense of glee. If it was Jesus who visited me, and if he was worthy of the title Jesus, he would know this and would accommodate any reasonable doubt without my even asking.

Meanwhile, if he existed back then, he is dead today. For you to say otherwise, you would have to overthrow much of what humankind has learned over the past several thousand years. Are you prepared to do this?

Or (and this would be much easier), could you talk Jesus into meeting me at the Ambassador this Sunday? They make an exquisite Spanish Coffee. If he shows up, I'll buy him a few rounds.

Remember, your chain of logic falls apart any time you use falsehood in your attempt to make your case.

According to Jesus The Brutal One, then it would be too late (Luke 16:19ff).

God wouldn't be so frustrated if he did as I have done: become perfectly willing to demonstrate my existence to any who question it.

No problem. I did fix a few of my botches in the final post of these exchanges. Those Spanish Coffees, you know!

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine

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From: "Positive Atheism" <>
To: "Dan jarvis"
Subject: Re: I'm back at it! Answers...
Date: Tuesday, July 25, 2000 7:47 PM

I appreciate your attempt at appearing honest when you call this a "good politician answer" -- except that most of your response is what one would expect from a politician who is stumping for a special interest.

Notice that my question specifically mentions the Gospel of Jesus Christ, not any history or alleged history. Nevertheless, you have diverted the focus of the discussion away from what the question specifically asks, avoiding the question altogether and, in the meantime, getting in some licks that are not even covered by the question.

Can you make a solid case that a Jesus Christ even existed? I'd like to see you give it a try. Even the notion that a Jesus Christ existed is, to me, a faith issue, because there is no evidence that he existed apart from the Gospel accounts. Even Paul mentions no specific details about when he lived in those Epistles that are undisputedly his (that even the most skeptical scholars would admit were his). And I'll bet you couldn't even make a solid case that Mohammed existed.

But, what you're saying here is that you could give a biased presentation alleging to be the history of the biblical Jesus character, slipping in the Gospel of Jesus Christ in a way that any Evangelist would be proud, and I'll bet you could do it in such a way that it would pass muster with all but the Supreme Court.

I disagree. The biblical Jesus's only role was as a religious leader. And, there is only one "account" that the Christians would tolerate, and they would have conniption fits if we even suggested that this "account" was faulty. Did you read Senator Byrd's tirade over the ABC News special "The Search For Jesus"? This is not a mob of parents inspired by a busybody preacher to storm a school board meeting and demand that the curriculum be changed, this is the United States Congress giving the floor to one of our Representatives so he could rail against a television program!

Also, the question as to whether he even existed is very controversial among biblical historians (though it is less controversial among those who have not studied the issues very carefully). Have you checked out G. A. Wells's challenges? He makes some very good points when he shows that independent verification of the Gospels is entirely lacking, and that we have no business assuming that the Gospels are telling the truth even about Jesus's existence -- much less the miraculous stories or the "accounts" of his hatred for the Pharisees or the Jews' desire to see one of their own executed by the Romans.

You write "evolution/atheism" as if they are one in the same. Why to you go to such lengths to be dishonest with an atheist, who you'd think would be the first to catch on to your scheme? I will respond to the two items separately, because evolution does not equal atheism: the Pope is one of many examples of a theist who accepts evolution; the Raelian religion is atheistic, but teaches a brand of creationism that is virtually indistinguishable from the creationism advocated by Fundamentalist Christians in the United States.



Because evolution is a matter of faith? You will need to document this. Evolution is more most widely accepted as fact than almost every other idea in all of science. It is so fully documented that it is hardly a question any more -- except among certain lawyers and preachers and politicians (the Creationists) who have a political agenda and who wish to exploit the ignorant in order to gain political power.

Because it is controversial? You'll need to come up with some scientific papers, published in scientific journals, disputing the basics of the theory of evolution. Can you find more than twenty published papers that attempt to refute evolution? If you can, I'd like to read them. If you can't, then evolution is not controversial among scientists.

Because it is religious? You yourself equated evolution with atheism (the lack of religion) when you used the (grammatically incorrect but popular) construction "evolution/atheism." (Though it is grammatically incorrect, it is known to indicate that the writer is equating the two terms as being interchangeable.)


How is atheism, the lack of a god belief, a matter of faith? How can the lack of faith be considered faith? Why are you being so dishonest in this discussion? Would I enter a discussion with you, a Christian, and then assert that Christianity teaches that the individual is, in fact, God? No. Why are you, then, telling me, an atheist, that atheism (the lack of faith) is itself faith?

True, a small minority of atheists boldly assert that no gods exist, and I would agree with you that this position is a matter of faith: nobody can prove a negative existential claim (a claim for the nonexistence of something). However, these "dogmatic" atheists are the minority; Positive Atheism Magazine has denounced this brand of atheism for years -- denounced it as the untenable position that it is. Many other atheistic leaders, writers, and philosophers throughout the history of organized atheism have denounced this brand of atheism. It is truly the minority viewpoint among atheists, just as the notion that Jesus was married is truly a minority viewpoint among Christians. If you have any doubts as to what I am saying, I suggest you read the well-researched study on the history and etymology of the definition of the word atheism written by philosopher George H. Smith, called "Defining Atheism."

Nevertheless, are you willing to document verifiable cases where the notion that no gods exist is part of a public school curriculum?

I will agree that the omission of religious teaching -- god talk, if you will -- is, in one sense, atheistic (in that it lacks a position or belief on the god question), and I will further argue that omitting god talk from the public schools, for the sake of neutrality, is both ethical and legally mandated by the United States Constitution and the court cases that have interpreted the Constitution since it was ratified by my ancestors and others.

What's your idea of fair and balanced? allowing the Flat Earth Society to have its say in geography class?

Or would you rather have a presentation that states that the sphericity of the earth has been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt, though there are some groups who still think it's flat (because the Bible says it's flat).

I would rather show kids how the Liberal Scientific Method works. This is how science works, kids: groups of people get together and study the environment. When they think they've discovered something, they write about what they did and how they did it, and publish it in a scientific journal. Then other people try to do the same thing that the original people did, and if they can do it, they report back to the scientific journal. If they cannot, they report to the journal that they could not get the same results when they did the experiment. This discussion keeps going on until someone's idea is either proved or disproved.

Even then, still other people may try to prove or disprove what most scientists think is true. Anybody can challenge the Law of Gravity or the Theory of Relativity or the Theory of Evolution. If they think they've got a good case, they write their findings and send it off to be published in a journal, and other scientists try to either prove or disprove their case.

This process never stops and everything we think we know can be challenged. To use the vernacular, all so-called facts are up for grabs. Always.

I think this would do mortal damage to the reputation of Creationism in the minds of youngsters: more damage than even the simple teaching of evolution ever could, because it is easy to discover that I can count all the creationists' articles submitted to biology journals on my fingers and toes plus (to give Creationists the benefit of the doubt) your fingers and toes as well.

Whatever Creationism is, it does not play by the game-rules that the rest of us agree to play by. It does not submit its findings to public scrutiny. And even when public scrutiny does find flaws in Creationists' work, they tend not to admit to error, like regular scientists tend to.

If we gave kids strong presentations of how Liberal Scientific Method works and how it is a worldwide discussion that has gone on for dozens of centuries, and if we also taught them basic logic and how people use logical fallacies to try to convince others to agree with them, they could examine the claims of any Creationist or Flat-Earther or faith healer or spiritualist or preacher and instantly see that they are lying. Not only that, they would be able to explain how they know these people are lying.

I am not sure what you are saying, here.

Are you saying that atheism is presented in public schools? Where? and what do you mean by "atheism"?

If you mean that schools do not advocate the notion that a god exists, if that is atheism (and it is one form of atheism in that it is a lack of a God belief; there are other meanings for the word), then I agree that atheism (the absence of theism) is the right way to conduct a classroom. Schools have no business advocating the notion that a god exists, and they have not business advocating that no gods exist. The absence of theism (one meaning for the word atheism) is the proper curriculum for public schools. Schools must remain neutral on this subject; the topic of the existence or nonexistence of gods is reserved for the home, the churches, the humanist and atheist groups, private schools, tutors, books, television, and other forms of teaching.

But, I suspect that you are saying that the doctrine that no gods exist (another form of the word atheism) is being taught in public schools. If this is the case, and if this doctrine is being taught to any minor in any public school, then let's join forces and work together to end this practice. The doctrine that no gods exist is a religious opinion, and thus is (I think) unconstitutional (though the Supreme Court would ultimately have to decide). I would gladly testify in any case against a teacher or School Board that teaches kids that no gods exist. If you know of any cases of this happening, let's get busy.

But, I am unclear as to what you are saying, because I am not sure what you mean when you use the word atheism here.

As to humanism, again, I am not sure what you mean. If you mean humanism (small "h") in the sense that homo sapiens is the most intelligent species that science has yet discovered, this is true: science has yet to discover a way to communicate with extraterrestrials, angels, gods, demons, "energy," "vibrations," "records," and the like. If this is the current understanding of science, that homo sapiens is the most intelligent species or entity that science has thus far discovered, then I have no problem reporting this current state of science in the public schools. I think everyone will admit that science has found no angels or demons or gods or extraterrestrials. This discussion is part of the public record in the scientific journals I mentioned above. If, however, you mean Humanism (capital "H") in the sense of the specific doctrines of the American Humanist Association or the Council for Democratic and Secular Humanism or the like, then let's get busy and work together to end this practice. The Supreme Court has ruled that these groups are religions (albeit atheistic religions), and as such they get no air time in our schools. If you know of any instances where The Humanist Manifesto or any other specific teachings of these or similar groups are part of any public school curriculum, I will gladly testify against them, and will support any move to remove this material from the schools.

Finally, I want to make it clear that I think the notion that a God in general exists (or any ritual supporting that belief) has no place in the public school curriculum, just as I think the notion that teaching that no gods exist has no business in the classroom.

I also want to say that material such as The Humanist Manifesto and the Bible and the Koran and books on witchcraft and Wicca and Islam and books advocating atheism (in the sense of the notion that no gods exist) and books denouncing both atheism and religion all belong in school libraries. These topics do not belong in the classroom, but I am not in favor of removing either the Bible or The Humanist Manifesto from the library shelf. This is just my opinion and I am not prepared to give a thorough defense of it, as it is just my opinion.

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So, since it is not faith-based, then there is a way to prove that a generic "God" exists?

I don't get it.


Particle physicist Victor J. Stenger told me that the idea that the Big Bang took zero energy to occur, and that the idea that it was a chance occurrence, violates nothing that science currently knows about physics. Richard Dawkins argues that if the universe is as vast and complex as some people think it is (though physics tells us that the universe is almost entirely random, and is not complex at all), and if it is thus so vast that we need a Creator to explain it, then all the more would the Creator need to be explained, because the Creator would need to be that much more complex and that much more vast (though the universe is not complex at all, according to the current understanding of physics). Thus it is only fair: if you get to say "The universe must have been created" or "The universe cannot have occurred naturally," all the more do I get to say "The creator universe that you posit must have been created" or "The creator of the universe that you cannot have occurred naturally."

However, this second argument is becoming moot in light of the science of the past twenty years: the universe is far from complex and consists almost entirely of entropy (randomness). All this second argument does is eliminate the thrust of the claim that the universe requires a creator to explain it, but showing that if this were the case (it isn't), then the creator itself would all the more need to be explained. What's good for the goose is good for the gander.

So, far from it being self-evident that an intelligent designer is at work, more and more things are being explained naturally that once were considered necessarily the work of God. From Franklin's lightning rod eliminating the (Scripturally supported) notion that God was sending lightning bolts as a form of judgement against, for example, churches with steeples, to the fact of natural selection "designing" organisms, to mental illness explaining odd and destructive human behavior (instead of demonic possession), to the most current manifestation of the Inflationary Big Bang model of the origins of the universe, the notion of "God" is becoming increasingly unnecessary in explaining our world.

Q. When was "In God We Trust" made our motto?

A. During the McCarthy era of anti-Communist hysteria of the 1950s. It is in no way a "historical heritage" because I can remember when they changed the Pledge of Allegiance to include the phrase "under God." I can remember my teacher complaining that she could was having a hard time remembering to break the habit of saying the old version -- the one without the phrase "under God" in it. And I'm only 43 years old.

Before Senator McCarthy's reign of terror, our motto was "E Pluribus Unum" which means "Of Many, One" or "From Many, Unity." This is the historical heritage of the United States, because United States Founding Fathers Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison established this slogan to be our motto. It meant that everyone was equal as citizens and that nobody was special. It especially went against the grain of ideas like "In God We Trust" because the new motto is a lie: I, for one, don't trust any gods -- or many god-believers, for that matter! I certainly do not trust anyone who would advocate for retaining the current slogan -- and I vote!

What? 90 percent of the citizens think "In God We Trust" is a valid motto for a pluralistic nation that has, as the first amendment to its Bill of Rights, the concept of the separation of State and church? I don't think so. Show me the polls that say that 90 percent of American citizens think this is a good motto for a pluralistic nation that has forbidden government entanglement with religion in its Constitution since the nation's inception. I'd like to see this poll -- both the questions and the results.

Which documents? I want to see them -- starting with the United States Constitution. How many times is "God" mentioned in the founding document of our nation?

I have a document for you: it is an insignificant document, but it was proposed by the Washington administration, ratified unanimously by the Senate, and signed by President John Adams. It is the Treaty of Tripoli which assured this Muslim nation that "the United States is in no way a Christian nation." This little treaty speaks volumes as to whether the United States is a "Christian Nation" or a nation that embraces any faith (including Deism or generic-God-ism).

What do you mean by "promoting the God-concept in public"? are you talking about my right to promote the God-concept on the streets? or are you talking about the government itself promoting the God-concept?

Meanwhile, who actually penned these words? What were their views? I want quotes and documentation (and David Barton won't do, as he was caught fabricating quotations and alleging them to have been of various Founding Fathers; check any quotes from him against other sources that predate him -- that scumbag!).

Also, after you're done describing their views on whether religion should be promoted in the public, examine whether these men actually practiced religion themselves. Or were they like George Washington, who said that the general public needs religion but he did not? This speaks volumes as to whether they were sincere in saying they thought religion is good for people and ought to be promoted, or whether they were hypocrites, merely giving lip-service to the idea, but not making a convincing case by their own conduct that they actually believed this pontificating.

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Yes, but is the supremacy of the American Way based on faith? or can it be proven?

I think a good case can be made that loyalty to the country is properly taught in public schools (though excessive loyalism, such as that hammered home to my older cousins during the 1950s and was still heavily emphasized to my peers and I during the early 1960s was shown, by the early 1970s, to be potentially dangerous, and was certainly shown to be wrong: it almost got us all killed during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and eventually killed several of my friends and my friends' fathers in Vietnam).

Nevertheless, I am trying to establish the difference between opinion and faith. No one would dispute that the American Way is opinion, but I am not ready to call it faith-based. I think the word faith in the term faith-based rightly describes religious faith -- be it faith in a generic "God" or the faith of a specific creed.

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Who are you to say that this is my opinion, when I have never expressed such an opinion? Where have I ever expressed this opinion? Show me the publication or provide the URL. (Are you deliberately lying about me, here? are you just being a bigot by assuming that because I am an atheist therefore I believe the same way that your preacher tells you that all atheists believe?)

I have said that "family values" means those ethics and morals valued by the particular family in question, and no more. I don't go along with the Liberals or the Religious Right, and I have never even given lip-service to any notion of "family values" in general, and I have even said that I detest the phrase family values because it is being used as a political weapon to enforce both Liberal and Religious Right ideology upon a diverse public. One result (among many) is that as a single man, I have to pay higher taxes than heterosexual married couples. And unmarried couples pay even more. (In my "family" marriage is a religious ritual and thus would degrade any personal vow that I would make to a life partner -- though if the partner wanted to undergo the ritual, I would gladly do it out of respect for her.)

Unconstitutional? Howso? Which laws would be violated by teaching these things that you mention (that you falsely attribute to me)? I want specific court cases and judgements so I can look them up.

But can they be demonstrated scientifically? That is, can we be assured that no scientific discoveries would ever contradict them?

Also, can you demonstrate, objectively (overcoming any objections) that the values you call "God's values" are really God's values? In other words, are you ready to make a stronger case than your painter analogy that a "God" exists?

Also, what can you say about "ultimate reality" that has not been filtered through your nervous system (an opinion) and expressed in an imprecise language? Can you talk about "ultimate reality" in terms that all will understand? Can you talk about "ultimate reality" in such a way that you can be sure that all will agree? that is, is what you call "ultimate reality" self-evident to the point that any and all can see what you mean? (Can you describe "ultimate reality" objectively, that is, can you describe it without referring to any human opinion? Can you describe "ultimate reality" without using a human-invented and human-developed language or symbol system?) I mean, you are talking about imposing what you call "ultimate reality" on people (including many if not most Christians) who admit that they cannot really talk about any "ultimate reality" because the human mind is fallible and human reason is dim.

If you expect to (morally) get away with imposing what you call "ultimate reality" upon the rest of us, you need to be prepared both to explain precisely what you mean by "ultimate reality" and also defend your claim to even knowing what "ultimate reality" is (if there is such a thing as "ultimate reality"). You'll also have to show that your use of the term "ultimate reality" is not simply an emotionally charged buzz-word designed to invoke feelings with the ultimate end of gaining political support and garnering donations from the lucrative Evangelical Christian marketplace.

What if the truth is that we evolved? What if the Yahweh myth is ultimate fiction, foisted upon primitive goat-herders, sitting around a campfire of camel dung, and later absconded by a Roman Emperor to become the law of the land to the extent that all opposing opinions were suppressed and all opponents were persecuted and killed off (in the most heinous ways thinkable)?

This is a discussion. Right now, we can agree that you are here making a claim. Can you establish your claim as "FACT" for the purposes of this discussion?

Why begin with a presupposition? Why not establish your claim as fact and get it over with? I mean, if what you claim actually is fact, I want to know about it. However, you have failed to make much of a case for yourself -- at least as far as this discussion goes.

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Which founders thought that the most current findings and opinions of science (and evolution had not been established in 1789 but came later, in 1859) should not be taught in schools? Please provide quotations of the Founders' opinions on education to back up your claim that "most of the founders would agree" with you.

Also, what if the truth of evolution is the almost-unanimous opinion of science? should our schools suppress it because it contradicts the myth of one minority sect among the world's religious beliefs?

So, then, does "balanced" mean that the Flat-Earthers get to have their say in our geography classes (if they can make their case without resorting to the Bible)?

Or would "balanced" stress that the arguments of the Flat Earth Society contradict almost everything science knows about our world?

No. Our Constitution is the boss. Our Constitution guarantees me that our government will protect my peers and I from a tyranny of the majority. Only by overthrowing our current constitution will you establish a different political concept upon this land.

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What if you could not make a convincing case that a historical Jesus even existed? Where would you be?

Can you make a convincing case that a historical Jesus existed? Can you, for example, answer all of G. A. Wells's objections to the notion of a historical Jesus? Can you answer, for example, C. Dennis McKinsey's objections to the notion of an accurate Bible? If you are interested in the truth, then can your faith withstand all the scrutiny I can give it?

Let me tell you what I told another letter writer: I abandoned my plans to enter Seminary because my faith could not stand the test. I later renounced my faith, but I saw, early enough, that I would be a fool to study for a career in the ministry if the possibility existed that my vow to pursue truth and follow wherever it may lead could cost me my faith. Even as a Christian fervently defending the faith, I was still honest enough to acknowledge that I'd never allow myself to remain a Pastor or a Reverend unless I actually believed what I was entrusted to teach.

Let me tell you what cost me my faith: I was (and still am) interested in the truth to the point where I was (and still am) willing to follow it wherever it may lead me. After reading the Bible eleven times cover-to-cover, trying to demonstrate to myself that it is infallible and that it could withstand any scrutiny I could give it, I discovered that the Bible is not what it's cracked up to be. The arguments in my apologetics books fell into two categories: either (1) the defenses against the objections were weak or contrived, or (2) the "objections" themselves were of the straw-man variety, such as an objection based upon a quirky rendering in the King James. I also noticed that many of the real objections were covered up in some of the newer translations. (I recently documented several outlandish coverups in the New International Version.)

The real clincher for me was my attempt to defend the historicity of Second Peter. I could not find a commentary conservative enough to make a case that I found convincing. Any other book I might have been able to handle, but this is the book that calls Paul's writings "scripture." This was my independent verification of Paul's authenticity. But Second Peter itself could not be shown to be authentic.

By following truth wherever it may lead, I left all my close friends at the church where I had run the library for almost two years. I left the only people I knew and was on my own. This triggered my lifelong depressive disorder and the resulting disorientation took me to more than a few places that almost killed me. I finally met a wonderful woman, an atheist, who took me into her life but eventually couldn't deal with what I later realized was the fact that I had not been properly deprogrammed from Evangelical Christian indoctrination.

Several years later, I realized this was what was causing my disorientation, and I embarked on a study of alternate explanation of the Jesus myth and especially the role Paul played in forming the Gospel story as we know it today. I also studied the other side of the Creationism debate, and then checked out several other religions, eventually deciding that they were all probably made up. I then launched would eventually become a life-long study of logic and logical fallacies (for fifteen years, thus far, at least).

Three years after leaving the church, I became extremely ill, losing most of my hearing and losing the ability to walk at the same time (from two different medical conditions), and this compounded my depressive disorder which was already aggravated by the disorientation -- though by then I had started deprogramming myself by then. I became homeless and lived on the icy streets of Portland and shoplifted lunch meats and sardines and fruits and the like. I was arrested and jailed for six months. (In jail, I was placed into solitary confinement where the only reading material allowed is the Bible; I read it cover to cover for the twelfth time, taking meticulous notes as to the contradictions and absurdities I discovered.)

Then, without the benefit of even a drug-related charge, much less conviction, the judge called me into court and ordered me to attend a Twelve Step program. I refused to go, on religious grounds, telling her that I am an atheist. (This was the first time I ever used this term to describe myself -- even though I had been raised an atheist.) She sent me back to jail for an additional 30 days, though I was released by mistake after serving only 204 days of a 180-day sentence. Jailed for refusing to undergo religious instruction.

To make a long story short, I went to the Program until my three years were up, and then began the course that led me to atheistic activism. Now, several circuit courts have ruled that enforced AA is illegal -- unconstitutional -- and I helped give these cases momentum. After my three years were up, I single-handedly halted Oregon's practice of making the Twelve Step programs the only choice. I don't know how it is now, but one week after I spoke to the head of corrections to interview him for a news story, the State agencies started requiring that social workers give other options besides AA if they were going to require AA at all, and if there were no options, they couldn't mandate people anywhere, but had to think of something else. I'll be they're back to business as usual these days, awaiting another victim of injustice who bothers to speak out -- who is not afraid to speak out -- who has trained himself or herself to follow truth wherever it may lead and whatever it may cost.

If you're telling me the truth about your quest for truth, good luck. I hope you've at least done a cost-benefit analysis on this one.

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While my answers to any given writer always have an audience in mind, I do this entirely for my benefit and don't care if anyone else is watching (though I know they are watching, and thus tailor the presentation of my answers toward meeting their needs).

My main purpose here is to test my current viewpoint against the challenges presented to me. When I am wrong, or when my understanding is inadequate to explain something, I either change or work toward better understanding.

When I watched the video of the so-called debate between Frank Zindler and a Christian apologist, I noticed that the apologist defined the debate in terms that Zindler would never have had enough time to unravel. The apologist's skill at skewing the discussion in his favor were superb.

But he was wrong from my perspective of seeking truth and following it wherever it may lead. I was reminded of something Christian "cult" specialist Walter Martin once said in a lecture: the Flat Earthers are so skilled at the craft of debating, and the scientists are generally so unskilled at debating, that the Flat Earthers usually win any debate they are in. This doesn't make the Flat Earthers right, says Martin, it only shows them to be skilled at debating.

This is why I heavily emphasize the Logical Fallacies section of our FAQ. I, for one, seek truth and follow it wherever it may lead.

Recent discussions with two pantheists, John Love-Jensen and Trene Valdrek, I have realized that not only does the entire Pantheism section of the FAQ need complete revision, but I must rethink my approach to the entire "What Is Theism?" section of the FAQ. I am not planning to change the FAQ in order to make a point (though I acknowledge that by so doing I will be making a point), I am doing it to better understand theism in general and pantheism in particular, and to practice my skills (as a writer) at presenting this understanding to others.

In do doing, I am ultimately honing my presentation of my understanding to myself. I do this because it helps me in my further quest for understanding: if I can boil my understanding down to an essence, and if I have immediate grasp of information that took me months to put together and distill, I have that much easier of a time using this to try to understand other things.

If anybody chooses to watch, this is fine with me. I cannot but make this discussion public because of the nature of the Liberal Scientific Method, which I use to frame my quest for philosophical understanding. Thus, I actively seek out challenges to my stated position, and recently felt the glee of being shown wrong in the debate with John Love-Jensen, the pantheist. At the very end (we agreed to close the file this afternoon), I admit that I was able to enter his pantheistic mind set and see from his perspective. I ended up rejecting it anyway, but at least I was able to see his point. In so doing, I am now able to move forward in my desire to express that awe which I feel toward the universe, but to express this awe without resorting to the theistic language and concepts that Love-Jensen finds adequate. Similarly, Love-Jensen was able to see my point about the theism-atheism dichotomy as implied by the "weak" definition for atheism, and has expressed joy that he can now more easily see his own position by being shown my position. I think all scientists have a sense of glee when their own pet theories are proved wrong by good science.

I will admit that when someone comes on to this forum and lies to me, I will posture about the lying -- especially if the liar is posturing for truthfulness. When this happens, my responses reek of righteous indignation, which is otherwise very uncharacteristic of me. My posturing is an accurate reflection of my position on lying during a philosophical discussion -- where truthfulness is most crucial and where the stakes are actually the lowest; I can accept lying if it would, for example, save an innocent life. However, truthfulness is the most crucial element in any philosophical discussion's hopes for success. At the same time, lying in a philosophical debate accomplishes nothing material; it only serves to thwart people's quest for truth, which gain can only be seen as loss -- from my perspective.

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Can you relate to Theistic Evolution or Deism or Theistic Pantheism?

Or do you see these alternatives with the same sense of inadequacy that I do?

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Would you not, as an atheist, seek to explain your values in terms of your atheism, as I have done?

I saw this as impossible at one point, and I will admit that it wasn't easy because I had no guidance at all, and for a long time was unaware that I even needed guidance or anything else. I just thought I was a very messed up individual and accepted my lot in life. Only when I began to discover (through reading Bertrand Russell and other atheistic philosophers in jail) that I could (and should) take action upon my own life and take responsibility for all of my actions, did I start to change and grow. Even though I suffer from a life-long depressive disorder (that was, by the way, only aggravated during the Christian years), I can honestly say that I am one of the happiest and most fulfilled people I know. This sounds oxymoronic, but my emptiness and longing for understanding is, I think, the source for my sense of fulfillment.

It is cold and scary out here. I don't blame anyone for thinking that the universe actually has a purpose, though I will not make this claim myself.

Sometimes I even feel like getting angry that this fantastic system is accidental and thus will not go on forever. Then I remember how angry many Portland residents were when the beautifully symmetrical Mt. Saint Helens blew her top, and was no longer majestically beautiful as they'd remembered. This showed me how absurd this kind of thinking can be.

I will continue to endure that angst of having no reason to believe that the universe as a whole (or even life itself) has an ultimate purpose. It may seem like "no fun" on a superficial level, but I actually find this angst quite intriguing.

Thus, I go on emphasizing what I do know to be true: any purpose that I can know about is entirely in the mind of the beholder. So, an individual sense purpose is the most focused sense, and the collective purpose of a group of people is only slightly less focused (because we are innately diverse and cannot fully agree). If there is an ultimate purpose to the universe, I don't know what it is, and don't currently see any way we could discover such a purpose even if it existed.

In the nonexistence that is death, you would be unaware of anything. Someone (Isaac Asimov? Anthony Burgess?) suggested that we never actually experience death because every moment we exist involves the habit-pattern of assuming that another moment will follow the current moment. Suddenly, another moment fails to follow, and you are unaware that you experienced death. I'm not sure I go along with this, or even understand it.

However, if you are going to believe in an afterlife for pragmatic reasons (and this is what you have stated here: you are not alone, by the way, and are in the majority for doing this), let's turn it around for a minute. Could you feel better wondering (or knowing) that a loved one was to spend eternity in the classic Christian Hell, where each individual will experience more tortuous pain than the combined pain of all the creatures that will ever live on Earth? This dilemma is one of many that made reexamining and scrutinizing my faith much easier for me. And I am not alone: Charles Taze Russell, founder of the Jehovah's Witnesses, who deny a literal fiery Hell, was at least as terrified as I was about the prospect that anyone would go to Hell. (I wouldn't even send Adolf Hitler there! My gaud!) I won't push my point any further because this is a very sore spot for me. Anthony Burgess complained about "vestigial fear" of hell that lasted his entire life, and I sense this same "vestigial fear" from having heard stories of Hell from my childhood playmates (I having been raised an atheist).

Why does there need to be "a standard" in the absolutistic sense?

What is wrong with studying the best that the human study of ethics has to offer and try implementing some of these findings into your own personal ethic? What is wrong with learning some living skills and getting on with life?

If there is no god, no supernatural, then human reason is all we've got. Like it or not, as feeble a light as human reason is, it's the only light we have. All we can do is the best we can with what we've got: nobody can do more.

Upon realizing this, I took the word perfect out of my vocabulary (except when talking to my sweetheart or someone I'd like to become my sweetheart, then I usually tell her she has a perfect figure). As I have said many times, "I am a perfect specimen of the human race in that I am perfectly human."

I do what I think will bring the least harm to the widest group of people (or animals or things or the environment). I do this even if the action brings me great harm. I act this way because I think it is right, and for no other reason. Nevertheless, acting this way brings me great satisfaction. (Is that pleasure? I don't know.)

By seeking only your own pleasure, you will probably discover the above ethic to be valid anyway, because harm you inflict upon others disburses the that much more harm to all, and ultimately burdens you with more harm, and thus impairs your prospects for pleasure.

Me too.

Even as a Creationist, I struggled with the notion that a loving god created a world that I clearly saw (and still see) as containing way too much suffering and premature death.

If I were a god, no mother would ever bury her son. I might not be able to make it so that sons never buried their mothers because perhaps death is inevitable in a material world, but in my universe, no mother would ever have to bury her son.

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I agree. I also think that if Creationism were true and Jesus turned out to be God, he would not be mad at me for being an evolutionist, because it sure looks as if evolution is the case.

Creationist Harold Coffin, of Loma Linda University (a Seventh-Day Adventist college), was cross-examined in the case over the Arkansas Balanced Treatment Act (Arkansas Act 590) in 1981. Here is how part of the cross-examination went down:

Q: "You have had only two articles in standard scientific journals since getting your Ph.D. in 1955, haven't you?"

A: "That's correct."

Q: "The Burgess shale (a geological formation in the Canadian Rockies with exceptionally well preserved marine fossils) is said to be 500 million years old, but you think it is only 5,000 years old, don't you?"

A: "Yes."

Q: "You say that because of information from the scriptures, don't you?"

A: "Correct."

Q: "If you didn't have the Bible, you could believe the age of the Earth to be many millions of years, couldn't you?"

A: "Yes, without the Bible."

This is why I would recommend leniency, on the part of Christians, toward those who accept the Theory of Evolution. My concept of a fair god would be all the more understanding. If science appears to favor evolution so overwhelmingly, we cannot be faulted for going along with it. This is why I don't fault theists for believing in a god: the reasoning that theists often use to come to this conclusion can be compelling, I know. (I don't find it compelling, but I admit that the temptation to think that way sometimes tugs even me.)

Why do I see this as a double standard?

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No problem.

Normally, I leave believers alone in their beliefs. But should someone come up and challenge me with a claim, I tend to respond in the best way possible. I got much out of this exchange as well.

I am glad you caught me during a time in my life when my health has allowed me to spend this much time responding to you. This is not always the case, and sometimes I just have to blow people off.

I must now get back to work. I am a full month behind on the print edition (having just sent the June issue less than a week ago) and I am probably a full week behind just formatting the e-mail that I have stacked up waiting for HTML conversion. The fellow who helps me with this is on summer break, but I have programmed my word processor with numerous macros to make the HTML formatting go smoothly.

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine

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