12-17-15 9:34The Flat Earth Method

Wulfie: I have a question for Mormons. Why were there no published reports of Joseph Smith's vision until about 20 years after the fact?

MyMy: Of course the real question for Mormons is, why believe in a book which is known without a doubt to be wholly false? There isn't even the smattering of semi-historical fiction like in the bible or gita or Ivanhoe or I, Claudius. Without the slightest doubt the Book of Mormon was entirely made up by someone who knew nothing of the actual history of the pre-Colombian Americas and its peoples. So why pretend its real?

Why is worshipping an outright and known lie for which there is not one shred of actual evidence so important?

I would really like to understand this.

LDSLady: Maybe this might help you understand...

Think back to those few people who believed the world to be round, when 90 percent of the people believed without proof that it was flat. Should they have just given up because their belief was in the minority?

There are people who think the world is flat now. Should they just give up because their belief is in the minority? Or is there some reason why they should persist in believing without proof?

LDSLady: Just because my belief is in the minority doesn't make it false or any less true.

Being "in the minority" has nothing to do with it.

What makes it seem false and any less true is that it's a bunch of totally unsubstantiated claims which are utterly inconsistent with observable reality.

LDSLady: The theories just haven't been thoroughly tested yet.

So why claim "the theories" of LDS are true now? Why not wait for the results of the tests?

LDSLady: I suppose, as of today, it seems like a bunch of totally unsubstantiated claims...

Yes. What is wrong with accepting how it seems?

LDSLady: Do you think we should stop all scientific theories based on the fact that they are just that...theories?

We do stop using scientific theories, based on the fact that they don't have evidence. Why don't you?

LDSLady:Tests take time to perform and as of today the right test for people who want proof now doesn't exist.

So why act like you know it is true now when you don't?

LDSLady: Why does science claim the "theories" it does? To get to the results.

No, it claims the theories it does because they explain what is observed. Scientific explanations are descriptions of things that are actually happening.

Equating the unsupported supernatural musings of a person to scientific explanations supported by evidence is an utterly invalid comparison. The justification for continuing science does not justify continuing to claim that Mormonism is "true."

MyMy: Ah, the "only Columbus believed the world was round" myth. People could see the world was round, by watching ships sail straight away. The bottom of the ship disappeared first, then the sails, like it was going over a curve.

It wasn't that any one involved thought the world was really flat...only religious fanatics who ignored all the physical evidence in favor of religious dogma.

LDSLady: You guys are not getting my flat-earth analogy at all. I'm talking way back...way back before Columbus...

The metaphor still doesn't work. You are not like Eratosthenes, who examined the position of the sun on the solstice in 240 BC and determined that the earth was spherical. In your own metaphor, you are like the flat-earthers, believing without proof, with no evidence at all (other than a "feeling") to support a view which can be observed to be untrue.

LDSLady: So, naturally you are going to say that since no proof that you deem as proof has come forth, you are going to just dismiss it?

Naturally. If you want to know the difference between what is true and what is false, this is exactly what you have to do. Otherwise how can you tell?

You don't just personally "deem" something proof...there are standards of proof which work.

If you want to know the difference between what is true and what is false, what better criteria to choose than a comparison with reality using standards that work?

LDSLady: There are TONS of explorations going on DAILY as to finding proof of ANYTHING. So...until ALL the evidence is in, I'm going to believe that the Book of Mormon and the LDS church is true.

This is not reasonable. This technique of determining reality is known to lead to wrong conclusions. Why do it like this? Why not use methods which are known to produce accurate understanding?

LDSLady: It wouldn't matter to non-believers if the evidence was staring them in the face.

This is completely wrong. People who value evidence will go where it leads.

LDSLady: Because faith is believing in something that can't be seen and having hope that it exists.

How is that supposed to be good?

DaisyMae: Kids believe in Santa. They have faith that he is real and hope for gifts each Christmas, and we encourage that kind of faith in our kids...why can't we appreciate that kind of blind faith in ANYONE?

Because blind faith is creating great and terrible error.

LDSLady: Regardless of what science teaches, those who believed the world was flat did so until there was hard evidence. Until that evidence came into play those who believed it was flat did so through faith.

Is that supposed to recommend faith? They were wrong. Their faith was unfounded. They would have been better off not doing that. Why should Mormons (or anyone) be doing that now?

LDSLady: Okay so what is your definition of "to prove".

I am talking about establishing the accuracy of claims with evidence, using standards of evidence that are known to produce accurate conclusions.

LDSLady: So, what, if there is no proof, you just dismiss it?

Naturally, if no evidence comes forward to support a claim, then dismissing it as unfounded is precisely the reasonable course of action. That is exactly the process that is used to distinguish between true claims and false claims. Otherwise, how can you tell?

Arriving at your conclusion without evidence is known to produce wrong results. It didn't work for the flat-earthers. Why do you think it will work for you?

Why not use a method that is known to produce accurate conclusions?

LDSLady: People will "go where the evidence leads"...only as long as it coincides with what they have previously been taught.

No. Following the evidence means being willing to change what you thought previously when the evidence shows something different. People who respect evidence will change as needed.

LDSLady: And I'm including myself in that as well.

If you are like that you should be trying not to be.

LDSLady: Haven't you ever hoped for something that you couldn't see? I have.

So you now just "hope" that Mormonism is true? That is an extremely different claim than saying you think it is true. If you just "hope" it's true, why bother? Why not find out what is actually true?

LDSLady: I think it is very healthy to have hope in things and to have faith in things.

There is nothing healthy about believing the world is flat when it can be observed to be round. It makes no sense. It creates error. It devalues reason.

It would be healthier if everyone understood that you can't determine the shape of the earth by listening to what a prophet said about it. You have to find out by examining the earth itself and seeing what it is. You have to acknowledge that even if you know nothing about whether a claim is true, you are left with another, equally valid truth - that you do not know.

Denying the truth is not healthy. In fact it is killing the world. My great hope is that some people will stop.

LDSLady: So HOW is our faith adversely affecting anyone else, exactly?

Belief in unsubstantiated faith claims requires and promotes unreason. Unreason is destroying the ability of humans to maintain worthwhile societies and a healthy biosphere.

LDSLady: You're saying the LDS faith is causing society to be blind to reason?

Religious faith in general is devaluing reason, yes.

LDSLady: I don't just accept any old thing which is said to me. I use personal revelation to know that what any prophet is telling me is truth and not just what they want to tell me.

This method of determination is known to produce massive, terrible error. It does not produce anything that can be verified. Conclusions arrived at in this manner could be wrong. Many, many of them have been shown to be. Throughout history this method has regularly produced error with effects from bigotry to injustice to atrocity. Why would you use a method known to produce terrible error? Why not use the method that is known, and can be shown, to produce accurate understanding of reality?

LDSLady: To know that it really is coming from God.

No prophet has ever uttered a word that could "only" have come from God. What they said that was true, anybody could have said. The rest is pure speculation, no more informed than that of yours or mine. Why believe one person who claims to be a prophet, but not every other? Why believe any claims that could just as easily be completely wrong?

LDSLady: On the other hand, it's just your own speculation to say that religion produces "massive terrible error."

Forming conclusions which are not not based on evidence is known to produce great error, yes.

For example, this is why evidence is required in a court of law, and without evidence the truth is not presumed to be known. People learned centuries ago that the case is unknown until it is proved...ie, people are innocent until proven guilty.

Our society has determined that conclusions without evidence are unwarranted and create error - a terrible miscarriage of justice.

As another example, until reason and science were discovered, people believed all kinds of wrong things - like, the world was flat, that disease was caused by evil spirits, that thunder was caused by angry gods, etc. Many of those conclusions without evidence can now be shown to be wrong. Coming to conclusions that way is known to produce erroneous explanations. It is not known for producing answers that can be verified or solutions that work.

In contrast, compare the way our knowlegdge and abilities have increased exponentially since the process of conclusions with evidence was discovered. We can cure diseases, explore space, create incredible machines that free us from toil, etc. Using this method to reach conclusions has produced an evolution of understanding that has transformed our existence repeatedly.

Conclusions without evidence create plenty of error, because there is no way to check. The conclusions are often wrong.

LDSLady: Are you saying all personal revelation is this way?

Personal revelation is just one kind of conclusion without evidence, and yes, it is known to create error. People have very often done very terrible things because they truly believed, based on some internal thought process, that this is what God wanted them to do.

Acting on one's internal revelations of what God wants regularly produces bigotry, persecutions, inquisitions and holy wars.

Again, because there is no way to check, personal revelation could be wrong. And, obviously, it very often is, occasionally in very negative ways.

Conclusions without evidence are conclusions which could just as easily be completely wrong. There's no evidence, you can't tell anything about it, you can't make a determination if it is valid or not. That is why it creates error. It could be wrong. It very often is.

Why use that method? Especially when there is another, more reliable method which can be shown to work better?

LDSLady: People make decisions and come to conclusions all the time without evidence that a certain course of action is best. We do that as parents all the time.

Sometimes, yes...and sometimes we're wrong. Sometimes we don't know until we try. However, most people are perfectly willing to acknowledge that they can come to the wrong conclusion in their decisions as parents, and in fact often have.

Claiming that you can "just tell," by personal revelation, whether a prophet speaks for God or not, fails to acknowledge that personal revelation can be wrong.

LDSLady: You may call it an internal thought process, but originating from where? I say it's God.

So, the conclusions of people who tortured heretics in the Inquisition, based on their internal thought processes, originated from God?

You could say, well, obviously those conclusions didn't come from God. That was just bad people, who may have thought it was from God, but they were wrong.

Well, how can you tell that anyone's personal revelation is more valid than the personal revelation of the inquisitor? If you can't check, you don't know.

There is no reason to think that a "personal revelation" that such-and-such is a prophet, etc., is correct. It might not be. There is a lot of margin for error there.

LDSLady: What do you call it when you suddenly decide to take different route home or have some uneasy feeling that you need to do something out of your normal routine?

Sudden decisions and uneasy feelings.

LDSLady: Was I in error to take a different route? There's not usually any way to prove that.

It's not usually very important either way.

However, claiming to be able to "just tell" that the Mormon religion is true, and that Joseph Smith was speaking for God, and that his proclamations were correct, is not a trivial conclusion to arrive at without evidence. There is a crapload of margin for error there. Comparison with reality has certainly not shown any correlation.

As you pointed out, people who believed on faith that the world was flat were wrong about it. Conclusions arrived at by personal revelation, or any kind of unevidenced conclusions, can just as easily be wrong and there is no way to tell.

Some conclusions arrived at even with evidence are wrong, especially on the frontiers of discovery. But the history of reason and evidence has clearly shown that they produce far more correspondence with reality than the alternative, as well as a great process for refinement.

So, why use the non-evidence method to determine the most important things - what this life is, and how to get by in it? Why entrust those incredibly important conclusions to a process which very often produces wrong answers?

Why not use the process which has been shown to produce accurate understanding of reality?

LDSLady: Why are you saying these things? You are the one who brought up "innocent until proven guilty." Why can't people do this with the God concept?

The only person not doing it is the one who claims to have knowledge about God.

LDSLady: We are like the police officers before DNA testing came along. We want to know but we just can't do it. So, why are we doing it for the God concept?

I have no clue why you are doing it. Maybe you should stop.

LDSLady: I spent a lot of time praying and meditating on this. And one of the things I came out realizing is that rushing through life...needing answers now...gets us nowhere fast.

You are the only one who needs an answer so bad right now that you are claiming one which is totally unsupported. You are the one making the claim.

Mormonism is true. JS is a prophet. What JS prophesied is true, and you can tell, by personal revelation.

If you want to stop needing answers right now, you are the one who needs to stop claiming that you have answers right now, which you can "just tell" are correct. You are the one who needs to stop claiming answers instead of saying "I don't know" when that is the truth. Saying "I don't know" is transcending the need for answers right now.

"Mormonism is true, JS was a prophet who spoke for God" is rushing through life...needing answers now...and getting nowhere fast.

LDSLady: We need to slow it down and be patient.

Yes, that is what you need to do, instead of making unsupported claims.

LDSLady: I said it before in this very thread...testing takes time and unfortunately we don't have the test for non-believers to take.

This is not about "non-believers." It is about you.

LDSLady: Who is correct?

Check! What claims look correct? What can be confirmed? That is how you find out.

LDSLady: We shouldn't be comparing God to the justice system.

Nobody is doing this. I am not even talking about God.

I am comparing your method of determining what is true - personal revelation, etc. - with the method of determining what is true that works - evidence-based reason. Your method is known to produce crap for truth and steer people mightily wrong. My question is, and has been, why do it?

LDSLady: Until then, us believers are going to use theological tests of Faith, prayer, patience(yup this is one of them!), grace, works, etc. to know spiritually that God is real.

Forget non-believers. If this method works, why isn't it working for the Hindus? Why, when a Hindu uses tests of faith, prayer, patience, grace, works, etc, doesn't he know spiritually that Mormonism is right, and that Christianity is right, and that he should forget the gods of his religion and put his faith in Jesus or he will not receive salvation?

Plenty of people are "us believers" every bit as much as you are. But they are not confirming your claims. Their personal revelation is telling them something very different. It is confirming to them a completely different set of claims.

If Hindus had more patience, would they know spiritually that Mormonism is true? Or will people's personal revelation confirm what they already believe is true?

LDSLady: I do know that Satan is real...

No, you do not know this. You think it. You could be wrong.

LDSLady: ... and that he works on those people who are striving to live as they should.

I am sorry to hear that you feel this way.

How hard it must be, living in fear of a terrible monstrous demon lurking everywhere and interfering with your living as you should. That has got to suck.

LDSLady: He knows our weaknesses and he knows what will keep us down.

Maybe not. This might not be true.

Please consider this possibility. The method you have used to make this determination is known to produce wrong answers.

LDSLady: You don't understand. When we are used to hearing or feeling the Spirit of God we have the capability of discerning between our own random thoughts and what God wants us to do.

Yeah, sure you do.

Too bad the Hindus don't have that capability, or the Shinto, Buddhists, etc, because they just haven't gotten the message that Mormonism is the true religion, that faith in Jesus is required for salvation, that Satan knows their weaknesses and is trying to keep them down, etc.

LDSLady: When there is no evidence there is no case.

Then why in the world are you making one? Why are you claiming that Satan exists and haunts your steps when there is no case that He does? Why not slow it down and be patient, and wait until it there is a case before making one?

LDSLady: Neither side wins and we can all go back to our respected corners! Haha!

It's not about "winning." It's about the truth and what really works for finding it.

12-17-15 6:37The Perfect Salary

Wulfie: Money can't buy happiness, or can it? According to a study I read, the more money people have, the happier they are.

That is, up to a point.

The magic income: $75,000 a year. As people earn more money, their day-to-day happiness rises. Until you hit $75,000. After that, it is just more stuff, with no gain in happiness.

My question is, at what point do we say, "We don't care how 'happy' it makes you...you having that much money is hurting society."

When money is massively accumulated, there is a point when it becomes freely convertible to political power. This gives the super-wealthy men waaaay more than the one vote each they are entitled to as citizens of the society. They wield massive power and make decisions that affect millions, but they have no mandate.

Our founding fathers understood that power must be checked and balanced. At what point do we need to check financial power the way we check political power?

LadyBlinks: We don't. Because the very act of restricting the maximum wealth allowed to any one individual would also hurt society.

No more than the Magna Carta "hurt society" by requiring the monarch to accept that his will was not arbitrary. We decided centuries ago that unlimited power hurt society more than requiring checks on power.

In any case, checking financial power comes in many forms besides individual caps. Strong progressive taxation, public campaign financing and rescinding corporate personhood would be substantial checks on financial power.

LadyBlinks: Why are you so afraid of billionaires? There aren't that many of them.

Yet, 10% of the population controls 90% of the wealth. They are actively structuring the society for further accumulation and concentration of power, while the U.S. falls behind other nations in every measure of societal health. It's not working.

LadyBlinks: What you really need is to change the truth of the witticism, "America - the best politicians money can buy!"

Many people are trying. However on a playing field this unlevel, "many" is not enough. It would have to be "most."

Ultimately I think it will be altered. As error correction kicks in, the moral arc of humanity bends towards social justice. However we may not live to see it.

12-17-15 3:40Where Do Morals Come From?

Bostonian: We cannot simply dismiss religion. We need it! Where then do societal norms come from? If not from religion?

Trial and error.

Bostonian: Do you have an example where a society has used this to create a culture that was strictly without the use of a religious belief at its base?

Trial and error precedes religion.

Bostonian: What, you mean like in our evolution? Our nearest relatives the chimps haven't developed morality. To humans a lot of their activity would seem immoral. Chimps kill and rape neighboring chimp clans all the time.

A lot of our activity seems immoral. Humans kill and rape neighboring humans all the time.

Bostonian: To humans this activity would seem immoral in most incidences but Chimps don't seem to share this kind of thinking.

You are comparing how humans treat their in-group with how chimps treat their out-group.

Bostonian: If trial and error were the only founding feature of morality, than why is it that our closest animal relatives are not sharing this morality?

Chimps have acceptable and unacceptable behaviors, and unacceptable behaviors are sometimes done anyway, just like humans. And like humans, there are very different standards of acceptable behavior for the in-group than for the out-group.

Bostonian: Rival chimp males are well known to kill each other and you can't dismiss chimp territorial warfare.

Humans are not less brutal to our enemies.

As our social groups grow larger and more complex, we must apply our in-group behaviors to larger numbers of people. And, humans have written language. This has allowed us to codify our trial and error and...slowly...learn from mistakes in a way that chimps cannot.

But, our trials - and errors - are far from over.

Bostonian: If we're so 'similar' to chimps, how come we kill by far more frequently and in much larger numbers than our animal cousins?

That's quite a turn around. First we are much more moral than chimps, and now we are much less.

Clearly, your original suggestion, that we are somehow endowed with morals that chimps don't share, is incorrect. Our basic behaviors are very similar.

Bostonian: If you compare the brutality and amount of killing we do now from when we did when we lived in tribal communities, you would see that "trial and error" is failing for us in the terms of morality.

Well then, obviously, so is "religion."

The point is, there is no reason to think we are getting superior morality from some source different from where chimps are getting it. Animal behaviors - including ours - arise evolutionally, from what works, over the very long run. For millions of years, our behavior patterns - kindness to our in-group, brutality to our out-groups and rivals - have been successful strategies for maintaining small group cohesion while allowing the strongest to triumph in the gene pool.

In evolutionary terms, we are no more than an eyeblink away from our tribal ancestors. Written language and mass killing technology are brand-new inventions. Our technical abilities may have allowed us to inch a tiny bit forward in some very narrow respects - for example, in inventing rule of law and democracy - but we have barely even begun to implement them. As I said, our trials, and errors, continue. There is no guarantee we will survive them.

12-16-15 8:22Local Mythology

Mary: I'm tired of all the Christian-bashing! I'm Christian and I find it offensive when people question my religion!

I understand, but if people are so easily offended by questioning, how can we ever discuss it? Getting offended ends the conversation.

So we are left with a gigantic elephant in the room. Christianity - historically, and currently - has a lot of shortcomings. Not the least of which is, it doesn't seem to be true. Having it as a dominant force in our society is causing big problems.

I am not trying to suggest that any person who practices Christianity is an asshole, or anything negative. But the problems of Christianity need to be addressed. That's not Christian-bashing. It is trying to find a way to solve problems that effect everyone.

Mary:As for me, I like to say the problem isn't Jesus Christ and Christianity. It's some of his followers.

No, the problem with Christianity is its tenets. They do not seem to be true. They are irrational, unsubstantiated, and have little apparent touch on anything that is real or matters. They appear to be a mythology, no different from the mythologies of other cultures.

The result of trying to live as if mythology is true is mass unreason. That is the problem.

Mary: Just like we have some Muslims who claim to be practicing their religion when they blow up planes and kill people, you have Christians who claim to represent their religion when, in fact, they are so far from it that Jesus Christ himself would probably slap them if he were here to do so.

The claim that humans require salvation from the messiah who was born of a virgin and died for their sins or else they will be eternally separated from God in the afterlife represents Christianity.

Unfortunately, this claim appears to be a mythology, no different from the claim that you must worship Sri Krishna for a favorable incarnation because only He can intervene in your karma, or that sacrificing a horn of ale to Freya can entice Her to increase your fertility.

There is no reason to think the local mythology is truer than the ones of humans in other places.

Acting like mythology is true creates a huge disconnect between what people say and how things actually are. This disconnect is creating a lot of error. Acting like "our" mythology is truer than "theirs" is fostering a huge amount of ingroup / outgroup division. This is creating a lot of unresolvable conflict. That's the problem.

Saying this is not Christian-bashing. It needs to be said. Unless people are willing to challenge the ordering of our society around an apparent mythology, there will be no way to get any realer.

Mary: I do not believe my religion is mythology.

I said, it appears to be one. Whether it is or not, the fact that it appears to be a mythology is causing a massive amount of problems for society.

Mary: You have your opinion and I have mine.

It's not a matter of opinion. You can check.

12-15-15 9:42$100,000 Playhouse

Episky: Suri Cruise once got a $100,000.00 playhouse with a housekeeper and nannies. She hosted tea parties for her friends there. What do you think of wealthy people spending this kind of money on their kids?

I think that after they pay a lot of taxes on their income, and after every kid has a real house, then they can buy whatever they want for their kid with what is left over. It's like Thanksgiving - everybody needs to have firsts before people have seconds.

Episky: So people who have extra income can't spend money on nice things until no one is homeless anymore!?

So people can't hoard gigantic piles of food they will never eat in their garage while children outside starve? Yes. That would be immoral. The children are more important than their desire to hoard.

The fact that some children are homeless in the midst of such prosperity is unconscionable. It would take only crumbs from a rich table to fix that. If they don't have enough money left over for a $100,000.00 playhouse after they pay their share in taxes, Tom Cruise can make another movie. Or they can get a cheaper playhouse.

People can do whatever they want with what is left after their obligations have been met. Part of their obligation - like all of ours - is to do what we can to keep our society running and take care of the needs of the people, especially the children, in our society.

Episky: What makes you think he hasn't paid his taxes?

If he is an American, he is paying far less in taxes today than rich Americans have ever paid. If we instituted tax rates that worked for America in previous years, then I would agree he had paid his share. Right now, the rich are slacking on their share of the taxes, and using the great power of their wealth to make their taxes even lower.

It would cause the rich no harm at all to pay their share of the expenses to keep this country working. They are getting all the benefits of living in a society where they can become rich, but they don't want to keep the society going if it cuts into their extreme playhouse budget?

That is hoarding. It is immoral, and it is destroying the economy and causing a great deal of suffering, especially to children. Ultimately it will fail them also - if the economy is destroyed by hoarding, the money disappears, just like it did during the financial crisis. Everybody loses.

Better to have higher taxes on the people who can afford it with no suffering. Everbody wins.

Episky: Hoarding? True hoarding would be sitting on his cash and not releasing it in any way into the economy.

That is what the billionaires are doing. That money never even gets spent, it just gets passed back and forth in bizarre banking schemes which magically make the numbers go up with every pass. That's why it disappears when they wreck the economy - it never existed to begin with.

Tom Cruise, with his paltry millions, isn't in that scale of hoarding, true. But he could afford a tax increase from 35% to 39% - a repeal of the Bush tax cuts - and economists say that would really help the economy and the country as a whole. If he had to have ten less square feet on his extreme playhouse because of that 4%, I can't see how that would be in any way unfair to him.

Episky: I never said it was unfair for them to have higher taxes.

I'm glad we agree. So, to back to your original question:

"So people who have extra income can't spend money on nice things until no one is homeless anymore?"

The answer is, yes, that would be the moral way to handle it. We as a society need to make the tax structure so that the portion which cares for homeless children is taken out before it gets counted as "extra income" for the very rich. When the tax structure is sufficient to do what is best for the society - helping children - then they can spend their brains out with whatever is left. Everybody gets firsts before anybody gets seconds.

12-10-15 8:22Atheist Billboards

Penny: The Atheists are at it again! They have purchased billboards along major highways around the country, with messages like, "This holiday, skip church. Be good for goodness sake." What do you think of this?

Shirron: How pointless and attention whoring.

Trying to disrupt the bone-rattling is not pointless.

Shirron: No one is going to skip church because they saw a sign! No, it is pointless and attention whoring.

Wrong. It is an attempt to use a public forum to broadcast a very important and under-represented view.

The Abrahamic Faiths do not seem to be true. They are incompatible with reality. Trying to run society based on bronze-age taboos and superstition is killing us. Every single opportunity to confront this issue is an opportunity for minds to be changed, for the seeds of questioning to be planted. Our entire society, the whole world, needs a massive open dialog on this subject. We are long overdue. So, failing to attention-whore it would be far worse.

Additionally, placing this billboard has several specific points.

1. To let atheists know that non-belief is okay, and they are not alone. Many atheists in those parts of the country are in the closet, unable to be honest about their doubts because of strong pressure from family and church communities. The billboards are specifically targeting this audience, to let them know non-belief is an acceptable and viable viewpoint.

2. To negate atheist stereotypes, particularly that giving up theism would somehow mean giving up Christmas celebrations.

3.To draw attention to the secular nature of modern Christmas, and the fact that most of what we associate with Christmas - trees, Santa, caroling, yule logs, mistletoe, etc - have nothing to do with Christianity. The season belongs to everyone.

4. To emphasize that morality and goodness come from humans and are not supernaturally-based.

5. To expose everyone to the fact that Christianity is being called into question and endless options abound.

This needs to be said, where people can hear it. That is the point.

Shirron: They can advertise whatever they want, but I find it ironic that theyre proselyting just like the religions they hate.

Atheists are also establishing interest groups which meet once a week to attend uplifting services with music, and form the bonds of community. Is it ironic - or hypocritical - for them to do things that religions do, if they are against religion?

I don't think so. Religion figured out some very effective techniques for building communities and getting their message out. The communities and the advertising techniques are part of the success of Christianity but they were never really the part that atheists find disagreeable. The problematic part of Christianity is the content.

Shirron: It is when they complain that by those same actions religious people "shove their beliefs down their throats" and "bible thump". That churches are places to meet to "indoctrinate" sheeple.

Well, you will have to take that up with someone who is saying it. I'm not. I think trying to spread ideas is perfectly natural and getting together with others to talk about ideas is fun.

Shirron: It's okay, this is proving what I already thought. Atheism is just as much a religion requiring persuasion and dependent on faith and belief as any other religion.

Now this I disagree with and I will explain why. First of all, if the presence of billboards and persuasion are what make a religion, then McDonald's would be the biggest religion on the highway, and they're not.

Secondly, atheism is not even a thought system, it is simply a rejection of theism. If you would like to refer to the actual religion-like systems which are being constructed, they are often called secular humanism.

Thirdly, secular humanism may be a religion or become one, but so what? Just being a religion is not the problem. What is the content of the religion? That is what matters.

However those are not really the main reasons to suggest that "atheism is a religion," are they? This is: "...[atheism is as] dependent on faith and belief as any other religion."

And that is really incorrect. Atheism does not propose anything supernatural. Atheism is not pretending to know any "facts" about gods, or about the afterlife, or about what humans have to do to get a good afterlife, or about what day of the week the gods want humans to take off, or any other proposal which somebody said a long time ago and now has to be "believed" because there is no other reason to think it. A-theism is simply a non-acceptance of the proposal of theism.

Since there are no supernatural posits to atheism, there is nothing that must be taken on faith and believed. Faith is required only for supernaturalism. As for secular humanism, it is founded on principles that humans can work together to create an amazing existence for humans. Also not a supernatural posit requiring belief. It is a proposal about real things which can be tested, and it is being tested.

That is the difference, and it is all the difference in the world. Christianity, the Abrahamic Faiths and theism do not seem to be true. There is no accuracy that can be demonstrated between the claims and observable reality. A-theism accurately points out that the claims cannot be established. Faith not required.

That is why the content is much more important than whether a system qualifies as a "religion" or not. The question is not, "Are these ideas a religion, therefore bad?" It is, "Are these ideas sound and can they be verified?" A religion based on sound ideas which can be verified could be fun.

12-10-15 8:22Exclusive Apprehension Both Ways

Of all the arguments employed by theists in religious debate, I find the "It is true, and I can tell, but you can't" argument to be by far the most offensive. For example, a couple of times recently I have seen people offer that old excuse about how X is true, obvious even, but you have to have "faith" in order to see it. In other words, the apprehension is available exclusively to the faithful.

The exclusive apprehension argument is faulty for three reasons.

First of all, reality doesn't work that way. If something is real, what difference does it make what you are thinking? Reality is not dependent on the content of a person's head. It is outside the head. Real things that can be apprehended by humans can be apprehended by virtually any human regardless of the content of their thoughts.

Secondly, the argument utterly maligns the abilities of the "non-believer" (of whatever "proof" is being offered) to competently apprehend reality. It is like accusing someone of being colorblind without any evidence that they are. If you are going to claim someone is "blind" you should be able to demonstrate it, or the claim is unwarranted.

Most importantly, exclusive apprehension completely disregards the fact that there are loads of believers, and ex-believers, who have or had faith, and were willing to go the extra mile for their belief, and still did not see evidence of X. Why was their faith not good enough?

And how do you explain people who do believe, but in something different? They have plenty of faith, but it is showing them Y instead of X. Why doesn't their faith confirm X? Faulty?

Claims of exclusive apprehension without evidence are nonsensical and arrogant.

And, these claims also ignore what would be true if there was exclusive apprehension. What kind of force is so weak that it cannot be detected unless one is rabidly prone to confirmation bias for it? Even if there is "something" there, could a force so neglible possibly be in any way relevant?

Clara: Yes, people who believe in religion are so irrational! They bow to what they feel instead of looking at it logically.

I honestly cannot help but wonder if some people are actually physically incapable of becoming this conscious of their thoughts, without the anchor of their emotional conclusions.

Unless there is some kind of physical evidence of this, I'd be reluctant to walk too far down this road. I have seen some interesting and unexpected changes of mind occur, in debate and elsewhere. I would not want to be just as guilty of precluding understanding as those who insist I am incapable of apprehending X without "faith."

Clara: It is possible that the hard wiring of some brains makes it so that the individual is totally incapable of critical evaluation. I suppose I could be more patient and understanding, but debating with them would be as fruitful as banging my head against a wall, wondering why I keep getting a headache.

Some debate about this seems useless but I'm not sure that is the reason. People who can use language seem to be awake enough to have will. I would not want to assume that any person had less will or capability than I do.

I'd like to think it is a matter of finding leverage points at which to insert reason. Sometimes that works. However I admit that after a decade of online religious debate I have not found very many leverage points. In fact I have barely had any effect at all. But, my approach has changed again and again as I have seen what works and what doesn't, and I still hope to someday find a way to communicate my understanding to anyone. It seems important. It's worth a try.

Clara: I'm not the one saying they can't get it - THEY are. They think their mind can't wrap around that. Are they right?

Maybe. Maybe not. I don't think you or anyone knows. However I have seen some pretty amazing changes even from people who could not have imagined it.

Clara: Who am I to say these people can critically evaluate?

If you don't know, there is no point in jumping to conclusions. I would say it is more compassionate to give people the benefit of the doubt.

Clara: Who am I to engage them as if they can?

You are a person according another person with basic human equality. Even if they are "incapable" of understanding, treating anyone as if they aren't, at the risk of being wrong, would be an affront.

Anyway, you don't have engage anyone. If you don't want to, don't. But if you care about reason and the future of humanity, what other option is there?

When in doubt, err on the side of equality and compassion.

Clara: I'm not saying the religious are delusional, but....not all believers claim to hear and feel god, but A LOT do.

I know non-believers who also "hear" and "feel" things which sound a lot like the things people attribute to God. I don't think "hearing" and "feeling" things which seem divine represent a delusion. You could put on the God helmet and electrically stimulate the right temporal lobe, and in all likelihood you would "hear" and "feel" a Presence, an incredible sense of benevolence, a feeling of one with everything, etc. Any human can have these feelings and they seem to be within the normal range of human experience.

Attributing the feelings to "god", however, is not necessary and many people don't.

Clara: The DSM does not consider belief a disorder, and goes on to say that these types of things should be 'evaluated with great respect to the complexity of culture and religious differences.' What is it about that "complexity" that gives religiosity a free pass out of the consideration of disorder?

I don't think religion or "cultural delusions" should have a free pass, and I am not even saying it is not a disorder. I am questioning only the idea that some people have a "hard-wired" or "physical" incapacity for understanding, without evidence that this is certainly the case.

I have seen people become capable of understanding more than I - or they - ever dreamed they could. I have seen people emerge from delusion. Since change is possible, I wouldn't be quick to accept that some views are "hard-wired."

Clara: You say we have no choice but to argue for reason if we care about humanity. Well, a religious mind can argue the same, with contrasting criteria.

Of course they can. Anyone can argue anything. But that is what makes evidence-based understanding so valuable. It's not just "he-said, she-said" when examining which types of claims represent better understanding. By accurate correspondence to reality, some claims actually fit the criteria for reason and wise action, and others don't.

Clara: I do need to practice compassion and patience, for now, I'll let that be my guide.

In the world of online religious debate, you seem a bastion of calm. I find your clear, patient discussion an antidote to hysteria.

Clara: Raver,

I'd hug you if I could. I hope you know you're a consistent example of unconditional love in here. You've taught me so much.

12-09-15 2:51Wisdom

Sandy: What is wisdom? What are your thoughts on wisdom and how it effects your life and the choices that you've made?

I think wisdom can only come from respecting the truth. Otherwise it is folly.

Sandy: I would agree. However, with so many "truths" out there how do we determine for ourselves which truth to respect?

Examine reality.

Sandy: I know that when something is true for me, it just seems to click. And then once something clicks as truth then we can respect it giving us the wisdom of whatever it is we just learned.

Truth is not determined by clicks in your head. It is determined by accuracy in describing reality.

Sandy:But, who determines "reality".

It is before you. It is determined by examining it. What do you see?

Sandy: My reality is that I believe in God. Someone else's reality is that they need hard physical evidence to believe in any god.

That is not reality, that is opinion. You have to start looking at something besides what people think. You have to look at what actually is.

Sandy: Reality can be said to be in the eye of the beholder.

No, reality is the stuff that is still here when the eye and the beholder go away.

Sandy: Oh, wait that's truth!!

No, actually it's "beauty." If there is one thing that isn't in the eye of the beholder, it's truth.

Sandy: But, if we are to examine reality to find truth than "reality" really is in the eye of the beholder, ya know?

There is no evidence of this. The evidence suggests that there is a manifest reality in which we are immersed, which we can examine and make determinations about that apply to everyone.

For example, we seem to be living beings, on a very large mass, circling an extremely large mass. Our perceptions of it may vary in slight ways. But if you are able to, say, travel to another city by airplane, you share enough perception of space and time in common with other humans to accomplish a very complex task. Since humans do this every day, I would say our personal perceptions of space and time and matter and energy are not sufficiently different to conclude that reality is dependent upon what we think of it.

Our perceptions appear to be of something. The Something is what you have to examine to find out which statements about it are true.

Sandy: I looked at what actually is. And what actually is...is that God does exist.

How can you tell?

Sandy: What if you ask the eye and the beholder to take you to it so you can see it too?

That is exactly what I am asking you to do.

Sandy: What if it isn't there when you get there?

Let's find out.

12-09-15 9:43Why Islam is More Violent than Christianity

Carrie: People are going crazy right now, blaming all Muslims for the SB shootings. Islam is a religion of peace! Well, to most Muslims it is. And they are saying Christianity isn't violent at all!

That's hypocritical. Christianity has its share of crazies and killers too! This article has the 10 Worst Examples of Christian or Far-Right Terrorism. It includes the Army of God, those who kill abortion doctors, and of course Tim McVeigh.

Kitty: It's truly unbelievable the lengths the far left will go to in order to defend, distract and justify radical, Islamic Jihad.

The fact that the article had to pull from over 30 years to find 10 examples should testify radical Christian extremism and far right extremism is nowhere the threat radical Islamic Jihad is.

Nobody is defending jihad, how stupid. Some people have been saying that Christianity isn't violent, implying that this is how you can tell it is a better religion.

Christianity has had to live alongside the Enlightenment for the last 300 years. That is why it is not as bad as Islam (anymore.) It's not inherently better. It is less dangerous now because it has been weakened.

DooBee: In the last 10 years alone, here's a list of 30 violent acts by Muslims, including 9/11, SB, and a bunch of honor killngs by outraged fathers whose daughters were westernizing. Islam is awful!

There is no doubt, Islam is an insane religion at the height of its power without any checks in the society. Christianity is also an insane religion, but its power is long on the wane and there are many checks and balances on it in our society. That's why it used to be just as bad, but isn't now.

Kitty: LOL, you are a joke with Christianity has had to live along side the "Enlightenment"..... The "Enlightenment" sure hasn't helped make Buddhism less violent.

You are confused. "The Enlightenment" refers to the slow adoption of reason in the west, beginning with the Renaissance and culminating in the founding of the United States. The principal goals of Enlightenment thinkers were liberty, progress, reason, tolerance, and ending the abuses of the church and state. Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson were Enlightenment thinkers.

The Enlightenment was marked by increasing empiricism and scientific rigor, along with increased questioning of religious orthodoxy. Being separated to a large degree from western culture, Islam has not had to live alongside empiricism and scientific rigor or increased questioning of religious orthodoxy. That is why they are now like Christianity was before.

I hope that clears things up. It's not really related to the Buddhist concept of enlightenment at all. (Though, you would be hard pressed to find a list of ten acts of violence in the name of the Buddha in the last 2,500 years.)

Kitty: Oh yes I can! Here are 4 examples - Buddhists are warring in Myanmar and targeting Muslims in Sri Lanka. Human sacrifice occurred in Buddhist Burma in 1850. And there is the Bodu Bala Sena, the Buddhist Power Force. They have yet to take up arms but they say they will!

I didn't say it was unheard of, but it's really reaching to suggest that any of these are in the name of Buddhism. But even supposing it was, it just proves the point - religion is dangerous wherever it is very powerful.

Right now Christianity is weak in the west and getting weaker. Islam is extremely strong and gaining in power in the ME. That is why Christianity is only a little dangerous right now but Islam is very dangerous. The danger is related to the strength and proximity to power - not to the doctrines.

Anywhere religion is unchecked it creates atrocity.

Carrie: Organized religions, all of them, can be very, very dangerous, especially given the mindsets of certain people.

The Abrahamic Faiths are incompatible with reality. They make no more sense than sacrificing a goat to the oracle at Delphi.

But, they have been foundational to several civilizations including the current ones. So it will take awhile for them to wear off. In the meantime, the vast distance between what they are claiming, and the reality, is what is creating all these problems.

The best thing we can do is stay calm and simply continue to point to reality. It is undeniable, because it is what it is. Eventually the link between getting reality, and making incredible things work, will demonstrate the efficacy of real understanding.

Mazzy: It is as plain as the nose on our faces. Organized religion does far more 'worse' than 'good' due to the people who use it, abuse it......

I disagree that the "more bad than good" of organized religion is due to the people who use it, abuse it. A lot of bad comes from the legacy religions because they are bad systems. Pretending to know things about the supernatural and the afterlife doesn't work.

The Abrahamic Faiths are mutually exclusive, to each other and to reality. Things aren't like how the tribemen from thousands of years ago thought. It's time we quit pretending that they knew anything about the world or the gods, and base our understanding of reality, the universe and morality on real stuff now.

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