The Course of Reason

Dave’s Mailbag!

June 11, 2011

MU SASHA's Dave Muscato exchanges emails with a Christian fundamentalist.

This article orginally appeared on MU SASHA's blog.

Hello all; Dave here. I’m going to start doing these types of posts more often, just because I think it’s fun to do something a little different than my usual thrice-weekly articles. So, probably once each week or two, I’ll be posting something from my (e)mailbag! I hope you enjoy it.

I regularly get email from religious people, usually Christians, who have taken it upon themselves to preach to me. Usually I don’t bother engaging them unless they present an actual question or argument they want to discuss (in which case I always respond), but sometimes I respond anyway just to see where it goes. Here’s a recent one, and where it went.

In his original email to me, Wayne S. sent only this YouTube video of himself:

My response:

I just want to make sure I understand your argument here: You are saying that when you were very young, you were moved emotionally by a revival service. You suffered from insomnia, and had a pain (it sounds like a psychosomatic one) in your chest/heart. You heard voices in your head – thoughts came into your mind – which at first troubled you, but then the voices started sounding sweet, and the psychosomatic pain in your chest subsided, and you so did your insomnia. Is that about right?

Well… I’m glad your chest doesn’t hurt anymore, and I’m glad you got over your insomnia. How, exactly, does this have anything to do with whether God exists or not, or whether Jesus is the son of this alleged god, etc? Isn’t it more likely that these voices, feelings, insomnia, etc was just all in your head?

- Dave

Wayne’s response:

Why do you not respond to God speaking to your heart? He speaks to everyone.

I received an honorary doctor of theology also when I was 25, 3 years later I obeyed God and burned it. I am now 80.

You seem to be an interesting person, I am glad to get to know you.

My response:

Glad to know you, too. You wrote:”Why do you not respond to God speaking to your heart? He speaks to everyone.”

Source? You say that like it’s a fact… How do you know that, or is that just your belief?

God has never spoken “to my heart” that I am aware of. I’ve felt very strong emotions, for example when playing or listening to music, or when I hear a heart-wrenching story of human triumph. But those are perfectly natural, explainable human reactions. Is that what you mean by “God speaking… to everyone”? That’s not a god, man… That’s the emotional centers in your brain reacting to stimuli; not magic. When I was a Christian, I used to think that those feelings were God talking to me. When I thought certain things, I used to think that it was God. But I realize now that I had absolutely no reason to think it was anything other than just my own brain and my own thoughts.

What is your reason for believing that it’s anything other than that? What evidence do you have?

- Dave

Wayne’s response:

Heb 9:27 And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:

This brings everything into focus.

My response:

Why should I trust or care about what Hebrews says? No one knows who wrote it, and it wasn’t even included in the New Testament canon until the 4th century. It’s totally unreliable as a primary source document.

Wayne’s response:

The Creator still requires you to be judged for what you have done with your life when you die.

Mat 12:36But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.You and I know this.

My response:

I have no more reason to believe that the bible is true than I do to believe the Qu’ran is true. They were both written by Middle Eastern guys who didn’t know any more about how the world really works than you or I. A lot less, actually; they didn’t have the benefit of 21st-century science, etc.

Give me one good reason I should care what the bible says, other than this ridiculous circular argument that I should believe the bible because God wrote the bible and we know that’s true because it says so and God wrote it… Do you hear what you’re saying? It’s completely irrational. You can quote me bible verses until you’re blue in the face. I’ve read the bible, cover to cover, and doing so made me believe it was true even less than before. It’s completely manmade, just like the Qu’ran, just like the Upanishads, just like every other religion.

Neither of us “know” it. You are being dishonest with your language. You *believe* it… Well, I don’t. Give me a real, sound logical argument, or some real, solid evidence, and I’ll be happy to consider what you have to say. The bible “per se” is a joke as solid evidence. There are dozens of “holy” books to choose from, what makes yours so special? I should listen because unlike all those other books, *this* one is real? Give me a break; like I’ve never heard that one before!

Wayne’s response:

You are not answering me but are railing against the Bible.

You know you must answer for your acts if you have never seen a BibleIt is in the intuition of everyone.

Rom 1:18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness;

Rom 1:19 Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them.Rom 1:20 For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:

Rom 1:21 Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.Rom 1:22 Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools

My response:

What do you mean, “It is the intuition of everyone”? Why do you believe that? Because it’s in the Bible? If so, why do you believe the Bible? Do you not see that what you are doing is circular reasoning? I could make exactly the same argument with regard to any other religion. I could just as easily say that Islam is the intuition of everyone, and you can deny it all you want, but deep in your heart, you know that Islam is true. See how neatly that works? So, you will convert to Islam now, right?

Wayne, it doesn’t work that way. Tell me why you believe the Bible is true, or more precisely, why I should believe that the bible is true. You can’t reasonably accuse me of railing against the Bible instead of addressing your arguments, and say that the Bible is unnecessary here because it’s already in my intuition, and then prove it by citing the Bible again! Circular reasoning, sir.

Wayne’s response:

See you are avoiding the question. Do you believe you must answer for what you do?

My response:

You avoided my question, also:

“Why should I trust or care about what Hebrews says? No one knows who wrote it, and it wasn’t even included in the New Testament canon until the 4th century. It’s totally unreliable as a primary source document.”

As far as answering for what I do, of course. My fellow humans and my own conscience hold me accountable for my actions. If you’re talking about some kind of cosmic judgment after I die, no, I don’t believe that. Why should I? Let me guess… The Bible says so? Why should I believe the Bible?

- Dave

Wayne’s response:

The same way you know this, men Abraham and like Job did even though they had no Bible.

My response:

The same way I know what? What does the word “knowledge” mean to you? It seems to me that our disagreement may stem from a confusion between the words “knowledge” and “belief.”

Wayne’s response:

Do you believe you know that you must answer for your actions?

Sincerely Dave you need a living faith. With out it, you could have all the money in the world and be very poor.I cannot give you this important foundation. You must find it for yourself.

My response:

Hello Wayne,

I know that I am held accountable for my actions by my own conscience. There are limits to this accountability; if I do something that I believe is right or moral or justified or justifiable, but in objective reality, is not, then there is a lack of accountability. Similarly, say that when I get older, I develop dementia, and do not understand my actions or their consequences the way I do now. In that case, I am not held accountable by my own conscience.

Because I am human, and live in a society of people going about their lives in a cooperative manner (since humans are social animals), I am also held accountable for my actions by other people. Not that I would anyway, but if I were to cause harm to some other person, whether as a direct or indirect consequence of my actions, society would also hold me accountable. This can mean the legal system, if my action was illegal (regardless of whether or not the action was moral or justified in my own view), or by simple social pressures for ethical behavior & conformity – for example, if I am mean to another person, even if I did nothing illegal, I will have social consequences, like being shunned.

I believe this because I have seen it in action my entire life. It is possible that I am wrong, but I have strong evidence that this is how accountability works. I have seen this happen over and over in every case where an unethical action has occurred, whether in my own life or the lives of others. Through inductive reasoning, I have inferred that this is how accountability works.

You are claiming that there is another layer of accountability beyond the personal layer and the social layers: a spiritual, supernatural accountability. This is your belief, not a fact in objective reality. If you want to make this claim, it is up to you to provide evidence and/or a logically sound argument that this claim is actually true.

So, I have two questions for you. Firstly, you didn’t address my question from my last email: What would you say is the definition of knowledge, versus the definition of a belief? And secondly, what is your evidence and/or your sound logical argument that there actually is a third type of accountability, ie accountability after death that does not fall under the social-type I mentioned above? Put another way, you are claiming knowledge that supernatural accountability actually exists in objective reality and is not merely a belief that you hold. What is your evidence/argument for this?

Thank you.

Dave

Wayne’s response:

Dave, I envy your eloquence. I too believed only in what I could touch etc. I was very wrong not realizing that affection and intentions are realities, that is to say I was ignorant by not including these demensions. We have the reality that with our Creator we recieve a tremendous amount of attention so detailed (in DNA for instance) we cannot even imagine, that gives us a relationship in the spiritual realm. Responding to this presence of God is not speculative but a positive reality. Belief is concrete as is unbelief.Wayne

My response:

Hi Wayne,

You still have not answered my question from two emails ago, that I restated in my last email. What would you say is the definition of “knowledge,” and how does this differ from your definition of “belief”? Please answer this question.

As for my second question – What is your evidence or sound logical argument in favor of the conclusion that there is a supernatural judgment after death – you seem to be answering a slightly different question, and attempting to give me evidence that a god exists, or that we are created.

Here is my response to your email:

This is a straw-man argument. I asked you for your evidence or a sound logical argument that there is a supernatural judgment after our deaths, not for your reason in believing in a god at all. Even if there is a god, and even if this god did create everything, that does not mean that there is a supernatural judgment after death. What is your evidence and/or sound logical argument supporting the conclusion that there is a supernatural judgment after death? You did not address the question.

We can move on to talk about your evidence for the existence of a creator after we have resolved the discussions already open. We already have two different questions going (“What would you say is the definition of ‘knowledge,’ and how does this differ from your definition of ‘belief’?” and, “What is your evidence or sound logical argument in favor of the conclusion that there is a supernatural judgment after death?”). I decline to start a discussion about a third question (“Were we created by a god?”) before we resolve the previous two.

- Dave

Wayne’s response:

Hi Dave

I have helped you identify the spiritual elements in your heart.From there you can draw near to the spiritual as did Abraham or live only by the flesh as did Belshazzar.

Each one must travel for himself. God draws near to those who draw near to him.

My response:

“God draws near to those who draw near to him.” – How do you know this is true and not just something you believe?

Wayne’s response:

bY EXPIERENCEProve Him for yourself

My response:

What experience? Personal experience? What experience are you talking about?

Personal experience is not proof; it’s not even necessarily good evidence. Personal experience is notorious for being unreliable. That’s why we have science. People misremember, attribute causal relationships to ordinary coincidences, see patterns where none exist, fall victim to all sorts of fallacies, etc.

If you go to a magic show and see a woman sawn in half, then put back together again by the magicians, you can easily say that, by experience, you “know” that it’s possible to saw someone in half and put her back together again with no complications or surgical intervention. But of course, just because you saw it happen, doesn’t mean it really happened that way.

You can’t always trust your senses – in fact, much of the time they’re totally wrong – that’s why we use the scientific method, logic, and external evidence to try to find out if what we experience is really true or not.

There is a whole host of ways that our brains trick us into believing things that aren’t true. Here is an interesting link explaining 26 of the more common/important ways that we unknowingly trick ourselves into believing things through experience, which happen to be false in reality:

http://www.skepdic.com/hiddenpersuaders.html

Tell me more about this experience that you mentioned. I’m willing to bet that this is just a belief that you have, based on your experience, and there are simpler explanations that show it is not actually true in reality.

You still haven’t answered my question about the difference between knowledge and belief. I understand that you believe these things, but it’s another matter altogether to say that they are actually true. Experience alone does not mean they are true.

Wayne’s response:

Dave

your poverty is showing, you seem to be down with the pagan Socretes. No one knows anything but the man who knows he knows nothing. knows more than he who does not know that he knows nothing. He ended up commiting suicide because the ask him to.What do you call scientific proof?

Wayne

My response:

I will answer your question once you answer mine… You’ve avoided it for the last three emails

What do you consider to be the definition of knowledge, and how does this differ from the definition of “belief”?

The preceding took place between April 29th and May 3rd. He still hasn’t responded. I hope the old guy’s okay!

Until next time,

Dave

 

About the Author: Dave Muscato

Dave Muscato's photo

Dave Muscato is Vice President of University of Missouri Skeptics, Atheists, Secular Humanists, & Agnostics (MU SASHA). He has appeared in Rolling Stone, People, Time, The New York Times, SPIN, and Entertainment Weekly, and on MTV News, VH1, NPR, MSNBC, ABC, and Howard Stern. Muscato is a junior at the University of Missouri majoring in economics & anthropology and minoring in philosophy & Latin. Muscato posts updates to the Official SASHA Blog every Monday, Thursday, and Saturday. His website is DaveMuscato.com and he can be reached at mail@DaveMuscato.com.

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