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Discussion 2 to A Miscellany 290
Response 2 to: Burning the Bridge to Hell: Introduction

by: Will Petillo

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Dear Emily,

Your introduction does an excellent job exploring the implications of the common beliefs that God exists and is defined by unconditional love.  I would also like to comment on your characterization of non-believers, which seems to be based more on the caricatures of atheists commonly made by religious apologists than on what non-religious people actually believe.  My reaction is similar to that of PsiCop, but the specific points I wish to bring up are somewhat different.

 Some believe that the universe was designed and created by a divine, benevolent intelligence, while others insist that it was just the result of random chance. 

No one insists it was “just random chance.”  In fact, this phrase is used pretty much exclusively by Intelligent Design advocates trying to set up straw men arguments (i.e. “What are the chances that the world turned out just like THIS?  Zero!  Therefore, God exists.”).  The universe contains physical laws, which skews the probability distribution and makes some outcomes far more likely than others.

Neither theory can be proven,

Actually, Intelligent Design is a testable hypothesis.  If it were true, we could expect to find examples of irreducible complexity in biology, astrological phenomenon that could not be explained through model based on physical law, and so on.  It just so happens that as more and more test results come in, Intelligent Design fails every time.  The apparently unending string of empirical success of theories based on physical laws for explaining all aspects of the universe, however, do not conclusively disprove the existence of an intelligent creator for two reasons.  First, although absence of evidence IS (weak) evidence of absence, absence of evidence is not proof of absence.  Second, it is possible that God created the universe through physical laws and let it unfold on its own without any further meddling.

Many who believe in the Intelligent Design of the universe still do not credit any of the world religion's images of God with the creation and evolution of everything.

I am not sure what you are talking about here.  Intelligent Design developed and exists in support of a specifically Christian political agenda.  I imagine, however, you are speaking of Intelligent Design in a more general sense, but this is still not really accurate.  Most people who believe that the universe was created by an intelligent Supreme Being follow one particular religion or another and thus credit its “images of God with the creation and evolution of everything.”

Those who deny the existence of any divine intelligence frequently do so because they see the fallacies in the religious doctrines they have been exposed to. Then instead of going a step further to explore the possibility of a divine mystery too large to be explained by any theology or philosophy engineered by the human mind, they disregard all theism as an invention of the imagination.

Moving from finding fallacies in a specific religious doctrine to disregarding all theism as an invention of the imagination IS going a step further…just not in a direction you happen to agree with.  If you are going to ask religious skeptics to further explore the possibility of a divine mystery, it is only fair that you take a step further to explore the possibility of a non-divine mystery.  That is, to look at the natural forces that shape the universe and honestly consider whether it is truly necessary to layer an inexplicable guiding intelligence on top of all the complexity that is already present.

Some atheists may dismiss the existence of God because of the limitations of the human brain that cannot conceive of an intelligence greater than its own, or the existence of realms that cannot be seen or heard with the human senses.

I have yet to meet a single atheist who does not believe in ultraviolet light, subatomic particles, radio waves, and an increasing number of other phenomenon that cannot be detected by human senses (which include far more than vision and hearing) but are detectable by advanced technology (and in some cases, some animals).  I should also point out that anything that interacts with our universe in any way is at least theoretically detectable—and anything that is detectable is at least theoretically translatable through technology into a form humans can sense (e.g. an object far away is detected by sonar and is translated into a blip on a screen that can be seen).  And if something does not interact with our universe in any way…then why assume that it exists at all?

And then there are the agnostics who say that any god who allows evil to exist must be apathetic.

As a side note, though, if you are making a subtle reference to Apathetic Agnosticism (I know, wishful thinking), there is more to it than the existence of evil in the world.  The basis of believing in God’s apathy is that the universe looks just like it might if there was no God.

It is my hope that readers will be inspired to send their imaginations beyond the walls that religion and science have built around our minds.

Science is the search for truth based on careful observation.  While many ideas that conflict with religion have come out of science (e.g. Darwinian evolutionary theory, plate tectonics, and other explanations for everything that are reductionist and ultimately based on physical law), these are merely the products of long years of careful observation, not fundamental characteristics of science itself.  Thus, while common conceptions of science build walls around some peoples’ minds, this is the fault of educational systems and mass media, not of careful observation.  Perhaps, one day, we will come across evidence that shakes up some or all of the theories that dominate modern science.  And if that happens (I’m not holding my breath), then our scientific understanding will change dramatically.  In other words, if God left empirical evidence of Its existence, religion would be a field of science.

Just imagine that all of creation was conceived in Love, that the universe is a safe and friendly place, and that a world at peace is a probable and attainable goal.

Those who do not believe that creation was conceived with any conscious intention—Love or otherwise—desire a world at peace just as much as anyone else, if not more so.  The difference is merely that the source of the love that will make the world a better place will be ourselves, rather than a Supreme Being working through us.

I understand that you may not agree with everything I or PsyCop have stated in reply to your book introduction and I am not going to ask you to exhaustively research all arguments against the existence of God and fully include them in your book.  Sufficiently overcoming and addressing the assumptions in your work to the point where it may be accessible to a non-religious audience will require some very large and fundamental revisions (more complex than I wish to deal with unless you specifically ask) and for that reason may not be economically feasible to address.  I would, however, strongly urge you to recognize that people who don’t think like you may have far more support for their beliefs than you expect.  If you are having a hard time effectively implementing this suggestion, then I ask you at the very least to not contribute to the popular misconceptions that unfairly brand atheists as bitter and closed-minded.  That is, consider the option of leaving out references to non-believers altogether and shifting the focus more towards positive arguments in support of your message.