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Letter to an Atheist by Michael Patrick Leahy
Posted: 12 April 2007 04:27 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 16 ]  
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Mr. Leahy:

I admire your tenacity in splitting this particular hair so thoroughly.  However, your argument does not address Mr. Harris’ ultimate thesis: that many (most?) Americans continue to believe in a Judeo-Christian God, and that this abdication of reason is a cause for alarm for thinking people.

Now before you refer me to your blog, website, or some other writings—please recognize that you’ve chosen to debate this topic in this forum.  It is therefore on you to make your arguments here.  Based on your earlier postings, I have little interest in reading your entire website to find answers to my questions, or those asked by others on this board.  I therefore ask that you respond directly to the questions put to you HERE, without referring the reader to some other forum.  You chose to argue here, so please do so here. 

That said, having read your discussion of Mr. Harris’ supposed misstatement of a specific statistic, I find myself less interested in this error (or indeed the question of whether it was an error), and more interested in your broader views regarding religion, especially including Christianity.  So to provide more fodder for discussion, I’m curious to know your specific views on the following:

1.  Do you consider yourself to be a Christian?
2.  If no, please explain your beliefs.
3.  If yes, do you view the Bible as reflecting the true and fully accurate words of God?
4.  If you do not view the Bible as reflecting the fully accurate word of God, can you please summarize for us which parts of the Bible you subscribe to as true, as well as those you view otherwise?
5.  Do you believe the biblical story of creation, as contained in Genesis?
6.  Do you disagree with any elements of the story of creation, and if so, which such elements do you believe to be incorrect?
7.  If you believe some elements of the Bible to be the true word of God (or as the general basis for your religious beliefs), while viewing other elements of the Bible to be incorrect (or incorrectly transcribed)—what method (logical or otherwise) do you use to distinguish those parts of the Bible you view to be true, from those you view to be in error?

I don’t wish to belabor this point, but I’ve noticed that you repeatedly refer back to your website for answers.  As stated above, you’ve chosen to debate in this forum, as a presumably reasonable person (and you’ve made admirable arguments for your one proposition thus far), so I ask that you continue this debate openly, and specifically in this forum, by answering these questions directly HERE. 

Thank you for taking the time to read this, and I look forward to reading your detailed reply.

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Posted: 12 April 2007 05:44 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 17 ]  
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Mr. Kelly,

First, let me thank you for the excellent reply to my post on Sam Harris’ Big Lie. It is exciting for me to see a reply from an atheist (which I presume you are) who is genuinely interested in both my argument and the search for the truth.

Second, you are absolutely correct in pointing out that this is Sam’s forum and I should make a complete argument in each of my replies. In addition, though you can see that I throughout give Sam a richly deserved hard time for his intellectual dishonesty, I do want to thank him for allowing me to make my case here on this forum.

In answer to your specific questions:

1. Do you consider yourself to be a Christian?

I am absolutely an Evangelical Christian, the type who practices Christianity “in its most committed form” as Sam says. I am exactly the person who Sam is unjustly lampooning and mischaracterizing.

2. If no, please explain your beliefs.

See answer to number 1 above

3. If yes, do you view the Bible as reflecting the true and fully accurate words of God?

My views of the Bible are more detailed than a brief response will allow, but let me attempt to summarize my thoughts on the topic. These are my beliefs, upon which I form my world view. I can not prove these to be facts to you, will not attempt to do so, but am satisfied in my own mind that these beliefs are not inconsistent with what my intellect tells me to be true about the world I observe.

I believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God, and that he rose from the dead, and that his words as recorded in the New Testament, especially in Mathew, Mark, and Luke (the so called Synoptic –seen with one eye—Gospels) are God’s will as to how we should conduct our lives here on earth. I believe that when we die, if we have sincerely attempted to follow God’s will that we will join him in heaven. I think there probably is a hell but wouldn’t bet the ranch either way on that topic.

I view the Old Testament and New Testament as written by fallible men who were probably inspired by God, and who were sincerely trying to put down their vision of God’s inspiration in words.

I think to truly discern God’s will, one can read the Bible, reflect on the written words, try to understand the context in which they were written, and form your own interpretation of the message. Some elements – most of Jesus’ words for instance—are very clear. Others are perplexing and don’t seem to fit.

I think Paul was a fabulous missionary, a zealous evangelist for Christianity, but that the theology in his letters represents his own view of the World, and not necessarily God’s I think that Sam Harris has a great deal in common with Paul.

4. If you do not view the Bible as reflecting the fully accurate word of God, can you please summarize for us which parts of the Bible you subscribe to as true, as well as those you view otherwise?

Please see my answer to 3 above.

5. Do you believe the biblical story of creation, as contained in Genesis?

I am a theistic evolutionist, who believes that the current theory of evolution is filled with flaws, and that we are on the threshold of some new testable theory of evolution which will combine some elements of Darwinism with elements of Intelligent Design. I think Darwin’s good friend Asa Gray shows the way in this, and that Stephen Jay Gould’s theories on evolution are far superior to Richard Dawkins’, and that Dawkins’ ultimate downfall is that he relies on the scientifically unproven concept of “abiogenesis” as the point of origin for all life. Pasteur disproved spontaneous generation, and no matter how much Dawkins’ may wish it to be so, there was no spontaneous generation from the primordial soup of chemicals swirling around the earth near its creation.

I accept completely the current scientific knowledge that the earth is 4.5 billion years old

6. Do you disagree with any elements of the story of creation, and if so, which such elements do you believe to be incorrect?

I think the story of creation in the Bible is a story that is not inconsistent with my theistic evolutionary view of the world.

You get into a discussion here of how long a day was, and what does it mean when the Bible says “God created man”

Were there no men, and then poof, there was Adam, fully formed ?

I don’t think so.

Was there some sort of human like creature with a certain DNA mix, and God looked down on one of those creatures, saw the DNA mix and said, ok, time to create man, and poof, there was a mutation in the DNA and a new species was created ?

That sounds more plausible to me.


7. If you believe some elements of the Bible to be the true word of God (or as the general basis for your religious beliefs), while viewing other elements of the Bible to be incorrect (or incorrectly transcribed)—what method (logical or otherwise) do you use to distinguish those parts of the Bible you view to be true, from those you view to be in error?

This is really a wonderful question.

It goes to the heart of the matter, doesn’t it ?

I think I’ve addressed that in my answer to number 3 above, but I will elaborate just a bit here.

I think what you are getting at is Why are you a Christian ?

So I will answer it this way.

I think all people develop an overall world view. The way we reach that world view is based on a combination of personal observations, personal experiiences, study, thought, and even what we might call spiritual experiences. The Saul on the Road to Damascus kind of thing.

I try in every aspect of my life to be rational and intellectually honest.

What are the facts ? What can I prove to be true ?

What is my best guess to be true ?

And my best guess, based upon my life experiences, my thought and study, and most importantly the examples of others who I admire greatly – is that Jesus Christ is the son of God, and that Christian faith is the best way to discern his will.

Note that I say faith here, and not religion.

Faith is about belief.

Religion is about a human institution, which by its nature is fallible.

So, Mr. Kelly you have asked me for my own personal beliefs and I have done my best to describe them here for you. I am Evangelical, and that means that I am interested in helping anyone with a sincere desire to learn about Christian faith to become a Christian.

But my own view on being an evangelical is this. There are a lot of smart people who aren’t Christian. They are not Christian for a reason, and they have thoroughly thought through those reasons for the most part.

So it doesn’t do any good for me to try to force a belief structure that I have spent my entire life developing and refining down your throat. You would, in my opinion, be justified in telling me to get lost.

But if anything that I say about my own personal beliefs rings true with you, I am more than happy to discuss it further in great detail.

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Posted: 12 April 2007 06:00 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 18 ]  
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It seems that your multi-levelled interpretation of certain Gallup polls amounts to your specifically stated attempt to show that not all christians are stupid and anti-intellectual (as you say Sam Harris has portrayed them).  Unfortunately for you, all these variations on the christian belief in creation (whether literal, creationist, designed, young-earth, old-earth, or otherwise god-dun-it) just go to show us atheists how stupid and anti-intellectual christians actually are.  I mean, you can fudge the figures in any myriad of interesting ways, but the final conclusion does not make christian believers into smart, intellectuals anyway, so why the big fuss?

If you, Michael Leahy, believe that old earth creationists are any more intelligent than the young earth believers . . . maybe you should see where your intelligence scale ultimately points?  It points to atheist scientists who accept the theory of evolution (undesigned) as the most intelligent - and that’s on YOUR scale, not mine!

Bob

[ Edited: 12 April 2007 09:28 AM by ]
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Posted: 12 April 2007 06:22 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 19 ]  
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New poll

[quote author=“Newsweek”]Nearly half (48 percent) of the public rejects the scientific theory of evolution; one-third (34 percent) of college graduates say they accept the Biblical account of creation as fact. Seventy-three percent of Evangelical Protestants say they believe that God created humans in their present form within the last 10,000 years

If even just 8% of Swedes would believe in Creationism, that would seriously freak me out.
Incidentally that number is the amount of Swedes that believe in a God and that Jesus was his son…

Furthermore, what the hell is going on in your colleges!? 34%! WOW!

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Posted: 12 April 2007 06:23 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 20 ]  
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Bob,

Thanks for demonstrating so clearly for all members of this forum that anti-intellectualism and a refusal to honestly look at facts is a characteristic that exists within the atheist community as well as any other community.

You say “you can fudge the figures in any myriad of interesting ways ...”, but the truth is, I show the Gallup Poll figures and other scholarly studies exactly as they are.

It’s those facts that are so troubling to your personal world view that require you to simply throw out an unverified insult about the intelligence of Christians.

I must say that in terms of insults, it’s pretty weak, but that, quite frankly, has been the pattern among militant atheists or atheistic evangelists since the time of Thomas Huxley.

You should look to the intelligent replies of other posts, such as those of Spencer Kelly and Mia before you try another feeble attempt at dialogue.

I respect Spencer Kelly and Mia. You, on the other hand, show no intellectual integrity whatsoever.

Want to try again ?

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Posted: 12 April 2007 06:41 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 21 ]  
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Hmm..so Sam Harris has picked up some data from a presumably reputable poll institute that shows that about half the American population are religious wackos of some sort or another.

And, horrendously, he hasn’t bothered to perform a time consuming, meticulous analysis of the various types of religious wackiness this figure comprises.

And this is to be called a big LIE?

That’s just laughable; he has quite possibly been sloppy in his parphrasing of the data content, that can hardly be called a big lie.

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Posted: 12 April 2007 06:52 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 22 ]  
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[quote author=“Michael Patrick Leahy”]1. Do you consider yourself to be a Christian?

I am absolutely an Evangelical Christian, the type who practices Christianity “in its most committed form” as Sam says. I am exactly the person who Sam is unjustly lampooning and mischaracterizing.

2. If no, please explain your beliefs.

See answer to number 1 above

3. If yes, do you view the Bible as reflecting the true and fully accurate words of God?

My views of the Bible are more detailed than a brief response will allow, but let me attempt to summarize my thoughts on the topic. These are my beliefs, upon which I form my world view. I can not prove these to be facts to you, will not attempt to do so, but am satisfied in my own mind that these beliefs are not inconsistent with what my intellect tells me to be true about the world I observe.

Well. Let’s just stop there for a minute. Question 2 asks you to explain your beliefs, not merely to restate them. So much for that.

The answer to question 3 simply makes clear that the whole thing is all about you. You are certainly satisfied in your own mind. Why that should not be sufficient for you, and you seek to make others satisfied in their own minds is entirely beyond me.

150 years ago, your approach would have been called “pettyfogging”.

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Posted: 12 April 2007 07:04 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 23 ]  
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[quote author=“Michael Patrick Leahy”]Dawkins’ ultimate downfall is that he relies on the scientifically unproven concept of “abiogenesis” as the point of origin for all life. Pasteur disproved spontaneous generation, and no matter how much Dawkins’ may wish it to be so, there was no spontaneous generation from the primordial soup of chemicals swirling around the earth near its creation.

It’s not too surprising that you have problems with abiogenesis. Your misunderstandings of the concept are deep, given that you compare the concept of “spontaneous generation” to it. Pasteur explained the appearance of maggots on spoiled food. Abiogenesis does not assert that the first organisms were maggots. You have an axe to grind.

[ Edited: 12 April 2007 07:13 AM by ]
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Posted: 12 April 2007 07:08 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 24 ]  
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Salt Creek,

At least Bob attempted to read and comprehend what I wrote.

Spencer Kelly’s Question 2 asked me to explain my beliefs if my answer to Question 1 was that I was NOT a Christian. Since my answer to Question 1 was that I am a Christian, there was no explanation required. Can’t you comprehend the simple logic of that ?

You state in my answer to Question 3 I state that I am “certainly satisfied in your own mind.” You go on to ask “ Why that should not be sufficient for you, and you seek to make others satisfied in their own minds is beyond my capacity to fathom.”

The limitations of your capacity to fathom, as well as your capacity to read are quite obvious.

Mr. Kelly’s post simply asked me for my beliefs, and if you read the full post you will see that I state I am an Evangelical Christian whose approach to conversion is NOT to foist my views upon others, but to respond to any inquiries of those who are sincerely interested in Christian faith and ask for my thoughts.

I’m not sure whether you or Bob are intellectually more pitiful. It’s a close race. Show me something else. Something good. Something that shows you have read my argument, thought about it, and formulated a reasoned response.

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Posted: 12 April 2007 07:12 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 25 ]  
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I’ve looked a bit into what you call HARRIS’s false statements.

In one case, the abstinence case, Harris propagates, in good faith, a result from HIS source, where it is the source material that is definitely faulty.

I will assume that you are correct in your assertion that gonorrhea detection in France is haphazard and unsystematic, as opposed to the streamlined system used in the US.

While for any rational person, it is perfectly obvious that an author cannot double-check, or triple-check every factoid he is to use in his work, AND THEREFORE TAKES THE RISK OF PROPAGATING SPURIOUS SOURCE MATERIAL, you on the other hand concocts this to be Harris’ personal big lie, and how he conspires to warp the truth.

Who is the actually DISHONEST person here?
That’s you, as it happens, as is clearly shown in this case.

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Posted: 12 April 2007 07:13 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 26 ]  
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[quote author=“Salt Creek”][quote author=“Michael Patrick Leahy”]Dawkins’ ultimate downfall is that he relies on the scientifically unproven concept of “abiogenesis” as the point of origin for all life. Pasteur disproved spontaneous generation, and no matter how much Dawkins’ may wish it to be so, there was no spontaneous generation from the primordial soup of chemicals swirling around the earth near its creation.

It’s not too surprising that you have problems with abiogenesis. Your misunderstandings of the concept are deep, given that you compare the concept of “spontaneous generation” to it. Pasteur demonstrated that maggots cannot be generated from the spoilage of food. Abiogenesis does not assert that the first organisms were maggots. You have an axe to grind.

How’s this for some fun:

The Bible’s ultimate downfall is that it relies on the scientifically unproven concept of creation ex nihilo as the point of origin of all life.  Pasteur disproved creation ex nihilo, and no matter how much Leahy may wish it to be so, there was no creation ex nihilo

Creationists have no mechanism that explains the origin of life.  They thinks it’s all a miracle.  So why do they get so upset at scientific speculation?  At least scientists have theories about mechanisms.

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Posted: 12 April 2007 07:25 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 27 ]  
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[quote author=“Michael Patrick Leahy”]Spencer Kelly’s Question 2 asked me to explain my beliefs if my answer to Question 1 was that I was NOT a Christian. Since my answer to Question 1 was that I am a Christian, there was no explanation required. Can’t you comprehend the simple logic of that ?

Yes, you got me on that one. But we still are left marveling about how much you enjoy pedantry.

Of course, you are not obliged to explain yourself to Spencer. There are others here who are less indulgent.

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Posted: 12 April 2007 07:27 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 28 ]  
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waltercat,

Thank you for bringing the discussion to an area in which we can have a reasoned dialogue.

You are quite right in pointing out the question comes down to “how did all life begin ?”

And I want to clarify something very important here.

I subscribe to the viewpoints of Stephen Jay Gould and Hubert Yockey when it comes to the relationship between religion and science.

Science is about using the scientific method to discover what we can observe to be true about the world we live in.

Religion is about fundamental belief structures.

Too often we find that scientists (such as Richard Dawkins) are actually talking religion, and the theologians (fill in the blank here with any Young Earth Creationist) are talking science. (I am paraphrasing Yockey here).

And here’s a fact to consider:

Science cannot explain how life began.

Here’s another fact to consider:

Christianity can not offer an indisputable scientifically verifiable experiment that demonstrates God created life.

I am not trying to convince you or anyone scientifically that God created life. Nor can Richard Dawkins or any atheist demonstrate that life began through the fantasy of abiogenesis.

What we can both agree on is this:

Life did begin at some point.

When anyone in the atheist community can demonstrate and prove this phenomenon was not divinely inspired I’ll listen intently.

Until then, I’m not holding my breath for you !

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Posted: 12 April 2007 07:30 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 29 ]  
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[quote author=“Michael Patrick Leahy”]When anyone in the atheist community can demonstrate and prove this phenomenon was not divinely inspired I’ll listen intently.

So your entire happy program rests on proving a negative. Go home! Gidattahere!

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Posted: 12 April 2007 07:50 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 30 ]  
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[quote author=“Michael Patrick Leahy”]waltercat,

Thank you for bringing the discussion to an area in which we can have a reasoned dialogue.

Your welcome.

I subscribe to the viewpoints of Stephen Jay Gould and Hubert Yockey when it comes to the relationship between religion and science.

Science is about using the scientific method to discover what we can observe to be true about the world we live in.

Religion is about fundamental belief structures.

Not quite accurate as an account of Gould’s view.  Gould believed that religion and science have fundamentally different aims: They are “non-overlapping magisteria.”  The province of science is the explanation of the natural world.  The province of religion is morality.  For Gould, religion is not about fundamental belief structures; beliefs about the origin of life, for example, are the province of science.  Science, according to Gould, is silent of moral matters while Religion, on the other hand, is silent (or should be) on matters having to do with explaining natural phenomena.  Gould was wrong about this, by the way.

Too often we find that scientists (such as Richard Dawkins) are actually talking religion, and the theologians (fill in the blank here with any Young Earth Creationist) are talking science. (I am paraphrasing Yockey here).

No.  Dawkins is not talking religion.  He is trying to explain how life came into existence.  This is a perfectly valid issue for science to address.

And here’s a fact to consider:

Science cannot explain how life began.

Well, much depends on the force of your ‘cannot.’  If you are only saying that, in it’s current state of development, there are no proven biological theories concerning how life originated, perhaps you are correct.  I don’t presume to know the current state of the science.  But, in any event, this is a very week ‘cannot.’ If you mean that science NEVER WILL be able to explain life’s origin, I must ask on what basis you make such a claim.  I don’t believe that anyone is in a position to declare that an adequate theory will never be discovered.

I am content to live with the mystery and wait for the brilliant biologists among us to figure it out.

Here’s another fact to consider:

Christianity can not offer an indisputable scientifically verifiable experiment that demonstrates God created life.

True dat.

But my point is stronger.  I pointed out that creationists have not even put forth a theory as to how life originated.  All they say is that it is a miracle.  I say; maybe God did it. . . maybe.  But if he did, I want to know HOW he did it.  What were the mechanisms involved?  Creationists rail against the purported failures of evolutionary theory but they never explain how their preferred theory overcomes the (alleged but not actual) problems.

Nor can Richard Dawkins or any atheist demonstrate that life began through the fantasy of abiogenesis.

Again, I don’t understand your basis for this claim.  As Salt Creek pointed out, Pasteur’s results do not dictate that abiogenesis is impossible.  He proved that the maggots were already there in egg form, and that the mold was already there, in spore form, etc.,etc.  This does not demonstrate that life from non-life is totally impossible.

What we can both agree on is this:

Life did begin at some point.

When anyone in the atheist community can demonstrate and prove this phenomenon was not divinely inspired I’ll listen intently.

Until then, I’m not holding my breath for you !

Why not just sit back, relax, and wait for scientists to do their job?  Or take an active interest in the field, it it interests you so much?

One more point, the intellectual integrity of Atheism is such that, even if there is no explanation for the origin of life forthcoming, this will not spell the doom of atheism.  Atheists need no explanation, we are happy to live with the mystery and continue to search for answers.  We don’t pretend to have answers when there are none.

Furthermore, the positive argument for Atheism remains compelling regardless of how this debate turns out.  The Argument From Evil is extraordinarily compelling and meets the highest standards of intellectual integrity.

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What do I care for a hell for oppressors? What good can hell do, since those children have already been tortured? And what becomes of harmony, if there is hell? I want to forgive. I want to embrace. I don’t want more suffering. And if the sufferings of children go to swell the sum of sufferings which was necessary to pay for truth, then I protest that the truth is not worth such a price.
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