Eva Marie's fourth email

From [email protected] Thu Apr 15 00:14:36 1999
Date: Tue, 23 Feb 1999 20:54:48 -0500
From: eva
To: Reverend Jan
Subject: Tale of the Flatlanders

Hi Jan,

Hope your week is going well for you. I, myself, have recovered from the flu and am feeling much better, so I thought I would take some time to complete my response to your last e-mail.

I would argue that this already rendered your judgement -- and I don't mean this in a negative way -- somewhat questionable. "Give me a child until he is seven, and I will have him for the rest of his life" as the (paraphrased) Bishop said... If you are raised to believe something as a child, the brain forms very substantial connections to reinforce that belief (just as for sight, touch, logic, etc.) and as an adult, it will be very difficult, if not impossible, to break those connections -- and I mean that literally and figuratively.

I spoke to someone just last week who was raised in a strict Catholic home, and now is an atheist. I feel that rational, intelligent people at some point in their lives make choices based on what is "right" for them. Unless someone has been literally programmed and/or is of weak mind and character, it is baseless to assume a person accepts a belief merely because it was introduced to them in their formative years.

If you embrace it unreservedly, that means there is no room for argument, yes? This certainly implies that if someone were to present you with a data point from the "other side", you would not be willing to change your beliefs to fit this data point... as a scientist would, since science relies on the existence of evidence to the contrary to shape its hypotheses and theories.

Quite the contrary, Jan. If you could produce scientific evidence that God does not exist, my current opinion would most certainly be swayed.:)

Ah, the familiar story. How many truly happy and contented people find god? It always seems to be the ones who are not finding meaning in their own lives who need to have meaning from a higher power. I myself became religious... not when I was happy, but when I was in the depths of depression. After I got over the depression, the idea of a god was once again as illogical as it had been beforehand, and I believe that is a data point for some chemical "need" for meaning.

Jan, I thought about this comment for quite awhile, and although I know I have already responded to it in part in my last e-mail, I would like to elaborate a bit further. I believe humans are multi- faceted creatures comprised of many different components. A healthy, whole, psyche is comprised of a physical, intellectual, social and spiritual self. If one or part of these elements is compromised, an individual will feel discontented, restless, even ill. As a result of this imbalance, a person will most assuredly feel that there is a lack of meaning in their lives. A common example is the housewife who becomes restless and weary as a result of limited social or intellectual stimulation. On a personal note, several years ago I had what most people would consider, everything working in my favor. I had a good education, lucrative career, great love life and supportive family. At the time, I was working as a commercial model in New York City, which allowed me to live a somewhat glamorous lifestyle that afforded me an opportunity to meet many exciting and interesting people. The problem was there was no spiritual meaning in my life, and this need was not being met for me by all the material and social opportunities that I was being afforded. I began to wonder what type of meaning, it any, could be derived from such superficiality? As I mentioned in my last e-mail, how can any temporal thing or situation satisfy the deep spiritual craving that we have? For me, apart from knowing God, there is nothing that has real meaning. Jan, you mentioned that you "became religious". I am not quite certain what you mean here? Had you asked Jesus into your life? That is what I meant by "experiencing" God. When a person makes this conscious decision, God fills the person with his Spirit. You actually feel an overwhelming spiritual peace, an emotional presence, akin but not exactly like the sensation of love. You can't experiencing this by willing it on yourself, as it is given by God. When you do feel it, you know it, and you know also that this is a tangible event. This is why you cannot convince any Christian, Buddhist, Taoist or whoever that God is non-existence, because they have experienced this spiritual "filling" first hand. God isn't a practice that one takes up one day through rationalization and can discard the next. As with my argument about falling in love, once someone has experienced, you can't deny that it exists. It just does. If you had experienced it, you would not have been able to decide later that God really did not exist.

... and because you couldn't accept it, it mustn't be so? I don't mean to take you lightly here; I know exactly how you feel (believe me), but the argument from non-acceptance is just as faulty as the argument from disbelief. I have a hard time accepting that one day, the universe will die from heat death (entropy reaches a maximum and the universe becomes a uniform sea of heat energy), but that does not invalidate the physics behind the theory.

The difference here is that we are talking about human life. You and I. Loving, caring, thinking, feeling entities. Not pieces of matter, not machines, but creatures who lord (so to speak) over our universe and our existence. Its not the physical dying which is hard to conceive, but the end of the human spirit. We are forms of energy correct? Energy cannot be created nor destroyed, but changes form. Even by the laws of nature, we will continue to exist, in some form or another.

Not so. As conscious beings, we must make meaning for ourselves. Why do the planets follow regular orbits? Not because they feel that a higher power *wants* them to, but because gravity mandates that they must. Why do raindrops form spheres? Not because the sphere is the most perfect aesthetically, but because it minimizes the surface area to volume ratio. Why does every living being seek to reproduce itself? Not because sex is necessarily pleasant (does an apple blossom feel spiritually uplifted when it is pollinated?), but because sex is the most efficient way of combining genes and thus producing maximal variety, which has been selected for by evolution because the more variety you have, the more chance your offspring stand of surviving a crisis. (Though I probably don't have to tell you that...)

Jan, where did gravity come from? Where does matter come from? Nuclear particles? Where is the end of the universe? Who or what created that energy that started all this in motion, if the universe originated from random fluctuations of a primeval radiation field, where did this radiation field come from? Yes, there is an instinct to reproduce, but how did this instinct become implanted in all living things? Why is there a such a variety of nourishment, most of which if pleasant to the taste? Why are flowers not only appealing to our vision, but to our sense of smell as well? Why is the sky such a calming shade of white or blue, and not, for instance, red? Why is the sun just the right temperature to sustain us with just the right amount of light to make our environment pleasant. Why just one moon, which provides just enough light for our use by night? Why is the human body capable of repairing a cut, instead of permitting a dangerous loss of blood? I find it impossible to believe that all these things, plus thousands upon thousands of other examples I could cite are simply the result of a fluke of fate. How can you believe it?

True. Religion and morality are consciousness' way of insuring that consciousness continues, just as the sexual rituals of many animals are ways of insuring that the species continues. Birds probably don't *need* to sing, in the grand scheme of things, but their songs insure that only other birds of their own species respond to the mating call, and probably enhance some communal bond as well.

What about consciousness? Why do we have need to see that it continues? Why should it even matter to us?

No, it is an exercise in continuing the species. Most moral "truths" are merely humanity's way of keeping the species from killing itself off (though there is little danger of that now, except by means of mass destruction). Thou shalt not kill? Sure, because if you do, the gene pool gets reduced. Other morals are more presumptuous, and seek to stop humans from practicing behaviours that might have worked in the forest primeval, but don't sit too well in developed society. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife? Well, although this would help you spread out your genes, it would also mean that (in a tribal sense) you would have to provide for her as well, and possibly face reprisal from thy neighbor. If society suffers (from lack of moral judgement) then the individual suffers, too.

Well, Jan, from what I can observe most people are not operating out of a concern for society. I truly believe that human behavior remains primeval. Humans are basically selfishly motivated, and they will steal, covet the neighbors wife, drink alcohol and use drugs, and basically do whatever they can to appease their id tendencies, as long as they don't "get caught". That's why I wonder what the motivation is for someone who does not believe in God . Why not just eat, drink and be merry if this is all this to our existence? Why hold back ?

Of course I have; and it doesn't bother me at all. As an atheist, I seek meaning where I can find it,

What do you consider meaningful, Jan?

but I never assume that because I exist and seek answers, there must be a magic puppet god in the wings calling the shots.

Actually, God isn't calling the shots. We have free will, so, basically we are.

In fact, I'll give you the meaning of life right now: the purpose of life is... to produce more life!

This is a (questionable) fact of life, but the meaning of? Hmmm...Life is a state of being, it has no will or decision making in and of its self. I would suggest, rather cynically perhaps, with the existence of abortion, ethnic cleansing, starvation in third world nations (as well as our own) secondary to the imbalance of distribution of wealth, drug and alcohol abuse etc. etc. that the meaning of life, if it is to produce more, is operating on the microscopic level.

That's been the history of life on our planet since it all started 3.5-4 billion years ago -- make more life at all costs! The meaning of *human* life varies from culture to culture and individual to individual; for me, I would like to increase the happiness of others, create as little unhappiness as possible, and help others learn about the world. I try to make sure that everything I do is a means to this end... and if it's not mandated by the Invisible Pink Unicorn, does that make it any less meaningful?

Why should anyone's happiness affect you either way? You are merely human tissue, a brain with several thousand chemicals and neurons dictating all your actions and feelings. The same science which can negate the existence of God, also reduces your existence to merely nothing more than matter interacting with its environment. You have no soul, no "heart". You are a product of reproduction, nothing more.

You *tried* to be unbiased, despite your early brainwashing (and indoctrinating a child with beliefs s/he cannot understand or question is just that)...

There is a difference between brainwashing/ indoctrination and soul searching for the truth. Brainwashing connotes a total lack of thinking, free will and decision making. My parents grew up during the depression, and were not educated beyond grade school. I was taught about the existence of God, but little else. That search was my own. I had the choice of accepting or rejecting this belief at any time based on what was true and right for me. Are your parents atheists, Jan?

but you cannot possibly expect me to believe that there is *proof* outside the bible that Jesus Christ is your own personal saviour.

There is none -- that's why it's called faith.

Faith plays a big part in all of our lives. Jan, you have faith that you are going to live to get out of bed tomorrow, but you can't be sure until it happens. You have faith your job will be there next year, but you won't know for sure until next year if this is true. You have faith your husband will love you next week, unless, of course, he meets someone new on his way home from work tomorrow. Faith is based on what is probable, deduced from past experiences. I have had too many prayers answered directly to doubt. What sort of proof would you need, short of God appearing physically to you? Do you monitor your husbands every move for fear he will cheat on you, or have you put faith in him that his behavior is honorable, even when you can't SEE him or know what he is really up to? You see, faith isn't as foreign of a concept as you might think, Jan.

When I was in my religious phase, I felt just the same -- every sunset I saw reaffirmed my faith -- why make it so beautiful unless it was going to mean something? But I was just attempting to superimpose my aesthetic sense on a physical universe in which, outside of animal consciousness, aesthetics are meaningless. Sunsets are pretty because our brains perceive them that way; the scattering of sunlight was not *meant* to provoke this reaction; it's just a consequence of physics, which we interpret that way because we like to.

Odd, though, that sunsets are beautiful, isn't it? Whatever the mechanics are behind it, the end result is still a moving experience.

I have never found evidence to the contrary. Believing in god is not the default position (no one is born believing in god, and "lower" animals show no awareness of a higher power);

Well, I do believe we are born believing in God, because, if you check around, every culture since the beginning of time has worshipped one, and the idea came from somewhere. Also, how do you know what animals are thinking? Do you know something the rest of us don't? :))))

non-belief is. I would have to see considerable evidence that there *is* a god in order to convince me that the default position was incorrect, and I have not yet seen any. Yes, there are things that make me wonder -- things that, as of yet, have no explanation. But the lack of an explanation is not evidence in and of itself.

Exactly. Simply because there is no explanation which meets your satisfaction regarding the existence of God doesn't mean there isn't one.

Ancient peoples had no idea why lightening occurred and why it could cause such damage, so they invented stories to explain it. Now we know why it happens, and we no longer assume that Zeus is throwing thunderbolts at his wayward followers. I could no more invoke Zeus for thunder and lightening than I could invoke JHVH for phenomenon of consciousness, or any of the other mysteries of life.

So where does the atomic matter and energy from lightening come from?

And therefore, your belief has no basis in science. It is merely a personal preference to the cold, hard world of facts in which we live.

Well, I believe it depends on your interpretation of the facts. I can look at the design of the universe and see that the odds of all this precisely coming together is astronomical, and by its shear complex design was initiated by intelligence, whereas you interpret it as random and chance. I find it far harder to conceive that order arose out of chaos.

Did you ever read about the so-called "God Machine"? An experimentor built a device that would stimulate a specific portion of the brain, and when he stimulated one particular portion (unfortunately I don't remember which), people reported seeing visions, having a heightened sense of well-being, and many other phenomena that are normally associated with a spiritual experience. I think it's quite possible that in highly religious people, this center is better-developed or possibly stimulated more often, leading them to have more feelings that they interpret as being of divine origin. Just a data point...

I have worked with terminally ill children, who at the point of death, described spiritual occurrences and visions. Maybe their brain chemicals where being stimulated, although during the process of dying the body is shutting down, not stimulated. One would argue that the "spiritual centers" of a 4-5 year old brain are fairly un-developed. One child described seeing another child waiting for her, and the description was of a dead sibling, of which she had never been told. I have had countless patients tell me of these experiences, and I can assure you, none were hallucinating, I do know the difference. Ask any physician, especially an oncologist, about these occurrences, and see what sort of answer they give you.

I will respect your right to hold those views, anyway, even if I don't respect the views themselves; for example, I have little respect for faith in general,

It must be very difficult to operate in life, if this is true. Leaves little room for anything other than what is cold, hard and visual.

I have; and got nothing. In my religious phase, I talked to god on an almost continuous basis, but never got anything that could even be interpreted as an answer.

What were your questions? I had to laugh here, a bit. God doesn't speak in an audible voice, although historically, he has. God speaks through odd coincidences that can't be logically explained, thoughts, scriptures, and oddly enough, others. After your comment here, I found it a little ironic that I surfed the web, came across your site, wrote to you and you responded. What are the odds we connected? I might argue that God sent me to you to help you with some of those answers...who knows? As a person grows spiritually, it becomes easier and easier to discern what God is saying to you. Can't find answers from God if your not looking, though.

No unusual events, no voices in my head (besides my own), nothing. If there were a personal god, it would surely be aware of my requirements for belief;

I must say, if I were God, (far from it) I would find this a tad arrogant. Frankly, God doesn't need us, quite the contrary. In any relationship, you usually enter it with a giving attitude. If you had met your husband and demanded he meet your requirements, he probably would have tossed you out on your ear. Plus, it would have indicated he was pretty one dimensional, and you would be calling the shots in the relationship. You have to at least have an ounce of faith to start with.

if it truly wanted to save me from everlasting hellfire and damnation, it would (I assume) have made its presence known somehow.

Well, I'm here and letting you know. How many others have crossed your path? How many people does God need to send your way?

But I never did and never have received this in any form; and so I must assume that, even if there were a god, it would not have the slightest interest in my soul.

You and I both know that this is utter nonsense. God created you. He thought you into existence. You have life because of him. God cares about your soul. You are the one who doesn't. (besides, I care)

You want to compare *decades* of isolated, miniaturized experiments with the BILLION years that passed between the formation of the planet and the first *known* life forms? You want to compare the paltry numbers of atoms and the miniscule amount of energy available in these experiments to the quintillions of atoms and joules that existed in the early oceans? You want to compare a human lifetime to mechanisms that may have taken millennia? I'm afraid the few decades that humanity has been at this experiment really prove nothing by their apparent lack of results. Time and probability are powerful allies in evolution...

Ever figure out the probability? You can't. The actual number, if it exists, is mind boggling? Ask your husband. The probability for all creation as it exists is staggering. Sometime I will outline it for you. Its very tedious, as it entails possible variations in such things as galaxy types, white dwarf binaries, parent star distance from center of galaxy, parent star color, surface gravity, orbital eccentricity, axial tilt, rotation period, planetary age, thickness of crust, water vapor in atmosphere, tectonic plate activity, soil mineralization, gravitational interaction with the moon, atmospheric pressure and on an on, all of which had to be at a precise balance to create and sustain life, not to mention earth's placement in the solar system and every other heavenly body in relation to earth. (including all the requirements of the sun as well). I think the idea of fluke, chance whatever is pretty far fetched, when you take a look at all of this.

So because we can't explain it, you insist it must have been divinely ordered? The God of the Gaps returns again. Besides that, many biologists and evolutionary theorists in particular are now turning to the possibility that life began in locales similar to the "black smokers" found near oceanic ridges on the ocean floor. The most ancient forms of life are known to exist there, and it is quite probable that life itself began in such a place. No more happy warm pond... it's the hot vents that now seem the most likely origin of life.

Even if you could define where it came from and how, you still can't explain what set it in motion.

And after a mere 200 years of experimentation, you expect us to do so? Nature has had 4500 million years to get this far...

Nor will science ever. It is quite arrogant of us to think that we possess this ability.

Jumping ahead a bit to another point, let me define evolution. Evolution simply does not just mean change.

No, I'm afraid it does. Evolution means changing from one form to another through time.

Evolution as the explanation for how we got here does imply simple to more and more complex. Otherwise, we would be still amoebas, merely perhaps a different color.:)

This is one definition; it is not necessarily accepted by all scientists. Science is not like, say, Roman Catholicism. When an idea is proposed, scientists demand data, perform experiments, debate the idea for years and years, and while some may accept the idea, others do not. Just because this Huxley you site has defined evolution in this way, does not imply that all scientists agree.

In other words, no one yet as been able to prove evolution from hypothesis to scientific fact. IF fact, wouldn't the scientific community have concurred?

Check the fossil record. Are there any species, at all, (and there should be, considering all the thousands of species there are ) of a species in transition? (There are not, by the way. )

Sure there are. There are a huge number; you just chose to interpret them as though they were not. Besides that, fossilization takes a very specific set of circumstances; it is a rare individual indeed that gets fossilized.

Well, I would think there would be at least one clearly defined fossil of a creature in a transitory phase. One? Can you direct me to it?

Again, you site only one form (single-gene or single base-pair) or mutation. This is not the only kind of mutation that occurs, even though it may be the most frequent *in our experience*. When the environment is undergoing rapid transitions, mutation rates also appear to rise (see the Cambrian explosion), while in periods of relative environmental stability (like now) the rate is much slower.

Haven't seen one animal begin to mutate. Other than viruses, which have become resistant to antibiotics, I haven't seen any significant changes (mutations) caused by nature, resulting in an evolution of one species into another. I could be wrong. Do you know of any?

Anthropic argument: not valid. We're here to see the glory of the universe because in another universe with different laws, something else would have happened. The universe created those laws in the first milliseconds of its existence. Different initial conditions might have produced different laws. We just happened to get this one. There's no need to bring in a god; otherwise... how did god get here?

Hmmm, Good question. Don't know (yet).

And why can't this same miraculous god-making force work just as well for the universe itself?

Could you elaborate?

Jan, We live and experience our world in three dimensions.(Arguably a fourth, if you count time as a dimension). If you consider that there may actually exist additional dimensions of which we do not perceive secondary to our human capabilities, perhaps it would be easier to fathom the existence of God. Perhaps a far fetched hypothesis, perhaps not. For example, in the book "Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions" there existed a universe of only two dimensions. In such a universe, the creatures, "Flatlanders" are confined to a plane of length and width, with no possibility of functioning in the dimension of height. A three dimensional being could approach the plane of the Flatlanders and place his hand just a tenth of a millimeter above the two dimensional bodies of two Flatlanders, who are separated from each other by just one centimeter. Since the three dimensional creature is slightly above the plane of the Flatlanders, there is no possibility that the Flatlanders can see him. And yet, the three dimensional being is a hundred times closer to the Flatlanders than they are to each other. Far fetched analogy? Perhaps with the Flatlanders, so it is with human beings. God is closer to us than we are to each other, but because God's proximity to us takes place in dimensions we cannot tangibly experience, we cannot possibly see him.

Well, so much for this lengthy dissertation. I didn't want to sound like I was preaching, but I guess it sounded that way, just the same. It's what happens when someone is passionate about their beliefs. Hope this e-mail finds you happy and well. I hope to hear from you soon, and perhaps we can discuss something other than religion the next time. I've forwarded my superficial powder puff web site to you, of which I had no hand in.( A friend created it) . I thought you might want to see who's been rambling on. Your e-mail pal, Eva

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