My Fourth reply to Eva

From [email protected] Thu Apr 15 00:15:17 1999
Date: Wed, 24 Feb 1999 21:54:22 -0500 (EST)
From: Reverend Jan
To: eva
Subject: Re: your mail

On Thu, 18 Feb 1999, eva wrote:

Semantics, yes. The congregation that I am a member of consists of "real" Jews, that is, those born of Jewish parents, descendents of Joseph, Jacob, Abraham and Isaac. These particular Jews, feel, after close scrutiny of the Torah, that the prophecies regarding the Messiah were in fact, fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ. I think they would take offense to any reference that a "real" Jew is only one who does not believe in Christ. They would probably argue that being Jewish encompasses much more than this.

Personally, I think there are at least two different "classes" of Jews: cultural Jews (of which I am one, since my grandmother was Jewish, and by tradition the culture is passed on through the mother's side), and religious Jews (who can, of course, be further differentiated). However, call your congregation what you will; but anyone who accepts Christ's divinity is, by definition, a Christian.

True, I did not conduct any scientific research in choosing this form of worship:) I did investigate their history and beliefs, which struck me as being rather forthright . Historically, Judaism is the oldest existing monotheistic belief, one from which many subsequent religions have been derived.

... never mind that they themselves derived many of their myths from other religions...

I have read several books on Biblical archaeology, which have confirmed the existence of many names, places and events related in the Torah. I belief there is no "right" or "wrong" religion. For those that believe in God, following a particular religion is merely a form of personal expression. Having said that, believing in God doesn't require membership in any particular group, but, for me, participating in my form of worship has deepened my spiritual commitment.

Erm, if you are a "true" Christian (by implication, one who believes that in order to go to heaven/be saved, one *must* accept Jesus as one's saviour or else be eternally damned) -- and it really sounds like you are one -- then aren't you also bound to accept the bible as absolute truth, including the verse about no one going to the Father but by [Jesus]? By default, this position states that *no* other religion is correct, all the rest are wrong. Call it a clarification or a nit-pick; I'm curious as to your actual stance here.

Yes, this sounds plausible. I was raised by devout Catholic parents, though, (indoctrinated, so to speak) but have severed ties with these beliefs. I also (sheepishly) believed in Santa Claus and the tooth fairy, and have shrugged off these as well.

Well, me too -- no need to be sheepish. It's a common enough lie (beings like Santa and such, I mean).

Yes, but at what point does the scientist conclude that theory is fact? When all the data has been researched and gathered? When all the data appears to point to one conclusion? When the research to the contrary is limited and/or filled with discrepancies? When what is probable outweighs what is possible?

It varies from discipline to discipline, I'm sure. Theory is *never* strictly fact, of course, as it is always open to disproof, whereas fact assumes that something is once and forever true. Good scientists never make that claim.

Hmm. I would say here that you and I are quite alike in a certain respect. You demand proof of a God, I demand scientific proof that there is not, and neither can provide the other with the physical evidence.:))) I'd say we are both operating from faith.

You may think as much, but I would say that English suffers from a lack of words in that regard. Your faith is very different from mine: yours is faith without proof by definition, and is not subject to question; whereas mine is based on the observation of what *exists* as we know it. Religion is the study of what cannot be said to exist -- that which is super-natural, or beyond nature. And incidentally, since you are the one making the claim -- that God exists -- you are the one who is required to furnish proof. The burden of proof is always on the person making the positive claim. An atheist merely states the null position -- that there is no evidence at hand for a supreme being -- while the theist makes a positive claim. It's just logic.

Jan, let me ask you this, how many truly happy and contented people do you know?

Many, actually.

Are you truly happy and contented?

Yes, I am.

What is it do you think people find meaningful....I find this a curious statement. Let me consider, position, education? No, if that were true, everyone would be trying to achieve these, and when they had, would be as content as butterflies flitting about the planet.

Personally, I find meaning in learning, the appreciation of what is beautiful (I'll get to this later, don't answer this one yet :), and the possibilities of the future. Education, incidentally, is never finished -- you can learn as much as you like, but there's always more to quest for.

I don't see a lot of flitting going on, do you? What about relationships...husbands, boyfriends, children, parents...maybe. But husbands, boyfriends and children leave (or die), then what of contentment and happiness? Seems like "happiness and contentment" relies quite heavily on others or exterior circumstances.

Yes, in many cases it does. However, there is a phrase that happiness lies not in having what one wants, but in wanting what one has, and I do my best to live by that.

Rather unsettling, isn't it? How can contentment and happiness be based on something as fragile as exterior circumstances? Ok, one may say, "I have inner peace and happiness" but based on what ? This goes back to square one.." Oh, I have a great job, good friends, terrific husband..." all transient . What happens to a person whose circumstances change drastically for the worse?

Ideally, they take stock, realize that there is still more to be cherished, and go on with their lives. Of course it doesn't always happen that way, but it's something to strive for.

I am curious as to why God was logical to when you were suffering from depression, but after you recovered, became illogical. Perhaps, during your depression, there was no other logical solution than God. Otherwise, if there had, you would have tried it. (just an observation).

Oh, believe me, I did. I had a few one-night-stands, hoping that the endorphins would cheer me up; never tried drugs or alcohol, because the biologist in me simply wouldn't allow it; did drown myself in music and schoolwork, but eventually was deep enough that my friend's faith seemed like the only answer (my friend being a born-again, Fundamentalist type). I wouldn't say (and if I did, I apologize for mis-speaking) that God was *logical* at that point; it was just the option of last resort for me. Once I had gotten over that depression, I also recovered my reason (no offense intended; that was just the way it seemed to me). It helped that I had also started bible study; reading the bible was, for me, the quickest route back to atheism, for reasons I'll go into later.

Jan, I am truly glad you recovered, though. I have worked with the mentally ill, and those suffering from depression and I know quite well how this can be devastating and crippling.

Indeed, I had another bout in the fall of 1997, and went to counseling instead of church :) Cleared it up a lot faster, helped me deal with the underlying issues (which had not been resolved the first time), and no side effect like alienating everyone I know... My family has a genetic tendency towards depression, I now know; my mother has had it, with very bad episodes at times, as have my brother and sister. I hope that my kids manage to avoid it, but at least now I know how I will be able to help them if they don't.

I've often wondered about scientific proof of life after death. The law of energy conservation states that, in a closed system, in any transformation of energy from one form to another, the total amount of energy in the system remains cannot be created nor destroyed. The (live) human brain, which operates on electrical impulses, detectable by EKG's, the absence of which is used to determine brain death...if

It's not quite like that: the amount of mass/energy remains constant, in that mass can be converted into energy and vice-versa. However, heat energy (which is the end form of every series of reactions, including life itself) only serves to raise total entropy. So if entropy is heaven, then there is life after death... I am curious to know where you were going with this, anyway.

<next message>

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'm glad you're feeling better; the flu is a harsh mistress.

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.

Baseless? I don't know about that; a lot of the religious people I know are such only because their parents were, not because they've thought about it for themselves. That may, I suppose, make them weak-minded. Whether they eventually embrace the very same belief in all forms is not really the issue, though; I maintain that if, from a tender young age, you are told that there is a god, it will be extremely difficult to overcome those teachings.

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

You might as well ask me to prove that there are no spiders in my room. It is logically impossible to prove a negative; I could only provide data suggesting that there were spiders (old webs, etc.) or list places that I had not found a spider. Prove to me that the Invisible Pink Unicorn doesn't exist, and I'll get back to you. Besides, as I said before, the burden of proof is on the one making the claim.

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.

I beg to differ. I have no spiritual component (if that is undifferentiable from religious experience) and yet I am contented. (However, if you support a broader definition of spirituality which includes the appreciation of the ephemeral, then colour me spiritual :)

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.

Didn't you say that you had a degree in biology and an "advanced degree" in biophysics? I can't quite understand why a person of such education would become a model...

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.

Material possessions offer no spiritual component except for the reactions they might provoke in the possessor. I get a lot of meaning from playing my violin, listening to my CDs, and reading my books... not to mention learning by using the computer, the television, and my friends and associates. That's been enough for me so far :)

Jan, you mentioned that you "became religious". I am not quite certain what you mean here? Had you asked Jesus into your life?

I had. I meant it will all of my heart and, as I thought then, my soul.

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.

Are you suggesting that my experience was not a genuine one because I did not have this feeling, or that I did not truly *mean* it when I asked Jesus into my life? I have to say I am somewhat offended if this is what you are suggesting, as there was nothing at the time that I wanted more than to have Jesus as my savior and in my life. Really and truly.

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.

I see. Please read the above again.

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.

Yes, as heat energy, and as matter in other forms (in that our molecules mingle with others, in so doing, releasing more energy, and being broken down into different molecules). Not much spiritual about that, I'm afraid. When the brain dies, so far as we know, that's it. End of consciousness.

Jan, where did gravity come from?

It is a property of space-time in this universe. Objects with mass (or objects at relativistic speeds) warp space-time, pulling other objects towards them. I'm sure you've seen the two-dimensional analogy.

Where does matter come from?

Energy, and vice-versa :) It's not just a good idea, it's a law (of thermodynamics).

Nuclear particles?

Formed in the first few minutes after the big bang, after things cooled down (that is to say, after the universe had expanded) enough to allow their formation. I am assuming you mean neutrons and protons, here.

Where is the end of the universe?

There is no "end of the universe". The universe is the fourth-dimensional analog of a sphere. You might as well ask where the end of the planet earth is -- since it is a sphere, it has no beginning or end. If you were to start here in our solar system, and travel for x length of time, you would eventually come back to our solar system, just as you would if you flew around the world.

Who or what created that energy that started all this in motion,

Heisenberg's uncertainty principle states that: change in energy (delta E) times change in time (delta t) is always equal to Planck's constant (h-barr) over two. Always. If you make delta t very small (as it would be at the beginning of time), then delta E becomes almost infinite -- there is TONS of energy. (This is courtesy my husband, who has had a lot of quantum mechanics :)

if the universe originated from random fluctuations of a primeval radiation field, where did this radiation field come from?

See above. It is the same question.

Yes, there is an instinct to reproduce, but how did this instinct become implanted in all living things?

Evolution. Only critters with a drive to reproduce (though I don't think plants, fungi, monerans, and bacteria can really be said to have instincts...) will pass on their genes. With a degree in biology, you never took a course in elementary evolution? They explained the principle theories to us in intro biology.

Why is there a such a variety of nourishment, most of which if pleasant to the taste?

Taste is also a matter of evolution. Things that are poisonous or bad for us tend to have a negative taste; things that are good for us taste good because our bodies are programmed by evolution to seek nutrients. As for variety, that is a result of evolution as well: there are millions of niches in a typical environment, and the more varied forms life can take, the more niches can be exploited (allowing one's offspring to flourish, as above).

Why are flowers not only appealing to our vision, but to our sense of smell as well?

Our eyes (and sense of smell) are pretty much the same as all mammals', and many flowers use mammals to aid in pollination. Flowers that attract pollinators have more offspring than those that do not, and they are the ones whose genes proliferate. Do you find flowers that are pollinated by flies appealing? Probably not, because their scents and colours tend more towards the putrid, because that was what attracted the flies.

Why is the sky such a calming shade of white or blue, and not, for instance, red?

Because oxygen and the other elements that make up our atmosphere scatter blue light and absorb other colours (except at sunset, where the light comes in at a different angle and so scatters differently). As for its calming properties, I imagine it dates back to our species' scavenging days: most predators are active at night rather than during the day, so daylight meant a safe time. That's just my hypothesis, of course. (Out of curiosity, didn't they require any physics for you to get your bachelors in biology?)

Why is the sun just the right temperature to sustain us with just the right amount of light to make our environment pleasant.

We evolved in this temperature. We evolved with this amount of light. Why is this such a mystery to you?

Why just one moon, which provides just enough light for our use by night?

Because the early Homo sapiens who couldn't see by the light of the moon got eaten by cave bears and saber-toothed cats. Why do you think, because God thought we could use a night-light, but only half of the time? It does get dark around the time of the new moon, you know.

Why is the human body capable of repairing a cut, instead of permitting a dangerous loss of blood?

Because animals that bleed to death tend not to reproduce, as trauma is often inflicted in infancy. Blood clotting proteins are among the more highly-conserved (meaning they are very similar from species to species) molecules in animals, suggesting that they evolved long ago and have not been allowed to change (because in this case, change = death = no reproduction = genes not getting passed along).

I find it impossible to believe that all these things,

All right, this is your third warning. Argument from disbelief is not an allowable logical argument. Please refrain from its usage if you wish to continue this conversation.

plus thousands upon thousands of other examples I could cite are simply the result of a fluke of fate. How can you believe it?

Not fluke nor fate: evolution. E V O L U T I O N. Evolve or die. Those are the rules in biology. If you don't survive to reproduce -- whether because of environmental factors (like the sun, moon, weather, etc.), biological factors (blood clotting, food digestion, embryonic development), or random events (mudslides, lightening hitting your tree, mass religious suicide) -- your genes don't get passed on. If you do reproduce, you've helped your species evolve. Period. It's not hard to believe when all the facts are on the table; indeed, it is impossible not to believe.

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

It doesn't. We would like it to because we're fond of it, but the planet and life in general would not suffer (indeed, would probably suffer less) if our consciousness were wiped out.

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".

A lot of people just don't think. I can't and won't excuse that behaviour; I don't understand it myself. However, these behaviours also wouldn't have gotten them very far in the distant past; I think they are a product of society, not evolution.

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 ?

Because, since this is all the existence we get, it's better to savour it. Think of it this way: if someone gave you a million dollars, do you think it would be smarter to spend it all at once, future be damned, or to spend a little bit, invest the rest, and live off the dividends? People who live completely hedonistic lives don't tend to live too long -- eat, drink, and be merry may be fun, but it's hell on the body. I know no atheists who live this way; since we only go around this once, we prefer to have it last as long as possible. Incidentally, I never seriously contemplated suicide during my most recent depression, because no matter how bad I felt, I knew I didn't want to end my existence. However, when I was religious and depressed, it was a very real option to me because I "knew" my existence would continue afterwards. I'd be willing to bet that most of the eat-drink-and-be-merry crowd believes in some form of afterlife.

What do you consider meaningful, Jan?

Existence. Period. Everything about it is important *to me*. I know that, in the grand scheme of it all, none of what we do as a species really matters; the universe would keep on ticking if we weren't here. But I still savour the moments of my existence just because it *is* and it's all I will ever know.

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

You can say that, but assuming your whole biblical system is true, there is no real free will. God, being omniscient and omnipresent and infinite, knows exactly what you're going to do for the rest of your life. Since he already knows, your life has, in effect, already been planned out. He knows before you're even born whether you're going to heaven or hell; he might not interfere, but the result is the same as if he had. Free will is kind of a red herring.

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.

All of the negative forces you mention are a result of societal pressures. Society has the power to overrule instinct. Not to mention many negative societal events (ethnic cleansing, murder, etc.) can be analogized to territorial behaviours, which are certainly an evolutionary trait designed to increase one's own genetic influence. Abortion is an oddball, in that there is no evolutionary benefit to it, unless those who would consider abortion are not, at the time of the decision, fit to be parents and recognize that on some level, sparing their body of the physical toll of pregnancy for an offspring that might not survive due to neglect. That is a huge rationalization, of course, but now you've made me think about it :)

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're making a huge leap there. Just because I don't think consciousness (your "soul") is a supernatural phenomenon does not mean I don't think it exists. I am just as much a feeling being as a theist. Consciousness does not have to be divinely granted in order to have meaning; I hope that's not what you're implying.

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.

Children below the age of five or so are not mentally capable of differentiating between truth and myth. That's a "fact" of psychology. Kids of that age will believe *anything* an authority figure tells them, without question; that's just the way their brains work. Telling a child who cannot yet reason that there is a god, feeding them mythology they cannot possibly understand, and especially making them sit through the indoctrination of church (surrounded by adult authority figures who obviously also believe this to be the Absolute Truth), is essentially brainwashing.

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?

As a child who could not yet reason for herself, you were taught about god. That's a big hurdle to overcome. I'm glad you've been able to question it; but you can *never* be unbiased. As for my parents, yes, they are atheists. It took a lot of soul-searching (if you will) for them to become atheists, as they were both raised in religious households; they decided that their children would be *truly* free to make their own decision on the matter once they were mentally capable. They did not indoctrinate us with *any* belief system, including the lack thereof. We were not raised as atheists; we were simply raised without religious teachings. After we reached the age of reason, we were encouraged to attend church with our friends, to explore different religious traditions, and the like. Having grown up in a rational household, we found modern religions to be remarkably similar to ancient mythologies. There were some neat stories and a few important moral lessons, but no divine revealed truths. My husband and I intend to raise our children the same way. They may end up experimenting with religion, perhaps even adopting one; but as long as they come to their decisions through reason and experience, I will consider my job well-done.

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.

That is *my* kind of "faith". My "faith" is based the assumption that what existed today will exist tomorrow, barring any physical changes. My "faith" is based on direct experience and the knowledge that the physical laws of the universe will continue to hold true. Religious faith is different: by definition, it is belief *without proof*. Your faith makes no assumptions about the physical state of the universe, as it calls upon a supernatural being. Your faith is based on what you would like to believe, not what is necessarily so. Your faith is, in a nutshell, no more than a child's belief that her stuffed animals can talk, or that maybe tomorrow, he will be able to fly. I was going to use the Santa Claus analogy, but had to erase it, because a child receives "proof" of Claus' existence through the presents she receives.

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.

The difference is, my husband is real, can talk to me directly; I can observe his mannerisms if I wish. (If god were to appear physically to me, I could no longer consider it supernatural, as it will have interacted with the physical world in a direct manner, and I would question my own judgement for having seen it.)

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

It is indeed. I have seen sunsets that gave me chills -- and I am awed by the fact that an emotion can produce a physical result. (Same thing with music -- I was listening to Mahler's 4th symphony this afternoon -- we're playing it in the orchestra I belong to -- and got wicked chills from the beauty of many passages, the most extreme being when I felt I had an insight into his composition.)

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? :))))

Religion comes into culture first as a means of explanation (Zeus throwing thunderbolts again), then as a means of power over the population. Without science to guide them, ancient humans had no idea what was happening in the world; even the old testament reflects that -- the story of Lot and his salty wife was written as an explanation for the salt formations around the Dead Sea, and the entire first few chapters of Genesis attempt to answer humanity's fundamental need to know how we got here. It's no different from any other myth: for whatever reason, we need to know things, and if we can't explain it naturally, we will jump to supernatural explanations. Religion also serves a function of reassuring the populous that no matter how bad life may get in the here and now, it will be better after they die. This function is particularly useful when differing cultures go to war, or, as in the time of the alleged existence of Christ, when a population is being oppressed.

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

No, it's because there is no evidence for that existence that I conclude there isn't one. Sorry, nice try :)

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

The sun's radiant energy excites the molecules in the atmosphere, producing motion which, on a large scale, produces weather patterns. These patterns include atmospheric friction, which causes some molecules to gain electrons and others, in different layers of the atmosphere, to lose electrons. Just like when you scuff your feet on the carpet, a charge (difference in electric potential) builds up, and eventually, the charge becomes so great that the buffering effects of the molecules in the air becomes smaller than the energy required to neutralize the charge, and a bolt of lightning results. So, the energy come from the sun. The matter comes from the atmosphere, which was formed when the earth had cooled enough for gasses to condense. The matter in the earth and the whole solar system came from the explosion of a supernova (or supernovae) in the distant past; that matter came from the conversion of energy left over from the big bang. Good enough for you?

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.

Bzzzzzz. There's that argument from disbelief again. Please make this the last one...

Here's one for you: I don't believe you are who you say you are. Prove it to me, via email. (My disbelief is, of course, not enough to invalidate your existence, just as your disbelief in no way changes the fact that we *do* exist, and no divine intervention is required for that to occur.)

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.

Bzzzzz, sorry! In fact, when the brain is deprived of oxygen, it produces neurotransmitters that stimulate portions of the brain that may not have been stimulated before. Among these effects is the "tunnel of light" many use to "prove" the existence of an afterlife. In fact, it is simply a result of oxygen deprivation, and may occur even with a person is nowhere near actual death.

One would argue that the "spiritual centers" of a 4-5 year old brain are fairly un developed .

One might also argue that children of that age have amazingly active imaginations, and will take things they have heard before and may not consciously remember, and turn them into incredible fantasies. I know: I was a 5-year-old once :)

One child described seeing another child waiting for her, and the description was of a dead sibling, of which she had never been told.

You don't think her parents *ever* discussed this sibling when she was in earshot, even if she was asleep? I find that hard to believe. [Ooops! Jan arguing from disbelief!]

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.

There is a neurological difference between a hallucination and the events you describe.

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.

Hardly. It just means that I tend not to accept things as reality unless I can experience them directly through my senses. You make it sound as though you believe I live in a sterile room, never laugh or have fun, and certainly don't enjoy a good debate :) Please look through the rest of my website -- I think you'll be pleasantly surprised. I must reiterate, just because I don't believe that consciousness is divinely created does not mean I cannot appreciate its consequences.

What were your questions? I had to laugh here, a bit. God doesn't speak in an audible voice, although historically, he has.

Why did he stop? A lot more atheists' souls could be saved if he did.

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?

1:1, apparently. If you came to my site through one of the millenialist sites (which have linked to my cloth menstrual pad instructions), I'd say the odds were pretty good someone with your propensity to argue philosophy would happen upon me. Same if you were surfing atheist links. Not an overwhelming coincidence; in fact, since others have written such things to me in response to my writings, I would say it's fairly commonplace. No offense to you, of course.

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.

I have met people from many different faiths -- Jews, Ba'Hais (sp.?), Hare Krishnas, Muslims, Hindus, Mormons, Catholics, Buddhists, Fundamentalists, Baptists, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Wiccans, Satanists, Seventh-Day Adventists, Unitarians, etc. etc. etc. All were utterly convinced that theirs was the One True Path. Would you say that these people were also sent by god to me, even though some of their beliefs were in direct conflict with yours? If god is trying to send me a message, he's doing an awfully muddled job of it.

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.

My husband and I are together precisely because we meet each other's requirements. I wouldn't have started a relationship with him otherwise. Of course there was no formal meeting to discuss exactly what we required of each other; we learned each others' strengths and weaknesses as we communicated. I think your analogy is flawed here. Anyway, your god, if he existed, would have known before I was even conceived that I would not be rationally able to believe in him (and presumably he was the one who gave me reason...) given the circumstances. If I go to hell, it is because of his shortcomings, not mine; and I do not wish to worship a deity who would give me reason and then punish me for using it.

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?

An infinite number, apparently; he never sends the same message twice, and I'm not going to get caught worshipping the wrong god!

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)

He'd give life, a brain that can reason, senses that look upon the world and see no evidence of his existence nor any need for it... and then condemn me to spend ETERNITY in hell for it? Nice guy, that Jehovah. The ultimate in forgiveness and benevolence. And who are you to say I don't care about my "soul"? If I thought I had one (something supernatural, I mean), I would; I just don't see any evidence for one.

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.

That's not a valid argument. I did ask him about the conditions of the universe, and he said that if you were to change one of the parameters, it would go sliding back into a stable equilibrium and be the same as we see it now. The rest of your argument is just a restatement of the anthropic principle, which assumes that the conditions of the universe were made of our benefit. In fact, we evolved the way we are now because of the conditions in the universe. With different conditions, different forms of life would have (and indeed did) evolve -- I highly recommend Steven J. Gould's book "Wonderful Life", which looks at fossils from the Cambrian Explosion (a time when the environment was changing rapidly, prompting a surge in evolutionary diversity). Some of these fossils include organisms that would evolve into vertebrate life, while others never got the chance; had different organisms survived the wave of extinction that followed, vertebrate life would not have evolved; something else would inhabit the planet. It's all about environment. Yes, the chances of any individual event are remote; but *something* has to happen every time the dice are rolled, and that something just happened to result in humanity. Why is this so hard for you to grasp? It's not as *pleasant* as being Specially Created, but a hell of a lot more plausible!

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

Sure I can -- see above.

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.

Hey, it was your argument. You're the one who said that evolution couldn't have occurred because we couldn't create it in a lab.

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.:)

Our evolution has progressed from simple to complex, but it doesn't always work that way. Think of blind, pigmentless fishes in caves. Since there was no selection pressure for them to retain eyes and colours, any mutations that did away with eyes or colours were not "bad". Indeed, since it takes energy for organisms to grow parts, these mutations were actually beneficial -- more energy could be used elsewhere. These mutations -- and the evolution that resulted -- actually made the organism more simple, yet it is still evolution.

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? There is no such thing as "scientific fact", merely theories that are more desirable than others (and by desirable I mean that they have the most supporting evidence behind them). 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?

There was a recently-discovered example of a "transitory" fossil, halfway between a small dinosaur and a bird -- had forelimbs with bird-like structure and indications of feathers, but was to bulky to actually fly -- the wings were being used for something else. In modern terms, you might examine the flying squirrel, and other mammals of its type: they haven't quite got wings yet, using the stretched between their limbs to glide, but given time, will probably evolve into fully-flighted mammals, as bats have done. You seem to be under the impression that transitory features have to be useless -- evolution doesn't work that way. What starts out as being useful for one function -- say, an ancestor of the flying squirrel uses its skin flaps for camouflage or warmth -- gets co-opted for another function with time.

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?

How about bacterial resistance? If you're looking for "caused by nature" you'll have to look pretty far, as we're in a stable geologic period and evolution is slow right now; but there are plenty of examples caused by human breeding. Since a species is often defined as a reproductively isolated group, one might argue that the Newfoundland and Chihuahua breeds of dogs are effectively different species, since it would take an awful lot of intervention for them to produce pups together! It's only taken about 200 years for this wide difference in phenotypes to show up; is it so difficult to imagine that as breeding continues, reproductive isolation will increase, and eventually, breeds will become species? BTW, do you not believe in plate tectonics either, since you can't see it happen? Or cultural changes through time?

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).

Didn't think so. Thanks for being honest.

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

Could you elaborate?

God had to come from somewhere; why not skip that step and say the universe came from the same source? If you say that god was not itself created and is truly infinite, then why not allow the universe the same privilege? Occam's razor would love to chop out the extra postulates...

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. (snip description of Flatland) I would like to request that you not patronize me; as an educated woman, I am familiar with Flatland, and its sequels. 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.

A cute analogy, but lacking in depth (as it were). If I can't see it, if it doesn't interact with the universe, if it's not part of the universe, then it doesn't exist. Period. By definition (if I haven't overused the phrase).

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

Hope I didn't go on too long; some things just sounded like they needed more explanation. I would recommend checking out the rest of my site (at least a bit of a browse on the Essays page) before you decide to write back; a lot of the same material is covered there. Actually, I was wondering if I could include our correspondence in that section; this is the most thought-provoking argument I've had in a while, and it has helped me clarify a few ideas, which I'd like to share. I'd be happy to either post or eliminate your name, which ever would be your preference; otherwise, I'll probably just try to write it up separately. Please let me know either way


Um... interesting. I hope to have some of my wedding pix up soon; I am very mousy-looking compared to you! :) Jan

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