Bill,

These are my comments on your last two letters:

You expressed concern that my statement "There are two qualities that we want in a moral system; it should be as favorable as possible to our own interests, and it should have as much appeal as possible to others" does not seem to reflect the Biblical position.

First, this is not a statement of my moral position. It is a statement of things I think must be true for a moral system to work. Since it is not religion-based (and I didn't say a moral system couldn't be religion based) we cannot assume a God to tell us how to behave or reward and punish us accordingly. Given that, if a moral system doesn't serve my interests, I have no reason for participating in it. "My interests" are not necessarily selfish ones - since I like other people, part of "my interests" is seeing other people happy. It must also appeal to other people in order to work, or they will not participate. From the nature of moral systems, as I see it, they have to have group cooperation to function. Based on these considerations, the moral system that works best is the one where everyone tries to treat everyone else's interests equal to their own - "love your neighbor as yourself" would be one way of putting it.

Second, this particular line of reasoning is purely my own invention, not something that is secular humanist doctrine. While virtually all people who call themselves humanists (and many who do not) support the idea of trying to optimize the overall good of humanity, most accept that idea without asking "why", and I was making an attempt to answer "why" since it was not addressed to my satisfaction in other things I have read.

As to whether that means that the majority should impose its opinion on the minority, well of course, sometimes, for example when that minority is bank robbers or rapists or murderers. I assume you agree with this. I don't think this leads to the holocaust. I think secular humanists are very consistent in condemning racism and bigotry that could lead to a holocaust.

You asked "do you mirror the Biblical position on any theme or concept?". I don't know what you think qualifies as a theme or concept. Obviously we agree with many individual teachings, particularly those that encourage concern for and cooperation with other people. We are opposed to murder, theft, rape, lying and other deception, assault, torture, child abuse, and so on. I doubt many secular humanists consider the Bible as their authority on such issues.

On the Dunphy quote:

I looked in a recent issue of the Humanist and there is the following disclaimer: "Only if specifically noted does material published in the Humanist constitute an official statement of the American Humanist Association." This is pretty much the norm for articles in any publications associated with organizations. Naturally such publishers tend to publish articles they generally agree with, but that is a far cry from saying they agree with everything in it, or that the membership agrees with everything in it. My personal judgement would be that few humanists would be in favor of deliberately proselytizing humanism in the schools, and even fewer would approve of the obnoxious wording that Dunphy chose. You might be interested in the full text of Dunphy's last sentence: "The classroom must and will become an arena of conflict between the old and the new - the rotting corpse of Christianity, together with all of its adjacent evils and miseries, and the new faith of humanism, resplendent with its promise of a world in which the never-realized Christian ideal of "love they neighbor" will finally be achieved."

It also doesn't seem to me that Humanism is taught is the schools. I have never heard of a school where it was taught that belief in God or the supernatural wasn't true, which is the main issue about which Humanism differs from other points of view. I'm sure you have a problem with the teaching of evolution, but that is normally confined to a couple of weeks during the one year that students take biology, and evolution was taught long before Dunphy made his remarks. Are there other specific areas you have in mind?

Identifying truth

You said "the best method to identify truth is to act like a lawyer and analyze all the information with a suspicious eye." I approve, but might suggest substituting a detective for a lawyer, since lawyers are required to support a certain side but detectives are just supposed to get the facts.

Explaining the world

You asked: "Using your information gathering methods, have you been able to boil down what is going on in our world to a simple model? Can you explain the good and evil in the world? Can you explain why we have all the pain and suffering in our world? Why do we have such great polarization? If so, I like your methods."

First, I don't think the world is simple, so the fact that a model is not simple doesn't seem to me to imply that there is anything wrong with it. Einstein said something like "Make everything as simple as possible, but no simpler." I like things to be simple, but am concerned that people think things are simpler than they are. That's why I don't like black and white type viewpoints. They usually involve an oversimplification.

As to the issues of good and evil, misery, and polarization, I see nothing at all mysterious about them. Crudely put, good is what we like and evil is what we don't like. Since there is no controlling force in the universe to make things one way or the other, it is natural to expect some of each. There is happiness and joy in addition to pain and misery, so we would expect some of each there as well. Polarization is a result of human psychology, which is pretty complex, but in my essay on polarization I give some ideas as to how it develops. I see nothing particularly surprising about any of these.

Quotes and dictionaries

You said "When you discount anomalies, dissenting opinions etc. such as the quotes I presented and the change in the definition in science and additional facts that I present to you and only accept the PR of the humanistic writings, you are looking for cover, not uncovering falsehoods."

I gave my reasons for discounting your quotes, which you may assign to my being prejudiced if you wish, but that doesn't make it true. Quite frankly, I doubt further discussion of the quotes will be fruitful. I said little about the dictionary definitions of science because I found it hard to believe that even you took them that seriously, but since apparently you do, I'll address them in more detail.

First, it bothers me that you offer this as an argument without any reference to what dictionaries, how many dictionaries, how the dictionaries were selected, or what the definitions said. I find it likely you accepted at face value the claims of some highly opinionated Theist source that this was true (correct me if I am wrong). No matter. Let us imagine that the definitions have indeed changed.

To assume that a change in the nature of science was observed by dictionary writers (apparently universally) without being noticed by the rest of society (outside of the Theist community) seems highly improbable. Could there be a different explanation? One might be that they thought it was more important to stress the kind of methodology science uses, and to state that they were looking for truth was unnecessary since it was obviously implied. My dictionary (American Heritage Second College Edition, 1985) says: "The observation, identification, description, experimental investigation, and theoretical explanation of natural phenomena." Quite frankly, all of these imply a search for truth, so explicitly saying it would be pointless.

Another reason the word "truth" might not be used is that it is so often abused by those who have a dogmatic agenda. Religious zealots of many stripes, political fanatics, and conspiracy theorists all seem to love to tell us their story is the "Truth" that we should presumably accept on their say-so with the carefully sifted evidence they (not somebody else) provide. I found this problem with my website in that the first email I received (Paul Lotus) seemed to take for granted that since I was using words like "true" and "false" I was promoting some kind of inflexible position. Dictionary writers may avoid using the word "truth" for science because the scientific approach deliberately avoids making inflexible assertions.

It is certainly legitimate for you to argue (and I assume you will) that scientists, particularly in the area of evolution, are wrong, perhaps because of an inappropriate agenda, but it does not strike me as reasonable to say that can be determined by examining dictionary definitions.

Where I get my views

Let's look at your accusation that I "only accept the PR of the humanistic writings." This is false. I often read secular humanist literature, but that is a fairly small percentage of what I read, and I read it critically and in fact often disagree with it. That is one of the nice things about being a secular humanist. We are under absolutely no obligation to agree with humanist positions or the dictates of humanist leaders. Most religions dictate to you what you are supposed to believe, and indicate that you have a moral obligation to believe what they tell you. Humanism works differently. People decide for themselves what they believe, and if they find that is relatively similar to the humanist position, they call themselves humanists. Humanist Manifesto III says it this way: "This document is part of an ongoing effort to manifest in clear and positive terms the conceptual boundaries of humanism, not what we must believe but a consensus of what we do believe."

I didn't adopt my opinions because of humanist PR. I adopted them before I ever heard of "secular humanists" and, if I had heard the word "humanist" I had only a vague idea of what it meant. I have listened to many ideas from many sources and have made up my mind what makes the most sense to me. I am always ready to modify my opinions based on new information or experience. There is no source of information that I accept as infallible.

I was raised as a Presbyterian and believed what they told me: the Bible was the "Word of God", God made the universe, answered prayer, loved everyone, Jesus was the Messiah who died for our sins and I had to accept him as my savior if I wanted to go to heaven. They didn't insist that everything in the Bible was literally true, but, it seemed to me, kind of ducked the question of exactly what was true and what was allegorical. The people there seemed both intelligent and very nice and I had no complaints about any of them. I sang in the choir for several years when I was in high school or home from college.

Gradually between the ages of 18 and 20 I went from being a strong believer to deciding the whole thing was a myth. Why did I change while others didn't? It's hard to be sure, but I think the following were influential:

My father was fond of taking positions that were contrary to those of established authorities, and I think this rubbed off on me, so if it seemed to me that just because someone, or many people, were famous or had prestigious positions, that didn't mean I should assume they might not be wrong. This included scientific, political, and religious authorities. While at an earlier age I assumed that ministers were so well educated that they must be correct, I no longer felt that was necessarily true.

Another factor was an interest in psychology, and among other things, how people acquired and held superstitions (horseshoes were lucky, broken mirrors were unlucky). This made me aware that even very intelligent people could easily hold false opinions.

Finally I was concerned about my own prejudices and the need to look at things from other people's point of view. I saw that there were lots of religions, and the vast majority of people believed in the religion they were brought up in. That made it clear that most people were NOT choosing their religion on the basis of anything at all relevant to truth. Naturally my own religion seemed to have the best evidence supporting it, but thinking about it, it seemed virtually certain that people from other religions thought the same way. The reason my beliefs sounded so good was that I was constantly hearing lots and lots of arguments (containing subtle assumptions) for my side and hardly any for the other sides, while people on the other sides were getting the reverse. Any confidence I might have in MY authorities was undermined by the recognition that the other points of view had well-educated and totally devoted authorities of their own who had contradictory beliefs.

When it came to actual evidence, it turns out everything is ambiguous - both for my religion and everybody else's. God's face doesn't appear in the sky while he tells us things in booming tones. Instead he is invisible and cannot be objectively detected by any means. I can't pray for a bicycle or that a sick relative won't die and have any assurance that it will work - I just the same kind of results I would get if I were a Hindu or a Muslim or if I didn't pray at all. My religion had magical things that supposedly happened a long time ago but never seem to happen now, but then so did the other religions, including the ancient Roman and Greek and Norse religions. Outside of those chance "miracles" that worked pretty much the same as four-leaf clovers and flying saucer sightings, there was no evidence except the assurances of the "authorities" (and the Bible, which I had no reason to believe accurate except that "authorities" told me so. So sometime between the ages of 19 and 21 the fog seemed to clear and I could see what was going on. My religion was as much a myth as all the rest. No secular humanist indoctrinated me; in fact I never heard of secular humanism until about 20 years later.

I would be interested in hearing why it is that you believe the things that you do.

Bible origins

Yes, the theory they taught us about in college was the JEDP one. Since "conservative scholars" may be committed to a preconceived ideology, I'd have to know their reasoning for rejecting it before I assume they are correct. I just bought a book, the 1997 edition of "Who Wrote the Bible" by Richard Elliot Friedman of the University of California, San Diego, and he doesn't say anything about it being discredited even though he talks a great deal about different people's arguments on the subject. You have as much right to doubt Friedman as I do to doubt the conservative scholars, but it should be recognized that "thoroughly discredited" is just one side's opinion.

Part of the commentary from your bible included this:

"In sum, we can be absolutely confident that the events described in Genesis are not merely ancient legends or religions allegories, but the actual eyewitness accounts of the places, events and people of those early days of earth history, written by men who were there, then transmitted down to Moses, who finally compiled and edited them into a permanent record of those ancient times."

I saw nothing in the text that preceded this that was even slightly persuasive that the accounts were by eyewitnesses, or that Moses compiled them. Such conclusions are completely unjustified given the evidence they presented.

For the original issue of whether the author of the Genesis 2 story had just written that animals were created first, we apparently agree that even if Moses was the editor, the two creation stories were not originally written by the same author.

As to whether a flashback explains the making of the animals in the Adam and Eve story, my view is that it is inconceivable that a person who believed that God created animals first would have written the story as it appears in Genesis 2. I would think virtually anyone reading this story independently of chapter 1 would take it for granted that Adam was created first. No doubt those who are committed to biblical infallibility will find an excuse to resolve every problem. If we are trying to honestly determine whether it is infallible, however, we have to ask ourselves how plausible the excuses are. To me, it is far more plausible that a book would contain an error that than a writer would use a flashback in such an incomprehensible way.

The proof of Theism correctness (your second letter)

You have postulated that

1. Humanism contradicts Theism on a large number of points.

2. It would require a remarkable coincidence for this to happen at random.

3. Therefore since it was not random, it must be because one set of beliefs was true and the other false.

4. Humanism could not be the true one because it's own philosophy contradicts this.

This is an interesting and clever argument, and you deserve credit for thinking of it. An argument of this form is valid under certain strict conditions. The following conditions would have to apply:

There would have to be only two possibilities - that the positions were chosen at random or that they were chosen on an all-true or all-false basis (which would seem to require supernatural intervention since humans would not ordinarily be able to guarantee all-true or all-false answers unless the questions were very easy, and nobody is trying to get all-false answers). If there were some other possible explanation for why they would all differ, such as one or two underlying assumptions that were different and affected all the answers, then a consistent difference could be explained without assuming one side was completely accurate. Mathematically speaking, for the probability calculation to apply, the position chosen for each issue would have to be independent of the positions chosen for the other issues.

In addition to the positions not being related to each other, the issues considered would have to be chosen independently of how each side would answer them. Obviously if someone hand-picks issues they know the two sides disagree on, then it is no surprise that they disagree on so many. The fact that you picked consecutive issues from the beginning of the Bible indicates you were aware of the problem hand-picking would involve (you attempted to do it without making your own choice of issues).

The calculation also assumes there are two and only two equally probable positions on each issue. If one side says God's real name is Fred, the chances of the other side disagreeing is far more than 50%.

Here are the problems as I see them:

1. There are other explanations for the difference between the beliefs than that one side is guided by God and the other by the devil. One could be that humanist leaders disliked Theism and deliberately picked positions that were opposite to Theist positions. Thus Theism could be right about some things and wrong about others and the humanists would be the reverse. Similarly Theists could have picked anti-humanist positions. I don't think either of these is true, but they are possibilities that haven't been ruled out.

What is almost certainly true is that there are one or two underlying positions that the sides disagree about which leads to the disagreement about many others. Theists think there is a God and humanists don't. Theists think that old, traditional beliefs were likely to be valid while humanists think recent thinking is likely to be better. Most of the other differences stem from these two. If Theists say God did this on day one, that on day two and something else on day three, and so on, it is hardly a coincidence that humanists disagree with each of these, since they don't think God exists. The one underlying difference accounts for many others.

2. Part of the reason that certain issues were chosen is that they were ones on which the parties disagreed (a hand-picking of issues problem). Picking from lists developed elsewhere helps to reduce this problem, but doesn't eliminate it. The lists were most likely chosen to highlight known areas of disagreement. There might have been some reason for picking Humanist Manifesto I even though II and III are much more current. (Another good list of humanist principles is at http://www.secularhumanism.org/intro/affirmations.html ). The list of "political correctness" issues does not seem to be a standard one, so the items might have been picked with a prior expectation of disagreement. The list you came up with from the Bible is hard to judge since I don't know what is on it.

3. Often the positions don't actually conflict, or if they do, they are not opposite. I think you already suspect this is a problem from when I pointed out that "Love your neighbor as yourself" is entirely consistent with the humanist position. Looking at your statements of humanist positions, I see that many are by no means positions that most self-described humanists endorse.

You could, of course, define your own brand of humanism that is different from that with organized humanists profess, but if you are the one defining it, the fact that it is the opposite of Theism is hardly a surprise, since you have pretty much defined it that way.

If, on the other hand, you think that your characterization of humanism is something that is an established set of positions recognized by humanists themselves (or anyone else outside of the Theist community), you are mistaken. What is particularly faulty is the idea that humanists are Marxists. While it is possible for a Marxist to be a humanist, the vast majority of humanists (including myself) favor capitalism. I assume you justify this on the basis of your quote from the AHA website that lists "Marxist" humanism as a type of humanism. It is important to recognize that even if it is a "type" of humanism, that does not in any respect mean that most humanists are Marxists or that Marxism is a humanist principle, and in fact it is not. Humanism takes no stand on Marxism vs. capitalism, and most are on the capitalist side.

Even worse is associating the "Communist Rules for Revolution" with humanism. Not only don't humanists support these, communists don't support these. This is apparently a fraudulent set of principles made up by anti-communists to discredit communists. See http://www.snopes.com/language/document/commrule.htm . I donít think the Snopes site proves conclusively that it is a fake, but it certainly looks like one to me.

The list of "Political Correctness Positions" appears to be a list constructed by people who disagree with the position, so the fact that they disagree with your positions strikes me as guaranteed. There are other problems with them, though.

The only things I can see where humanists and Theists clearly disagree are homosexuality, feminism, and evolution, and all of these follow naturally from differing about the existence of God. There is no reason to deprive gays or women of equal rights if in fact God does not demand this. Belief in evolution is pretty much necessary for people who don't think there is a God. Feminist (or gay rights) positions that go beyond non-discrimination are not humanist positions.

Opposing capital punishment and relativism are not humanist positions. A majority probably support the former, few support the latter.

Gun control, socialism (except perhaps in a very weak sense), and legal abortion are not humanist positions, nor does the Bible oppose any of them as far as I can tell. Theists may have tacked on opposition to these as part of their philosophy.

Environmentalism is supported by humanism, but that doesn't mean they automatically support every extremist environmental proposal. Are you really totally opposed to environmentalism? I have no reason to believe the Bible is against it.

The thirty consecutive passages from the Bible you imply are contradicted by humanism are hard to evaluate since I don't know what they are. Since you said you started at the beginning, I would guess they are statements from the creation stories in Genesis. If so, I agree that Humanism disputes these, but there is nothing at all improbable about the fact that it disputes all of them, given Humanists don't think God is real.

4. The conclusion that humanism doesn't believe in absolute truth and therefore cannot be correct about a large number of items is not valid. There is nothing in a humanist view of truth that says they couldn't be consistently far more accurate than some opposing position. On the other hand we can rescue your argument this way: if we actually decided that only a supernatural effect must have caused one side to be consistently wrong, humanists would have to be the ones who were wrong since they don't believe in supernatural effects. This is unimportant however, since no supernatural cause is needed to explain the differences between the two positions.

To summarize, there is no amazing coincidence because humanists do not support many of the positions claimed for them, they do support many positions the Bible supports - mainly those involved in love and kindness rather than conflict with other people, and, to the extent that they do differ, these differences stem mainly from their lack of belief in the supernatural and lack of confidence that traditional beliefs are true.

On your "Humanism" table, many of the items listed under Humanism are not things that humanists actually support. Things that humanists generally are neutral about include globalization, NEA, Trilateral Commission, Builderburgers (I'm guessing this is what you meant by Bridgerbuilders), and non-traditional family (which is generally accepted but not promoted). Things that humanists actually oppose are Nazism (which, of course, we despise), Freemasonry (only because, if I understand correctly, they have supernatural beliefs), and oppressive and coercive methods. Illuminati would be opposed, but I doubt many humanists think they even exist. As I said earlier, few would support Communism or Socialism. Humanists would agree with Theists that New Age beliefs are wrong, in case you would be tempted to put them in the Humanist column. I would say almost all humanists support national sovereignty and the US Constitution.

Humanists do not believe in God (or Satan for that matter). This may bother you greatly. Nevertheless, Humanists do believe in loving your neighbor (not hating him or her, as would be the case if they followed the devil). Virtually every position they take reflects this - a desire to improve the quality of life for everyone, including the poor and gays and people with customs and traditions that seem foreign or unusual. Humanists will sometimes get angry at religious people just as religious people get angry at humanists. They are not perfect any more than Theists are. However you find they are every bit as friendly and caring and helpful as religious people. Perhaps they are wrong about things, perhaps you are wrong about things, but their intentions are good, just as, I am sure, yours are.

Some questions about what you wrote

In defining Theism, you said they believe in "literal interpretation of themes and concepts in the Bible." Does that imply there are some things, like "events" or something else that don't necessarily have to be interpreted literally? Also, it seems like "themes and concepts" are not well enough defined that people would agree on what they are. Do you have some way to make clear what would constitute a theme or concept?

You have mentioned oppressive and coercive methods as something humanists promote. Why? What are some examples?

Why do you use Humanist Manifesto I in your chart instead of the more current II or III?

You have several mentions of a strawman argument made by science against religion. What argument are you referring to?

Merits of making revisions

You end with some comments suggesting the fact that the Bible has not been revised imply it is better than Humanist documents and science, which are revised frequently. My viewpoint is the reverse. Frequently revision is a good thing.

Two reasons come to mind as to why the Bible has not been revised. One is that it is considered a sacrilege to claim there is anything wrong with it. Up until recently, people would be tortured and executed if they claimed there was anything wrong with the Bible. The reason it was not revised wasn't because it was perfect - it was because the authorities forbade it. Now people can point out problems without being executed, but they still are strongly condemned by the dedicated Bible advocates.

The second reason it has not been revised is that so much of what it claims cannot be easily verified. If they tell us that Moses parted the Red Sea thousands of years ago and it is false, how do we go about proving that? If they tell us it is immoral to work on the Sabbath, how could anybody disprove that? If they tell us doing certain things will result in going to Heaven, and they are wrong, how would we know?

There are things that can be checked, through looking at contradictions and scientific evidence, and my impression is that the Bible doesn't do well, but I'm sure you disagree, so we'll leave that for future discussion.

Other ancient writings also haven't been revised. Ancient Hindu texts, the Odyssey and the Iliad, and the Koran haven't been revised either. It doesn't mean they're right.

Science is different. Science makes statements that can be checked. Sometimes they are believed and later found to be wrong, so a correction is made. Most often, science produces models which work well in some situations, but as we gather more information or our instruments become more sensitive, we find the models must be modified to fit the wider class of situations. Science is constantly being updated and added to so it provides a more and more accurate view of reality. This is a good thing.

Humanism, since it deals with values, cannot easily be checked, but it does help if it addresses current issues. In the Bible, there is the commandment which says we shouldn't covet our neighbor's ox or ass or manservant or maidservant. This is pretty out of date in a society where coveting is more likely to be of our neighbors Lexus or swimming pool or home entertainment system. Humanists update their declarations to be relevant to people today. This also seems like a good idea.

Part of the reason I have confidence in science is that part of its process is correcting mistakes and improving its accuracy. Religions typically are unwilling to admit they could make a mistake, and so their mistakes are perpetuated for millennia.

I don't think we are going to find any way to instantly declare a wide variety of positions is absolutely true or absolute false. We have to go about it the hard way and examine the positions individually. I really don't want to spend the time to debate in detail all the many ways Theism and humanism disagree, but I do think it would be interesting to address whether we should think the Bible is absolutely true, and whether the theory of evolution is bad science, so I'm looking forward to getting on with those questions.

Bob


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