From: email@example.com (Carl Johnson)
Subject: Re: atheists and mythology
Organization: University of California, Berkeley
Charley Wingate apparently forgets what he or I write. So, in another
post of his he probably will end up forgetting, he writes:
>Carl Johnson writes:
>>Okay, a believers of a religion believe that their religion will last a long
>>time, if not forever. Even those of ancient Greece, even those of today.
>You keep making this assertion. I think it is an assumption which you base
>upon your experience with modern religions. To thus claim that ancient
>believers thought the same way is to assume without proof that the form of
>ancient belief was essentially like that of modern religions.
I make the assertion, because to assert otherwise is to say, that they
believed their religion was just a passing phase. I see no evidence of that
they believed that. But you claim you do (below). Care to share it?
Don't you think it odd to believe in a god that won't be here tomorrow?
>But the historical evidence is quite different. Certainly belief in the
>Greco-Roman Gods, at least among the intelligensia, was not a whole lot like
>that of modern christians or muslims. We have writings of the ancients
>which show this clearly.
Are you claiming that they didn't believe in their gods? That they were mere
mental exercises? That they thought of them as mortal beings? What?
[Note: here you claim we have evidence clearly showing how the Greco-Roman
intelligentsia believed in their gods. This becomes important.]
>>Many religions have lasted a long time, really, only to die (and become what
>>is called a myth). So just cause yours has lasted a long time, and you think
>>it will continue to last a long time, doesn't mean it will.
>Since it is still a living religion, however, it rather obviously stands a
>much better chance of doing so than those which are dead!
(Dare I say it?) That's what the mythbelievers thought. "Our Roman
religion has a better chance of living than the Greek religion cause, heh,
it's dead." You don't think so? "Nah, what are you talking about, the Greek
religion will last a long time even though it's dead."
>>And you even said that it didn't matter how long something lasted whether it
>>was true or not.
>Actually, I said exactly the opposite.
Ho ho ho . . . . Let's recall your earlier post.
In <17650@mimsy.UUCP> you write:
#The problem with the argument (congratulations, Carl; you've elevated it) is
#that it relies on the implication that, in this matter, are religions are
#essentially alike. This is simply at variance with historical fact. All
#religions are not alike in this matter; some have not lasted, others have
#shown considerable staying power, and many have been wiped out for reason
#quite irrelevant to the truth of the religion.
#Obviously, if a religion is True, it deserves faith whether or not it is
#>popular or even surviving.
Now, did you, or did you not, say that the lifespan (dead or struggling) of
a religion is irrelevant to whether it was true or not?
>I said that I expected True Religion to be among the survivors.
Which, as you recall, was an assumption of yours after you made the above
>It is *generally* true of ideas that truth is in some sense independent of
Right. *Generally* you can't believe things into being true.
>In another sense, however, one of the reasons the truth is believed in is
>because it is in some sense useful to do so.
Right again, but only in those things that are useful to us in this
existence. Things that may be useful to us later (after we die), will not
have this usefulness factor while we live. Belief in gods fits into this
catagory, unless you somehow imagine that they intervene regularly with
your existence (giving mirrored shields for fighting medusas and such).
But, if your like me and a god has never done anything useful for me,
nor my belief in him, then those beliefs lose any usefulness factor.
>>Okay, I would say that a myth is a belief in something that does not exist,
>>but is or was claimed to be. Of course, then you wouldn't consider your
>>religion a myth, but you would consider other religions as myths. Atheists
>>would consider all religions to be myths. Hence the reason for the original
>Well, this is *a* meaning of "myth", but it is not the meaning that is in
>general usage in discussion of religion. A myth is a particular kind
>religious story which explains some cosmological point and generally has a
>sort of historical content. The early part of Genesis is myth, for
>instance. A point which people often get confused about here is that myths
>have two kinds of truth: a literal truth, and a figurative truth.
Now I see your problem in answering the original question. You have a
different notion of 'myth'. But then it appears that you do consider the
word of the Bible to be describing myths. Does that mean your religion is
no different from the myths of the past? Hence you should have simply
answered that there was no difference, instead of saying "it's an assertion
for which evidence is needed." You make things so much more complicated and
unnecessary than they need to be.
>>You seemed to be using my word 'myth' to mean a religion that doesn't last
>Actually, I haven't used the word "myth"; I've used the words "dead gods"
>and "dead religions".
Oh yes. I've noticed you not using the word itself, but you respond to my
use of the word as if you knew what it meant. Please, if you don't know
what I mean by a word, don't respond as if you do, especially claiming we
need evidence to say such a thing. Ask next time.
And you forget to say what you thought I meant (if my guess was wrong).
And, as I wrote last time:
#At least, that's what you said the difference was between your religion and
#the myths of the past. Maybe you shouldn't respond to things you don't
>>I was trying to get at (with my string of questions) how you would consider
>>Christianity at its onset, when it hadn't been around long, and compare that
>>to the first days of the Greek mythology. Both religions hadn't been around
>>long and their believers felt it would last forever (at least till
>>Armegeddon). So whose belief was more valid, the early Christians' or the
>Well, you can't compare them thus. For one thing, we know a lot about how
>early christians thought, and nothing at all about how Archaic Greeks
What? We have no evidence about how they thought? Come on! You are
already doing it! Above you write:
#But the historical evidence is quite different. Certainly belief in the
#Greco-Roman Gods, at least among the intelligensia, was not a whole lot like
#that of modern christians or muslims. We have writings of the ancients
#which show this clearly.
We *had* "clear" evidence. Now we have "nothing at all". Inconsistent
within one post? Incredible.
My reasoning for claiming to know how the ancient Greeks believed, is,
admittedly, from taking what I know about them and trying to put myself in
their shoes. I try not to mire my thoughts in modern ways of thinking. I
can think of no other way that they believed in their gods, except that a)
they did indeed believe in them and no other gods (or, in your words,
believed theirs was the True Religion) and b) they felt their gods and their
belief to last a long time (which was your other reason for believing your
belief differed from theirs). If you can show me some other way that they
may have thought that would lead to their a) not believing their gods
existed, and b) that the gods they didn't believe in and their beliefs were
not thought to be long lasting. If you can, then you've successfully
trashed my argument that they thought the same things as you. If you can't,
you'll have to find some other way that you believe differently from they.
>For another, as far as I know, Greek religion never asserted a belief in an
>end to the world.
Nor did I say they did. I just wanted to include, that, to some religions,
lasting a long time (forever) means until the world ends. The Norse religion
did believe in an end to the world (Ragnarok). But then, why do you think
it important whether a religion believes in a end of the world at all? Does
that make it more valid?
Also, how can you claim to know about Greek beliefs when you think there is
no evidence to come to any conclusion about their beliefs? Or do you?
>>Or is it that a religion is just as valid as others until it dies? See why I
>>asked all those questions?
>Obfuscation, apparently. What do you mean by "valid"? Validity is not a
>property I apply to religions.
There you go again. You ask what I mean by a word after responding to my
usages of it with no problem (above). I think you go along responding
to my words, using meanings that we both agree on, and then you come to
a difficult passage of mine and decide the way out of it is to then
question what my words mean.
From the CJ dictionary, the usages of the word 'valid' when concerning
'Valid': a value assigned to a thing denoting its relation to the truth.
Generally, things called 'valid' have a positive measure and or thus
said to be true to some extent. 'Invalid' things have negative
measurement and generally have no chance of being true.
'Just as Valid': Just as close to the truth.
'More valid': closer to the truth.
'Validity': concerning some thing's relation to the truth.
Well, I'm not good a defining some things, but I think you get the idea.
My reason for asking all those questions is to get down to what this whole
discussion is about: How your belief in your religion is any different, and
apparently in a positive way or else you'd believe the myth, from the belief
of a mythbelief when his religion was not considered a myth. Your only
response so far is that your religion has lasted longer. I'm arguing that
they would have thought the same of their religion (for my reasons given
above). Can you show me my reasoning is faulty?
>>>As far as for what True Religion would be like, it is reasonable to assume
>>>that a God who revealed himself in the first place (which takes care of
>>>"invention") would take some pains to keep the Truth alive. I admit it is
>>>an assumption; but it is an assumption which the surviving religions
>>>generally agree is true.
>>And, of course, assuming that the True Religion has a god in it at all (which
>>takes care of invention).
>Well, one needn't only look at this assumption; the same sort of assumtions
>have to be made for other religions. Buddhism, for instance, seems to be
>immune to this criticism because it could die out when people lost interest
>in enlightenment, only to be rediscovered later. Atheism is likewise not
>subject to this criticism.
My pointing out of your assumption was because you did mention a God in your
assumption about the True Religion, without saying that you were assuming
that, too. Does this mean that you don't consider Buddhism or atheism as
candidates for the True Religion anymore?
>The point is, It would appear that the possibilities are essentially as
> (1) A God "exists" and has revealed himself, and therefore one of the
> extant theisms is True;
> (2) A God "exists" and has not revealed himself, and therefore no theistic
> religions is true;
> (3) No God "exists" and therefore some atheistic system (which includes
> buddhism) is True;
> (4) There is no such thing as religious truth.
>The only firm conclusion that can be drawn here is that no dead theistic
>religion is True.
Sorry, but your "firm conclusion" doesn't follow. Your (1) uses your
assumption that the True Religion wouldn't die out (unsubstantiated, at
best), you leave out polytheistic religions, and you don't consider the
possibility that a theistic True Religion could not be derived *without*
Revelation (common sense thinking, perhaps).
Also, why the quotes around "exists"?
>As for the question "Why does God (assuming he exists) make belief so
>difficult", well, you'll have to take it up with him. I don't know. The
>best answer I've seen so far is that he wants to make it possible for people
>to NOT believe in him, so that they have to choose to believe or not.
How absolutely "nice" of Him! Your "best" answer loses it in the face
of His supposed mercy. [Note: a philosophical problem]
A digression inside this digression (just to lighten the mood):
My idea is that there may be a diety that certainly does want us to search
for Him, and He only wants the best and brightest minds to be taken to Him.
He therefore makes the search *VERY* difficult. Having the Bible and
Christianity and the rest so well known, would not make finding Him
difficult at all. They are merely distractions He uses to weed out the true
thinkers of humanity. He wants skeptics, who do finally come to the
conclusion that His is the way, even after looking for every possible
doubt. Now, I've personified Him, but this diety need not be. It be just
be some sort of background intelligence, perhaps the merging of all the
minds that have found the Truth. This Thing is not the merciful being
you'd like, but a merciful being wouldn't hide himself so that some may
suffer eternal torture.
>>You seriously think that some believers didn't think, that theirs was the
>>True Religion, that someone hadn't found it (for obviously they have), and
>>that it could fade any moment?
>I think the evidence shows that, by and large, the believers in these dead
>religions didn't confront this issue at all until their religions were
Now you're back to claiming there is evidence! Which way will you go next?
I would LOVE to see evidence supporting your claim. Something that showed
that they didn't believe in their gods, and that they knew it wouldn't last,
until after their religion died, and, as if that weren't bad enough, *then*
believed that their gods did exist and would last a long time.
>The question as you phrase it is a characterically Judaeo-Christian idea,
>in which Faith is the central duty of man.
Ha! I think it's the way YOU look at it. My question just concerned
whether they thought their gods actually existed and that they thought their
belief would last a long time. I'd pay you good money, if you could prove
to me that this wasn't the case. (Of course, it's the proving to *me* that
will be the hard part. I'm typically very skeptical, remember?)
>This is not, as a rule, typical of either dead religions or of other
>religions in general. As I have said three times now, it is highly
>instructive how easily the religions of western Europe fell to christianity;
>there is almost no evidence of a concerted effort on the part of these
>religions to resist christianity as a "superior" truth-- indeed, in the case
>of Iceland, it is recorded that the priests of the old religion themselves
>recommended chucking it.
Gee, I guess all that talk about Holy Crusades and the like was just that.
I'm not denying that *some* went by choice, but to say it was that way in
all, or even a majority of, cases is blatently in error. Remember, the
victors in battle tend to write their own story for the history books.
>>Yep. It didn't invent a god.
Jeese! You are obviously losing track of the argument. Remember what my
argument was? That of gods being postulated and dying out? Well, you asked
me why atheism couldn't be so criticized. Pretty obvious asnswer, eh?
>>"Your certainty has no truth value."
>Neither does that assertion, if you are going to start tossing
>deconstruction around. But it seems that my informed certainty should carry
>more weight than your seemingly ill-informed certainty.
Sure, if yours *was* more informed. Your "informed" certainty has many
contradictions in it. You apparently are just hoping to appear informed.
My "ill-informed" certainty at least considers that there is no, zilch,
zero, nada, keine, evidence for your religion, and that it has many
inconsistencies. (Hey, I said that before! Oh look, it's coming up) If
you'd care to call that "ill-informed", you may, but then to ignore the
facts, I would call, well, "ignoring the facts".
>>Your religion shares similar philosophical problems and lack of evidence.
>Well, I'm not going to waste my time on the second; I think the principle of
>"at most two Gods" is pretty well established both in evidence and in
"pretty well established both in evidence and in theory", eh? Come on you
aren't confirming that statement at all. Evidence *against* a god? Wow!
Tell me all about it and why it doesn't apply to yours. I'm all eyes.
And, I'd agree with "at most two gods", of course, but there is no evidence
to suppose that there is "at least one god".
>You are going to fail to defend the first. I don't even expect you to
>bother to defend the first. A lot of philosophical big guns disagree with
>you, though, for reasons which in my evaluation are quite sound. If you
>care to discuss this further, I suggest reading Heidegger before replying.
As if philosophers have never been wrong, and never the "big guns"! And
especially when it comes to proving religions true. No philosopher has
ever given a sound proof, nor sound reasoning to suppose, that there exists
such spiritual things. Their flaws have been pointed out by philosophers
that came after them, and pretty easily too.
I'll easily defend the first, since I've already hit you with several of
those inconsistencies (philosophical problems). Like, "why does god make it
difficult to believe if he wants us to believe?" and "how can he be called
merciful if he blatantly hides his existence from deserving people and hence
not allowing them into his glory?" You answers have typically been "you'll
have to ask Him". Things like these just plain contradict themselves.
Trying to claim some sort of "mystery" to his actions is a cop out. It also
shows what kind of "understanding" you've come to with your god. You
"confront the truth claims", but you don't want to "confront the
contradictions" of your religion.
>>Surely you can't condemn polytheism for reasons you could condemn your own
>>religion. (And before you ask me, you better tell me what philosophical
>>problems you see polytheisms as having.)
>The main problem with polytheism was pointed out by Socrates. Polytheistic
>Gods are essentially demi-gods; they always exist against some background.
>Well, what is this background? If it is God-like, then it is supreme and
>merits worship, not the "Gods". If it is not God-like, then the highest
>order of reality is atheistic and the "Gods" are really, at most,
Why does there even have to be a background? Couldn't these dieties just be
hanging out in a naturally evolving universe? They could certainly be, and
were, godlike (such as creating/destroying matter). What was the
"background" in the Greek myths? The flaw is in comparing them to something
"God-like", since that implies that God himself is not some sort of
"supernatural spirit", which he may well be. And I don't see why believing
in many supernatural spirits is different from believing in one.
>The surviving religions solve this problem in one of four ways. THe
>surviving Levantine religions all postulate one God of the traditional
>personal variety who is *the same as* this background.
And what is *his* background? I've heard he may not be the only god,
just the only one WE have.
>Hinduism unifies the personal Gods into the background, which is the Atman.
Which seems what you could do with the polytheistic myths, too.
>Buddhism simply declares them irrelevant,
>while atheism denies even the background reality.
No. It denies the God, not the background.
>Shinto seems to hold that these spirits are to be treated with respect and
>worship even though they aren't Gods in the full western sense.
Which could also be the case with the polytheistic myths.
>What you have given is speculation.
And you have given anything more the speculation? Ha!
>Your whole argument rests upon the
>foundation stone that ancient believers believed as we do. You refuse to
>demonstrate that this is true. The historical evidence certainly does NOT
>support your claim.
Back to your "evidence/no evidence" thing again.
>>Tell me, what is your *wildly* different evidence? And you seem to think
>>Christianity is the only cause of the decay of polytheistic religions in
>Prove it. If you are going to assert that atheism helped push them out, you
>are arguing in the face of nearly uniform evidence to the contrary.
Atheism push them out?! Ho! Ho! Ho! . . . I wouldn't even *think* it!
My proof, that Christianity was not the only cause of the decay of all
polytheistic religions in Europe: There were polytheistic religions before
Christianity existed and they too died out before Christianity existed.
Think Greek. The Romans had taken a good portion of Europe over. So other
polytheistic religions also destroyed some of them. Paganistic tribes also
had their share of bloodshed. And some civilizations simply died out. To
claim Christianity as the only source of evil and destruction (as pleasant
as that sounds to hear), it's simply not true. Perhaps it's that
victor's-history-book deal that you're falling for again. Maybe that's
just what you like to believe.
>Indeed, christianity suceeded even in the Mediterranean areas where atheism
>had begun to take hold. The raw fact is that christianity DID wipe out
>polytheism in Europe, all by itself.
You mean there aren't/weren't any atheists in Europe?!?
I see that gleam in your eye when you take great joy in saying Christianity
"wiped out" polytheism. You guys sure are swell, wiping out entire
civilizations with countless bloodshed and all. Heck, I could kiss you.
"To the moon, Alice!"
>>I also claim that people around the world, and even in its past, have claimed
>>that monotheism is not a good desciption of "supernature." So why should you
>>be any more right then they?
>Why should they be any more right than I? Clearly this isn't going to
>*answer* questions; it merely resolves them into dilemmas.
Well, the questions we'd like answered are:
Why isn't your religion any different from the myths of the past,
(Which you have yet to answer successfully.)
Why your reasons against polytheism don't also hold against montheism,
(Which is similar to the first question.)
Why other people's reasons against monotheism don't hold,
(Which you just called a dilemma.)
Why you haven't "confronted the truth claims" of every other religion,
(Which you demand we do.)
Why do YOU obey laws? Fear of God?
(Ooops. Sorry. Old unanswered question.)
>Look, Carl: suppose I say I was in error to suggest that survival was
>irrelevant to truth.
Wait! He *does* remember! Phew! Now maybe we'll get somewhere.
>Would you care to address the points I'm making, rather than carping on
Gee, I thought that *was* a point you were making. I carp on it, because
you keep contradicting yourself. I want you to make a stand and to at least
not rely on any questionable assumptions.
>You are not making much of an effort to defend the fallacious statement
>that the ancients believed as we do, and without that claim, your argument
>is erroneous. Perhaps you would kindly get around to demonstrating it,
>seeing as you complain so about MY supposed inability to supply evidence.
My effort has been filled with evidence support the "fallacious" statement.
You haven't shot it down yet. And that's your job. You stand accused
and there is evidence against you. How do you plead?
We asked you a question that basically demanded evidence from you. Your
response is, apparently, show me evidence why I should show you evidence.
Which I have in the form of *argument* and facts. I've also asked you
questions trying to get at why you insist on believing I've given no
evidence. I'm afraid that we're at that point where you just keep
saying "that's not a argument" and I have to figure out what crazy
requirements you have to call something an argument. Maybe, just maybe,
you should sit back and say, hey, I can see why he thinks that's an
argument, cause there is something to it, even though he's left out
this, and assuming that, and just plain wrong about that, and so on.
Then we'll whittle my "arguments" down to *arguments* that you can
finally comment on sensibly.
- Carl Johnson