Class Warfare Blog

July 15, 2018

Well, Since it is Religion Sunday . . .

Filed under: Religion — Steve Ruis @ 1:40 pm
Tags: ,

… one feels compelled to wax on (wax off?) on religion, if only a tiny bit.

I have been reading a fascinating book, Pagan Christianity?: Exploring the Roots of Our Church Practices. The authors, who are Christians, traced the sources of most of the practices/rituals/structures of today’s Christians and found pagan practices.

A list of the things that have no Christian source, but do have pagan sources includes:

  • the title Pontifex Maximus (used to apply to the Roman Emperor as having supreme command over all of the various religions)
    • church buildings (yes, dedicated church buildings; early Christians didn’t use them)
    • water fountains at the entrance of sacred spaces
    • a bishop’s chair/throne which became a pastor’s chair
    • church officials (clergy, etc.)
    • an elevated platform from which to speak
    • a railing between worshippers and the altar
    • lights (candles) being carried into the church by clergy
    • special clothes for the clergy (mimicking the clothes of Roman officials)
    • beginning a service with processional music (including choirs for music)
    • gestures of respect to the clergy
    • and much, much more (as they say on TV).
    Most of these were “borrowed” from the Romans as they took Christianity on and provided it with state power. It wouldn’t do to thumb your nose at your patron, now would it?

The authors point this out to get Christianity to consider going back more toward its roots, which were much more participatory and less spectatorish, apparently. I find it just interesting, especially in this day of cultural appropriation criticisms flying left and right.

Haven’t gotten all that far into the book but it is interesting, accessible, and well-written. I will report on more should I find things equally interesting.

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July 13, 2018

The War on the Theory of Evolution

In all of science there are just two areas that are in major dispute in society. The dispute over the reality of Climate Change is fueled by people making money in ways that exacerbate the problem and who do not want to change because, well, they are making a great deal of money through those activities. The dispute over the validity of the Theory of Evolution in biology is fueled by theists who claim their religious ox is being gored. This is about the latter more than the former, but also about magical thinking in general.

Interestingly enough, wisdom can be had in the words of someone who suffered no little mental and physical discomfort from the theistic opposition, Galileo Galleli:

I should have added only that, through the Scripture cannot err, nevertheless some of its interpreters and expositors can sometimes err in various ways. One of these would be very serious and very frequent, namely to want to limit oneself always to the literal meaning of the words. . . .

Thus, given that in many places the Scripture is not only capable but necessarily in need of interpretations different from the apparent meaning of the words, it seems to me that in disputes about natural phenomena it should be reserved to the last place.” (Galileo Galleli in a 1613 letter to Benedetto Castelli)

Those who argue against the Theory of Evolution are showing up to a gun fight with a knife and behave accordingly. They whine and criticize and nibble around the edges but eschew engaging fully (they know they cannot win because their rich backers would be backing actual research if they thought there was any chance of their position being supported by that research–the creationists/intelligent design folks no no (zero, zip, zilch) research). The attempts to establish the validity of Jewish scripture via science (by Christians!) are pathetic at best and disingenuous and harmful at least.

You may wonder “What’s the harm?” The harm is that if one engages in magical thinking about nature, when Nature Herself provides a wonderful, neutral referee, then what are the consequences of accepting such magical thinking in society at large. As just one example, our President just claimed that under his stewardship, our Gross Domestic Product* (GDP) has doubled.

Mr. Trump was elected in November of 2016  and began to serve in January of 2017. The GDP of the U.S in 2016 was 18,624.48 billion dollars. The GDP for the year 2017 was 19,390.6 billion dollars, a 4.114% increase over the previous year. The GDP for 2018 hasn’t yet been determined (year ain’t over, yet) but even if extrapolated to today, I can’t see it would reach a 100% over 2016, which is what would be necessary to achieve a “doubling,” maybe 106% of 2016, but not 200%.”

Now, you could argue that Mr. Trump misspoke or was misinformed, but here is the problem. Should not Mr. Trump know that a doubling of GDP in a year or a year and a half is batshit crazy magical thinking? Shouldn’t he know that before making the claim, not as Donald J. Trump, but as the Fucking President of the United States? (FPOTUS?)

Mr. Trump’s supporters may believe his every utterance and that is on them for believing in magical thinking, but we cannot afford to have a President who does.

Plus, while we are blathering on about the myriad piles of verbal bullshit created out of the fevered mind of this president, his minions are doing serious damage to our democracy. They currently are packing the federal courts with people they like, people who believe in magical thinking and by the time you find out you do not like those thoughts, they will be installed on federal judiciary benches with lifetime appointments (to immunize them from political pressure, which has already been applied and vetted).

* Gross domestic product (GDP) is the value of the goods and services produced by the nation’s economy less the value of the goods and services used up in production. GDP is also equal to the sum of personal consumption expenditures, gross private domestic investment, net exports of goods and services, and government consumption expenditures and gross investment.

 

July 4, 2018

Republicans (Gasp!) Tax Churches!

Well, the Tax and Spend Republicans are at it again, this time accompanied by the howling from their evangelical Christian supporters. In their latest omnibus tax bill, you know the one in which they gave temporary small tax breaks to you and me and permanent large tax breaks to the wealthy and corporations, they also included this tidbit: churches, hospitals, orchestras and other historically tax-exempt organizations are to begin paying a 21 percent tax on some types of fringe benefits they provide their employees!

I am sure the Republicans will blame this on the Democrats because those organizations don’t pay income taxes, consequently lawmakers couldn’t take away fringe-benefit deductions, so instead they created a 21 percent tax on the value of some of nonprofit employees’ benefits.

The main benefits affected are transportation-related, like free parking in a lot or a garage and subway and bus passes. It also targets meals provided to workers and, in some circumstances, may affect gym memberships.

Apparently this is just the camel’s nose under the tent. Next up the major fringe benefits of parsonages, vehicles, and other benefits provided to clergy. And then, churches will have to pay property taxes because, well, fires aren’t satanic, so there is no freedom of religion distinction applicable to fees needed to support fire departments as well as police departments (needed to protect Christians from atheists and lesbians trying to take away their religious freedoms).

Ah, sweet progress! Let the sacred cow harvest begin!

July 2, 2018

Can Christians Lie?

Filed under: Reason,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 11:03 am
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Note On rare occasions I get new viewers so I feel compelled to explain why religion pops up so often on a Class Warfare blog. Simply it is the case that religions do not survive, let alone thrive, unless they function to coerce the labor of the masses to serve the benefit of the religious and secular elites. This has been true since the dawn of civilization, some 5500 years, and I am not the first to recognize this. Religion is a weapon used in the Class War by the rich and powerful against the rest of us.

A post on Religion Dispatches asked the above question although it appears to be akin to click bait as the answer is tossed off as “Of course.” but goes on to detail fundamentalist dissembling. The post (Can Christians Lie? How Conservative Evangelical Bible Interpretation Has Shaped ‘Truth’ by Christopher Douglas, Jun 29, 2018) goes on to address several instances where lying might be claimed. (This clarification may end up being the one positive contribution of Donald Trump to American society.)

In one segment of the article the young Earth creationist Henry Morris, was addressed as someone who actually believes what he espouses. The article states:

“Is Morris lying? Not really, since he really believes evolutionary science is wrong. He isn’t really or obviously insincere or duplicitous. Does he use his considerable scientific literacy disingenuously, to muddy the evidence and cast doubt on relatively accepted science? Yes—but he believes, with apparent sincerity, that this science is wrong and that his views are true. It’s not a lie if one has already convinced oneself of the truth of one’s stance.”

It’s not a lie if one has already convinced oneself of the truth of one’s stance. . . .

This claim is based upon the assumption that intention to deceive is necessary for a lie to be told. But I think this is not so straightforward. Mr. Morris co-authored with John C. Whitcomb the book The Genesis Flood (1961), so he is somewhat of an expert on what he claims, but his claims have all been filtered through presuppositions, primarily that the Great Flood happened. The key words here are “convinced oneself.” Mr. Morris wrote a researched book about the Great Flood, primarily I suspect, because the information in it, certainly some of it, hadn’t been disclosed before. If that is so, where did Mr. Morris get the idea that there was such a flood? (Hint: take a guess. Basically if you weren’t convince there were such an event, would the evidence jump out at you and cause you to go looking for more?)

As human beings we are fully capable of convincing ourselves of all kinds of things that are not true. For example, any time I infer someone’s intentions from something they said or did, I automatically assume I am wrong. Why? Because I have been wrong almost every damned time I was able to check on my inference! I therefore often take a step back to ask “What do we really know here? And is almost always a lot less than anyone thinks.

So, if someone makes an extraordinary claim, say that a worldwide flood occurred that caused all of the land to be submerged in water, you have to ask: who told you this? Then you can begin to see if there is anything real there. The first thing to ask is: is this source trustworthy? If the person who told you this is trustworthy then you have to ask whether they could have gotten it wrong from their source or whether the people who told them were lying, etc.

If the sources aren’t available, such as the authors of the Great Flood story, then you have to look at the documents themselves. Are these documents the original documents? Are the authors known (to be able to judge their truthiness)? In the absence of these, we are only left with “Could such a thing happen? With regard to the Great Flood story there are a great many holes in the story, discussions of which you can read in multiple places. Here, the only one I will address is the big problem of all of the water needed. Currently water covers three quarters of the globe to a maximum depth of six miles, although the average depth is much less than that. To cover the entire surface of the Earth to a full height of six miles (Mt. Everest, you know) would require far more water (at least double) than there is in the world’s repositories of water now. Where did this water come from? Where did it drain away to? How long would it take for that amount of water to drain away? I have already addressed that the survivors would have nothing to eat nor would that have timber to built structures for years after such an event (submerging all living things in brackish water for a year kills them dead, dead, dead). So, how does one “convince oneself” that this event truly happened?

It seems that the vast majority of people who believe such things believe them because the written source of the story is certified by a deity. If this is the case, they have identified who told them, but then they have to then ask whether the source is trustworthy (the book, of course, as the deity is not to be questioned), etc.

So, with regard to “It’s not a lie if one has already convinced oneself of the truth of one’s stance.” I might accept this premise but it needs to be expanded, maybe to “It’s not a lie if one has already convinced or deluded oneself of the truth of one’s stance.” To the authors of this post credit, they get there also.

 

June 21, 2018

Parsing Romans 13

Many people have chimed in on U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ claim last week that separating children from their parents was a biblical gesture, citing Romans 13 of the New Testament supporting his administrations policy of separating parents from children when people cross our border without permission. Some critics claim to prove that Sessions’ use of Romans 13 is theologically incorrect. What most people seem to ignore is the question of why Romans 13 exists at all, being an unnecessary theological statement, and a purely political one.

“Romans” was written in the late 50’s CE as best we can figure such things. This was well before Christianity was adopted as “a” state religion of Rome in the early 300’s CE and then as “the” state religion of Rome in the later 300’s CE. After Christianity was adopted by the Roman Empire, the greatest persecutor, by far, of Christians was other Christians. Prior to that point, there were occasional persecutions of Christians by the Romans. These persecutions were exaggerated by the early Christians for effect, but they did occur. (Please keep in mind that the Roman empire was not a glitter and glitz parade that it is often portrayed as in movies, but a rather brutal authoritarian regime, one in which a blow to the face was the expected result of questioning authority.)

So, Christians of the time of the writing of Romans were trying desperately to not be singled out by the Romans for more extensive persecutions, examples of which abounded. So, the attitudes of Christian leaders were basically: keep your head down, obey the rules, pay your taxes, etc. not because the Romans had the right to rule but that they had the might to rule and exercised it regularly.  The only way Christians could be convinced to do this was to establish that they had the right to rule given to them by the Christian’s god, hence Romans 13 (which was a novel invention with no prior support in scripture … and before you start writing comments, consider that the Israelite and Judean rulers were “authorized” on as extensions of their god and only as long as they did God’s will; piss off the priests and you might be an ex-king in just a few days; the Romans were a pagan run civilization). Christians, however, had some real problems trying to fit in under this scheme as their religion forbade them from worshipping the Emperor, pagan cults, etc., all of which made them “trouble makers.”

It is not unfortunate that we are finally beginning to get a real grasp on the well-established conservative Christian view that modern government has outgrown its natural boundaries by usurping both the family’s role as educators and caregivers, and the church’s role as social service agency. This is bullshit, of course, because when you look back at how schools developed, they developed out of groups trying to provide a better education for their children than they could provide themselves. The bucolic view of fathers teaching their sons and mothers their daughters is all fine and good as long as all of these people were in the same place, but when fathers started leaving the home for work, as opposed to farming their own piece of land, this system no longer worked. Dad was “at work,” son was at home (and, of course, the girls didn’t count) so how much teaching could be done? So, groups of people, often springing out of church relationships found “teachers” and solved their problem by division of labor. These schools were “government” as much as anything was governmental when they were created but they weren’t governmental as we now look at things. They were merely collective. (This practice continues today, by the way.)

As warm and fuzzy as things sound, this system founded upon “the family’s role as educators and caregivers, and the church’s role as social service agency” would be about as well received today as a fart in an elevator. Basically, this is the libertarian view that we are all alone in this world, that we cannot depend on anyone else. Under this viewpoint, doctors are busybodies who should mind their own business and public transportation (buses, streetcars, trains, run by the government) is anathema. (Hey, if the Koch brothers are against it, you know it isn’t part of the Libertarian future.) Under this viewpoint collectivism is a dirty word.

But, then Christianity isn’t democratic in any way. It is the most authoritarian of systems, and all of the effing plutocrats want in on the power involved as recipients of the authority as middle men.

These people are dangerous, dangerous to any idea of collective behavior. It is astonishing that they even approve of church bake sales. Basically I think that religion is the horse they rode into town on and they will ride it until it drops, so anything goes when it comes to religion as long as it toes the line with regard to the authority structure in families and society in general (power needle points to men, white men, unquivering).

All hail the Libertarians!

 

 

Will Science Ever Solve the Mysteries of Consciousness, Free Will, and God?

The above title is that of an article in Scientific American (July 2018) by no one less than the inestimable Michael Shermer. The subtitle is “Are consciousness, free will and God insoluble mysteries?”

Even more fascinating is Mr. Schermer’s answer: yes!

Actually, this answer is quite puzzling. In his piece Mr. Shermer quotes British biologist and Nobel laureate Sir Peter Medawar who wrote: “Good scientists study the most important problems they think they can solve. It is, after all, their professional business to solve problems, not merely to grapple with them.” This, I think is correct. The scientific ego is boosted by actual results and so scientists shy away from problems deemed intractable, unsolvable. But, until one tries to solve a problem, how does one know whether it is beyond them? And, even if it is beyond us now, how can we know it will be beyond us forever?

I am of the camp that we will understand all three and, in fact, have good starts on all three questions. The problem is not the issues themselves completely (labeled as “final mysteries” by Shermer), but involves the attitudes of the audiences receiving the conclusions.

For example, if you came up with an ironclad proof that the Christian/Jewish/Muslim god did not exist, how many people would say “Well, dang, and all along I though God was real. Foolish of me, don’t you think?” And how many would say “I don’t not believe such secular nonsense!” (Go ahead, guess; I dare you!)

The audience here has a different standard of proof than scientists have. If you accept something as proven only when it reaches the standard of a mathematical proof, no scientific proofs could be had at all, but if you establish the level of proof to be as good as “the sun will come up tomorrow,” then the Christian, etc. god is proven to not exist already (in short, the claimed supernatural powers are in conflict with one another). This level of proof is good enough for scientists who use no divine mysteries in their works, even though they may still participate in their local church communities (which may have absolutely nothing to do with the existence of any god or gods).

Similarly, the general public will never accept the idea of a deterministic universe as they feel, that is feel in the first person, that they are “free” to make their own decisions. The idea that we are not free to do just that undermines all religions, social justice structures, etc. so do not expect the general public to accept that there is no such thing as free will. (I do not accept the deterministic arguments at this juncture as there are any number of problems with the current deterministic interpretations, including a signal-to-noise problem of immense size.)

It is rare that I find myself in disagreement with Michael Shermer, but one of the rock bottom principles in science is that authority has no place. So, in this case, our opinions differ.

June 19, 2018

Sessions Cites Bible to Claim Every Law Must Be Followed Because Government Is an Extension of God

Filed under: Politics,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 8:04 am
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You mean like when the Southern U.S. states seceded from the Union, Jeff? Or when the U.S. seceded from England? Or when the GOP ignored the appointment of a new Supreme Court Justice under President Obama? Or that the rich avoid taxes through sketchy schemes rather than “rendering unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s?”

And this asshole is the Attorney General of the United States of America?

June 17, 2018

Ignorant or Duplicitous? … You Decide

I ran across the oft repeated quotation from Isaac Newton just now “I have a fundamental belief in the Bible as the Word of God, written by those who were inspired. I study the Bible daily.” This quotation is from the second edition of Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica (Latin for Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy), one of the most important scientific publications in the entire history of western science.

Like Einstein, Isaac Newton is oft quoted as an example of a scientist who “believed.” Exactly what they believed is often overlooked.

Isaac Newton was notoriously thin-skinned and he received a great many objections and criticisms from the publishing of the first edition of the Principia with dismay (like Michael and Beyonce, the book only needs its first name). One of the criticisms was that Newton’s work explained the motions of the planets so well there was no longer a need for God’s guiding hand to keep the planets moving in their perfect orbits. In a direct response to that accusation, Newton inserted a new paragraph into his second edition making it clear that he still believed all his laws had been created by God. In other words, he didn’t think such a statement was necessary in the first edition!

Make no mistake about it, Newton was a creationist. He did believe in “God,” but this was the mid to late 1600’s and the consequences of not believing were quite dire. Plus, what Newton actually did believe would not pass muster with the theists constantly repeating the quotation above.

From Wikipedia, “According to most scholars, Newton was Arian, not holding to Trinitarianism. In Newton’s eyes, worshipping Christ as God was idolatry, to him the fundamental sin. As well as being antitrinitarian, Newton allegedly rejected the orthodox doctrines of the immortal soul, a personal devil and literal demons.

Now, what do you call someone who rejects the trinity, didn’t hold with Jesus being called a god, didn’t believe in immortal souls (and therefore the afterlife, Heaven, Hell, etc.), the devil, and demons? Is there a Christian sect today which can check off all of those boxes? Like Einstein, Newton was at most a theist viewing nature as the only god worth studying.

Also, Newton’s “daily” Bible studies weren’t exactly orthodox. Also from Wikipedia:

“Newton spent a great deal of time trying to discover hidden messages within the Bible. After 1690, Newton wrote a number of religious tracts dealing with the literal interpretation of the Bible. In a manuscript Newton wrote in 1704 he describes his attempts to extract scientific information from the Bible. He estimated that the world would end no earlier than 2060. In predicting this he said ‘This I mention not to assert when the time of the end shall be, but to put a stop to the rash conjectures of fanciful men who are frequently predicting the time of the end, and by doing so bring the sacred prophesies into discredit as often as their predictions fail.’”

So, those who quote the above statement incessantly as an example of a “scientist who believed” thus supporting the idea that faith and reason are compatible, are they ignorant or duplicitous? Personally I think more people grasp upon anything that supports their beliefs out of plain old confirmation bias than there are theists who actually know what is what and who are deliberately obscuring the truth to show The Truth™. This I believe is a consequence of evangelism. Few are equipped to do it correctly.

June 14, 2018

What Harm Does It Do?

Often when the topic of religion comes up in online and other debates a point pushed is “It is harmless. What harm does it do?” I mentioned in a recent post that I have been working my way through Jerry Coyne’s Faith Versus Fact: Why Science and Religion Are Incompatible (Penguin Publishing Group, Kindle Edition). As to what harm religion does, Professor Coyne offered this rather brilliant quotation:

“John Shimkus, a congressman from Illinois, went even further, quoting from the Book of Genesis when testifying in 2009 before the House Subcommittee on Energy and Environment:

Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood, and never again will I destroy all living creatures as I have done. As long as the Earth endures, seed time and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease’ [Genesis 8: 21– 22]. I believe that’s the infallible word of God, and that’s the way it’s going to be toward his creation. . . . The Earth will end only when God declares it’s time to be over. Man will not destroy this Earth. This Earth will not be destroyed by a flood. I appreciate having panelists here who are men of faith, and we can get into the theological discourse of that position. But I do believe God’s word is infallible, unchanging, perfect.

Arrogance on display. I get to punch this punching bag as he is from my home state.

Regarding “The Earth will end only when God declares it’s time to be over.” This is scripture according to this person. Christian scripture says no such thing. And we are not talking about Earth ending, we are talking about leaving enough resources for our children to have lives that are relatively full. If you are religious, do you want your children living in squalor and danger as they await the Second Coming?

Regarding “Man will not destroy this Earth.” Of course not, it is fucking planet. We do not have the means to destroy it. But we can make it almost impossible for it to support a population of people of any size if we keep going in the rapacious manner we have been going. We currently harvest nature’s bounty, for profit, until the harvested resource is all used up, then we go make money some other way. Think about all of the abundant fishing sites that no longer have any fish to catch or lakes that have had all of their water “diverted.” Think about soils so depleted they won’t grow anything any more. There are spots in the Gulf of Mexico that no longer support life (they are called “Dead Zones”) because of all of the agricultural chemical runoff funneled to it by the Mississippi River. None of these actions will “end the Earth” but a few more like them will end life on Earth as we know it.

Regarding “This Earth will not be destroyed by a flood.” Scripture doesn’t say anything about destroying half of Florida or the coastal Northeast which will be underwater in less than 100 years. The Earth will not be destroyed, it says, but that claim doesn’t cover just the coastal plains; they can “die” any time.

So, according to this moron, our climate change playbook is to be a 2-2500 year old book that has not a single correct scientific fact in it. Ah, the power of faith, especially in an ignoramus with just enough brain cells to get elected to state office with the help of his Christian friends.

June 12, 2018

Giving Too Much Away

Filed under: Culture,Philosophy,Reason,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 1:29 pm
Tags: , ,

I have been working my way through Jerry Coyne’s Faith Versus Fact: Why Science and Religion Are Incompatible (Penguin Publishing Group, Kindle Edition). This is quite exhaustive of the topic and very well written but last night I read something that gave me pause. here is the quote:

The second argument for faith is that it gives solace to the marginalized and destitute. And that’s no doubt true. When you see yourself as being without hope, there is consolation in thinking that God and Jesus are looking out for you (even if they’re not helping much), and in thinking that all will be set right in the next world.” (Emphasis added. SR)

I have read many comments like this but this time I realized that this is a concession I am no longer prepared to give. You see, this is just a part of the Big Con, the Big Lie, that is very prominent in Christianity. Your reward comes after you die, so just do your job, don’t complain, and don’t ask for a raise. Religions that don’t help coerce labor from the masses to serve the interests of the religious and secular elites just do not survive. Christianity has survived on this basis.

The consolation of having some false fairy tales to believe in is poor pay for all that was robbed of you throughout your life. I am not just talking about tithing or money given to churches in collection plates at services. I am talking about the billions of dollars not available to be spent on the poor or for education that go to tax breaks for religious orders and enterprises. I am talking about the wages one didn’t get or the abuse one suffered in the expectation of a heavenly reward after you die. If you had not that “consolation” while you were working, might you have gotten pissed off enough to demand higher wages? Might you have expected your governments, the collective “we,” to be more helpful than it has been?

I think we have to stop and think before we make such concessions to religion and faith. Often as not, even the innocuous offerings we might make are unsupportable.

I am not advocating that we disabuse dying elders on their death beds of their religious fantasies. That would be unkind. They have already made the bed they will go to sleep in. I do advocate disabusing young and the middle-aged people of their religious fantasies. Jerry Coyne does a quite good job of that in his book. Here are a couple more quotes to give you a taste of what he is offering so you can decide whether or not you want to read the book:

But consider how many questions religion once told us could never be answered—and were taken as evidence for God—and yet ultimately were solved by science. Evolution, infectious disease, mental illness, lightning, the stable orbits of planets: the list is long. Religious people often call for scientists to be “humble,” ignoring the beam in their own eyes, which see things like morality as forever inexplicable by science. How much more arrogant, and ignorant of history, to argue that our failures of understanding are somehow evidence for a god! And how much more egotistical to believe that that god is the god of your own religion!

In contrast, religion has never been right in its claims about the universe— at least not in a way that all rational people can accept. There is no reliable method to show that the Trinity exists, that God is loving and all-powerful, that we’ll meet our dead relatives in the afterlife, or that Brahma created the universe from a golden egg. Lacking a way to show its tenets are wrong, religion cannot show them to be right, even provisionally.

 

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