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December 29, 2007



hiya john!

i totally don't mind you posting here, and i hope that our little conversation is taken by you and your readers for what it is:

a deep conversation between old old friends (have we really known each other since 1985??), both of whom like to think and talk about deep issues.

i doubt your feelings are hurt, i know mine aren't, and i hope we can arrive at mutual understanding (though the odds of *agreeing* are pretty low :D )

anyway, i seem to have made some over simplifications myself, and while i apologize, i suppose such things are basically necessary in such short posts.

so be it.

in any case, before i take the family out to breakfast, i wanna respond to this:

"If natural selection has been happening for billions of years (as evolution would suggest), then why isn't altruism (a heritable trait to which we should all aspire) on the increase? Perhaps it's because the idea of selfishness is actually the better means to our survival?"

i think you've set up a false dichotomy in your mind.

you seem to be operating under the assumption that people must be either altruistic or selfish, and that these impulses are not just conflicting, but perhaps even mutually exclusive.

i have no such assumption: i believe we can do something altruistic on one level that is selfish on another.

in a society made of sentient beings (like the human society we've built here on earth) it is sometimes necessary for one person to give up something for the good of the whole.

this is altruistic from that person's point of view and "selfish" for the species.

the will to live is strong, and it applies to individuals and to species.

anyway, must run but i hope that clears my thinking up on that point, at least.

have a great saturday!


Liberace, thanks for your response. I had wanted to get back to you on here yesterday, but have been putting together the final arrangements for a trip to England tomorrow.

I did want to comment briefly to your response before I head across the pond. I hear what you're saying about altruism. I would also agree that people can demonstrate both selfish and altruistic behavior in life. (Though on the whole, both of those ideas do tend to exist at opposite ends of the behavioral spectrum.) I would also clarify that altruistic behavior doesn't automatically dictate the sacrificing of one's life for another. In fact, most times it doesn't.

You said, "It is sometimes necessary for one person to give up something for the good of the whole." In theory, you're right.

However, that idea seems to assume that people are actually motivated by "the good of the whole" if/when they engage in altruistic behavior. If it were true in practice that we (either consciously or unconsciously) act for the good of the whole of humanity, and that altruism ensures our survival as a species better than selfishness, then why, for example, don't we do more to help the 2 million+ people in sub-Saharan Africa who die from HIV/AIDS in a given year?

Dare I ask, should we even attempt to help them? For one could make the case that their plight is simply the result of their unfortunate place on the evolutionary scale (particularly if it is the result of personal decisions they made). Naturally, most people (including evolutionary proponents) would recoil at such a callous suggestion, but what answer does evolution bring to such real world dilemmas?

The fact is that the overwhelming majority of ministry toward the poor, dying, and orphaned is not done in the name of atheism (built on an evolutionary foundation). And it is not motivated by an unguided biological response to our environment.

Rather, it is a religious motivation that drives most charity efforts for the least and the lost. For Christians it is love for God, as people like Mother Teresa demonstrated with her willingness to live among the lepers in the ghettos of India.

If I were to see a comparable number of non-religious people demonstrating a long-term commitment to the less fortunate similar to that of religious people here and around the world, I might be more convinced of an evolutionary explanation of the world.

Resident Atheist

John, it seems to me that you think natural selection is some sort of unbreakable law which must drive our every decision. However, the theory makes no claims of infallibility (unlike other worldviews I can think of). Part of its beauty is the fact that the theory works even without the knowledge of the participants (also unlike other worldviews). The intent of the act is irrelevant. I'm somewhat surprised you have difficulty understanding this argument, considering the remarkable contortions Christians must go through using 'free will' to explain why an omnipotent being isn't screwing us over. So, whether an act is altruistic or selfish only matters in so much as the specific act improves the survivability of the group; not the individual.

Natural selection ultimately says that when a being does something that improves its survival, it is MORE LIKELY to exist. (When you think about it, it is a ridiculously simple premise.) If the act propogates the species, there is a BETTER CHANCE it will be continued. That doesn't mean that just because a single human has a dog's sense of smell, that eventually we all will be able to smell as well. That person may die before having kids. That person may go crazy in a Burger King bathroom. That person may be really ugly. All of these would lead to steps backward in the evolutionary chain.

Why don't we do more for the people of Africa? Because we each have identified an equilibrium between selfish and altruistic behavior that we think best suits what we deem important (not necessarily our survival-once again, we don't have to ACT according to natural selection). One last question; if the world was created by god, why aren't we doing more for Africa? Better yet, why doesn't the guy who caused the problem fix it?

Jason Courtney

(Note: I want to apologize ahead of time for any comments that seem to be too forward or offensive. My intention is not to offend anyone but rather to challenge others to think and consider ideas through a lense different than that which they normally bring to the discussion; I suppose, if anything, it is an attempt to challenge everyone to be more open-minded.)

First off, I just want to express how much joy stumbling across this website has brought me. Here in the United States we live in a culture that, in my opinion, places way too much emphasis on things that really don't matter in the grand scheme of things; materialism, if you will. So when I stumble across blogs like this one, it brings contentment to my heart, knowing that there actually ARE people out there thinking for themselves, contemplating and searching for Truth.

So here goes my first attempt ever to participate in an on-line blog...

Regarding the Barna Survey:

Can't you guys both agree that, given the manner in which the results of the survey were reported, it is impossible to know who were agnostic and who were atheist, regarding the 15% that said they believed in the virgin birth?

John: "If even one atheist out of the 15% designated they believed in the virgin birth, something's amiss."

Yes, indeed it would be amiss! However, this is mere speculation and you are basing your conclusions on a hypothetical and not fact.

Regarding the notion that sacrificial love is an "inherently Christian idea":

Yo, Chris! You are absolutely right in your viewpoint of this notion. However, at the same time you are also wrong. (Can that be logically possible?) Let me explain...
Sacrifical love is something that began at the beginning of time, with the creation of the world. It became a reality from the moment God decided to "breath life" into Adam. I believe that God has foreknowledge. Therefore, he knew what we would do with freewill, which in turn meant He would ultimately have to become human to suffer and provide a sacrifice for all to have the opportunity to truly receive redemption and salvation. Due to God's foreknowledge (which is a notion extremely difficult for the human mind to grasp) he knew ahead of time what each and every person would do with their freewill. This is how God knew us before we were even born. He knew would choose Him and who wouldn't; and He had to save His children!
For "all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God."
This brings us to the issue of God's nature; what is the nature of God? Is He Good? Is he Perfect? Is He Love? Is He Holy?
Indeed He is all of these things!!
Therefore, and as much as this reality breaks God's heart, He cannot be associated or dwell in eternity being in the presence of any sinful creature.
So He came down to our level to save us!!!
Basically, the way I see it, the Old Testament is just as part of Christianity as the New Testament; it just plays a different role. It's PROPHETIC. It's a time of preparation in God's will.
So why didn't Jesus come sooner? I'm not God! Don't ask me! It's His movie. I've just been lucky enough to have been given a part in it.

Regarding Altruism and Creation:
(This is a response to John's response to Chris's response to John's first blog.)

This is really a question of a First Cause. And I'm definitely going to agree with my fellow brother in Christ on this one. Where DOES this notion of altruism come from? The answer is from our Creator. Because we were "made in God's image." So we have instilled in us some characteristics of the nature of God, ALTHOUGH WE ARE NOT ON THE SAME LEVEL AS GOD.
Chris, you're obviously an atheist. And that's a bit sad to me. Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to put you down. I wholeheartedly respect your right to believe whatever the heck you want! After all, you aren't a robot. You were created in God's image just like I was. And we both have been given the freedom to choose.
What it comes down to is that I want the best for you, just as I want the best for everybody. But how can your life have any meaning? What do you live for? Whether the Earth has been in existence for millions of years or thousands of years, we only live to be at most 100 years or so. Doesn't that seem a bit unfair? Shouldn't we be able to live longer? Since afterall, as I'm sure you have no choice but to claim, when you die you simply cease to exist. No mas!
I understand that this is your worldview, and I respect your right to cling to it. But all I'm saying is that it's very sad and depressing to me. If God doesn't exist, then what or who gives our lives meaning and purpose? It's just a very negative, pessimistic mindset.
Sorry, this isn't supposed to be an attack on you. I'll admit, perhaps I did just get a little carried away there. But it's because I'm a lover of Truth, and the Truth has to be that if we aren't with God in the end then we're going to be cast out of His presence. After all, it's God! I believe He calls the shots.
Ever heard of a dude named Pascal and his infamous wager? What if you are wrong?
Now let's say you're right about all this worldview, God, eternity, and morality stuff. Well, according to your belief system, you most certainly won't be around to affirm it. Because you, whatever you believe YOU consists of, simply won't exist anymore!
I love you man. I'll be praying for you. May you seek after Jesus, to know him, befriend him and start to have a relationship with him. (A relationship IS logically possible due to the fact that, although being God, he is a human being too.)

But don't look for answers from mortal man! What do we know? Maybe something but not even close to what God does!
The Church has so much wrong with it today. But don't base your eternal destiny solely on how these particular hypocritical, judgemental Christians are messing it up! The reality is that these particular Christians are not loving God with all their heart, mind, body and soul nor coming close to loving their neighbor as themselves!
But rather, seek to base your destiny solely on how one man, who is truly God, came and showed us how to live.

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