The Four Horsemen

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The Wontrob
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The Four Horsemen

Post by The Wontrob » Thu Mar 12, 2009 4:08 am

My girlfriend, sympathetic to my atheistic beliefs, ran across this on youtube the other day and immediately sent it to me, knowing how excited I would be to come across it.

It is a two hour discussion by the four heads of the current athiest movement, provided by the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science (RDFRS). The "Four Horsemen" are as follows, for those who are unacquainted with their works (from left to right in the video, and my personal opinions are mingled with personal facts):

Christopher Hitchens, author of God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything is primarily a journalist, and a critic. I personally have never seen anyone more well-versed in literature and philosophy as himself, however this makes him by far the most arrogant and demeaning of the group. This does not stop him from writing and acting for very good causes around the world... so long as they are secular. Having watched two of his full-length debates, and read the aforementioned book, I tend to believe that he is very entertaining to listen to so long as you agree with him.

Daniel Dennett, author of Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon, is a philosopher who specializes in the philosophy of mind, science, and biology (that's both science AND biology). I don't know anything about him myself, having not yet read any of his books.

Richard Dawkins, evolutionary biologist and author of The God Delusion, is perhaps the most well-known name of the group. Being the evolutionary biologist that he is, a good majority of his arguments are biological and he finds science and religion incompatible. Very soft-spoken, he is nonetheless very witty and probably the head of the atheist movement altogether.

I don't understand why this isn't working...
Sam Harrisis the author of The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation. From the looks of his wikipedia article these two books are the only ones he has ever written. Not having read either of them it is hard for me to judge his personality. He seems nice enough.

Anyways, to the actual videos:

Part 1
Part 2
(Hitchens kind of takes over a lot of the first 15 minutes of Part 2, but it does settle back after that).

They are very polite, seeing as they are all on the same side of the general argument. But they do disagree on some small parts, and it is generally informative and educational and I enjoyed it very much and hope everyone can get something out of it.

I post this because the argument over theism is one I invest a lot of time and effort in, as I am very interested and the proposed answer is quite important to me. I am currently atheist, very much so, and I am very willing to answer any questions or debate any points. I am aware that things like this have gotten out of hand here before, and that is not my intention. If you would like to discuss it, but feel this is the wrong place, feel free to PM me. Thanks for your time.

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Post by jOnNiE » Thu Mar 12, 2009 12:30 pm

Thanks for the links. I take a look at them tonight.

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Post by Tstering » Thu Mar 12, 2009 2:59 pm

I've listened to both today while working (working from home today) and found them really interesting. I agree Christopher Hitchens comes across as amazingly arrogant, but you have to admit he knows his stuff. Infact they all really know their stuff.

They do touch on the point though it is an argument you can never win as religion is based on faith and not fact, and that is something you can never win against.

Religion is often presented as being dangerous and evil. That isn't really true though. Religion has been used as an excuse for centuries for individuals and large groups to do awful things, but religion in itself does no harm. Even if all religions are based on complete lies they have been very positive for guiding people down the right path and give a lot of people hope.

The debate of theism v atheism is one that will go on for centuries and will never come to an agreed conclusion, but is a debate I've always enjoyed.

Now, do you think I'm a religious person or not from the above ;)

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Post by KingPatrick » Thu Mar 12, 2009 3:12 pm

Ah...there are so many "BLUE PILLS" available these days, thanks to the Web!
:wink:

∞ KingPatrick discovers yet more depth of the rabbit hole, having taken the RED pill... ∞

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Post by blackj3sus » Thu Mar 12, 2009 5:15 pm

'how is jesus christ gonna save me? he couldn't even save his own ass!"
-richard pryor

(aren't u guys gonna chastise him for using youtube links?)
Last edited by blackj3sus on Thu Mar 12, 2009 5:30 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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Post by Black Pope » Thu Mar 12, 2009 5:28 pm

blackj3sus wrote:'how is jesus christ gonna save? he couldn't even save his own ass!"

-richard pryor
I wonder if Pryor believes in aliens from space building pyramids in Egypt?

Good stuff, Wontrob, thanks for the links. While we obviously disagree on this issue, I appreciate your approach.

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Post by blackj3sus » Thu Mar 12, 2009 5:30 pm

wow thats pretty far fetched pope.
if aliens had built the pyramids they would be in far better condition and i dare say not made of rocks.

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Post by Blind Willie » Thu Mar 12, 2009 6:33 pm

You know, as a committed atheist, even I'd have trouble making it through two hours of watching other atheists talk. How long does it take to say "There are no gods. Next..." ?

Could someone who has watched the links give me a quick summary? Is it just more religion bashing, or do they actually present something positive?

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Post by Black Pope » Thu Mar 12, 2009 8:24 pm

There must have been a memo or something...NPR ran two stories/interviews that I heard in the last two weeks with Atheist Evangelicals going on and on about how much better their lives are without God...I'm waiting for them to bring on Christians, but not holding my breath.

In terms of the links, I like Wontrob, so I busted a couple of em out but only listened for awhile.
None of them are presenting anything that atheists haven't taught for a long time: their gifts aren't in pointing out anything new, but in their passion and articulation, in my opinion.

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Post by The Silken Knot » Thu Mar 12, 2009 8:39 pm

Tstering wrote: ...
Now, do you think I'm a religious person or not from the above ;)
Hmm. Hmmmmmm. I'm willing to guess humanist, but whether secular or religious remains a mystery to me- more data, please.

∞ TSK is constitutionally incapable of passing up a good enigma ∞

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Post by Blind Willie » Thu Mar 12, 2009 9:55 pm

Black Pope wrote:There must have been a memo or something...NPR ran two stories/interviews that I heard in the last two weeks with Atheist Evangelicals going on and on about how much better their lives are without God...I'm waiting for them to bring on Christians, but not holding my breath.
The Evangelical Christians have their own radio stations. They go on and on about how much better their lives are with God every day of the week. I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for NPR to put one on either, as it it's not really newsworthy. Atheists are still a minority in this country, and one that is just starting to find its voice, so I can see why NPR would show some interest.

But, yeah, mostly it was the memo I sent out. Soon the Atheist Agenda will work its way into the hearts and minds of Americans and we will be that much closer to our ultimate goal of being able to buy liquor on Sundays!

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Post by Drifter » Thu Mar 12, 2009 10:13 pm

That's what I wub about you BW, you can get your point across without the bashing.

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Post by The Wontrob » Thu Mar 12, 2009 10:28 pm

Tstering wrote: They do touch on the point though it is an argument you can never win as religion is based on faith and not fact, and that is something you can never win against.
This is their problem, and indeed one of mine. That by having 'faith', defining it as believing even if you can't understand or prove, then you create a system that morphs around into new information rather than changing anything in light of the new information. In two words: cognitive dissonance.
Tstering wrote:Religion is often presented as being dangerous and evil. That isn't really true though. Religion has been used as an excuse for centuries for individuals and large groups to do awful things, but religion in itself does no harm. Even if all religions are based on complete lies they have been very positive for guiding people down the right path and give a lot of people hope.
Agreed, at all parts. They comment on these points in a couple different ways. If you watch until the very end, Hitchens comments that he thinks all religions are equally "evil" in the way that they suppress new ideas and reinforce a false righteousness. He uses the point that though fanatical Islam is maybe currently the most dangerous, the Crusades came from Christians, and some lesser-known Jewish problem that I can't remember. His point is obvious, in any case.

I personally think that focusing on the "evil" or "bad" things done by religious people is relatively pointless. I think bad things can be done by all people, and that yes, the mindset of righteousness given to people by religion may allow a sort of justification for those actions. But to say that this means religion does more bad than good is a gross oversimplification and exaggeration. I find more use in the argument that the positives taught by religion (love, spiritualism, empathy, etc.) can be found elsewhere without religion and the theoretical psychological side effects.
Tstering wrote:Now, do you think I'm a religious person or not from the above ;)
Well, both "religion is based on faith and not fact, and that is something you can never win against." and "Religion is often presented as being dangerous and evil. That isn't really true though." both point to supporting religion. But since your question implies you trying to fool us, I will go with you being a non-religious person.

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Post by The Wontrob » Thu Mar 12, 2009 10:29 pm

blackj3sus wrote:(aren't u guys gonna chastise him for using youtube links?)
I provided explanation, purpose, and text along with mine.

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Post by The Wontrob » Thu Mar 12, 2009 10:37 pm

Blind Willie wrote:Could someone who has watched the links give me a quick summary? Is it just more religion bashing, or do they actually present something positive?
They talk more about practical arguments, impractical arguments. Some of the more interesting parts were where they stepped back and said "have any arguments ever given you pause in what you're doing"? I personally found very interesting the differences between the four. Hithcens nitpicked a lot, sometimes with very unimportant distinctions. And him and Dawkins were much more black and white in most of their opinions. I was most intrigued by Dennett, whose books I have yet to read, and appeared much more moderate and qualifying than the other three.

I think, since most of their debates with theists focus on the macro-arguments, on morality and teleology and the like, whereas they talk more here about the subtle influences that don't normally get mentioned: the differences between learned theologians and pastors preaching to the masses, things like that. I found it very interesting as a committed atheist myself.

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Post by TheNeoclassic » Thu Mar 12, 2009 10:54 pm

KingPatrick wrote:Ah...there are so many "BLUE PILLS" available these days, thanks to the Web!
:wink:

∞ KingPatrick discovers yet more depth of the rabbit hole, having taken the RED pill... ∞
As a weak agnostic (I currently do not know whether God exists or not, but I am actively working to figure out this matter), I find this, well, sort of silly. People on both sides dismissively claim ignorance of people who take the opposite view. The idea that all Christians are in denial about the lack of God and have never seriously considered the matter is as ludicrous as the idea that all atheists are in denial about the existence of God and have similarly failed to give it a good investigation. The only people who frustrate me are those, well, of any viewpoint who haven't seriously and critically thought about what they think and believe, and why.


That said, I very much enjoyed watching this. I don't agree with Hitchens that "All religions are equally dangerous" though; it's really the interpretation of them that can make them a negative influence. Some religions have much less of a likelihood to encourage, say, suicide bombing or a passive approach to the evil of others.

Additionally, I prefer Dawkins's emphasis more on how to reason about God not existing rather than Hitchens's focus on what religion has done wrong. Whether we like how religious people act is not particularly relevent to whether God exists or not, just like claiming that people would be immoral without religion gives no evidence that God actually does exist.

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Post by Drifter » Thu Mar 12, 2009 11:07 pm

The Wontrob wrote:
Tstering wrote:They do touch on the point though it is an argument you can never win as religion is based on faith and not fact, and that is something you can never win against.
This is their problem, and indeed one of mine. That by having 'faith', defining it as believing even if you can't understand or prove...
What if it could be proven, but not with facts, figures, and flow charts?

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Post by Blind Willie » Thu Mar 12, 2009 11:31 pm

Drifter wrote:What if it could be proven, but not with facts, figures, and flow charts?
If you can prove something without facts, I'd say you're using either the term "proof" or "fact" in a way that doesn't make sense.

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Post by The Wontrob » Thu Mar 12, 2009 11:40 pm

Blind Willie wrote:
Drifter wrote:What if it could be proven, but not with facts, figures, and flow charts?
If you can prove something without facts, I'd say you're using either the term "proof" or "fact" in a way that doesn't make sense.
I tried to respond to this and then realized there wasn't anything I could say that BW didn't already imply. Stop being so good at what you do Will.

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Post by blackj3sus » Thu Mar 12, 2009 11:41 pm

drifter your avatar keeps making me want to swat my monitor with a newspaper.... :?

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Post by Micella » Thu Mar 12, 2009 11:42 pm

Drifter makes me wanna swat stuff too

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Post by Drifter » Fri Mar 13, 2009 12:30 am

blackj3sus wrote:drifter your avatar keeps making me want to swat my monitor with a newspaper.... :?
BJ, I have not laughed that much in a long time, thank you.

Blind Willie wrote:
Drifter wrote:What if it could be proven, but not with facts, figures, and flow charts?
If you can prove something without facts, I'd say you're using either the term "proof" or "fact" in a way that doesn't make sense.
I guess I did stumble over my vocabulary there. What I mean is, if I experience situations that prove divine existence to me, that cannot be nailed down to science, math, or some damnass formula, does that make me wrong? Now I know if I tried to witness it to someone who could care less, they'd look at me like I had three heads, but I know plenty who have shared the same encounter. Does that make any sense?

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Post by The Wontrob » Fri Mar 13, 2009 12:41 am

Drifter wrote:
Blind Willie wrote:
Drifter wrote:What if it could be proven, but not with facts, figures, and flow charts?
If you can prove something without facts, I'd say you're using either the term "proof" or "fact" in a way that doesn't make sense.
I guess I did stumble over my vocabulary there. What I mean is, if I experience situations that prove divine existence to me, that cannot be nailed down to science, math, or some damnass formula, does that make me wrong? Now I know if I tried to witness it to someone who could care less, they'd look at me like I had three heads, but I know plenty who have shared the same encounter. Does that make any sense?
I have heard of these as well. And, unfortunately, the only thing that I could imagine would change my mind would be an experience like that one, so I imagine. But unfortunately, perception being more important than reality for, well, everyone, I cannot take other people's experiences at face value, especially spiritualistic ones. If we did, then one insane person could "prove" the existence of anything. And so it doesn't prove anything, although an individual's experience is sure to change their own beliefs if the experience is strong enough.

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Post by Llama LluxaLlot » Fri Mar 13, 2009 1:19 am

Some things I like to point out in discussions about science and Religion and faith.....

Science is often fiction that turns into science and back into fiction. Ptolemy was a brilliant scientist whose theories of the movement of the planets lasted a century. The system of circles and spirals he described make very acurate predictions on where planets and the sun would be at any given time. He happened to be very wrong. But his scientific system gave reproducible predictions and results.

Faith does not neccesarily mean "blind" faith. Not all religions require one to believe without reservation in something unprovable and unseen. There is faith that comes from extrapolating on patterns you have already seen. Anything in the future, no matter how probable, requires faith. If it hasn't happened yet, we just don't know.

Religion and science do not have to be at odds. There are so many variations of religion that I find quite some overlap. I come from a traditional Jewish family (though my generation has changed tremendously from my grandfather's generation). Not even my grandfather believe 7 days of creation meant 7 24 hour periods. I mean that makes no sense. one day could have been 3 billion years. We don't know.

I have to go. will look in tomorrow. I like theology and science as well.

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Post by blackj3sus » Fri Mar 13, 2009 2:10 am

what religion doesn't require faith?

i thought this video had some relevence here:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vidEvzbK ... annel_page

the middle part is where he touches on areas that address the mingling of faith and science.

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Post by The Wontrob » Fri Mar 13, 2009 2:48 am

Lux Llama wrote: Religion and science do not have to be at odds. There are so many variations of religion that I find quite some overlap. I come from a traditional Jewish family (though my generation has changed tremendously from my grandfather's generation). Not even my grandfather believe 7 days of creation meant 7 24 hour periods. I mean that makes no sense. one day could have been 3 billion years. We don't know.
True, but there are qualifications and some things that don't quite make sense. In the early days of Genesis, the majority opinion was that when the Bible said 7 days it meant 168 hours in our time. It wasn't until science proved the earth was much older than the Bible led to believe that the majority opinion changed. Same with evolution. The Bible shows that life was created as is by God, not evolved. Since evolution gained so much scientific backing, religion morphed to encompass it... that God didn't make life as is, that he started a process and works through evolution to create higher life forms (along with allowing 99.8% of the superfluous creations he made to die out). Religion needs to change its interpretation to encompass the tested theories of science. Science has never changed to encompass religion.

One point mentioned in the Four Horsemen was the difference between learned theologians and the everyday churchgoer. Daniel Dennett says, "Can you imagine a pastor opening a sermon on Genesis as: 'This is a metaphorical representation and not actually what occurred in the beginning of our plant.'? Such a thing would never happen. But no learned theologian actually believes Genesis is a factual account. There are certainly a percentage of religious people who believe so." The church only goes out of its way to point out metaphors when they can no longer be interpreted as factual.
Lux Llama wrote:Science is often fiction that turns into science and back into fiction. Ptolemy was a brilliant scientist whose theories of the movement of the planets lasted a century. The system of circles and spirals he described make very acurate predictions on where planets and the sun would be at any given time. He happened to be very wrong. But his scientific system gave reproducible predictions and results.
This is how science works. Well, no. Science does not turn from fiction into science into fiction. It turns from fiction into theory that can be replicated, until that theory is flawed in which it is REPLACED by a new theory that better explains phenomenon. Science does not claim to be absolutely correct: it is only as correct as can be tested. The continuous progress of explanation is the way science works.
Lux Llama wrote:Faith does not neccesarily mean "blind" faith. Not all religions require one to believe without reservation in something unprovable and unseen. There is faith that comes from extrapolating on patterns you have already seen. Anything in the future, no matter how probable, requires faith. If it hasn't happened yet, we just don't know.
These arguments focus completely on the use of the word "faith". It implies that any admittance on the part of the atheist than any logic requires 'faith' is taken as a victory for belief because we have admitted we cannot completely "prove" certain things (even though science never claims to prove anything). For instance, I assume that things in the future will follow the same rules as every single day before that I have witnessed. Can I prove that tomorrow will be the same? No, due to very nitpicky philosophical logic. However, the fact that I am judging the next day based against thousands of days that have followed the same rules, without exception, that is an empirical argument, and a logical one, even if there is a small amount of faith involved. And it is important to distinguish the "faith" in logic that isn't provable to the faith that has no use for logic at all. The faith that seen things will remain constant is different from the faith that there exist things that are unseen.

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Post by cyanshade » Fri Mar 13, 2009 3:45 am

The Wontrob wrote:::snip:: Same with evolution. The Bible shows that life was created as is by God, not evolved.
Here I'd like to point out that evolution doesn't attempt to explain how life originated. It would be entirely rational to believe in divine creation and evolution at the same time. Not that I do, though.

::more snippage::
The Wontrob wrote:(Science) turns from fiction into theory that can be replicated, until that theory is flawed in which it is REPLACED by a new theory that better explains phenomenon. Science does not claim to be absolutely correct: it is only as correct as can be tested. The continuous progress of explanation is the way science works.
You nailed it here. Interestingly, many people don't understand this, and have an erroneous idea what a theory is. Retractors of evolution sometimes attack it because "it's just a theory" and shouldn't be taken seriously, until... what?

Theories aren't called that because they're known to be "false". In many areas of science there are few absolute truths, just more rigorously tested theories. Evolution is a theory with a plethora of evidence backing it up.

But I digress.

To bring something topical on the table, I'd like to say that a beneficial aspect of religion is that it often imbues a person with a moral code. If religion makes someone a better person, it's arguably a good thing.

However, one can have a moral compass pointing in all the right directions without being religious. I've observed that atheists like myself are sometimes judged for being immoral and evil* people. This is an illogical implication that tars atheists with the wrong brush. Some evildoers have been atheists, not all atheists are evildoers.






* But I might be evil, so watch out.

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Post by blackj3sus » Fri Mar 13, 2009 3:57 am

some christians have been evildoers, but not all christians are evildoers...
as well.

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Post by The Wontrob » Fri Mar 13, 2009 8:05 am

Cyanshade wrote:
The Wontrob wrote:::snip:: Same with evolution. The Bible shows that life was created as is by God, not evolved.
Here I'd like to point out that evolution doesn't attempt to explain how life originated. It would be entirely rational to believe in divine creation and evolution at the same time. Not that I do, though.
My point was not so much that evolution and creationism are incompatible. It was more that creationism according to the Bible was interpreted as "God made man in his own image" originally, and then turned into "God made a unicellular life form that over millions upon millions of years evolved into what we now know as human beings", and that such changes are forced by science's progress. Though evolution isn't necessarily incompatible with religion, it certainly became much more difficult to rationalize creationism through the lens of evolution than it was through the lens of the Bible.
Cyanshade wrote:To bring something topical on the table, I'd like to say that a beneficial aspect of religion is that it often imbues a person with a moral code. If religion makes someone a better person, it's arguably a good thing.
The moral argument is one of the most popular arguments against atheism. C.S. Lewis put it that he felt there were certain things that were always wrong (objective moralty), and, unable to explain where those thoughts came from, took it as proof that they were hardwired into us from a creator. Now, it is just as logical that certain moral mindsets come from evolution (that murder is bad because the species must survive), by my own viewpoint is that most morality stems from the golden rule "do unto others as you would have them do unto you". Recognizing the things that cause you pain, and recognizing that others experience similar pain upon the same occurences, a very basic morality develops based on free will. I am a follower of John Stuart Mill when it comes to morality. One of the less logical arguments, but more powerful emotionally I think, is Hitchens' argument that if we need an omnipotent power to frighten us with eternal torment to be moral creatures, then we are in a worse case than we imagined.

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Post by KingPatrick » Fri Mar 13, 2009 12:47 pm

I appreciate the civil tone of this discussion.

I think that science just cannot go far enough to answer the questions that "religion" proposes to answer. When you get into the human itches of why we are here, what happens afterward, and explanations for love, beauty, art, language and music, there are just too many "spiritual" aspects of life that cannot be reduced to a reproducible experiment in a lab.

Granted, many people through the ages have tried to explain some of these things through various myths, superstitions and religious beliefs, and continue to do so, especially where observable science fails to provide conclusions. Even recently I understand that the leading evolution scientists have determined that the most commonly held theory for evolution of the earth and life as we know it is absolutely impossible, due the time it would actually take, and the impossibly astronomical odds that would be involved. So, they have determined that a more probable explanation is that some outside species (aliens) must have planted mankind here, much like the new age "star seed" theory. Others have veered toward "intelligent design," of several different flavors.

My main point is that it requires some amount of "faith" to believe the proposed scientific explanations as well as any religious explanations. We need more than what our limited eyes can see to even begin to ponder these matters. We seem to be "spiritual" beings. Hence, personal experience has to play a role here.

As I began to investigate this more than 25 years ago after a near death experience, I have been through several different variations of belief, or theories, to explain the nagging human questions of life (Who am I? Why am I here? What is after this?). At this point, I am relatively certain of what I think I have discovered so far (which is that there is a benevolent Creator), but I continue to refine what I believe through what I think is a relatively scientific approach, including personal experience.

Incidentally, even within the past year, continuing to research the actual sources of various scriptures and how they have sometimes been mistranslated over thousands of years, I have moved from a form of Christianity to more of a Messianic Jewish faith. It is a continuing process which I approach as scientifically and intellectually as possible, but also spiritually, by necessity. I also think that anyone who opens their discovery process up to using more than the limitations of science alone will also find what I have.

∞ KingPatrick offers the scary proposition of taking a red pill. ∞

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