As always, the sender's mails are in bold with my responses in regular type and editing for clarity is in italics. There were three different trains of conversation with the same individual, the three trains of letters are separated by hard rules.

Yes. I disagree with your book reviews and opinions. Just thought you should know.

Any thing in particular in the book reviews you'd like to discuss?

Did you go to my main page, and if you did, do you disagree with my opinion of spirituality's two common ideas?

I pretty much disagreed with everything...which is why I figured I'd let you know. If I had only disagreed with some, or pieces of what you said that would have been pretty normal... very curious indeed.

Very simply let me demonstrate my meaning in a short dialogue between Jim and Bob.

Bob: I don't believe in God.
Jim: I don't believe in atheists.

I suppose that sort of sums up you and me. I'll see if I can't find something more concrete to talk about on your web page. I suppose we could start with your evaluation of C.S. Lewis' 'Mere Christianity' but I don't have my copy handy and I'd like to make quotes.

Take care, stay away from earthquakes.


This won't really make any sense to you, but I recieved this e-mail a few days ago from a friend of mine. We don't agree on everything but I just thought I'd shove it your way. Its really nothing extremely exciting about it, nothing more than an honest rambling, but it exhibits a way of thinking so contrary to your own that I wonder what your reaction will be. Here it is, quoted word for word.

"Hi Russ,

I must say your email has challenged me. I haven't ever gotten a response to an email quite like yours before. It really made me think a lot about the words I use to say things and how I communicate things to people. I guess I should think a little more before I speak or in this case write something. I wanted to make some additional comments about what I wrote.

When I talked about hiding from the world I was meaning that in the most personal way, not to be implied that Jesus hid from the world, what I should have probably written was that Jesus went alone to seek his fathers will. When I said surrender our hearts what I meant is to lay down all of my plans present and future, and seek God's will, to deny myself, and be obedient to what he wants me to do. To be still and know that he is God, to be sensitive to his Holy Spirit, to come to the Lord and rest in his presence, and to proceed in his power, with his fragrance still fresh on me. To have my mind renewed and cleansed from the filth of the world. Anyway, I still think its important to take time away from the world and pray, maybe that doesn't seem like surrender, but I know that there is more than one way to surrender, in the same way that there is more than one type of sacrifice.

He's immersed in magical thinking.

About dating, I don't think its a game. Cause I have played games and they are fun, and most of the time the only scars they leave are physical. I have seen my Christian brothers and sisters give each other so much needless heart-break and emotional pain. I have watched some of my best friends, get in a relationship and totally ignore everyone else including God and their families for someone that they don't even know. I have seen my sister try to figure out her life after her Christian boyfriend of four years broke up with her for another girl. I have watched my Mom try to salvage her life and finances after my father left without saying a word, and leaving only bills and confusion on his trip to California where he is living in his camper on his truck. And I don't think my Mom wanted to play a game when she accepted my fathers request for her hand in marriage. And I am not going to play games when I choose the woman that I am going to spend the rest of my life with.

Life is tough, no argument. Love is work, any relationship is work, but the loving ones are worth the effort.

Beyond all of that I want to keep my heart pure for my wife. I wish that I hadn't ever had a girlfriend. I wish I could stand on the alter someday and have my first kiss with the woman I am going to spend the rest of my life with, to only know the intimacy of her and my father. But I polluted my life with the choices I made, and the memories still linger like cancer. I don't want to make any more provisions for my flesh. So I want to keep any relationships that I have with women as pure as I can. And at least for me women were a huge stumbling block for me in the past and I think it would be foolish for me to date when I am not ready for marriage. Besides all of that I haven't been walking with Christ all that long as it is, and I know that I have a lot of maturing to do before I am ready to become a spiritual leader for a home.

He's starting to remind me of Paul.

Go live in a Christian Commune or something and let those who run the place choose your mate. On the theory that those who run the place are filled by the Spirit, they'll always make the right choice....do you remember the Branch Davidians down in Waco? I think Hare Krishna communes are run on the same theory too.

About God's will, he definitely is concerned about our motivation behind what we do, but he is also very concerned about what actions are actually taking place in our life's. He wants to see the fruits of the Spirit. Paul said that he had a clear conscience about persecuting the Church, he thought he was doing Gods will, and he may have had all of the right intentions in the world, but he still got blinded for three days. God had a different plan for Paul's life than being a Pharisee, he wanted him to preach the gospel. So I think that its a combination, not just why we are doing something but what we are doing. Faith without works is dead. We aren't saved by our works but, if we are walking in the Spirit, then people will know that we are his disciples by our love and the other fruits of the Spirit.

Again, magical thinking. And the basis of that magic is the relationship, or potential relationship, between the individual's spirit and the superspirit of god.

Why would anyone in a technological culture such as ours still believe they have an immaterial spirit thing in them? What does a spirit do? Let me point you toward Churchland's "Neurophilosophy" or Crick's "Astonishing Hypothesis" for background on how the brain does what spirits and Platonic forms are supposed to do. The work isn't complete, but the direction the research is going seems clear.

What does a superspirit do anyway? The most basic answer is, it is the prime mover. But that prime mover isn't required, at least mathematically (or so I've read).

If we don't need spirits to live, love, and function; if the universe and what fills it doesn't need a prime moving spirit; then why indulge in this magical thinking?

Anyway, I thank you for you challenging email. I appreciate your honest opinion. Have a great day.

God bless you"

What do you think about someone like this? If you were standing face to face with them and they said these words to you, what would you say to them?

I'm just curious.


Would you satisfy my curiosity by answering me a question?

Do you believe in free will?

If you plan on replying that we can't have free will if we don't have a personal agent, a soul thingy, please don't bother. We do what we want because of our brain's functioning. The whole free will argument is based on some stupid notion that we need souls to make us operate, but does god control those souls or not, are we made for a specific task? Do our souls have free will? You have to start by assuming you have a soul to even ask the question.

Souls don't aid free will any more than brains do, it moves it back a step from the body to the soul. The question only makes sense if you have a god made soul.

Now, my question still stands: why should I believe I have a soul? Don't put your free-will supposition of souls as proof and don't put your soul-affirming literature (that supposes a soul to talk to god with) as proof. The brain's activity can be measured...how do you measure a soul?

Here's my take on the issue. Ok. So I think at least on a basic level that you're right. I can't show you a soul. I can't point to it, I can't measure it, I can't tell you what color it is, what its made of, if it has parts, who put there or anything about it really. Fine. So my question is this. If this is the case, and I think most people agree it is, why do so many people still believe in a soul/spirit? If its so frieking obvious that no such thing exists then why do people continue to struggle with the issue. Why do people believe they have a soul to begin with?

If I told you that I had a tail you wouldn't believe me because you can't see it, can't point at it and I can't wag it for you. I can't show you my tail. But the point is, unless I'm delusional, I'm not going to think that I have a tail and I'm not going to tell you that I have one.

Yet, throughout the history of mankind and throughout today, EVEN with our modern technoloical discoveries and whatnot, people still continue to believe in the existence of souls.

To simply say, I don't believe in a soul because there's no proof or objective reason for me to do so is simply evading the question. You're not saying anything new or interesting at all. You're just simply shoving the issue aside and ignoring the strange phenomenon.

"Truth IS stranger than fiction".

In order to truly grasp the issue you need to be able to answer the question of why smart, intelligent, educated people still believe in the existence of spirits and souls and what not (to use your terminology). If you can come up with a reasonable hypothesis to explain the phenomenon then I would be more interested. But a flat refusal of belief is rather boring.

You answer this question yourself near the end of your response:

"...but there's one thing that I've learned from experience that there's really very little to argue about. Its very simple. Jesus Christ changes people's lives. Whether He's real or not that's a fact. I have personally witnessed remarkable change in myself and in many of the people around me.

People often ask the question, "what is the difference between Christians and non-Christians?" there are a lot of answers people give but in short there are 2 things that I believe. The first is that people who know Christ are changed from who they once were. They're not necessarily nicer, smarter, less sinful, better, happier or anything like that. But they are changed and that change brings them closer to the truth of who they are. (or objectively who they think they are). the second thing is that they have hope. What hope has the man without faith? Hope of death? old age? mistreatment? the daily grind in a survival of the fittest world? Hope of riches that can not buy you health or love? Hope of love based on brain chemical reaction and evolutionary strategy?

A man hopes not for what he already has.

I should say that I don't think non-Christians are totally without hope. But whatever hope they have lies within this world or is make believe. And it pales like a candle to the sun of the hope people have in Christ Jesus, savior of humanity, son of God, son of Man, born in humility and crucified in shame for the forgiveness and salvation of the human race. Prince of Peace, King of Kings, Lord of the Heavens, Redeemer, Teacher, the Servant King. He who loves me, regarless of my faithlessness and sin."

In short...people believe in souls and gods because it feels good. The claims you make for Jesus above are the same claims every other religion makes for its earthly revelator and the effects of that religion upon its followers. You've answered your own question, the phenomenon of belief in souls gives meaning to some people's lives.

Ok. Fine. While I wouldn't say that the claims of Christianity are the same as every other religion (quite the contrary actually...but a seperate topic) I see that in a VERY general sense that is true. But from your perspective that doesn't matter. Either religious claims are true or they are not. The fact that Christianity's claims are similar to those of other religions says nothing about whether religious claims in general are true or not. If we have A and B (both boolean-True or False) and we say C is similar to B, that doesn't say anything about the validity of B at all.
This is the reason I look at the commonalities of spiritual systems. If the commonalities are worth investing time in then a more thorough investigation is warranted. I can only find two commonalities.

It sounds like you agree with me that looking at any particular religion individually does not answer any questions but only begs comparisons. But more to the point, looking at the claims individuals make for their religions does not prove anything conclusively about that religon as religious people make similar claims.

Then you say that the phenomenon of belief in souls gives meaning to some people's lives. Right, that is a small portion of an answer to my original question. The question the is this reason a valid one for believing in spiritual things?
Is the question "why do smart, intellegent, educated people still believe in the existence of spirits and souls" ? I don't know about smart people but I believed it because I was taught to believe it and letting go of the notion banged up against some notions that, upon examination, looked and then proved to be (at least in my experience), flimsy.
Its certainly not an objective, testable, scientific reason.
Which is what I've tried to communicate through my website.
But that doesn't mean it doesn't hold validity.
Yes in deed, but faith is a matter of faith. If it feels good to hold it, then hold it to yourself. You can't spread it around as factual and objective. You can spread it for what it is: magical thinking that feels good sometimes.
Does life have meaning?
"Life" generically or individually? Individual's meaning for life is individual. My meaning is my kids and wife, I enjoy my jobs, and I get some satisfaction from my web site. Generically? I don't see a need for an existential meaning to life from viruses to men.
If you answer 'no' to this question then this would not be a valid reason to believe in souls. But, of course, with that kind of perspective your life will inevitably suck (I could expand here but I don't want to get too riled). (note: I don't think that you should accept a premise just based on a desired result...but I don't want to get into arguing about whether or not life has meaning or not)
Which meaning of "life" do you mean: life generically or individual lives?
If you start with the premise that 'life does have meaning', then in order to satisfy that statement logically you must be able to back it up with a cause for meaning and exactly what that meaning is. Since no other explanation for meaning in life exists in science or anything like that (unless you're an idiot and believe in subjective meaning...which is really the same thing as self delusion...) then it would be 'reasonable' to believe in souls as the only means available to establish your starting premise (Sherlock Holmes).
So I guess souls are the cause of meaning you write about above? What about saying "exactly what that meaning is"? I don't see that in your letter.
The question then is what is the soul, which religion is true...etc....which is where the differences in Christianity from everything else become important.
I don't believe in Unicorns...but nobody else does either.

As for the free will thing...as I said, I was just curious. But you didn't answer the question. I was sort of hoping for a yes or a no.

I answered in a convoluted way because I have seen that question asked as a trap. The trap is based on soulish thinking as I tried to explain.

Yes...I do what I want. My "will" is free. The question about will being free or not, however, is based on the notion that god made everything, set it in motion...so are we really free to make our own minds up since god set the whole thing going? Do we really do what we want if the clockmaker set us up?

It's a silly notion, free will.

Actually that's not the angle I was taking. Maybe I should have asked you the question, "do you believe in agents?".
Whether you call it an agent, a disembodied mind, or a soul doesn't matter as they are the same. If brains take in inputs and decide outputs how does inserting an agent change things? Now the agent takes inputs and decides outputs. What little I know of this problem comes from an essay in Brittanica's "Great Books of the Western World" in one of the volumes called "The Great Ideas", it's an index and topic guide. But as I recall, primarily Kant I think, the idea of freewill comes up because if god created everything...started the clockwork universe and the souls that populate it...then it can only work a certain way. If you apply the idea above to a universe without a god you still get determinism. If you apply the ideas of chaos theory, that one little undetermined happening would occur and spread even more chaos. Thus freewill. Chaos also applies to a god created universe...thus freewill...but suddenly god can't be omniscient and Christians can't be elected sons and daughters of Jesus (bummer!). For this reason I write:
Only from a theistic perspective.
and you responded:
Not really.

I have answered your "not really" to my satisfaction and won't say anything more about it.

Let me explain. If the human brain is soley responsible for a person's personality, memory, decision making, etc... and the brain is a purely biological/chemical organ that functions based on cause and effect (like the rest of the universe made of mass, electrons, etc...) then wouldn't it be fair to conclude that a person's brain/personality/decisions are really just a complicated chemical reaction? There are a lot of inputs that go in and then the brain does outputs. We call these outputs 'choices', but, if this were true, that would be a funny and inaccurate descripion as their was no choice involved. The brain does not ever decide between different actions it simply 'reacts' chemically (lots of neurons and what not). Were this true, it would be fair to say that if you were all knowing, you would be able to predict exactly what a person would do before they did it...in fact, you could predict the entire history and future of the universe without actually experiencing it just by following out all of the cause and effects either backwards or forwards.

To me personally I think that's a bunch of B.S. I start with the premise of free will...the future is not an effect of the present...but depends upon our choices. Nothing else makes intuitive sense...and once again, I don't know enough (not ever will I) to disprove my intuition. This again, would then require something to establish the 'choice' we intuitively have in making decisions...thus, reason to believe in 'something else'...a soul for no better name.

I suppose my reason for asking the question was not really to prove the existence of the soul. If that could really be done, at least in a way that was so clear and obvious that none could refute it...scientifically let's say.... then it wouldn't be an interesting topic anymore because no one would debate it. My point was more simple than that. I asked the question because its a hard question. My point, which I think I proved by your evasive answer, was that you, or I, really have no frieking clue. We don't know, we can't know, we probably never will know.

Only from a theistic perspective.

Not really.
Thus, I question the conviction of your decisive atheistic conclusions in the lack of full knowledge.

I don't have to know everything to know when something doesn't make sense.

Really?

Counter example: Is light a particle or a wave? It doesn't make sense that it could be both. But it is.

I know a few things from real life that aren't very scientific. In case you haven't guessed (I was trying not to make it too obvious) I am a Christian. Maybe there's an alternative explanation for everything I have experinced in my life, but there's one thing that I've learned from experience that there's really very little to argue about. Its very simple. Jesus Christ changes people's lives. Whether He's real or not that's a fact. I have personally witnessed remarkable change in myself and in many of the people around me.

People often ask the question, "what is the difference between Christians and non-Christians?" there are a lot of answers people give but in short there are 2 things that I believe. The first is that people who know Christ are changed from who they once were. They're not necessarily nicer, smarter, less sinful, better, happier or anything like that. But they are changed and that change brings them closer to the truth of who they are. (or objectively who they think they are). the second thing is that they have hope. What hope has the man without faith? Hope of death? old age? mistreatment? the daily grind in a survival of the fittest world? Hope of riches that can not buy you health or love? Hope of love based on brain chemical reaction and evolutionary strategy?

A man hopes not for what he already has.

I should say that I don't think non-Christians are totally without hope. But whatever hope they have lies within this world or is make believe. And it pales like a candle to the sun of the hope people have in Christ Jesus, savior of humanity, son of God, son of Man, born in humility and crucified in shame for the forgiveness and salvation of the human race. Prince of Peace, King of Kings, Lord of the Heavens, Redeemer, Teacher, the Servant King. He who loves me, regarless of my faithlessness and sin.

I ask you, am I a 'magical thinker'.

Yes, apparently you are.

Funny. Didn't I just explain that Christianity has 'real life' effects. If by 'magical' you mean 'real life' then I guess you're right.
You agreed these "real life effects" are shared by all forms of theism. The claims you've made:
"They're (Christians) not necessarily nicer, smarter, less sinful, better, happier, or anything like that. But they changed and that change brings them closer to the truth of who they are...they have hope."
can also be made for psychoanalysis, art, work, or scholarship, and undoubedly other activities.
Is sin not a real thing?

No, sin is not real since sin is a wrong against god's will and there is no god.

That's a circular argument. How about hurt, pain, betrayal, lust, theft, selfishness, are those real?
Is forgiveness a magical thing.

Yes and no. Divine forgiveness is magical. Forgiveness between people is real.

Circular again.
You can't separate god from wrongs against god. Sin is a wrong against god. Without god, you only have wrong. Same with god's forgiveness. I don't find these circular I find god to be part of the defintion of sin and god's forgiveness.
Is death on a cross an event not recorded in the history books?

No, it is not recorded in history books.

Sorry, I shouldn't have used the term 'history books'. They didn't have 'history books' back in 30 AD. However, I would challenge you to show historically that the gospel accounts are inaccurate. I think you'll find that they pass any and all criteria used for evaluating the validity of historical documents.
I've got a review of Strobel's Case for Christ. I don't take on all of Strobel's evidence, I discuss what he calls "the clincher":
http://www.angelfire.com/pa/ebrownle2/strobel.html
Does the story of Christ, even if it is not true, not completely and utterly captivate your imagination?

Yes, but so what. See Joseph Campbell's "Masks of God" series or his "Hero with a Thousand Faces" for other, equally touching and moving, stories.

I haven't read them. But I doubt they are equally touching and moving...if they were wouldn't their have to be millions of 'hero' followers around the world. Or if they are, its probably because they've copied things from the life of Jesus (eg The Matrix)
There are stories with deep roots in culture. If the Matrix, Star Wars, Grapes of Wrath, Epic of Gigamesh, the story of Siddhartha under the Tree, or the Mahabharata reminds you of Biblical stories it is because the roots of these stories go deep and spread very broadly. These same roots also feed the Bible.
That you should be saved, not for the benefit of God almighty or because of your merit, but quite the opposite. To share, In relationship with your Maker, Creator, Father, and Giver of Life.
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