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Atheists: the most distrusted minority in USA - II

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Catchfire
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Why is it that someone so fervently behind atheism is so desperate to be a martyr?

M. Spector
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Canadian atheists on the march:
quote:In the past year or two, a clutch of high-decibel books by scientists has ignited the passions of non-believers. Oxford evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins's The God Delusion, the best-known battle cry of unrepentant atheism, has been No. 1 on The Globe and Mail's non-fiction bestseller list for the past seven weeks. He joins past anti-deist bestsellers such as U.S. neurologist Sam Harris and Canadian cancer specialist Robert Buckman.

The books' popularity is partly due to their timing, which coincides with popular anxiety about the worldwide growth in both Islamic and Christian fundamentalism, which has arguably resulted in increased terrorism and war. There is also a backlash against evangelical campaigns opposing gay marriage, stem-cell research and teaching evolution. A range of people are frustrated by the religious influence in politics, including among Stephen Harper's Conservatives.

Yet while this renewed discussion has made non-religious people feel freer to proclaim their unbelief, they haven't exactly explained what to do with that knowledge. As American atheist Don Hirschberg once wrote, "Calling atheism a religion is like calling bald a hair colour."
....

The largest international secular-humanist organization, based in Amherst, N.Y., is the Centre for Inquiry, with branches across the U.S., South America, Africa, Europe and Asia. Its first Canadian centre is having its official opening in Ontario this weekend, with a CFI in Vancouver planned for later in the year.

Read the whole article

Geneva
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last weekend the Intl Herald Tribune published a good piece asking why Dawkins has been getting hammered by serious critics who might otherwise be expected to sympathize:
http://www.iht.com/articles/2007/03/06/news/atheist.php

best line:
one writer used to call Dawkins a "professional atheist", but now thinks he's just "an amateur" ...
[img]biggrin.gif" border="0[/img]

"The most disappointing feature of 'The God Delusion,'" Orr wrote, "is Dawkins' failure to engage religious thought in any serious way. You will find no serious examination of Christian or Jewish theology" and "no attempt to follow philosophical debates about the nature of religious propositions."

Eagleton surmised that if "card-carrying rationalists like Dawkins" were asked "to pass judgment on phenomenology or the geopolitics of South Africa, they would no doubt bone up on the question as assiduously as they could." He continued, "When it comes to theology, however, any shoddy old travesty will pass muster."


.

[ 10 March 2007: Message edited by: Geneva ]


babblerwannabe
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quote:Originally posted by M. Spector:

It's not a suprised they are all MALE characters huh?


M. Spector
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Funny, millions of deluded individuals manage to believe in God without knowing anything about "theology". Nobody criticizes them for that.

But apparently people who do not believe in holy ghosts need to demonstrate a thorough knowledge of "theology" in order to justify their non-belief.

Go figure.


M. Spector
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quote:Originally posted by babblerwannabe:
It's not a suprised they are all MALE characters huh?
I don't know what your point is. I do know that there is obviously a woman's foot on the person who last went through that door.

Catchfire
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So, if atheists are so distrusted, why is Dawkins's books so popular? And is everybody who believes in God writing a book about it? It's nice though, that for someone arguing for the robustness of the scientific approach is defending someone for writing a book out of ignorance.

This reminds me of the audiences of Left Behind, who, though Kirk Cameron's DVD's hit the top ten DVD sales every time they are released, convince each other that Christianity is under attack because the mainstream theatres would never show this stuff!


obscurantist
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quote:Originally posted by M. Spector:
Canadian atheists on the march: Read the whole article
I liked this line:
quote:...atheists may not be so well served by finding their current figurehead in the notoriously acerbic Dr. Dawkins.

A recent two-part episode of the satirical cartoon South Park paid tribute to his profile, but not his personality. One character explained the scientist's success this way: "He learned that using logic and reason isn't enough -- you have to be a dick to everyone who doesn't think like you."


Geneva
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quote:Originally posted by M. Spector:
Funny, millions of deluded individuals manage to believe in God without knowing anything about "theology". Nobody criticizes them for that.

But apparently people who do [b]not believe in holy ghosts need to demonstrate a thorough knowledge of "theology" in order to justify their non-belief.

Go figure.[/b]

OK, I will "go figure":

Individuals are just that, they have every right to their private individual views. Not believing in God and/or being indifferent to the issue is a dime-a-dozen viewpoint these days. No need to reply or criticize.

If your Uncle Floyd presses you about your personal religious beliefs over Thanksgiving dinner, it is usually considered gauche, out of place, whatever, since those views are not publicly discussed by many people.

By contrast, when a prominent professor and public figure, one who is moreover a veteran polemicist -- and whose Oxford job title requires him to engage the broader public with science-related issues -- publishes a topical book, you have every right to debate /challenge its method and conclusions.

A polemicist is expected to:

- propose solid arguments;
- offer sustained reasoning in support of his thesis;
and generally:
- show an unusually sound grasp of the subject matter, even by comparison to his specialist readers.

The critics quoted in the article above, many of whom have published records as religious skeptics, found that Richard Dawkins fell way short on most counts. They concluded he did not deliver the convincing and structured arguments he promised. In short, no "knock-out punch" for theism.

So, they panned his book -- just as they would any book they judged poorly reasoned or superficial on, say, climate change or foreign policy or economic trends.

There, I went and figured: there is no double standard.
Just a single standard: the arguments in a book have to be solid and convincing.

Otherwise, the author gets hammered. QED.


.

[ 11 March 2007: Message edited by: Geneva ]


Sven
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Geneva, if a belief in God is rooted in faith, not reason, what can studying theology (or mythology or astrology, for that matter) teach a person about a subject that one wants to rationally analyze?

It seems to me that studying theology would, at most, give a person empathy for understanding why many individuals and cultures have a belief in a God. But, I can't see how studying theology can answer a question that is not susceptible to rational proof (i.e., does God exist?).

It also strikes me that the best criticism of Dawkins is that he is trying to provie a negative (i.e., God does not exist). I don't know that that is possible.

[ 11 March 2007: Message edited by: Sven ]


Geneva
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very good question!
look, I am just outlining (above) why Dawkins' book got hammered by many critics;

as to my own views, I am interested in all points of view about God and I would love to read a slam-dunk debunking of theology -- Marx is full of energy, Nietzsche of course is sensational -- but neither of these obviates the relentless human need for a sense to life; here we are in the 21st century with religion often the No.1 public discussion topic

there are millions of pages of discussions of the use /misuse /sense of theology, dating over 20 centuries, and it was of course the core and founding discipline of most Western universities, from the Sorbonne to Laval;

so read a resume of the views of , say, Augustine, Aquinas or Pascal, who would give way way better reasons for studying the ineffable and unprovable than I would ever venture

Pascal offers the advantage for today's sensibility of being a top-class A-rank scientific mind historically, so his theological reflections (Pens'ees) probably answer you best:
http://tinyurl.com/2fudaz

Blaise Pascal (pronounced [blez pɑskɑl]), (June 19, 1623–August 19, 1662) was a French mathematician, physicist, and religious philosopher. He was a child prodigy who was educated by his father. Pascal's earliest work was in the natural and applied sciences where he made important contributions to the construction of mechanical calculators, the study of fluids, and clarified the concepts of pressure and vacuum by generalizing the work of Evangelista Torricelli.

Pascal also wrote powerfully in defense of the scientific method.

He was a mathematician of the first order. Pascal helped create two major new areas of research. He wrote a significant treatise on the subject of projective geometry at the age of sixteen and corresponded with Pierre de Fermat from 1654 and later on probability theory, strongly influencing the development of modern economics and social science.

Following a mystical experience in late 1654, he abandoned his scientific work and devoted himself to philosophy and theology. His two most famous works date from this period: the Lettres provinciales and the Pensйes.

[ 11 March 2007: Message edited by: Geneva ]


M. Spector
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These theological "giants" all lived centuries ago. Thanks to science, we now know a lot more about the world than we did then. "Theology" has not advanced at all in the meantime.

Theology is more than just arguments for the belief in God. In fact, if it were, you could master theology in an afternoon, because the arguments are pretty thin.

Dawkins considers all the arguments for the belief in God and demolishes them. Read the book and see for yourself, instead of just relying on hostile critics. Having demolished the underpinnings of theology, there's no need to do more. The edifice will collapse on its own.


B.L. Zeebub LLD
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quote:Originally posted by M. Spector:
What do the religious believe, by the way?

They believe in an all-knowing, all-powerful invisible entity. They believe that they should worship this entity. They believe that this entity will reward them if they are "good" and punish them if they are "bad". They believe that this entity listens to their prayers and actually grants requests from time to time. They believe in heaven and hell. They believe in angels. They believe in miracles.

A strawman if I've ever seen one. Essentially you completely ignore anything but the most base, literalist and childish form of "belief". Never mind that there are subtler levels of meaning present even in the charicature of ideas you've chosen to represent "the religious". Any one of the key nouns you've mentioned can be taken on many different levels; literal, analogical, allegorical.

quote:Those who accept the Nicene Creed, for example (one of the basic statements of belief in the Roman Catholic, Syrian Orthodox (Jacobite) Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Assyrian, Anglican, Lutheran, and most other Protestant Churches), believe that this invisible entity created heaven and earth. They believe that Christ came back to life after being brutally killed. They believe their spirits will live forever after they die.

The idea of a rebirth after self-sacrifice (Jesus wasn't just "killed", he offered himself up for the taking) is far more poignant than the literalist notion of a physical rebirth after a physical death. Again, as Dawkins does, you take only the outermost layer of the onion for the whole thing.

quote:And you don't see any conflict between those sorts of beliefs and "what makes sense for modern day society"?

Not at all, although it all depends on what you mean. Eagleton's criticism stands as well for your position as for Dawkins'.

[ 11 March 2007: Message edited by: B.L. Zeebub LLD ]


N.Beltov
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quote:M. Spector: Dawkins considers all the arguments for the belief in God and demolishes them. Read the book and see for yourself, instead of just relying on hostile critics.

That's always good advice. And Dawkins isn't the only one to read. Daniel Dennett, Canadian Kai Neilson, and many others have produced a wealth of material over the last few years.


quote:M.Spector: Having demolished the underpinnings of theology, there's no need to do more. The edifice will collapse on its own.

Until the origin of religion is properly explained and understood, which neither Dawkins nor anyone else has accomplished, this "edifice" won't collapse any more than the state will "wither away".


Geneva
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quote:Originally posted by M. Spector:
These theological "giants" all lived centuries ago. Thanks to science, we now know a lot more about the world than we did then. "Theology" has not advanced at all in the meantime.

Theology is more than just arguments for the belief in God. In fact, if it were, you could master theology in an afternoon, because the arguments are pretty thin.

Dawkins considers all the arguments for the belief in God and demolishes them. Read the book and see for yourself, instead of just relying on hostile critics. Having demolished the underpinnings of theology, there's no need to do more. The edifice will collapse on its own.

there seem to be 4-5 arguments/assertions here, each confusedly jockeying for a place:

- 1. "many top theologians lived long ago";
a non-argument, so did Galileo, Shakespeare, Da Vinci, Descartes: are they "invalid"? would 2+2=4 be more compelling if proven just 100 years ago, or 2000 or more years ago?

- 2. "science has advanced, theology has not";
the former excellent, the second again unproven and/or irrelevant;

- 3. "arguments for God are thin";
asserting the conclusion in the argument, invalid;

- 4. "Dawkins demolishes arguments for God";
see above, unproven;

- 5. "theology will collapse";
unproven and/or irrelevant.


B.L. Zeebub LLD
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quote:Originally posted by M. Spector:
These theological "giants" all lived centuries ago. Thanks to science, we now know a lot more about the world than we did then. "Theology" has not advanced at all in the meantime.

"New" and "better" are not - despite the best efforts of the marketing industry - synonyms.

quote:Theology is more than just arguments for the belief in God. In fact, if it were, you could master theology in an afternoon, because the arguments are pretty thin.

As Heidegger would have it (I'm paraphrasing), the trouble with "modern, rationalist" views of the world is that they mistake "correct statements" for truth. The trouble with Dawkins' position is that it will always rely on "observable" phenomena, i.e. the outer appearance of things to us. Whether or not our perceptions of the world conform to its reality is certainly not a settled question. In short, what we see is not necessarily the whole picture. In fact, it probably isn't according to the best "science" on perception and cognition, not to mention the problems of observation at the sub-atomic and astronomic levels.

quote:Dawkins considers all the arguments for the belief in God and demolishes them. Read the book and see for yourself, instead of just relying on hostile critics. Having demolished the underpinnings of theology, there's no need to do more. The edifice will collapse on its own.

Sounds more like a case of preaching to the choir with an extra helping of wishful thinking.

[ 11 March 2007: Message edited by: B.L. Zeebub LLD ]


M. Spector
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quote:Originally posted by N.Beltov:
Until the [b]origin of religion is properly explained and understood, which neither Dawkins nor anyone else has accomplished, this "edifice" won't collapse any more than the state will "wither away".[/b]
You don't think Dennett's Breaking the Spell goes a long way to doing just that?

ETA: And the point of my edifice metaphor, if I didn't make it clear, was that without a basis for believing in a god, there's no need for "theology" at all. I wasn't trying to say that religion was going to disappear any time soon.

Indeed, as long as there is a class society, with powerful interests seeking to suppress and confuse the masses, there will be powerful and well-funded religions, and plenty of misguided progressives ready to defend them.

[ 11 March 2007: Message edited by: M. Spector ]


M. Spector
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quote:Originally posted by B.L. Zeebub LLD:
The trouble with Dawkins' position is that it will always rely on "observable" phenomena...
Oh, shame on him!

I'll take observable phenomena any day over the Invisible Pink Unicorn, thanks all the same.

quote:"New" and "better" are not - despite the best efforts of the marketing industry - synonyms.
Gimme that ol' time religion... it's good enough for me!

[ 11 March 2007: Message edited by: M. Spector ]


N.Beltov
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quote:M. Spector: You don't think Dennett's Breaking the Spell goes a long way to doing just that?

It's a good contribution. I hope Dennett lives long enough to continue and advance this work. However, my point is just that I don't think it makes much sense to predict the demise of an institution, like religion, when its origin isn't fully understood. There's much to be done in the sociology of religion, the history of religion, etc.

I should add that I myself am a church-goer. I also come from an atheistic tradition, both in my family and personally. The kind of democratically-minded , socially conscious congregation that I belong to [Unitarian Univ.] feels pretty comfortable and, for the time being anyway, I get something out of it. Why shouldn't I get such benefits ... even if it from an institution that could be, for all I know, doomed? People won't dispense with something if it is still useful to them. I think a large part of what atheists need to do, to be successful, is to skillfully disentangle the harmful from the useful in religion. If the state and society can provide what people get from religion and churches then we will, finally, have no need of them.


N.Beltov
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quote:M. Spector: ETA: And the point of my edifice metaphor, if I didn't make it clear, was that without a basis for believing in a god, there's no need for "theology" at all. I wasn't trying to say that religion was going to disappear any time soon.

OK - I missed this while typing my previous entry.

quote:Indeed, as long as there is a class society, with powerful interests seeking to suppress and confuse the masses, there will be powerful and well-funded religions, and plenty of misguided progressives ready to defend them.

Progressives should go where the people are and not only where we wish them to be. And I'm certainly glad that there are churches other than the ones dominated by fundamentalist, misanthropic and dominionist zealots.


M. Spector
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quote:Originally posted by N.Beltov:
Progressives should go where the people are and not only where we wish them to be.
I agree, but that doesn't mean they should be defending the indefensible.

Vansterdam Kid
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quote:Originally posted by M. Spector:
I don't know what your point is. I do know that there is obviously a woman's foot on the person who last went through that door.

I'm not exactly sure what babblerwannabe's point is either. But playing the "I'm more oppressed" card, is tacky at best.


Cueball
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quote:Originally posted by Geneva:

- 2. "science has advanced, theology has not";
the former excellent, the second again unproven and/or irrelevant;

a) this statement ("science has advanced, theology has not"} is based in some pretty insular modernitst conceptions of the world. For instance "progress" is a term entirely reified in the empircist modernist framework, and so naturally, science when judged by its own standards, winc out over theology, since "progress" is no a notion of theological interest.

b) It is clearly evident that theology has changed substantially over the last 400 years. For instance, no one in the Catholic church seems that interested in arguing that the sun revolves around earth. But that is just an obvious example, there are for more subtle shifts in the paradigm, for instance the theology of athiesm has made an appearance.

For instance this argumentfor "faith-based" athiesm;

quote:Originally posted by M. Spector:

But apparently people who do [b]not believe in holy ghosts need to demonstrate a thorough knowledge of "theology" in order to justify their non-belief.[/b]

comes nearest to asserting the non-existance of god, through a theological device: faith.

[ 11 March 2007: Message edited by: Cueball ]


M. Spector
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quote:Originally posted by Vansterdam Kid:
But playing the "I'm more oppressed" card, is tacky at best.
Nobody's doing that. It's the "I'm more distrusted" card, and we've got the statistics to prove it. That's in fact what this thread and its predecessor thread were supposed to be all about.

M. Spector
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quote:Originally posted by Cueball:
It is clearly evident that theology has changed substantially over the last 400 years. For instance, no one in the Catholic church seems that interested in arguing that the sun revolves around earth.
Oh yes, that was a big advance in "theology". [img]rolleyes.gif" border="0[/img]

In fact, it was a total capitulation to science. Were it not for empirical scientific proof that the "theology" was wrong, the Catholic church and everybody else would to this day believe that the sun revolves around the earth once a day.

And if some upstart came along in the 21st century and tried to present empirical evidence against the church's position, they would be attacked by so-called progressives for not having a complete understanding of "theology".


N.Beltov
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One good turn deserves another... [response to above remarks by Cueball]

quote:Michael Shermer: It turns out that the number-one reason people give for why they believe in God is a variation on the classic cosmological or design argument: The good design, natural beauty, perfection, and complexity of the world or universe compels us to think that it could not have come about without an intelligent designer. In other words, people say they believe in God because the evidence of their senses tells them so. Thus, comtrary to what most religions preach about the need and importance of faith, most people believe because of reason.

The quote is from Shermer's groundbreaking book, How We Believe: The Search for God in an Age of Science, p. xiv, 2000, W.H. Freeman & Co., NY. Shermer substantiates his claim with evidence from his large survey in his book. It is a most remarkable conclusion.

[ 11 March 2007: Message edited by: N.Beltov ]


M. Spector
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quote:Originally posted by N.Beltov:
[quoting Shermer]Thus, contrary to what most religions preach about the need and importance of faith, most people believe because of reason.
Shermer's assertion is easily disproved when you consider how religious belief is in most cases impervious to reason.

Intelligent design has been shown many times over to be a fallacious conclusion from observable facts, yet many people still cling to it even when presented with the truth.

In fact, there are millions of religious people who have been convinced, on a rational basis, by the arguments against ID, and who have as a result accepted the Darwinian explanations of natural selection, complexity, and design in nature, and yet still insist on clinging to their religious beliefs.

People who believe thunder is caused by angels bowling are relying on a form of "rational" belief, but if they persist in that belief even after having the real cause of thunder explained to them, then their belief is based on faith alone.


N.Beltov
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quote:M. Spector:Shermer's assertion is easily disproved when you consider how religious belief is in most cases impervious to reason.

I can't resist the urge to suggest that you take your own advice [in regard to Dawkins] and have a look at Shermer's book. Appendix II lays out the survey, how it was collected, some of the mathematics of it, etc.

quote:Shermer: ... we believe that the instrument we used to collect the data provides an accurate reflection of what Americans believe about God, some of the most important influencing variables on their belief, and why they believe.

Collecting data about religious beliefs has been very difficult. Dennett goes into this in his book. In the case of the Druze in Lebanon, for example, many of their most important religious beliefs are secret. Hard to collect data in that case.

That a majority of believers would choose to substantiate their belief in the way Shermer has shown is quite different from a primitive "I believe and that's that" approach.

[ 11 March 2007: Message edited by: N.Beltov ]


M. Spector
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I did actually read Shermer's book several years ago. It appeared to me to have been a case of parlaying an opinion poll into a book.

One possible interpretation of the poll is commonplace: that people will resort to rationalization when asked to justify beliefs that they hold on faith (and by faith I mean that they hold them because they want them to be true).

Or as Shermer says:

quote:...Sulloway and I discovered that the number one reason people give for their belief in God is the good [!? - M.S.]design of the world. When asked why they think other people believe in God, however, the number one reason offered was emotional need and comfort, with the good design of the world dropping to sixth place. Further, we found that educated men who already believed in God were far more likely to give rational reasons for their belief than were educated women and uneducated believers.... One explanation for these results is that although in general education leads to a decrease in religious faith, for those people who are educated and still believe in God there appears to be a need to justify their beliefs with rational arguments.
Educated people, in other words, recognize that justifying a belief on the basis of faith alone is intellectually untenable. In order to avoid looking stupid, therefore, they invent rationalizations for their own belief, while at the same time being far more candid about the motivations of others for holding the very same beliefs.

It's interesting, but what does it prove? That atheists get nowhere by using rational arguments?


Cueball
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quote:Originally posted by M. Spector:
Intelligent design has been shown many times over to be a fallacious conclusion from observable facts, yet many people still cling to it even when presented with the truth.

In fact, there are millions of religious people who have been convinced, on a rational basis, by the arguments against ID, and who have as a result accepted the Darwinian explanations of natural selection, complexity, and design in nature, and yet still insist on clinging to their religious beliefs.

But of course none of that impacts Islamic theology because it does not hold itself accountable to a strict creation theory. The Qu'ran for example, includes examples of advancing understandings of medical science, within its text. For many Muslims, proving Darwinian theory, or hypothesizing about the big bang, or atomic theory is completely irrelevant, as these are just further examples of gods genius at dealing out the cards.

I was told not to long ago by an emphatically devout Muslim that the Big Bang proved the existance of god. You will often see this stuff in their proslethyzing literature.

But you are saying that theology has made no advances, even in the face of the creation and popularization of a theologically world view, completely capable of absorbing any scientific develoment as an article of its canon?

Anyway. Anon.

[ 11 March 2007: Message edited by: Cueball ]


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