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Describing Our Christianity To New Atheists/anti-Theists


psychsteph22
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From what I understand about the New Atheist movement, it is a relatively new movement that claims religion can be tested by logic and reasoning, and some believe a world without any religion would be far more peaceful then what we have now. Some distinguish from bad religion, but many do not. A prime example of this would be Richard Dawkins, at least from what I understand.

 

My question is, how can we describe our brand of Christianity to people who may call themselves Antitheists? Some of them are quite hostile to religion, but especially to Christianity, and not completely without good reason, I think. How would you describe your take on Christianity to an Antitheist or New Athesist? I'm not asking in the name of conversion, but in dialogue and possibly healing and friendship. This is something that has challenged me for a long time.

 

And if I have any of my facts wrong, feel free to set me straight.

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Some of them are quite hostile to religion, but especially to Christianity, and not completely without good reason, I think.

 

I think their position is without objectivity and careful analysis. By citing only the bad things that have been done by Christians, the case is clear. But, they often overlook the good things done by Christians. One could 'prove' the counter case by only citing Christian pacifists, abolitionists, Christian charities, etc.

 

The truth is there have been Christians on both side of many historical events and social movements - slavery, unjust wars, civil rights, gay rights, etc. And, atheists have done both good and bad (see Stalin and Mao) as well.

 

So, my conclusion is that religion, or the absence of religion, is not the determining factor in human behavior.

 

As to how to answer, I think Joseph gives a good suggestion. However, as my grandfather often said, "convince a man against their will and they will be of the same opinion still." It takes an open and objective mind.

 

George

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"For those who believe, no proof is necessary. For those who don't believe, no proof is possible" - Stuart Chase

 

I am willing to dialogue with anyone, When in respectful dialogue it is possible to make my point of view understood, even if it is not accepted.

 

I am not, however, willing to debate with everyone. For those who are close-minded, debate is a waste of time because they will never ever cede a point and seldom even try to understand another POV.

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In my experience, the greatest obstacle is not merely in that someone doesn't believe there's enough evidence for the existence of God. 'New atheism' tends to be anchored in something much deeper: a consensus view of reality that pervades our entire culture, both among the religious and the non-religious. This consensus view is very hard to break, and without that breakthrough, making any honest and critical spiritual affirmation about the nature of our existence is exceedingly difficult. The consensus view is that which has implicitly and explicitly coloured our perception to the extent that we don't even notice our presuppositions and biases, and this is none other than scientific materialism. Without transcending the strictures of scientific materialism, a person may not even be able to imagine how religious things might be true.

 

For me it took studying ontology and epistemology (the studies of being and knowledge) to discover that the consensus view was inadequate to deal with the empirical weight of subjectivity and other questions, and it came as a surprise to me that I was not alone: there are plenty of intellectuals, philosophers, and scientists who feel the same -- powerful appeals are still being made to the continued validity of classical philosophy (just because something is out of fashion does not make it wrong) -- and also to post-modern philosophies like process philosophy and phenomenology (non-materialistic ways of investigating mind, body, and reality). The real task is to challenge 'new atheists' -- the vast majority of which are secularists committed to the metaphysical vision of scientific materialism, to think beyond those categories. If that can be accomplished, I think there we be a natural opening for they themselves to explore other avenues of realizing their existence, other ways of knowing. There is no need to force anything on anyone. If one's thinking is freed, the mind will go where it naturally is moved.

 

Peace,

Mike

 

ps. Just to be clear, I don't think 'atheism' per se is even a problem. I don't mind whether people believe in God or not. I have concerns however about more general methods and views regarding reality. You might say the 'new atheism' of Dawkins and Dennett et. al., is the logical end of where modernist philosophical presuppositions have taken us.

Edited by Mike
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My question is, how can we describe our brand of Christianity to people who may call themselves Antitheists?

 

Well, since I probably fall into your category of an "Antitheist," in that I do not hold to a theistic view of the world, I would say that you should emphasize the redemptive work of Christianity.

 

I mean, I could care less whether or not Jesus walked on water. Now, tell me that he encourages you to love your neighbor as yourself, and you've got my attention.

 

But, the minute you tell me that the Bible informs you that homosexuality is a sin, evolution is wrong and that you should vote this way or that way because Jesus told you to; then, you've lost me if all you have to back up your position is a Bible verse.

 

NORM

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I agree with many of the previous comments.

 

It is interestingthat you mention "antitheists" as well as "new atheists". Any person who describes themselves as anti-anything is likely to prove hard to reason with. I would tend to let it all drop there. It might be worth noting that many religious people, including some who regard themselves as Christian, are atheists, so one point of discussion is whether the person is anti-theist or anti-religious.

 

—Jim

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I agree with many of the previous comments.

 

It is interestingthat you mention "antitheists" as well as "new atheists". Any person who describes themselves as anti-anything is likely to prove hard to reason with. I would tend to let it all drop there. It might be worth noting that many religious people, including some who regard themselves as Christian, are atheists, so one point of discussion is whether the person is anti-theist or anti-religious.

 

—Jim

 

There is a definite distinction between an anti-religious person and and anti-theist. The anti-theist does not accept supernatural explanations for every day phenomenon, and trusts that things not known or understood now will eventually yield a naturalistic reasoning.

 

The anti-religious usually objects on some moralistic ground.

 

And I disagree with you that an anti-theist is difficult to reason with. All you have to do is show us a revivified dead person, and we'll believe in the resurrection. Simple!

 

NORM

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Norm, I'm currently in the atheist category, but have left a little space for the currently unknown, rather than choose an anti-theist position. To me the word 'anti' seems to mean against and/or in opposition to. How can one be anti-God when one doesn't have all the answers? I'll agree with you that more than likely there is a naturalistic explanation for the existence of the universe and life within, but until we know the answer conclusively, why would anyone take the position that it couldn't possibly be or have anything to do with something we don't know well enough but choose to call God?

 

To quote Christopher Hitchens (according to Wikopedia) "I'm not even an atheist so much as I am an antitheist; I not only maintain that all religions are versions of the same untruth, but I hold that the influence of churches, and the effect of religious belief, is positively harmful."

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Many Secularist are just people who do not believe in supernatural events and that is good as long as they appreciate the earth, the people on it and allow others to their way of life, but that doesn’t happen with some who want to force their ideas on others. I feel we need threads to spread the secular faith so they don’t have to attack people with an alternative view and discriminate against them. Being a Secularist does not make one a better or a worse person than a religious person. Dogmatism from Fundamental Secularist and right-wing fundamentalist both lead to intolerance.

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And I disagree with you that an anti-theist is difficult to reason with. All you have to do is show us a revivified dead person, and we'll believe in the resurrection. Simple!

 

NORM

 

Simple? Not all theists believe in the physical resurrection. But that is getting away from my intended point. An atheist is a person who does not believe in the existence of a physical god out there somewhere. An anti-theist sounds like someone who stands against a principle. Even if there did exist a theos and could be proven to exist, an anti-theist - by definition - would oppose him/her.

 

I joined an anit-war group to protest the entry of my country into Iraq. When the protest failed, I attempted to enrol the members of the group in undertaking a project to relieve the suffering that would be caused by the war. To no avail. It seems that anti-war does not mean pro-peace.

 

For this reason, I have come to distrust the anti- prefix wherever I see it. I am an atheist in that my view of God, of the Divine, is not theistically based. I am not anti-theism, even though I disagree with the theistic view.. Atheism allows me to find myself mistaken, whereas, if I were to take an anti-theistic stance there would be little room for correction if needed.

 

—Jim

Edited by JimYoungman
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An anti-theist sounds like someone who stands against a principle. Even if there did exist a theos and could be proven to exist, an anti-theist - by definition - would oppose him/her...For this reason, I have come to distrust the anti- prefix wherever I see it. I am an atheist in that my view of God, of the Divine, is not theistically based. I am not anti-theism, even though I disagree with the theistic view.. Atheism allows me to find myself mistaken, whereas, if I were to take an anti-theistic stance there would be little room for correction if needed.

 

Anti-theist is not a label of my invention. I think you used it in the OP to describe someone like me who does not think there are supernatural happenings like miracles or revivification.

 

Personally, I don't bother with labels. I think that most people carry a range of thoughts and feelings that cross over many "isms." For example, as you point out; there are Christians who don't believe in the bodily resurrection.

 

Also, The G-d of the Tanakh, unlike the Christian God, is spirit and has no physical presence. So, there are many in the Jewish community who are non-theists.

 

I'm not anti anything. I just don't see the point of believing in things I can't see, and for which there is scant evidence, particularly since belief in supernatural events, magic and such does not add anything to the message.

 

NORM

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Norm, I'm currently in the atheist category, but have left a little space for the currently unknown, rather than choose an anti-theist position. To me the word 'anti' seems to mean against and/or in opposition to. How can one be anti-God when one doesn't have all the answers? I'll agree with you that more than likely there is a naturalistic explanation for the existence of the universe and life within, but until we know the answer conclusively, why would anyone take the position that it couldn't possibly be or have anything to do with something we don't know well enough but choose to call God?

 

Yes, I agree. The prefix anti does not really describe where I'm at. It was an appellation given in the OP to this thread. I should have pointed that out sooner.

 

There was a time when I would allow for supernatural explanations for things I don't currently understand, but I no longer do. I assume that we just don't know the answer yet, and that eventually, science or experience / observation will reveal the truth of the matter.

 

Quite a few years back, I actually sought out supernatural occurrences. I would read about claims of the supernatural and investigate them. I investigated well over 100 claims. Every single one of them turned out to be explainable by natural causes, or were outright frauds. I'm sure I would have discovered plenty more were I investigating after the advent of personal computing.

 

NORM

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I think the natural/supernatural dichotomy is artificial. Neither concept adds anything to empirical reality; and through neither concept can we deduce the existence of anything at all. More often than not I think what people mean by 'natural' is that which we have come to generalize about through induction (repeated observation). This however has obvious limitations and does not furnish us with an ontology.

 

Peace,

Mike

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I think the natural/supernatural dichotomy is artificial. Neither concept adds anything to empirical reality; and through neither concept can we deduce the existence of anything at all.

 

Who posited a dichotomy? I think that there is no supernatural. Only natural. Therefore; no dichotomy. If I see something, and it has a name; it exits in my mind. Whether or not it does or doesn't in some alternate universe or whatever imagined reality or non-reality is beside the point to me.

 

More often than not I think what people mean by 'natural' is that which we have come to generalize about through induction (repeated observation).

 

Well, sure. That's called the scientific method. The beauty of it is that it is not bound by a single "reality" at any one time. Any "truth" can be found to be faulty through repeated experimentation and observation. Of course, some things have been tested so thoroughly (such as gravity and carbon dating, for example) that they become "laws" of the universe. But, even those can be overturned if evidence supports it.

 

This however has obvious limitations and does not furnish us with an ontology.

 

I'm not sure what that means.

 

NORM

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Hi Norm,

 

Who posited a dichotomy? I think that there is no supernatural. Only natural. Therefore; no dichotomy.

 

The dichotomy is presupposed. The predicate ‘natural’ is utterly superfluous without ‘supernatural.’ Set against ‘supernatural,’ the meaning of natural is determined, and vice-versa. Without ‘supernatural,’ there would be no ‘natural world,’ there would only be a ‘world,’ neither natural nor supernatural.

 

Furthermore, what is termed ‘natural’ or ‘supernatural’ is contextually loaded, dependent upon one’s expectations of the way things are. In other words, it is biased. What might be 'natural' according to one person may strike another as 'supernatural'. For those cosmologists who in the first part of the 20th century believed in the steady-state theory, 'big-bang' cosmology smacked of supernatural creation. For many philosophers of mind, subjectivity is taken as a naturally given starting point, while for others "mind" is magic, supernatural, and needs to be eliminated from our picture of the world. I think various scientific explanations of phenomena are not 'naturalistic' as opposed to 'supernaturalistic', but just one explanation in contrast to other explanations of how phenomena relate one to another.

 

If I see something, and it has a name; it exits in my mind. Whether or not it does or doesn't in some alternate universe or whatever imagined reality or non-reality is beside the point to me.

 

Like you I’m not too interested in imagined, alternate realities, either. I didn’t appeal to any.

 

I find it interesting that you say, ‘If I see something, and it has a name.’ Not to digress -- but I wonder why you add, ‘and it has a name’? If something exists and is unnamed, does it not really exist, or is it supernatural? Or is a form of idealism suggested, wherein we suppose that things only exist that are defined by an immaterial essence (Platonism). What if things exist but have no essence, that is, they are unintelligible and ineffable mysteries? I'm not trying to twist your words. These are indeed deeper questions than most people notice.

 

Well, sure. That's called the scientific method. The beauty of it is that it is not bound by a single "reality" at any one time. Any "truth" can be found to be faulty through repeated experimentation and observation. Of course, some things have been tested so thoroughly (such as gravity and carbon dating, for example) that they become "laws" of the universe. But, even those can be overturned if evidence supports it.

 

If all that we mean by ‘nature’ is that which we generalize about through induction, then ‘nature’ simply amounts to that method of generalization, and nature doesn’t exist outside of the scientific method itself. What I’m trying to say is that ‘nature’ adds nothing to the content of the scientific method. We simply have the method and its results. What does referring to this as ‘nature’ add? The results will be what they will regardless.

 

As for truth, is it really the case that any truth can be found to be 'faulty'? What about the truth of that assertion? What of Descartes’ method: ‘I think, therefore I exist.’ To doubt my own existence is to prove it. Is all 'truth' on the same level -- all knowledge of the same degree, everything without exception merely an indirect, distant, objectified construction of guess-work?

 

Perhaps the more we objectify reality, the less certain we become. Perhaps knowledge and being are intimately linked, so that the farther removed from being, the less stable our knowledge becomes. What is pre-objective cannot be doubted because it cannot be made an object of speculation. The more abstract (I.e. detached, disembodied, ‘lifted-out-of-context’) our questioning becomes, the more room for doubt.

 

Conversely, if there is literally nothing which cannot be falsified, then there is literally nothing which can truly be affirmed. All truth must rest in reality. Truth and knowledge are not a matter of proposition only; it is the very face of being itself. What is it to know in the most general sense of the word? What is 'knowledge' that a subject may attain it? How does knowledge cross from the subjective world to the objective world, if these two 'worlds' are really divided as is commonly believed? Best of luck if you wish to resolve these questions -- or even frame them -- through hard science.

 

I'm not sure what that means.

 

By induction we can infer what will happen. But it does not explain why it will happen or what, in a deep sense, it is that happens. We do not gain a substantive vision of reality by means of it.

 

I think there are aspects of reality intrinsically beyond our means to objectively give an account of. Consider that to date there is not one shred of scientific evidence, strictly speaking, that any of us has any subjective experience at all.

 

Peace,

Mike

Edited by Mike
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There was a time when I would allow for supernatural explanations for things I don't currently understand, but I no longer do. I assume that we just don't know the answer yet, and that eventually, science or experience / observation will reveal the truth of the matter.

 

NORM

 

Norm, my wife agreeing to marry me was definitely a supernatural intervention! (Bugger, I wish I had come up with that line for Valentine's Day!) :D

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The dichotomy is presupposed.

 

Only if you pre-suppose it.

 

If I substituted world, you would counter with other-world. I never offered a counter to natural or world. I don't "suppose" there is an alternate. You did.

 

 

 

Furthermore, what is termed ‘natural’ or ‘supernatural’ is contextually loaded, dependent upon one’s expectations of the way things are. In other words, it is biased. What might be 'natural' according to one person may strike another as 'supernatural'. For those cosmologists who in the first part of the 20th century believed in the steady-state theory, 'big-bang' cosmology smacked of supernatural creation. For many philosophers of mind, subjectivity is taken as a naturally given starting point, while for others "mind" is magic, supernatural, and needs to be eliminated from our picture of the world. I think various scientific explanations of phenomena are not 'naturalistic' as opposed to 'supernaturalistic', but just one explanation in contrast to other explanations of how phenomena relate one to another.

 

True, but they've mostly outgrown these notions.

 

 

 

I find it interesting that you say, ‘If I see something, and it has a name.’ Not to digress -- but I wonder why you add, ‘and it has a name’? If something exists and is unnamed, does it not really exist, or is it supernatural?

 

I use names because we use language to communicate. Just because something is unnamed doesn't mean that it is "super-natural" It just means that, perhaps, it hasn't been discovered yet.

 

Or is a form of idealism suggested, wherein we suppose that things only exist that are defined by an immaterial essence (Platonism). What if things exist but have no essence, that is, they are unintelligible and ineffable mysteries? I'm not trying to twist your words. These are indeed deeper questions than most people notice.

 

 

 

If all that we mean by ‘nature’ is that which we generalize about through induction, then ‘nature’ simply amounts to that method of generalization, and nature doesn’t exist outside of the scientific method itself. What I’m trying to say is that ‘nature’ adds nothing to the content of the scientific method. We simply have the method and its results. What does referring to this as ‘nature’ add? The results will be what they will regardless.

 

As for truth, is it really the case that any truth can be found to be 'faulty'? What about the truth of that assertion? What of Descartes’ method: ‘I think, therefore I exist.’ To doubt my own existence is to prove it. Is all 'truth' on the same level -- all knowledge of the same degree, everything without exception merely an indirect, distant, objectified construction of guess-work?

 

Perhaps the more we objectify reality, the less certain we become. Perhaps knowledge and being are intimately linked, so that the farther removed from being, the less stable our knowledge becomes. What is pre-objective cannot be doubted because it cannot be made an object of speculation. The more abstract (I.e. detached, disembodied, ‘lifted-out-of-context’) our questioning becomes, the more room for doubt.

 

Conversely, if there is literally nothing which cannot be falsified, then there is literally nothing which can truly be affirmed. All truth must rest in reality. Truth and knowledge are not a matter of proposition only; it is the very face of being itself. What is it to know in the most general sense of the word? What is 'knowledge' that a subject may attain it? How does knowledge cross from the subjective world to the objective world, if these two 'worlds' are really divided as is commonly believed? Best of luck if you wish to resolve these questions -- or even frame them -- through hard science.

 

 

 

By induction we can infer what will happen. But it does not explain why it will happen or what, in a deep sense, it is that happens. We do not gain a substantive vision of reality by means of it.

 

I think there are aspects of reality intrinsically beyond our means to objectively give an account of. Consider that to date there is not one shred of scientific evidence, strictly speaking, that any of us has any subjective experience at all.

 

All of this is very interesting. When I have more time, I can give you my response.

 

NORM

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My question is, how can we describe our brand of Christianity to people who may call themselves Antitheists? Some of them are quite hostile to religion, but especially to Christianity, and not completely without good reason, I think. How would you describe your take on Christianity to an Antitheist or New Athesist? I'm not asking in the name of conversion, but in dialogue and possibly healing and friendship. This is something that has challenged me for a long time.

 

And if I have any of my facts wrong, feel free to set me straight.

Speaking as someone who has had experience in interacting with both atheists and Christians of all stripes on these issues, I have several tips and words of advice that I think would be very useful to keep in mind when you discuss your religion with the "New Atheists."

 

1. Don't start the discussion assuming atheists have no standard for their morality. This topic has been debated to death already and you can find tons of youtube videos on the subject if you really want to know and they'll just think you were a bigot for even thinking it.

2. Don't try to blame atheism as being responbsible for Stalin and Hitler. Again, this topic has been debated to death all ready and you'll come across a bigot for saying it and they'll probably just ridicule you for it.

3. Do a search on youtube for Bill Maher's video "atheism is not a religion."

4. Don't try to compare Dawkins to the Crusades just because you think Dawkins is mean. Again, you'll just make yourself look like an embarrassment to Christianity and you won't be taken seriously.

5. Don't assume all atheists think exactly alike on every issue and listen to what other people have to say before you start preaching.

6. If you think you have a surefire argument that really truly proves the existence of God, chances are, they've already heard it.

7. Don't ever use Pascal's Wager.

8. Try actually reading the books of the New Atheists all the way through first before you actually start ranting about them. Speaking as someone who does not always agree with the New Atheists on every subject, my biggest pet peeve when Christians try to "respond" to them is that the vast majority of them have clearly never read their books and are just repeating stuff they heard their preacher say about them or they're just responding to cherry picked quotes in news articles without actually reading the whole thing. If you can read the entire bible in spite of all the fire and brimstone and bloody genocidal passages and still find some good in it, surely actually reading The God Delusion before you discuss it isn't going to hurt you.

Edited by Neon Genesis
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The "anti" position on most anything is the weaker and most error-prone position, for reasons inherent in that position itself.

Logic does not allow prooving the negative. It's a position that in and of itself offers no positive alternatives. The "anti" position is often left with nothing more than unsound reasoning, fallacies of logic, and irrational emotionalism, usually quickly deteriorating into pettiness and even absurdity, on which to begin, proceed, or stand.

Imo, we can just look at the aparant present strategies of GOP party and candidates for a pretty obvious example of that.

 

Jenell

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Hi Norm,

 

Only if you pre-suppose it.

 

If I substituted world, you would counter with other-world. I never offered a counter to natural or world. I don't "suppose" there is an alternate. You did.

 

I'm not sure where I did this. I think what counts as 'natural' or 'supernatural' depends entirely on one's presuppositions. They are empty categories to be filled by one's expectations. Thus, reality is neither natural nor supernatural. But you did write,

 

"The anti-theist does not accept supernatural explanations for every day phenomenon, and trusts that things not known or understood now will eventually yield a naturalistic reasoning."

 

"There was a time when I would allow for supernatural explanations for things I don't currently understand, but I no longer do. I assume that we just don't know the answer yet, and that eventually, science or experience / observation will reveal the truth of the matter."

 

"I'm not anti anything. I just don't see the point of believing in things I can't see, and for which there is scant evidence, particularly since belief in supernatural events, magic and such does not add anything to the message."

 

To my mind this seems to presuppose the dichotomy, and moreover seems to assume that there is a universal definition or standard by which to judge what 'natural' as opposed to 'supernatural' even means. But as I tried to argue, I don't think there is any such standard, as I attempted to illustrate with a few examples, although I was probably unclear...

 

True, but they've mostly outgrown these notions.

 

For many philosophers of mind, subjectivity is a natural starting place -- a given. But there are those who think that the very concept of subjectivity/mind is nothing but 'magic' -- and magic, of course, does not exist. So, what is perfectly natural to the first group is a magical explanation to the second group. Let me be clear that this second group does not actually believe in magic, they disbelieve in magic, and since the notion of mind/subjectivity strikes them as magic, their project is to eliminate mind/subjectivity from one's picture of reality. Incidentally, it is this latter group that most of the new atheists fall into (especially Dan Dennett, Michael Shermer).

 

Plainly, one person's notion of 'nature' is another's notion of 'magic'. These are startling differences on the nature of existence for two people who both profess a 'natural' world. Assuming that 'natural' has any one meaning cannot justify the diversity found in actual philosophical discourse. This isn't a matter of 'growing up' intellectually. These are real, contemporary topics that have no sign of being 'outgrown'. Yet, depending on how one answers the questions these issues present, one's notion of 'reality' will take drastically different shape -- to the extent that what is 'natural' to one is supernatural to another.

 

All of this is very interesting. When I have more time, I can give you my response.

 

I look forward to you thoughts.

 

Peace,

Mike

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...Thus, reality is neither natural nor supernatural. But you did write,

 

 

 

OK, let's just use the word reality.

 

I simply have no need to turn to the so-called supernatural to explain reality. It's that simple.

 

NORM

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