Alas, these answers may not be quite the ones originally intended. My computer briefly freaked out on me, and when the document (that had been pre-saved) was retrieved, most of the original answers had 'vamanosed'. Whatever. Here are the answers in their 2nd incarnation (which is about 50% shorter than what I had orginally).
6 ) If all Christians believed that the Bible was entirely allegorical, what would you argue in support of your position ?
Your question is unclear. What position do you mean? That the bible is not allegorical? That the bible’s validity is independent of its allegorical nature? That it is not based on the existence of God? That whether or not the bible is allegorical there is still factual God existence? If the last, this is a non-sequitur, for the same reasons I applied to religion being a separate issue from proof or evidence of a deity. (See last part)
The reason is that one can avail onself of scrolls, archaeological and other evidence to test the veracity of biblical claims. One cannot do the same for God.
7 ) Do you believe in extra-terrestrials ?
I believe there is a very high probability that extraterrestrials exist, given more than 10 billion solar-like stars in the Milky Way alone, with planets circling them- and we know planets can imply beings. The Sim Lite Astrometric Observatory has already found more than 370 other planets orbiting other stars. It is only a matter of time before we locate and identify at least one other world with intelligent life.
8 ) How is it that we live in such an exquisitely fine-tuned universe?
Even assuming that the universe could have popped out of nothingness, why should it have been such an orderly and hospitable one? Is there a scientific, testable answer for this question that does not simply appeal to imagination ?
The fine tuning is actually highly exaggerated. What this so-called fine tuning shows more than anything is that we inhabit an accidental universe. That the constants of nature comport with and somehow enable us to live here and now is purely a coincidence. To make a huge thing of it is to inflate our human importance and to imagine that because we no longer inhabit the center of the universe (as many ancients believed) we are now at some kind of creative center. Not so.
What the anthropic principle shows more than anything is that – like the Heisenberg Uncertainty principle in quantum mechanics- we must be wary of selection effects. We must be wary of insinuating ourselves into our physics or astrophysics.
As for being “orderly”, this is a misperception based purely on our inhabiting a relatively habitable and “hospitable” planet (ignoring all the tsunamis, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions etc). If one moves out further this apparent order vanishes. At the largest scales it ceases to exist.
Barely 7% of the cosmos (according to the latest cosmological findings from an array of data) can be regarded (potentially) as being matter in its normal everyday form, and hence - subject to "mechanical" forces and arranged in what some may ascribe "mechanical order".
Even for this fraction, more than 99% is in the form of PLASMA - meaning hot, ionized gas.The remaining 93% of the cosmos is in the form of either dark energy (70%) or dark matter (23%). The first is currently causing the cosmic expansion to accelerate by virtue of a repulsive force that can be accounted for fully within the scope of Einstein's general theory of relativity. Eventually, all gravitational bounds will be sundered by this dark energy as all parts of the cosmos drift apart from each other and die.
As for testability, precision measurements of the cosmic microwave background (CMB), including data from the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP), have recently provided further evidence for dark energy. The same is true of data from two extensive projects charting the large-scale distribution of galaxies - the Two-Degree Field (2DF) and Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS).
Bottom line the only order exists in one little remote corner of the cosmos that we know of, with possibly other minute corners scattered throughout the cosmos.
9 a)Does life really have no point other than what you pretend for your own sake ? Will you say, like atheist philosopher Albert Camus, that the only serious question is "suicide ?"
Okay as I have noted already in other exchanges with you, merely because the atheist acknowledges no ultimate purpose (e.g. for his life or the cosmos) that does not mean he has no purpose! What you forget is that we have the mind and means to craft a purpose on our own, not beholden to some imaginary deity or subjugated to it.
Thus, the implicit despair embedded in Camus quote is uncalled for. Any sentient atheist at any time can forge his or her own purpose, independent of others. This in fact is the norm and people do it anyway. They don’t make a big deal out of it! ("Hey, George, do you have a purpose in life? Oh no? Ya gonna off yourself then?") Everyone in his or her work or activity implicitly executes a purpose they have created. Anyone engaged in any creative activity, from doing a painting, to sculpting, to writing a song or poem, likewise.
For some, it is their work, for many others it may be volunteering in some way. For me it is writing assorted books to offer insight and my experience to others, whether in astronomy, or math or philosophy. (My next book is geared to help them do math)
Thus, suicide is not an option, because I assign my own meaning to my life, I do not wait for others to do it for me – or for an almighty to confer purpose.
9b) What values and purpose can atheist parents instill in their children ? Should they be honest with them, or should they borrow ideas from some non-atheistic belief system so as not to disappoint ?
Atheist parents are no different from others, except that the behavior they seek from their children is not predicated on god-ism or religion or the "ten commandments", but on simply doing good, acting good – because then others will be encouraged to reciprocate for you. At the same time, if one acts poorly or selfishly to others, one can expect those sort of behaviors in turn. What goes around and all that.
As William Provine notes in his article Evolution and the Foundation of Ethics (MBL Science, Vol. 3, No. 1, p. 25, 1988.)
“young people should be encouraged to think rationally and critically concerning ethics, not out of fear of some divine force, but to protect their own long-term self-interest”.
Any persistent observer of human social interaction will note that the vast majority of people are law-abiding and decent folk who naturally practice a common-sense, utilitarian ethics similar to what has been described. (See also my answer to (1) in Part I) For proof, one need only look as far as the upstanding Atheist or agnostic who inhabits every community and who - though he disdains a deity, nevertheless treats his fellows with compassion and respect. No supernatural law or commandment ordains this behavior. Instead it is the conscious and deliberate recognition that the promotion of the welfare of others is directly linked to the one's own welfare.
Unfortunately, what the religionists have done is to take the natural code of ethics most people follow and embellish it with a blizzard of superstitious precepts and injunctions. These are superstitious since, inevitably, they are linked to the supposed dictates of a supernatural "being" who will not hesitate to "punish" those who disobey "him".
10 a) The trend of archaeology is toward validation, not denial, of what it is possible to confirm in Scripture. Even non-biblical manuscripts support various key details of Christian theology. The burden of proof is generally on the one seeking to deny historical records.
Again, this is too open-ended, generic and ambiguous. How about giving specific examples instead of generalities? What trend in archaeology and pointing to WHAT biblical event? Give the paper it was proven in, the authors and so on.
No one seeks to ab initio “deny” anything, only demand that those who claim some biblical event is demonstrated by archaeology to prove it. A first step, and most obvious, is radiocarbon dating. If the archeological find hasn't been dated it is likely specious, or fraudulent.
So any example we ask for has to be supported by the appropriate radiocarbon isotope measurements and dating to prove the said finding can be regressed to the hypothetical biblical date. For example, if Nazareth really existed before the 4th century then what specific paper shows the radiocarbon dating earlier – much earlier – than that? And which points specifically to the same location of Nazareth as assumed around 0-33 CE?
10b) What alternative explanation do you offer to the New Testament documentation and the tradition of the church, and what support do you have for your theory ?
What you are asking here would take a whole book in itself to address, not just a blog response. Again, the best answer I can give to anyone interested is to get hold of Oxford scholar Geza Vermes book, ‘The Authentic Gospel of Jesus’ which addresses in full the exegetical basis for NT criticism, and the assorted Logia.
In Vermes’ conclusion, with which I concur, Yeshua’s (Jesus’) mission was all about the Jews, not Gentiles.
As he notes (op. cit, p. 415):
“The religion revealed by the authentic message of Jesus is straightforward, without complex dogmas, mythical images or self-centered mystical speculation. It resembles a race consisting only of the final ‘straight’ – demanding from the runners their last ounce of energy and with a winners’ medal prepared for all the JEWISH participants who cross the finishing line.
At this juncture, one may wonder how a religious genius of the caliber of Jesus could have been such a narrow-minded chauvinist. But the Jewish eschatology of that age was exclusive, and maybe Jesus was simply a child of his time. On the other hand, he may have embraced the prophetic idea manifest in the second half of the Book of Isaiah according to which entry of the Jews into God’s Kingdom would persuade the Gentiles to join them. If so, Jesus could easily imagine that on completion of his exclusively JEWISH mission, God would step in and take care of the rest of mankind.
Compared with the dynamic religion of Jesus, Christianity seems to belong to another world. With its mixture of high philosophical speculation on the triune God, its Johannine Logos mysticism, and Pauline Redeemer myth of a dying and risen Son of God, with its sacramental symbolism and ecclesiastical discipline substituted for the extinct eschatological passion- with its cosmopolitan openness combined with a built-in anti-Judaism- it is hard to imagine how the two could have come from the same source.”
Note this is just the conclusion and must NOT be used as the basis to attack the point-response. To attack the response you need to first read the book, not just the conclusion. The reason is obvious. Without the actual reading of the book you will not see how or why Vermes reached his conclusion. In effect, any attacks then made on the conclusion alone will be hollow, artificial and banal.
10b) Is it because of the miracles that you doubt the Scriptures ?
That is part of it, not least because they all violate one natural law or other, including: law of gravity (walking on water), law of conservation of mass-energy (multiplying a few loaves & fishes to feed 5000), and the 2nd law of thermodynamics (bringing Lazarus back from the dead, changing water to wine)
Bear in mind the scriptures are merely the ruminations of those who wrote them, whose charge (from St. Paul) was to convert unbelievers into believers. So naturally they would invent or insert anything, even “miracles” to do so.
10c) If Jesus really were God in the flesh, how would you expect Him to confirm that fact?
Easy. Do what any electron can do from quantum mechanics. Convert himself into two people-individuals at once, and let them exist and talk -walk side by side for an indefinite time. Then each work a specific miracle - say causing the levitation of the whole population of New York. The come back together again.