Sunday, December 13, 2009
We know that you believe that the Torah was written by God.
Theoretically speaking, what evidence could you think of, that would prove to you, that the Torah, AS WE KNOW IT, was conceived of and written by men?
I ask myself the same question in reverse-- what would prove to me unequivocally that the Torah, as is, was written by God?
Proofs for me would be the at least one of the following:
1. God explicitly revealing himself nowadays, unequivocally, and telling us that he wrote it.
2. That nature would somehow transform itself, so that the "supernatural" miracles described in the Torah would be seen nowadays.
3. That we would be provided unequivocal evidence of life after death, soul, or whatever.
4. As an alternative to #3--that nature changed such that justice is preserved in this world.
(Notice that all of these things are conditions described by some commentators as Messianic times)
I purposely omit arguments from the documentary hypothesis, since theoretically a God would write the book however he wants-anachronisms and all. This thought experiment deals with the text as is.
What do you say, JP? What would convince you? Remember: the more spectacular the claim, the stronger the evidence must be.
Monday, November 23, 2009
Meanwhile I'll occasionally check in on his blog to see if he comes up with anything original or interesting. If so, I'll respond here.
Thanks for following my blog.
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
JP's self-righteous but wrong-headed approach to Israel is often heard by members of the ashkenazi ultra-orthodox community. As is well known, most of the ultra-orthodox world, as well as the reform movement, was opposed to the creation of a Jewish state, but for different reasons. The reform movement was busy assimilating and saw no point in promoting the zionist project which would separate Jews from the gentiles of the world. The orthodox were opposed for ideological and practical reasons.
JP, as we know, is in the business of making unprovable predictions and using them as evidence in his arguments. We read things like, "If atheists prevail, humans will self-destruct". Or, "skeptics and atheists will burn in hell", etc.
Now he makes a prediction about Israel.
"Without the support of the US in ignoring the UN, I don't think it has much chance."
People said that 60 years ago, and Israel is infinitely stronger militarily, economically and diplomatically than it was then. Current events are a blip on the screen. The Arabs have gotten stronger only with their terrorist weapons (ie rockets) and their oil wealth that can't militarily defeat a country.
Regarding Iran, even if they get a nuclear weapon, Israel can destroy them many times over, and therefore it is likely that they won't use it. (just as Saddam didn't use WMDs on Israel).
To be sure, the next war in Israel might be nasty, with civilians taking a big hit. But that doesn't defeat a country.
In the 21st century, assymetric guerilla warfare in urban areas is the norm, and defeats and victories are moral and psychological. This is what Israel and the West are dealing with now. No more pitched tank battles and aerial dogfights. Now its house to house combat, and rockets on civilians. Israeli is coping better with this threat than any other country.
Many people have predicted that a holocaust in America is only a matter of time. (I don't believe this prediction nor JP's). So I've given up on predictions, and I don't listen do anybody else's either.
Thursday, October 1, 2009
The fallacy of his argument is that he picks and chooses what he considers to be progress, while ignoring all of the other inconvenient facts. This is typical of all of his arguments.
Sure, life expectancy increase has slowed. And with limited resources, scientists and governments have to prioritize. With remote technology there's no need to send a man to Mars, since we can learn more from robots. He totally ignores the change in human lifestyle as a result of communications and travel, which has increased man's mobility and wealth many fold since the 60s.
In the medical field many things are treatable now that were hopeless in the 60s, including certain cancers, deafness, blindness, paralysis, amputations etc. Doesn't he think that LASIK surgery is revolutionary? What about cochlear implants? The Internet?
Because information has exploded, it is less concentrated in the hands a few scientists than in the past. So while you have Nobel prize winners and leaders in many fields, it becomes difficult to identify intellectual giants like Einstein and Darwin.
JP, along with his fundamentalist friends, are truly afraid that science may make religion irrelevant one day.
Monday, September 21, 2009
What is even more ludicrous is that this claim comes from a man who believes in and defends the biblical "ethic" of wiping out of Amalek and the seven nations in Canaan.
Stein is a straw man too good to be true...I still wonder if he is a closet atheist and his blog is just a gag.
Let's give Stein a little of his own medicine and include a juicy quote from his post:
Stein says that, "we should probably start investing in companies producing hydrogen cyanide and crematoria."
There it is! Stein thinks we should have another holocaust. Yea! Boy, some Torah morality!
I know it's out of context, its just demonstrates what a dishonest and brainwashed person Stein really is. Stein's little bag of dirty tricks include ad hominem attacks, overgeneralizations, straw man arguments and outright lying. One would assume that in a real, moderated debate in which he was forced to defend his religious beliefs, he would be disqualified or suffer humiliating defeat. I recall some time back a fellow named Avi used to comment on his blog, and offered to debate JP but to no avail.
Friday, September 18, 2009
At a meta-cognitive level people's ways of looking at the world are influenced by many factors, including psychological and environmental factors. In this sense, any of a person's beliefs, preferences, and knowledge could be said to be subjective and be based on "belief". This causes confusion between the term "belief" in its psychological meaning, and the word "belief" in its more formal meaning-- an element in a set of predetermined assumptions and rules associated with organized faith.
For example, I can believe that Jesus Christ was our messiah and savior. I can "believe" this in the sense that I see this as true--the "psychological" form of belief. This assertion is one of many in the Christian faith, so we can see it as a religious belief as well. I can also NOT believe that JC is my savior. In this case I "believe" that JC being my savior is not true, but we would not say that my non-belief is "faith" or "belief" in the dogmatic or religious sense. Just as I don't believe in Thor or Zeuss, I can also not belief in the fundamentalist Hebrew God, and yet it would be incorrect to say that I have a "faith" in my nonacceptance of these assumptions.
Some might claim that atheism is relatively recent in history and is therefore a deviation from the default assumptions, and therefore it is atheism that should be considered "faith based" and has the burden of proof. But this argument is fallacious for several reasons. Many historical beliefs about the physical world, including the fields of astronomy, physics, medicine and chemistry were the "default" until they were disproven. Additionally, "non-atheism" includes a very large collection of incompatible faiths and traditions. Therefore, lumping all "theists" beliefs together, then claiming that any skeptic who rejects any one or all of those beliefs as being a "believer" in a novel "belief" called "atheism" is dishonest and a misuse of the word. And as demonstrated by the flying spaghetti monster, the celestial teapot, or Christian claims about Jesus, the burden of proof rest squarely with the likes of Jacob Stein and his cohorts to prove their claims. It does not rest with me to reject it.
So if I don't accept Jesus as my savior, and reject Thor as a God, I would be a skeptic. All Jews are skeptics, from the point of view of Christians and Muslims. So why if I reject ALL religious claims, not just some of them, am I a "believer" in "atheism"? It is like JP is saying, "take your pick, but you have to choose at least ONE faith based claim, and that always makes more sense than the 'atheist' belief".
Another common distortion that JP uses is that atheists also have their "authorities", making them no different than religionists. He ridicules Darwin, Dawkins, and others as being atheist authorities. The truth is that they became authorities because their ideas have survived the test of time and scrutiny of peer review in the academic world. Besides, atheists don't blindly accept a scientific idea just because an expert says so, unless his ideas survive this scrutiny. As far as talmudic rabbinic authorities, their assertions have been rejected by the vast majority of Jews and non-Jews alike, so these people are "authorities" only to a tiny self-selected minority of humanity. We can acknowledge that there is also controversy and disagreement in the scientific community, but this is part of the process of inferential reasoning. We posit theories to explain what we see, and we test to see if the theory holds up. If it doesn't, it is rejected.
The fact that Orthodox Jews, along with various other minority groups in the world, continue to cling to their faith is a sociological phenomenon, which says nothing about the truth or falsehood of their claims.
The rejection of these or other religious claims, due to more plausible scientific explanations for what we see, could hardly be called a "faith" any more than the germ theory of disease or quantum physics. To rehash:
1. Atheism is not authority based like religion.
2. Atheism is not a belief like religion, since rejection is not a belief.
3. Atheism is a reasoned alternative to the hundreds of different and contradictory theist theories in explaining the world and life, and in fact explains our observations much better.
4. The burden of proof is on the theist, not the atheist.
Sunday, September 13, 2009
I'm going to briefly recount JP's false arguments "proving" god and the divine origin of Torah, along with a 1-line rebuttal.
Claim: There is no morality without God or the Torah.
Rebuttal: People make laws to make livable societies, while individual guilt, conscience, and empathy are part of human nature (except for psychopaths), and give an evolutionary advantage in helping perpetuate our genes.
Claim: The watchmaker analogy proves that there was a Creator.
Rebuttal: The watch is not analogous to biological material, which we observe to grow, replicate and change itself without "intelligent" intervention.
Claim: The mass revelation claims made in the Torah could not have been fabricated.
Rebuttal: Yes they can, as can be all claims made by other religions.
Claim: The feeling of free will and self-awareness proves that we have an immortal soul.
Rebuttal: That we have those feelings says nothing about what causes those feelings.
Claim: Atheism produces immorality and degeneracy.
Rebuttal: As a proportion of the population, violence in the world is decreasing, as the world is becoming more secular. (Proof: average lifespan has increased despite wars)
Claim: The Torah contains unique wisdom that could only have been written by God
Rebuttal: The Torah contains plenty of mistakes (factual errors, contradictions and anachronisms) as well as customs and stories copied from neighboring peoples.
Claim: The Torah and Judaism don't change.
Rebuttal: The Talmud and subsequent rabbinic interpretation completely changed Judaism, nullifying some laws and adding new ones.
Claim: The oral law is from God and was given to Moses
Rebuttal: The Bible itself contradicts this in many places. The Talmud at times completely twists the words of the Torah.
Claim: Justice is administered through the afterlife and hell.
Rebuttal: Absolutely no evidence for this other than rabbinical statements in post biblical times.
Claim: Skeptics most prove their skepticism, i.e. that God doesn't exist or didn't write the Torah
Rebuttal: The flying spaghetti monster and celestial teapot arguments demonstrate that the burden of proof is on the believer, not the skeptic.
Claim: Evolution is an unproven theory promulagated by atheist crackpots.
Rebuttal: The overwheming scientific evidence (direct observation+inductive reasoning) shows that it is correct, and it is held to be true by the vast majority of biologists and has stood the test of scientific scrutiny. (Had it not withstood this scrutiny it would have been dropped long ago like blood-letting or exorcism).
Having said all of this it may still be rational for a person to believe in God and OJ, as long as he recognizes that it is a leap of faith for which there is no proof. I wouldn't call all of the religious people on earth "irrational", unless their faith brings them to do destructive actions to themselves or others.
Thursday, September 10, 2009
JP claims that the soul exists based on 2 observations. First, our self-awareness. We feel ourselves to exist, as something inside us but separate from our bodies. This is a very compelling argument. Rene Descarte eloquently argued for dualism, that the mind and the brain were essentially separate entities. Most modern philosophers acknowledge that the mind is comprised only of the material physical brain. This self-awareness, although a non-physical concept, is simply a function of the brain.
JP's second claim is that our sense of "free will" proves the existence of a soul.
I think much depends on how one defines a soul, and herein lies the problem. If one asserts the existence of a soul, then he is required to define and describe what he is talking about. JP likens the soul to a radio transmitter, with the brain as a receiver. This is certainly an interesting analogy, but it is nonetheless a silly assertion for which there is no evidence. It is sort of what people who claim to have clairvoyance claim. In fact, the evidence would mitigate against such a "transmitter". Besides the obvious distinction from radio waves, which can be measured and observed indirectly, consider the following problems and contradictions inherent in this argument:
1. Where was the soul before the person was born? Did it always exist? Was it born when the person was born? If so, why doesn't it die when the person dies?
2. When a person is mentally ill, or incapacitated, is the soul similarly mentally ill? Since JP asserts that a person's free will and self-awareness are part of the soul, when a person doesn't have these things, does the soul continue to exist and have free will?
3. What about non-humans? Do they have souls, too? Although they don't have the same level of thought and self-awareness as we do, they certainly have feelings, desires, and fears.
Basically, the argument for a soul is like Bertrand Russell's celestial teapot. Its an authority-based assertion without evidence, that cannot be tested and is not falsifiable, and therefore the burden of proof is on he who claims the existence of a soul, not one who denies it. Before the advent of modern cell biology and biochemistry, man could not fathom many physiologic processes in animals. They seemed like magic. Now we understand them, and they can be readily explained on the basis of known physical laws. Morever, these explanations are specific and readily testable, and can be used to make predictions. We can posit a chemical explanation for a certain disease, then test the effect of a drug that we know affects this process and observe its effect on the disease. Similarly, neurobiology is steadily unlocking the biological and electrochemical basis of many cognitive functions, such as mental illness, memory, sensation, and emotions.
Interestingly, the biblical and rabbinic ancients, who claimed to be connected to the spiritual world and thus in possession of the knowledge that a "soul" exists, don't answer these questions. Why? For the very simple reason that they were ignorant. They simply didn't know. They were guessing, because they understood so little about the physical world around them.
If I can explain these phenomena on the basis of physical principles, what good does it do to add an additional "layer" to the explanation by adding a "soul"? This is Occam's Razor. A soul is simply unnecessary in order to explain things. JP will answer of course, that the Torah and rabbis tell us that there is a soul, an afterlife, and hell, because he has to. For without an afterlife, it is obvious that there is no justice on this earth, so justice must be served in the afterlife. It is also a good scare tactic which was used by the rabbis against ignorant ancient people, to coerce them into compliance. JP also likes to use it as a threat against us skeptics, who are condemned to burn in hell forever. Perhaps it helps as a consolation to him, thinking that there will be a heavenly reward for all of the sacrifices he has made in his own personal life on behalf of an imagined god.
Another claim that comes up repeatedly in JP's post is that without God or Torah, there is no morality, no conscience, leaving us to be just a brutal and viscious people. This assertion is blatantly wrong and ignores everything that we have learned in the past 100 years about psychology and sociology. Man has a conscience, and it has nothing to do with religion. I do not deny that people can have violent impulses, or that they do bad things. But as a social animal, he has evolved modes of thinking and behaviors that help the species survive as a group and perpetuate their genes. These traits include empathy and self-sacrifice for loved ones and close friends. Morality extends this natural empathy, by social agreement, to larger groups-- community, co-religionists, or a nation. The traits of conscience and morality give survival advantage and in fact support the theory or natural selection.
JP's claims about having no guilt or conscience without god, would suggest that he is a psychopath. Pyschopaths have a personality disorder, in which they have no natural empathy towards other people, and thus no conscience or guilt in regards to causing other people to suffer. Research has shown that these people suffer from defects in a specific parts of their brains. So I challenge JP to deny being a psychopath, by acknowledging that he, along with other normal people, have natural feelings of empathy, guilt and conscience, having nothing to do with God. For if Jacob Stein denies this, he is in fact a psychopath (as well as being woefully ignorant about psychology and many other things).
Friday, September 4, 2009
The cellular telephone is a modern man-made miracle. People on opposite sides of the earth can talk to each other as though they are in the next room. The device is made up of tens of thousands of interconnected microscopic parts, that work together with a global antenna network, to allow people to communicate. A few additional observations about this miracle:
1. 200 years ago such a device was unfathomable. If two distant people claimed to communicate with each other, it could only be through spirits or divine intervention.
2. As far as I know, no god had ever succeeded in making a cell phone.
The fact that JP cannot fathom an artificial liver has no bearing on the question of whether or not the liver is "divine" or natural. 200 years ago flying wasn't possible, and a modern jetliner would have been unimaginable.
The liver and other body organs are indeed remarkable structures, whose complexity we are still understanding. Yet ultimately JP's argument boils down to the watchmaker analogy, which I have already rebutted in a previous post.
Thursday, September 3, 2009
Monday, August 31, 2009
I think that his arguments in this post , and in the subsequent comments, represent JP's dying breaths. In medical parlance we call it agonal breathing. As the circular reasoning, logical fallacies and ad hominem arguments that he uses have grown old and tired even to JP himself, he has resorted to one last desperate attempt to discredit his detractors-- that anonymous bloggers (mainly the atheist/skeptics kind) are all lying criminals.
The main asserion in JP's post is clearly false because it is based on the logical fallacy of generalization. Nonethess, I think the idea of anonymity and its attractiveness on the internet does warrant some thought.
First, I think that there are different levels of anonymity. There are the truly anonymous "feedbackers", the kind who comment on news articles and blogs for whom there is no possibility of identification. Some bloggers may fall into this category as well. Lets call this level 1. Then there are bloggers like myself, who express opinions and reveal information about themselves, without revealing their full identifying information. Anybody with enough determination would be able to find out who we are. In addition, when somebody legitimately wishes to initiate contact with me, he or she can by requesting my email. I'll refer to this as level 2.
Mentally healthy people do not always say what they think. This is human nature. We evolved the ability to not blurt out everything that we are thinking. This function is localized in the frontal lobes of our brains. This is a social skill, sometimes it helps us, and other times it doesn't. Sometimes what we think may offend certain people, so we choose not to say it. We don't tell people that they are ugly, or that we think they are idiots. We won't tell a coworker that he has body odor. Or we don't tell them that their religion is a lie, even if we think this. Sometimes we may tell something to some people and not others. There "others" might be people who our opinions won't offend, or those people that we don't particularly care about. JP argues that this type of opinion is not worthy of expression. I would argue that the internet and blogging gives us the "other"-- the targets of expression are those who won't be offended by our opinions, or , if they are offended, can choose not to read it. That is the whole point of the internet. This is truly egalitarian freedom of expression, even for non-professional writers.
Level 1 anonymous writers are at greater risk for writing blatantly offensive, racist and bigoted opinions. Nonetheless, most newspapers have continued to allow anonymous feedback, sometimes with filtering. We level 2 anonymous are generally more cautious, and I don't think that we write blatantly offensive or racist things that advocate persecution or violence against people. Ironically, it is JP himself, an non-anonymous blogger, who openly expresses violently homophobic and religiously biggoted opinions. He also falsely and maliciously accuses skeptics of drug abuse and prostitution. If he is truly "non-anonymous", it would be interesting to ask if he would be willing to walk around with a placard espousing his views about the racial origins of blacks in the streets of Harlem. I suspect not, because he, too, "filters" his message and chooses who hears what.
So JP's claims regarding anonymity are not only false but represent the height of hypocrisy. He is more of a fraud than any of his "anonymous" antagonists. I would tend to agree with the opinion of many that JP is just an unhappy, insecure and angry man. His blog affords him the opportunity to spew his hate in all directions, and in so doing he misrepresents Judaism. The purpose of this blog is to discredit JP, and therefore I will continue to expose his fraudulent and malevolent posts.
Saturday, August 22, 2009
Lets begin with the title "the kindness of suffering". How twisted can you get? It makes a joke of the English language and the meaning of "kindness", which is usually to the benefit of the recipient. It implies that without this supposed "kindness", we'd be worse off. We should thank god that he punishes us, where would we be otherwise!
I actually agree with JP's comment about media distortion of reality. Its a plain fact that bad news sells. No newspaper or TV channel would survive financially if it reported mostly the good things that happen.
He then claims that "He is also just. Every sin is punished and the punishment is always big." I don't know where he got that. The Torah and Talmud specify different types of punishments, some more severe than others, for different sins. JP might be trying to explain the otherwise inexplicable catastrophic things that happen to seemingly good people, thus justifying for example, killing a baby with cancer because the parents weren't strict in the laws of muktsah. But this is contrary to the biblical narrative and rabbinic interpretation. God didn't destroy Sedom because of tax evasion or giving inexact change.
JP admits that the "punishment" is often far removed from the "sin", sometimes coming even in the afterlife. At the same time he compares it to spanking a child, which is done for behavior modification. This is a ridiculous analogy. The father administering discipline does not HARM the child. He inflicts discomfort at the time of misbehavior so that the child will learn. JP's God, on the other hand, inflicts gross harm on people, and does it in such a way that neither they or anybody else know what the sin was, nor, if in the JP's Hell, can they do anything about it. Think about the 3500 year history of God's behavior modification program for the Jewish people. What an abysmal failure! For millenia god must repeatedly inflict, with loving kindness, catastrophes upon the Jewish people. JP doesn't even address the issue of suffering of gentiles, I guess because they don't matter at all.
JP also refers to God's "anger". What's the deal, then? Is punishment due to a divine temper tantrum or an attempt to improve people's behavior?
Thus, JP's concept of the divine hand and suffering is immensely childish and internally contradictory. It appears to be the product of a mentally disturbed person, or one who hasn't gotten past the emotional age of a toddler. Instead of JP's father/god analogy, I think a more apt one might be to a drunken, abusive father, who because of his erratic self-destructive behavior, bad temper and violent demeanor drives away his family. But some people, like JP, the enablers, stand by Him, prefering the abuse to being all alone without Him.
In Judaism there are much more rational and mature ways of dealing with suffering, but that will perhaps be a subject of another post.
Thursday, August 20, 2009
Fast forward to the present. Our neighbors here in Rehovot are very nice people. We aren't real close friends, but we're good "neighbor" friends, so to speak. We were invited to their daughter's wedding. The family is dati leumi, national religious, like most of our neighbors. The girl is engaged to a yeshiva guy, with a big kipah srugah. Although no mention was made on the invitation, I found out that the whole wedding, including the meal, would be separate for men and women.
Although my wife will be there for the chupah to say mazal tov, I decided not to attend the wedding. About 3 months ago I attended a similar separate simcha, and I left early, feeling awkward and somewhat offended. I decided then that I would not go to separate seating weddings.
When I attend simchas, especially of those with whom I am not very close, my wife is my companion. I have to sit through a long meal, with music so loud you can't talk, and I like to be with my wife. So why do they force married couples to sit separately? Because they are afraid of the single boys and girls mixing. I think that this is really obnoxious, dumb, and inconsiderate. There is no halachic requirement for it, either. It is just the latest example of pseudo-frum heredi practices polluting the modern orthodox world. I find it offensive and primitive. It is saying that the men can't control themselves around women, and therefore keep the women out of sight.
I suppose that if this was a wedding of a close friend I would have to swallow my lumps and attend. But otherwise I feel no inclination to go to such an event.
Monday, August 17, 2009
I personally would find it difficult to love a psychopathic mass murderer, which is what Mr. Stein's god is. I imagine that the young starving children being led to the Nazi gas chambers might have a little trouble contemplating their love and awe for God, as well as the millions world wide who die of disease, famine, natural disasters or war. Even if this god is the one who grants life in the first place, what kind of sick joke is it to create creatures, only to torment and kill them?
I find it much easier and more comforting to contemplate with awe, a naturalistic and Darwinian reality, with all of its complexity, flaws, and magic.
Sunday, August 9, 2009
Let's do a mental experiment. Let's assume the Kantian idea of categorical imperative, and that one's ethical position is only ethical if applied to everybody. Imagine that all Jews were like JP. Or even better, the world was actually governed by JP's philosophy. What would the world look like?
We would have god-driven holocausts every few years as punishment for man's sins.
We would relentlessly pursue homosexuals and give them the death penalty.
We would be prosecuting and stoning blashphemers, heretics, atheists and anybody else who abandoned religion.
Children would be made ill or killed because of their parents heresy.
Many, or most of our loved ones who have died, would continue to exist as souls who are burning forever in hell, or at best, just floating around with the other dead people.
No modern economy could exist because interest would be illegal.
Since the Torah and rabbis are the sole and ultimate source of knowledge, there would be no need for scientific research and development, and therefore all of our scientific, technological, and medical state of affairs would be rolled back thousands of years.
One half of the human population, the women, would be relegated to serve the other half of the population. Any immodestly dressed woman is asking to be raped, since we know that men can't control their urges. Therefore, women must make sure not to entice men. They would not be allowed to vote, hold public office, or in any way have authority over a man. Young girls could be involuntarily married off at their father's will.
It would make life in Iran look like paradise.
Wednesday, August 5, 2009
First, we can use the "who cares?" argument. Remember my post on the mass revelation argument? Its the same thing. Something that may or may not have happened a long time ago-- what relevance does it have for us? If life got here from evolution, so be it, and, perhaps we can learn from the biological principles how to possible better our lives now. And if life got here suddenly, when one day, the uncreated Yahweh went "poof!", so what? Who gives a flying f**k? Do the animals have to bow and express gratitude to their creater? Why should we? Since this Yahweh no longer seems to exist, perhaps he died or went to sleep, or moved on to something more fun. Who cares?
With regard to the watchmaker argument itself:
1. It is an analogy, the weakest form of argument. Since we know non-organic machines are man made, by analogy, life forms, with their apparent complexity and purposefulness, must have been created. But non-organic machines are different than life forms (we see that they replicate,, grow, change, evolve, which machines can't), therefore the analogy is invalid.
2. The analogy is powerful psychologically, because our brains are wired to see purpose and cause. When we see a watch, a priori we know it is a man made object. So we tend to attribute these elements of cause and purpose to all other entities that we see. By example, when ancient man saw lightening or thunder, he could easily argue that they were coming from the gods' anger, a very logical extrapolation from other human experiences. Loud noises and bright lights come from people or animals doing things. Yet when we learned that there is an alternate, non-creator explanation, we abandoned the gods explanation.
Can you guys come up with other powerful, succinct rebuttals?
[Bloggers note: sorry about the previous typos, I have made corrections to the post.]
Monday, August 3, 2009
Basically this is what he believes:
Once upon a time, there was this very irascible, petulant god. Let’s call him Yahweh. We don’t know how Yahweh got here (did he make himself?), but anyway, he was sitting around for billions of years making worlds and repeatedly destroying them, along with millions of species of living things, including human like creatures. Then after billions of years, about 6000 years ago, he made a man called Adam. Then he made a woman from the man’s rib. (Meanwhile there were many other species which had males and females, some of which had no ribs).
Then Yahweh, starts to make a bunch of big mistakes. Things didn’t go as planned. He had to destroy all of the living things he created once, along with various other acts of destruction and punishment. Later, Yahweh and his helpers found man threatening, so they had to disperse them and confound their speech so they couldn't become like gods. Yahweh was very disappointed.
Now skip ahead 2500 years. About 3500 years ago, Yahweh decided to set some rules, and apply them to a tiny nation called Israelites. These rules included killing homosexuals, apostates, blasphemers, idol worshippers, witches, and gatherers of wood on the Sabbath. The Israelites were to exterminate the non-Israelite inhabitants of their land. He also included some other ritual laws, which he evidently copied from some other god’s books. He required his people to kill animals in order to assuage His anger and avoid punishment. There were also some social laws, which reflected social reality at the time.
But, despite Yahweh being all knowing and his laws perfect, the laws just didn’t work out so well. The Law didn't stand up the test of time. People couldn’t follow all of the rules, and since Yahweh stopped talking, they couldn't even remember them all (since he supposedly prohibited his people from writing down the details). So His chosen people were doomed to failure. His first prophet, Moses, even tells the people that they will fail and be punished for it. But despite the problematic nature of the Law, Yahweh kept torturing and punishing His people for not following it. Furthermore, circumstances changed, so that this supposedly perfect Torah law had to be changed as well. So the “Oral Torah” was invented, which allowed his people to do what they thought was right, while saying that Yahweh told them to do it that way. So they could add and cancel laws as needed, or change them to reflect reality. In JPism this Oral Law, with all of its myriad details, was supposedly given to Moses in the desert, and transmitted to the people, even though it could not be written down and therefore would be impossible to preserve.
In JPism certain nasty Torah laws are still valid, others not. For example, we don’t do Levirate marriage or child slavery or sacrifices any more. Nor do we burn witches. However, apostates, homosexuals, and users of pornography are still worthy of death. In JPism, Yahweh is a very homophobic, sex-obsessed and sadistic god, who enjoys creating people only to destroy them. He even killed 6 million of His chosen people, including children, because many of them prefered science and reason to primitive beliefs. He is the world's worst mass murderer. Perhaps He gets off on this. Ironically, JP likes to blame Nazi atrocities on atheist ideology, but JP himself has plainly stated that he believes that it was God punishing the Jews. In other words, it is JPism and Torah that advocates mass murder. Furthermore, Yahweh ignores 99.9% of humanity since they are not Jews and thus don’t matter. Therefore he allows untold suffering to be visited upon their innocents as well.
Just for fun, I will now paraphrase from JP's post about atheism:
This is the basic belief of JPism, the world's most irrational and destructive religion. This religion is merely an absurd myth, not based on a shred of science (or any other evidence), created to permit us to persecute people that we don’t like or don’t agree with us. It justifies the suffering and death of untold millions. Various forms of JPism exist today, in certain forms of Islam or Heredi Judaism.
I invite my readers to compare this post with JP's, and decide for themselves which ideology is more irrational and immoral.
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Having said that, I cannot help myself but laugh out loud at how JP twists the meanings of words in a pathetic attempt to accuse others of what he is guilty. For example, throughout his posts, JP repeatedly attempts to discredit atheism by calling its proponents drug addicted sex fiends and Nazi holocaust deniers. This would be classic ad hominem—attacking the character rather than the idea. But JP, with breathtaking idiocy, tries to use this term to refer to our asserting the fact that, in comparison to modern times, ancient man understood little about the world around him and had poor awareness of history given the lack of writing. Since many aspects of religion involve history and nature, early man’s ignorance of these subjects obviously affects the reliability of his knowledge and insights into the world, including religious insights. They weren’t stupid, they were just ignorant and therefore unreliable historians. This isn't an ad hominem attack, its just history.
So take your pick. JP is either an idiot or delusional.
According to Wikipedia, the definition of “argument from ignorance”:
A logical fallacy in which it is claimed that a premise is true only because it has not been proven false, or is false only because it has not been proven true. The two most common forms of the argument from ignorance, both fallacious, can be reduced to the following form:
• Something is currently unexplained or insufficiently understood or explained, so it is not (or must not be) true.
• Because there appears to be a lack of evidence for one hypothesis, another chosen hypothesis is therefore considered proven.
I think that this pretty much summarizes JP’s argument for his Judaism. Since Hitchens drinks, atheism must be wrong, and therefore JP’s ultra-extreme fundamentalist Judaism must be right.
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
But then, Oh Oh, then comes the clincher. Couched in this seemingly benign, humanistic message, lies another JP lunacy. When we perform commandments, we are "increasing God's glory in the world". Furthermore, according to JP, increasing God's glory in the world has a higher priority than our children. JP has previously said in his comments that if his children did not accept the Torah he would cut them off, and this is consistent with this post.
This is typical Avigdor Miller ultraorthodox mumbo jumbo.
Can anybody tell me what it means to "increase God's glory in the world?" Is this biblical God missing glory, so that if somebody puts on tefillin, or if JP bashes gays, His glory is increased? What if a non religious, humanistic organization feeds hungry children in Africa. Does that increase or decrease God's glory, or is God neutral?
If I had to choose between "God's glory", or my children's welfare, I'd take my child any day. This is the root of the immorality of JP's religion--God comes before human beings.
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
I think that JP is going through a crisis of faith. There is no other explanation for the increasingly desperate and absurd arguments he is making for proving the truth of the Torah.
The first error in his post is the obvious logical non-sequitur:
1. Some historical documents are accurate.
2. The Torah is a historical document.
3. Therefore the Torah is accurate.
This absurdity would dictate that we accept as truth any faith's claims, including the the Native American Abenaki creation story of the earth's land mass being formed from a big turtle.
Furthermore, as some have said, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. The Torah makes quite a few extraordinary claims.
An excellent article on the Da'at Emet site summarizes very nicely the archeological evidence for the dating of the Torah. The author notes:
"To determine the date when the Torah was written, a working research hypothesis must rest on a coordination of what was told with the findings. The likelihood is that the author knew his own period, but not the distant past nor the future. Thus, for example, when one wants to determine the date of the book of Daniel, one follows the story to see up until which point it matches historical fact and when it stops. At the transition is when the time of authorship is set. "
Based on the biblical inaccuracies, anachronisms, and contradictions, historians place the authorship around the 7th century BCE. Events recorded from that period and beyond more or less correspond to history as we know it.
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
1. There are other examples of claims of mass revelations but without any historical basis.
2. There is no independent corroborating evidence.
3. All religions started with a myth which spreads, and people believed it.
While these are good arguments, they are subtle and also subject to endless debate by believers who will make all kinds of claims to circumvent them. So I tried to think of something else.
I think that I have a novel way of rebutting this argument. I call this the "who gives a shit argument". Here it goes:
We argue about the past, because anything from the past no longer exists. It isn't here now, so we can argue in circles forever whether or not something existed. The important question is, what does it matter now? Now apply this to any religious claim. Lets take the revelation at Sinai. I'm not saying it happened, but for argument's sake let's say it did. But where did it go? God revealed himself 3500 years ago, then disappeared. There is no revelation now. Did the Holy One, Blessed Be He, go on vacation? Did He die? Did He convert to another religion? Is He sleeping? Did he say "I don't give a shit about the world?" So if the revelation no longer exists, why should I care? Does it matter to me now?
Think about how we Jews apply this to other religions claims. Of course, we usually claim that their stories are false, but that, of course, is unprovable because they relate to events in the past, which as I said, can't be DISPROVEN with certainty. We can't prove that Joseph Smith DIDN'T find the Golden Plates and translate them. We can't disprove the claims of Mohammad. We simply wave it off as irrelevant, without going through much of an exercise to prove or disprove it. We say, "who cares?" Of course, other religions do this to Judaism, too. The original Christians, of the Holy Land, may have believed that there was a revelation, but that it was no longer relevant (in their present). They had something new. So the revelation didn't matter, it was just history.
There is another aspect. Suppose someone did see a UFO. Most of us people don't give a shit. We're the non-believers. Maybe they saw something, maybe they didn't. The ones who do care become the Believers. In ancient Judea, not everybody believed in revelation or Torah. (That is clear from archeology and the Torah text itself). The ones who accepted the claims, we called "Jews". The ones who didn't, we called heathens or Christians. We didn't start off with Jews who believed in nothing and suddenly someone came along and made up a story. It happened in reverse order. The believers became Jews. This is a powerful element of the rebuttal, because the Kuzari argument emphasizes that credibility of Jews regarding their own story, but it ignores all of the people who DIDN'T accept or believe it or care about it. The Kuzari argument hinges on that ALL Jews accepted the story. But by definition only those who believed in the story were called Jews. In otherwords, we can define Jew as "he who believed in the Torah revelation story and cared about it". Gentiles were "those who didn't believe or care about the Torah revelation story". What would the Kuzari say about all of those ancient inhabitants of the land who said, "the Torah revelation story is bullshit"? We know they existed. Ditto for the Christian and Muslim stories.
An interesting element in all religions is that many of their claims are either things in the past or in the future, neither of which exist now. But, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence which in the case of religion, is lacking. If they make claims about things now (or in recent, verifiable history) , they would be subject to verification or being disproven. But by emphasizing some unknown future or hazy past they can claim whatever they want.
What do you guys think?
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
For your not so pleasurable reading, you can read this and this to get a little glimpse of what is going on in the ultraorthodox community.
What is disturbing, more than the crimes themselves, is the resistance and outright defiance in these communities to own up to their problems, as in this story. (Sorry, only in Hebrew. It tells of thugs from the Mea Shiarim area vandalizing the social services office nearby, because of the abusive mother from their community who was arrested there).
My point in these stories is not to say that Heredi people are bad, its just that they are at best no better than anybody else, and worse, since they deny their problems and refuse to cooperate with authorities, perpetuate the problem. This has occured in some high profile cases in New York as well.
So all of you skeptics, Kofrim, apostates--be proud! We're better than them!
Monday, July 13, 2009
People sometimes ask how Judaism is different from any other religion. Many religions claim to represent the true will of God. Why do Jews believe that they are right and others are wrong?I think that this can be answered very simply.
Here of course he ignores the basic reality that every religion thinks it is right and others are wrong. Why? Because that's the nature of the psychology of religion. You adopt a world view, and other people are wrong.
Now he goes on the make an argument by analogy, which is the weakest form of argument:
Imagine that a UFO supposedly landed in a farmer’s field in Nebraska one day for ten minutes. One person claims to have witnessed it.Alternatively, imagine that a UFO supposedly landed in Central Park in New York City and remained there for two weeks. Millions of people claim to have witnessed it.Obviously the second UFO sighting would be far more credible than the first.
Presumably, in this scenario either these million witnesses are alive, or their direct descendents are alive who heard it directly from their parents. In this case the testimony would be seriously credible. But suppose we had this testimony from 1000 years ago, but without any independently verifiable source. Then this testimony would be highly suspect.
How do we know that there was a civil war? How many people alive have a personal family tradition of having participated in this war? Very few, but we have independently verifiable sources.
Similarly, the Torah was revealed by God in front of millions of witnesses (see Exodus 20).
First of all the Torah's text here is very confusing and it is hard to know what exactly they heard, the commandments, or just the other sound effects. Certainly the Torah doesn't claim that the remaining torah itself was transmitted directly to the people. Secondly, it is the Bible (and talmudic interpreters) itself making the claim, not the witnesses. Nobody has a personal family tradition of being there, other than being taught that from the book. Yet clearly the people are capable of believing such a claim, which in itself disproves the Kuzari "proof" that people would not believe a story for which they have no tradition. Furthermore, thousands of people convert every year to and from different faiths, without having any personal evidence of the truth of the claims. They simply choose to accept without proof, because other people believe it.
The New Testament and the Koran however were revealed only to an individual.
First of all Christians don't believe that the New Testament was revealed to an individual. Secondly, as Naftali Zeligman points out in his excellent essay (http://www.talkreason.org/articles/letter1.cfm#15) that Catholics also have examples of publicly witnessed miracles. Jesus' miracles were witnessed by many. (see http://www.aboutbibleprophecy.com/miracles.htm) As far as the Koran, you can use a "kal v'chomer" to show how gullible people are. If after 20 years of Mohammad's private revelation, millions of the Arab world came to believe and accept Islam, how much easier would it be to convince early Hebrews that they were descendents of an ancient people who witnessed a miracle 1000 years before. Look at what the Mormons and Scientologists have done.
One may ask that considering this, why are Islam and Christianity more popular than Judaism?The answer is simple: Most people prefer to lead an easy life and Judaism is perhaps the most burdensome of all religions.
With this breathtakingly ignorant answer JP dismisses thousands of years of history, demographics, and archeology. Its like answering why are there only 60 million Italians vs a billion Chinese by answering, "its easier to be Chinese". Besides, I think that its harder these days to be a Muslim than a Jew.
Therefore it is the least popular. One may ask, doesn’t the Torah contain clear factual errors which disqualify it from being the true word of God, for example doesn’t the Genesis creation story contradict paleontology? I have explained elsewhere that this is not the case.
As usual he links to his own posts which contain the usual nonsense.
Another argument sometimes advanced is that the account of the revelation at Mount Sinai is an ancient story and people in ancient times were extremely gullible. Therefore ancient stories lack any credibility. The problem with this assertion is that first of all it seems to be baseless.
Suddenly something is true until proven otherwise! JP is a very trusting person. I suppose he would consider skepticism about the truth of ancient Greek myths as "baseless".
Second of all, if this were the case, then we would assume that many other ancient religious leaders would have convinced their incredibly gullible followers that they had all heard God affirm the truth of their religion. Of course, that is the not the case.
Bad assumption. All the leaders have to claim is that he spoke to God and worked miracles. If he tells them that their ancestors spoke to God, it makes no difference. Why would they want to mimic our claims?
Some people may say that they cannot believe in anything supernatural regardless of the evidence. This is equivalent to saying that one cannot believe in extraterrestrial life regardless of the evidence. This is known as an argument from personal incredulity .
Straw man argument.
As usual I welcome your comments!
Saturday, July 11, 2009
I think in many cases, some beliefs may have begun from a story that had a kernel of truth to it, and then became embellished. In other cases traditions may be "borrowed" from surrounding cultures. This is obviously true of the Abrahamic faiths. Judaism itself borrowed from other surrounding cultures, as demonstrated by the Ugaritic texts.
Perhaps the same question can be asked of culture itself. How does a culture begin?
I am eager to hear commentors thoughts on this subject.
Friday, July 10, 2009
First there is a logical fallacy here (asserting the consequent). Women don't hold wealth and can't learn Talmud? That's the point, because men have been (unfairly) dominant historically, women have been kept at a disadvantage, but that is not a reason to maintain it. Jews adopted male dominance from surrounding cultures (as they did many other things, including the name of their god El). It like someone saying in the 1800s that blacks shouldn't be allowed to vote because they had been slaves, and they thus are too uneducated.
Furthermore, that women aren't permitted to learn Talmud is a particularly severe and neo-conservative invention of the Litvaks. It is based on a number of Talmudic saying about women being simple minded and that teaching them Torah is a waste of time. But I suspect that the Litvak ultraorthodox don't really believe this anymore, but need to keep their women ignorant and thus keep them in their place. It is certainly not the view of mainstream orthodoxy and certainly not "Judaism" that says this.
JP also disingenuously uses biological arguments about the strength of males. He is a hypocrite as he has written many times about problematic human nature and the need for morals to tame or overcome them. Suddenly, because males can outfight females, that's a reason that men should make decisions? Sounds kind of pseudo-Darwinistic to me. Yes, on average, men are better at certain things and women at others. But that doesn't mean that they should be forced into a role.
Thursday, July 9, 2009
I remember sitting in on an argument among my relatives almost 40 years ago. They were discussing whether or not people should be doing bat mitzvah celebrations. Its hard to believe, just 40 years ago in the US, Bat Mitzvahs were almost unheard of in the Orthodox community. Only radical, bra-less feminists advocated them. Why should boys get to make a big splash for their 13th birthday, and not have something equivalent for the girls?
Now, in the mainstream Orthodox community, a bat mitzvah celebration is assumed. Some people do it more modestly than others, but nobody I know of would dream of not doing it at all. This is a simple example of "drift" in orthodox practice and attitudes, the occurs in parallel to shifts in western, liberal and humanistic thinking. It them becomes an inseperable part of Judaism and Jewish practice. There are many other examples of this shift, including the training of women's rabbinical court advocates, poskim, and teaching of girls talmud and mishneh in school and yeshivas. Furthermore, many poskim are working on halachic solutions to the "agunah" problem of women failing to get divorces from their husbands and thus being "stuck". My recently married daughter signed, along with her intended, a prenuptial agreement intended to prevent this scenario from occuring.
Another logical fallacy that JP uses is taking the rabbinic responses to problems from 100 years ago as though they were applicable now. He ignores the fact that even Heredi rabbis give psak halacha on the basis of current conditions, not for those that no longer exist. (I remember reading that Rabbi Kook opposed giving women in the yeshuv voting rights!) It is entirely possible that rabbinic ruling were very progressive in their day, and had those rabbis been living now, would rule entirely differently.
The obvious danger is being stuck in the past is that you make yourself irrelevant. Of course a person can choose to do so if he wishes, but to impose it on others in morally wrong.
Many have suggested ignoring him. Perhaps these people are right, and paying any attention to him is a waste of time, since he convinces nobody and is essentially harmless. Furthermore, some theorize that JP is actually an atheists and writes his comically idiotic posts to intentionally discredit OJ.
Nonethess, I think it actually might be fun to post counter-posts to his posts, without having to go in circles with him in the comments process. JP is the perfect "straw man" for us skeptics to knock down, disprove, discredit and otherwise just having a good time abusing.
I therefore plan on writing posts to this blog in response to his posts. I will leave comments unmoderated, even to JP himself, so go ahead, comment away. I won't necessarily feel the need to answer every comment.