Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Is JP delusional?

I was actually surprised to see the video of the debate between Shmuely Boteach and Christopher Hitchens in JP’s latest post. I think that Boteach does a decent job defending Judaism, but less so theism in general. Although Hitchens powerfully argues for atheism, I feel that Hitchens’ militant anti-religious stand is not helpful and distracts from the important message, which should be about humanistic morality. Hitchens fails to distinguish between purely religious tenets and culture or customs that accompany people who practice religion. Just as any people have customs and practices peculiar to them, so do Jews, and they shouldn’t be faulted for that. This assumes that we consider Jews as a nation or a people, not just people who practice the religion. Furthermore, he does indeed use straw man arguments against Judaism, using marginal/extremist positions or Biblical era Hebrews as representing what Judaism is today. This would be like dismissing modern day European culture or values because of slave trade from 200 years ago. Jews and Judaism evolved, just as other cultures have, and we don’t need to be taking shit for what we presumably did to Amalek 3000 years ago.

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

Heredi Doublespeak

JP's most recent post starts off with an almost reasonable, mudane tone, about the importance of appreciating our children. Can't argue with that. Nor can I argue with the virtue of doing good deeds.

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

More JP Lunacy

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

More on Mass Revelations-the killer argument against?

JP continues to banter on in his post and comments about the Kuzari argument, and equating non-believers with holocaust deniers and believers in conspiracy theories. Most of you who have followed discussions such as these have seen the following counterarguments:

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

Heredi Morality

Many of JP's posts, like this one like to poke fun at the morals of atheists, and extol the perfect nature of a Torah society.

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

Anatomy of a JP post

I thought it would be interesting to analyze a typical JP post to show how false his arguments are. Fortunately, he has given us today another gem, so here it goes:

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 ( that Catholics also have examples of publicly witnessed miracles. Jesus' miracles were witnessed by many. (see 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

The "Mass Revelation" Argument

JP often refers to the "Kuzari principle", first mentioned by R. Yehuda HaLevy, and often mentioned in other variations by contemporary rabbis, such as R Lawrence Keleman. Basically this argument states that Judaism is the only religion that claims to have had a public revelation experience, and since such a claim in ancient times would be hard to promote if it were a hoax, it must be true. There have been many rebuttals to this argument, which I won't go into here. But it does raise an interesting question that is as relevant now as it was then: how does a religion begin? How does it come to be that somebody starts a tradition that others come to accept as being true? We can believe that ancient man was gullible, didn't understand nature, and the like, but that doesn't explain how people have come to accept modern invented religions such as scientology or mormonism. Once a religion has become established, its easier to explain the phenomenon, but how does it all begin?

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

More idiocies

In JP's justification for orthodoxy's opposition to gender equality, he initially cites 2 main reasons: that women are prohibited from attending Talmud lectures, and that wealth is held by men.

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

Is Judaism opposed to feminism?

Let's ignore JP's basic underlying arrogant assumption that the Litvak Yeshivas of the 19th century represented the ideal and eternal pinnacle of Judaism. Never mind that this form of Judaism represents only a small percentage of living Jews today.

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.

Am I wasting my time?

Many Jewish skeptics in the blogosphere have encountered Jewish Philosopher, who purports to represent authentic Judaism and discredit aetheism and evolution. Those of you who have encountered his blog are familiar with the belligerent, intellectually dishonest and bigoted nature of his posts. Furthermore, since his comments are moderated, he controls the discussion and uses every dirty trick in the book to "win" his debates.

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.