Monday, December 25, 2006

“The disgusting man says in his heart: ‘There is no God.’” Psalms 14:1

[Baron d’Holbach]

Modern western atheism is the philosophy that:

Nature is all that there is.

Nature is a complete, closed, eternal system. Nothing is popping in from the outside to change anything or to create anything. There was no creation and there are no miracles. There is no soul, no gods, no free will, no afterlife, no ghosts, no fairies, no witches, no magic, no boogey man, no Santa Claus and no leprechauns. There is no supernatural; there is only nature.

This is also known as naturalism, determinism, rationalism, materialism, empiricism, skepticism, secular humanism and scientism. This is more than merely a negative philosophy, but rather atheism makes certain positive metaphysical assertions about the universe. It is a religion in itself. Atheism however is unique in being a purely naturalistic religion, while most other religions accept the validity of some natural and some supernatural phenomena. Judaism, for example, accepts the fact that the vast majority of events in the universe occur in a certain pattern – nature. However on very rare occasions God may suspend the laws of nature – with a miracle. In addition, the creation of the universe and of life was supernatural. Both natural and supernatural have their appropriate spheres.

The distinction between nature and the supernatural is:

- Natural entities create nothing. They may be transformed from one state to another; from liquid to solid, from alive to dead, from matter to energy, however natural entities never create something from nothing. Supernatural beings, especially those called gods, often create something from nothing. See the first verse of the Bible for a classic example. Some thing coming from no thing is supernatural.

- The behavior of natural entities is governed by their internal, inherent properties. Everything, from a quark to a galaxy, from a gnat to a whale, is a robot, working on automatic pilot, motivated by natural properties which have existed eternally. Supernatural beings, for example a god or a person with free will, behave unpredictably and spontaneously. Even the most comprehensive knowledge of nature could not predict their next choice. An uncaused effect is supernatural.

From a historical point of view, various levels of materialism and skepticism have always existed, especially in ancient Greece, however true, modern atheism is a fairly new religion, which originated in 1770 in Paris. James Thrower in “Western Atheism: a short history” p. 105 to 107 credits Baron D’Holbach as being “probably the first unequivocal professed atheist in the Western Tradition” with the publication of “The System of Nature”, anonymously in London, in 1770. Atheism began gaining wide popularity following the publication of “Origin of Species” in 1859. Atheism is the youngest of the world’s major religions.

Atheists will argue that other, supernatural, religions are evil since they encourage violence over silly theological issues and they distract bright young people from the study of science, which has true practical value. Of course, it could be argued that atheists might also find plenty to fight about – witness the conflict between the USSR and Mao’s China which nearly blossomed into a nuclear war. Our short experience with atheistic states, from Lenin’s Russia to North Korea, has not shown them to be particularly pacifistic. And even the USSR was not a very great beacon of scientific discovery.

The primary proof of atheism is that there is no evidence of the supernatural. We have not witnessed in a laboratory a god creating anything. We also never see religious leaders who are clearly, repeatedly able to change the known properties of nature – for example, touch someone who has a brain tumor and cure him, or wave a hand and make the earth stop turning. Clearly, religion flourishes not because of any evidence, but merely because it offers empty solace to insecure, gullible people.

It is clear that Judaism, Christianity and Islam are false, since they teach that the universe is 6,000 years old although we now know that it is far older.

Also, it is clear that a Judeo-Christian god who is all good and all powerful cannot exist, since if he did, he would prevent innocent people from suffering.

In addition to this, it would seem that 200 years of atheistic science has helped mankind more than thousands of years of efforts by shamans, witchdoctors and other religious leaders. The life expectancy and the quality of life of most people have increased hugely since atheism was born. The success of atheists would seem to indicate that atheism is right.

Of course, members of other religions have questioned atheism’s proofs.

The atheistic assertion that “there is no proof of the supernatural” merely means “there is no proof which will satisfy me”. However it can be argued that atheists have raised the bar of proof far higher than is reasonable. True, there maybe no priests who can command the earth to stop turning. However, we do have scientific evidence that the universe was created from nothing 15 billion years ago. Although this event is still shrouded in mystery, it would seem to support the existence of a supernatural creator.

The eternal functioning of any dynamic physical system seems to violate the law of entropy. According to atheism, the universe is some sort of cosmic perpetual motion machine.

Many cosmologists have noted that we know of no natural reason why the universe must possess all the qualities needed to produce stars, elements heavier than helium and planets. It seems highly unlikely that they all occurred by chance, and without these features life would be impossible. Therefore, theists conclude, the universe was apparently supernaturally fine tuned to allow life to exist.

In addition to this there would seem to be no properties inherent in basic chemicals which could cause them to automatically form complex self replicating machines – in other words, to form life spontaneously. This would seem to indicate that a supernatural intelligent designer intervened to create life.

In regards to the development of complex life from simple life, Charles Darwin in 1859 proposed that simple life does indeed possess natural properties which will transform it into more complex life. He speculated that since organisms tend to have numerous, diverse offspring and only a minority who are best able to survive will reproduce, therefore, naturally, simple life will transform itself gradually into more complex life. The truth of this claim however is highly questionable. Critics point out that no new, clearly more complex life forms have ever been produced in the laboratory using this method of random variation and selection. In the fossil record as well, more complex forms are more often found in newer strata than in older strata, however that is all that can be said. There has never, even once, been discovered a minutely detailed “audit trail” clearly showing a new limb gradually developing through thousands of small random variations, even in marine fossils where preservation is fairly good. Therefore, while atheists see Darwinian evolution as being a huge vindication of their beliefs, many members of other faiths brush it off as baseless atheistic propaganda. They might contend that the repeated appearance of more advanced life forms indicates repeated supernatural intervention in natural history.

As far as the fact that Jews consider the world to be 6,000 years old, many do, however I believe they are mistaken. Ancient Talmudic commentaries mention worlds before this one. There is actually no conflict between fossils and the Bible. On the contrary, each helps us to understand better the other.

From a Jewish point of view, even the most terrible suffering of clearly innocent people can be explained on the basis of reincarnation. Someone may be suffering in this life for sins committed in a previous life. Furthermore, a seemingly cruel act may be actually kind if one is acting with complete foreknowledge, which of course God has. If someone would have known what Adolf Hitler would eventually become, would it have been unjust to strangle him in his crib? Having said that, I think that most people’s suffering is actually of their own causing, even from a natural point of view. If someone drinks until he becomes homeless, if he abuses his wife until she leaves, if he drives without a seat belt and becomes a cripple, that’s hardly God’s fault.

In regards to the success of atheistic science, this proves nothing about the truth of their religion. Atheism virtually worships nature. Therefore many atheistic scientists are smart people who have devoted their lives to studying nature and many have been very successful. Let’s say there would be a religion which worships cars – The Church of Jesus Christ NASCAR Driver. This religion had millions of members. Would it surprise us if these “Carologists” would end up over many years designing, driving and demonstrating some amazing cars? Would we then become convinced they are right and start worshiping red sports cars and looking forward to our afterlife in that great dealership in the sky? Roman legionnaires who worshiped Mars surely had incredible success in their day. The Mormons today are the world’s greatest genealogists and archivists. Some Orthodox Jews are great Talmudists. Some atheists may be phenomenal engineers and doctors. So what does that prove?

Also, our feeling of self consciousness and of having free choice would seem to indicate that we do have a soul and free will. We intuitively know that we are not merely robots. In addition to that, millions of people have experienced brain death yet afterwards remember having been conscious throughout the entire episode. This seems to indicate that we do have a soul independent of the body.

In essence, the atheist stands in the middle of this universe which is literally teeming with evidence of supernatural activities past and present and insists “No, I don’t see anything. There is no proof here.” Claiming "nature is all there is" is little different than claiming "our solar systems is all there is" and then ignoring all evidence to the contrary.

In summary, atheism seems be a somewhat bizarre, surreal belief system. The insistence on “nature only” twists their world outlook irrationally. The entire universe is a machine which somehow functions eternally and automatically, with no creator or designer. Everything is caused by the innate natural properties of the universe. In the unlikely event that we fully understood them, we could reconstruct everything which has ever happened and predict everything which will happen, out to infinity. We ourselves are also robots who have no choice; we just imagine that we do. There is no meaning and no purpose, no judge and no justice, no morality and no ethics, no good and no evil, no soul and no future beyond death, no choice. Everything just exists, for no reason. As Shakespeare (Macbeth Act V Scene V) put it "Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, And then is heard no more; it is a tale Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing." Taken to its logical conclusion, atheism seems to be nihilistic and even leans toward madness.

Considering the flimsiness of the logic supporting atheism, and the mind bending weirdness of its beliefs, it’s interesting to speculate about why this religion has become somewhat popular. My theory is as follows: As a general rule, people think about God and spirituality only as much as they need to. We really, deep down, don’t like God. Spirituality runs counter to people’s natural arrogance, lust and laziness. If we can avoid it, we will. People who are poor, who are not very intelligent, whose lives are out of control, feel a strong need to pray for help and to hope for a better hereafter. For this reason medieval Europe was extremely pious. People who are affluent, educated, intelligent, young, healthy, male, etc. feel little or no need for the solace of prayer and ritual. The American and European college campuses are natural homes for atheism. Poorer countries will usually have few if any atheists. Atheism is in most cases just an attitude of “I don’t feel any emotional need to think about God, so I won’t.”

I think atheism is not really based on “I see no proof of the supernatural.” but rather “I feel no need for the supernatural.”

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The Truth of Judaism

[dawn from just below the peak of Mount Sinai.]

The truth of Judaism is based primarily on several principles, each of which is so obvious it hardly needs to be explained. No other religion comes close to having such a clear, logical, factual basis.

1 - The Watchmaker Principle

The Watchmaker Principle states: A machine cannot come into existence unless an intelligent being creates it. Therefore an eternal, supernatural intelligent designer must have created life.

This is proven by the fact that we never witness a complex mechanism with many parts all working efficiently for a certain purpose form spontaneously. There is always a designer. A watch must have a watchmaker. Therefore life, in which every organelle in every cell is a complex machine, must have been created by God.

A possible refutation of this is that, while true, complex machines cannot suddenly develop spontaneously, however over huge periods of time, self-replicating living things can become more complex through a very gradual process of variation and natural selection. The main problem with this refutation is that the fossil record, even the marine fossil record which should be fairly complete, does not indicate anything like such gradual evolution having happened in the past. Instead, we find evidence of sudden changes. Evolution is irrational speculation which clearly contradicts the evidence. It also does not explain how the first life originated.

Potential falsification: Present one example of a machine which we have witnessed come into existence spontaneously, without any intelligent designer.


2 - The Anti-Conspiracy Principle

The Anti-Conspiracy Principle states: If a large group of people, for example 10,000 or more, unanimously claim to have had a certain experience, they must be telling the truth.

This is because most people tell the truth most of the time. If they do lie, they lie as individuals or as small groups. It is impossible to organize a large group to all tell the same lie and not have at least a significant minority eventually reveal the truth.

Our knowledge of history is largely based on the Anti-Conspiracy Principle. Without it, how could we know that the astronauts actually landed on the moon, that the Holocaust actually happened, that George Washington was a real person and that the Normans invaded England in 1066? If large-scale conspiracies were easily created, perhaps all these historical facts were fabricated by a conspiracy of thousands of people.

This proves that the miracles recounted in the first half of the book of Exodus must have taken place, since the entire Jewish people unanimously accepted them as fact since time immemorial up until the 19th century.

It would have been impossible at any time in the past to engineer a conspiracy whereby all Jews unanimously would tell their children “My parents taught me that our forefathers were slaves in Egypt and were redeemed with ten miraculous plagues, etc.” when in fact their parents had said no such thing. Therefore the only plausible explanation for the Exodus tradition is that those miracles did indeed happen.

One possible refutation is that perhaps in remote antiquity most Jews were illiterate and illiterate people can be enlisted in mass conspiracies. I know of no historical or anthropological evidence to support that.

Another possible refutation is that perhaps Judaism began as a small conspiracy, with a small group numbering let’s say a dozen families. From there it gradually expanded, by acquiring converts and by natural increase. This would be similar to Christianity. Originally, there were supposedly thousands of witnesses to Jesus’ miracles. However only the four authors of the gospels, who could have easily conspired together to lie, retold them to the world. There is, however, no record anywhere of such a contraction and then gradual expansion of the Exodus tradition. Again, we would have to resort to a mass conspiracy at some point to cover up that historical fact when, on the contrary, we would naturally expect the founding fathers of the tradition to be remembered with great honor, as is the case with the four Christian evangelists. The archaeological evidence also seems to indicate the sudden appearance of a large Israelite community in Palestine about 3,300 years ago (see “The Bible Unearthed” page 119).

A third possibility is that the events related in Exodus basically did occur; however they were natural events, which were later given supernatural significance. The problem with this, however, is that it is difficult to imagine what those natural events could have been which would have closely resembled the Exodus miracles. And if the actual events were insignificant, but gradually were greatly embellished upon, then we would expect each family and each to village to have developed widely separate traditions about what had happened. We would have to again resort to a nationwide conspiracy to convert everyone to the one accepted canonical version.

The most plausible scenario might be something like this:

A group of a few thousand Semitic slaves escaped from Egypt about 3,300 years ago under the leadership of an Egyptian nobleman named Moses. After they settled in the highlands of Palestine, these Israelites as they called themselves, began retelling and embellishing the story of their escape. [Which is in itself a little bizarre – wouldn’t escaped slaves rather not advertise that fact?] Numerous different versions arose. Other Canaanites joined the Israelite community. The community grew. Versions of the story became more and more fantastic. Moses became a great lawgiver and miracle worker. Ten Plagues struck the Egyptians. Ten Commandments were given at a mountain in Sinai. In the time of Josiah, these stories, as well as Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings, were edited and became closer to their present form. Finally, a couple of centuries later, Ezra the Scribe finalized the Hebrew Bible, which was then universally accepted by Jews (Nehemiah 8:1) . Ezra had the power (Ezra 7:26) to punish all those who disagreed with him. The Samaritans as well, enemies of Jews (Ezra 4:1) , for some reason decided to accept the Pentateuch, although no other writings.

The main problem with this story is, if this is true, why were all the earlier versions, which were in the possession of the tens of thousand of Jews throughout the Persian Empire, and the Samaritans too, immediately, totally and silently disposed of once Ezra presented his scroll? There should have been “Pentateuch police” busy for many years destroying other, not canonical, writings. We know that the early church leaders had to suppress many apocryphal gospels and some have survived to the present. Something similar even happened with the Koran. In Judaism as well, certain books, such as the Book of Ben Sira, were excluded from the Biblical canon and banned. However there isn’t even a record of any command to disregard other versions of the Pentateuch; they are simply unmentioned anywhere, as if they never existed. We again must violate the Anti-Conspiracy Principle and say that all Jews, and Samaritans (!), unanimously and immediately agreed to lie and to say, “This is the only scroll of the Law of Moses which we received from our forefathers”, although they knew that it wasn’t. There was a perfect, empire wide cover up.

Potential falsification: Present one example of a successful conspiracy of 10,000 people who knowingly all told the same lie, which was later somehow discovered to be a lie. [Bear in mind that falsifying the Anti-Conspiracy Principle brings into question the truthfulness of the Holocaust, the moon landings and many other events as well, not only the Exodus tradition.]


3 – Ordinary Claims Do Not Require Extraordinary Evidence
[implied by Carl Sagan’s famous principle]

If something seems likely to have happened, we do not require extraordinary evidence to prove that it happened. Since, based on the Watchmaker Principle, we know that a God exists; we might expect that at some point in history he would reveal his identity and wishes to the human race in a public announcement. Therefore, extraordinary evidence is not required to prove that the revelation at Mount Sinai happened.

(Evolution, on the contrary, is making an extraordinary claim – that simple life spontaneously transformed itself into complex life. Extraordinary evidence is needed to support that, however the fossils offer little if any support.)

In addition to this, the rabbinical tradition, as opposed to the Samaritan and Karaite traditions, is validated by the successive levels of rabbinical literature. We can actually see the “shock waves” of the Sinai revelation rippling through and gradually decreasing in the structure of rabbinical literature.

It would seem obvious that Judaism has not been popularly rejected due to any lack of evidence, but rather because it is too burdensome – it contradicts people’s natural laziness, lust and arrogance.

The most popular refutation of the divine origin of the Torah is that the Torah states that the world was created 6,000 years ago. This has been proven wrong by the fossil evidence. Therefore, since the Torah contains a clear factual error, it cannot be divine. In fact, according to ancient rabbinical commentaries, only this phase of the world began 6,000 years ago; however other phases came and went before this one. The fossils are remnants of them. This also provides an explanation for the sudden changes in life during the earth’s natural history, which we see in the fossil evidence.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Natural Law Strongly Suggests God Exists

[Sir Isaac Newton; described universal gravitation and the three laws of motion]

All of science, and in fact all of normal, everyday, life is based on the exactly regular workings of natural law. We take it for granted that if certain objects consistently behave in a certain way, then they always have and always will; it is a "law of nature". We have no doubt that lighting the stove will heat, not freeze, our dinner and that an object released from our hand will fall to the floor, not to the ceiling. All of science and technology are based on the assumption that if certain substances behave in a certain way in repeatable experiments then they always have and always will.

These "laws of nature" are far from simple, either. Each year scientists discover new levels of unbelievable complexity as they scratch the surface of understanding how our universe really works.

Obviously "natural laws" imply a Supreme Legislator Who decreed them. If the universe had, somehow, come into existence spontaneously it should logically be chaotic as well. How could such a tremendously complex and consistent system have no designer or supervisor whatsoever? Clearly it is orchestrated by a Supreme Being.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Love of God – the essence of Judaism

[Jews, identifiable by their hats, are being killed by Crusaders, from a 1250 French Bible]

When a person wakes up each morning, he should be overwhelmed by the miracles of creation, which confront him on all sides. He is breathing – each breath is a gift from God. He can see, walk and talk. The sun is shining, illuminating and warming the world. Each morsel of food is a miracle of divine wisdom. Every particle of the universe contains infinite beauty. He should be filled with a burning a love for the Creator and a desire to do His will. This is the essence of Judaism – “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” Deut. 6:5. Most of the Jewish rituals – the prayers, the holidays, etc. are directing us to this goal. The Hebrew Bible makes almost no mentions of reward or punishment in the afterlife since to the authentic Jew that is irrelevant – the opportunity to serve our Beloved is its own reward. The Song of Songs is a parable for this love. The curses and blessing listed in Leviticus 26 and elsewhere motivate the Jew because he knows that long life and wealth can enable him to serve his Beloved God more fully. This is the focus of his existence.

With this in mind, we can begin to understand how great the sin of apostasy is: the Jew who, although raised in a home where he was taught all the fundamental principles of Judaism yet afterwards rejects God, denies him and rebels against Him. There cannot be any crime more heinous than this. Rather than deny God, a Jew must give up his life, as many indeed have. It is preferable to be dead rather than to go on living after having committed such an act, even insincerely, even one time.

According to Maimonides (Laws of Murderer and Protection of Soul, 4:10-11):

Heretics, that is, Jews who do not believe in the Torah or in prophecy -- it is a commandment to kill them. If one can kill them with a sword in public he should, and if not -- he should act against them with cunning until he causes them to be killed. How? If he sees one of them fallen into a well and there is a ladder in the well, first he should remove the ladder and say, 'I must take my son down off the roof, I'll bring it back' or something like that.

The Shulchan Aruch (Choshen Mishpat, 425:5) quotes this.

The Talmudic rabbis instituted, as part of the prayer recited publicly in the synagogue three times daily, a curse against Jewish apostates. In a form uncensored by Christians it reads approximately:

For the apostates let there be no hope, and may the arrogant kingdom soon be rooted out in our days, and the Jewish Christians and the heretics perish as in a moment and be blotted out from the book of life and with the righteous may they not be inscribed. Blessed are you, Lord, who breaks the enemies and humbles the arrogant.

How bizarre it is to read on the Internet articles written by Jews who, although with an observant background and perhaps still observant, have casually rejected God. However angry they may be, however lazy or sex crazed, they should think long and hard before they take a step so outrageously criminal.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Evolution refuted - again...

[Field Museum dioramas depicting simple, fixed marine life before the Permo-Triassic extinction, below, and the complex organisms that dominated later.]

An interesting article appeared in today’s (virulently pro-evolution) New York Times entitled Marine Life Leaped From Simple to Complex After Greatest Mass Extinction. This article is based on an article published in Science magazine, which demonstrates that a “great extinction” which occurred 251 million years ago “erased 95 percent of species in the oceans (and most vertebrates on land). But new research suggests that it was followed by an explosion of complexity in marine life, one that has persisted ever since. Moreover, it happened quite suddenly, according to the study, which was led by scientists at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago…The shift to complicated, interrelated ecosystems was more like a flip of a switch than a slow trend.”

Perhaps I am missing something here, however doesn’t this totally contradict evolution? The American Heritage Dictionary defines evolution as “A gradual process in which something changes into a different and usually more complex or better form”. That’s “gradual” not “quite suddenly”.

Darwin wrote in Origin of Species Chapter 10: “New species have appeared very slowly, one after another, both on the land and in the waters.” And “The process of modification must be extremely slow.”

I have my own theory about prehistory, but Darwinian evolution is now certainly a scientific fallacy.

Richard Dawkins , are you listening?

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The Samaritan Pentateuch - a support for Judaism

One interesting document supporting the truth of the divine origin of Pentateuch is the Samaritan Pentateuch.

The Samaritans are a community of people who are today quite small however in ancient times they were far more numerous. According the Hebrew Bible, 2 Kings 17, they are not authentically Jews at all, but rather are Judaized gentiles who were settled in Palestine by the Assyrians, following the exile of the Ten Tribes. At their request, a priest of the Ten Tribes instructed them in Judaism. According the Samaritan tradition, they are simply descendents of the Ten Tribes who never went into exile. DNA analysis seems to indicate descent from Jewish priests who intermarried with Assyrian women. In the time of Second Temple, the Bible portrays the Samaritans as being the enemies of the Jews. According to the New Testament, Jews had no dealings with Samaritans. The Talmud calls them “Cuthim”, referring to Cuthah, were some of them had originated, and does not consider them to be Jews. According to the Samaritan tradition, they broke away from the rest of the Jewish people at the time of Eli, or slightly before the reign of Saul and David. According to Jewish tradition, their tradition diverged permanently from other Jews at the time of King Jeroboam, after the reign of Solomon.

At any rate, there exists a community of people, who, according to all accounts, have been separated from the Jewish people by mutual hatred for approximately 3,000 years. Nevertheless they possess and revere the Pentateuch in a form almost identical to the Masortic text, the most major departure being the inclusion in the Ten Commandment of a command to build the altar on Mt. Gerizim, which is obviously a sectarian interpolation. This would seem to date the Pentateuch to no later than 500 years after the Exodus. This of course makes it even more incredible that the Exodus miracles are mythical and ficticious. Can we imagine someone today writing a book claiming that Columbus split the Atlantic Ocean and crossed on dry land to America, and all Americans unanimously believing this?

According to the Documentary Hypothesis, the Samaritans should only possess the so called "E document", as has been pointed out by others.

I corresponded yesterday with Professor Richard E. Friedman, author of “Who Wrote The Bible”. I asked him as follows:

I have read your book, Who Wrote the Bible, where you state that the redactor of the Pentateuch was probably Ezra. I am curious to know how this could be the case, since the Samaritans also possess the Pentateuch with almost no substantial differences, although they were not followers of Ezra. In fact, Samaritan and Jewish traditions only diverged following the period of King Solomon, making it appear that the Pentateuch at latest dates to the time of the United Monarchy.

Jacob Stein

He was kind enough to reply:

Dear Mr. Stein:

Thank you for your letter. Perhaps I misunderstand you, but it appears that you take the Samaritans to be Israelites who lived in (Northern?) Israel as far back as the United Monarchy. The Samaritans are rather understood in the biblical text to be non-Israelite people who were brought into the territory of the northern kingdom by the Assyrians after they had conquered it and deported and/or displaced the Israelite population. This is described in 2 Kings 17, especially verses 23 to 34. As for the question of when these Samaritans came to accept the Torah as their sacred text, that is an old and complex problem in biblical scholarship. If you are interested in pursuing it, I suggest that you start with the articles on "Samaritan Pentateuch" and "Samaritans" in volume 5 of The Anchor Bible Dictionary. These articles include substantial bibliography for further study.

I wish you well in your continuing studies of these interesting questions.

Richard Elliott Friedman
Davis Professor of Jewish Studies, University of Georgia
Katzin Professor of Jewish Civilization Emeritus, University of California, San Diego

I also inquired of Dr. Israel Finkelstein, Professor of Archaeology at Tel Aviv University:

“Why do the Samaritans accept the entire Pentateuch, rather than only the E document?"

He kindly responded:

"I don't have a definite answer to this question, with which many great scholars contemplated. In any event, it needs to be asked on the background of the 5th or 4th centuries BCE, when the Pentateuch was put in writing including P and R; at that time the schism with the Samaritans was not final"

My understanding is that secular scholars would like to date the schism between the Samaritans and Jews to be from the time of Ezra, or even somewhat later. I don’t see any basis for this, other than a desire to assign a later date to the Pentateuch. However if anyone has access to a reference library and can provide me with more information, I would be grateful.

In fact, taking it a step further, I would say that since the Pentateuch includes no mention of Jerusalem, which was central in the times of David and Solomon, it must date from the time of Samuel at latest, or about 400 years after the Exodus.

In any case, anyone wishing to deny the historical accuracy of the miracles recounted in the first half of the book of Exodus must be able to explain why the Jewish people, fanatically and unanimously, believed in those miracles from just a few centuries after they allegedly occurred up until the time of the Jewish Enlightenment.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Anti-Gay Pride

[float at San Francisco Gay Pride Parade 2005]

I proudly support the death penalty for men engaging in anal sexual intercourse with other men.

The reason for my opinion is simply because this is what the Bible teaches and as a Jew I believe in the Bible.

Leviticus 20:13 states "If a man lies with a male as he lies with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination. They shall surely be put to death. Their blood shall be upon them."

Even if God would command me to slaughter my own precious son, I would be obligated to do so, as indeed Abraham was willing to slaughter Isaac at God’s command (Genesis 22). If God commands that, after a trial and due process of law, male homosexuals must be put to death, I am ready to obey.

The fact is, however, that many homosexuals are not necessarily so precious.

First of all, male homosexuality represents a huge public health problem.

Because the rectum is designed to hold feces and not to receive a penis, the walls of the rectum are thinner, dryer and more rigid than the walls of the vagina. This makes anal intercourse an ideal way to transmit disease and infection. Click here for additional information.

In addition to this, male homosexuals are usually promiscuous.

It doesn’t take a lot of medical knowledge to realize that a community of millions of men who are randomly having anal sex with each other is the ideal breeding ground for sexual diseases and for the development of new, more dangerous, ones. The AIDS epidemic may be a divine punishment for homosexuality, but only in the sense that breaking ones neck is a punishment for jumping out a window. It’s worthwhile noting that the United States, which has completely legalized homosexuality, has an HIV rate 60 times higher than Saudi Arabia, which has a death penalty for homosexuality. Encouraging condom usage has not really solved the problem.

The American Red Cross will not accept a blood donation from practicing male homosexuals.

Unfortunately, homosexuals do not keep these diseases to themselves, since many have sex with woman as well and then these infections spread to the larger community.

Just as an aside, it would appear that about 90% of AIDS cases are caused either by anal sexual intercourse or unsanitary hypodermic needles. The former is the primary method of transmission in the United States while the later may be the primary method in Africa. It would seem very generally that in developed countries, AIDS is a gay/heroin problem and in developing countries it is an unsanitary medical clinic problem. It follows that societies possessing modern medical facilities, no heroin users and no homosexuals should have virtually no AIDS and that does seem to be the case. It is believed that the disease originated about 1940 when an African hunter ate a chimpanzee infected with a similar virus. Following that, a few isolated cases appeared in a few places. However apparently the large and, since the Stonewall Riots, increasingly open and liberated American gay community nutured the first large scale outbreak of AIDS, which then spread back to Africa. The Gay Liberation Front was established in New York City in July, 1969. It generally takes 10 years for HIV infection to develop into AIDS. The first cases of AIDS were reported in New York City in March, 1981. By 1990, Africa had more AIDS victims than the US. Theoretically, it is of course quite possible that future catastrophic pandemics might develop along a similar pathway, God forbid, using the gay community as an incubator.

In addition, homosexuals represent a public safety problem.

A far greater percentage of homosexuals are pedophiles than are heterosexuals; a study shows 1/3 of pedophile victims are males while only about 5% of the population is homosexual. For more details click here. Obviously, the high rate of STD infections among homosexual men makes this even more disturbing.

From a purely scientific point of view, a fixation with male on male anal sexual intercourse should be regarded as a sexual disorder having serious negative health consequences both for the practitioner as well as for others. It is possibly comparable to heroin usage.

To the best of my knowledge [and if I’m wrong, please correct me] the claim that gay men are, on the average, just as healthy and as law abiding as any other men is simply an unsubstantiated claim made by gay men. It is not based on any substantial, respected, independent research.

The question arises however – how can we ban homosexuality when some men may be born with a homosexual orientation and can only find sexual satisfaction in anal sex with another man? We could ask a similar question: How can we ban pedophilia when some men may be born with a pedophilic orientation and can only find sexual satisfaction in sex with a child? The answer is that if therapy will not help them, we insist that pedophiles lead lives of celibacy and sexual frustration. The same should apply to homosexuals.

In conclusion, the ban on anal intercourse between men is God’s will and therefore in my opinion needs no further explanation. However, in fact science has now demonstrated that this is far from being an arbitrary prohibition which will victimize millions of innocent people; rather it is a very wise and humanitarian measure which would on the balance save mankind from a great deal of misery.

In spite of all our civil liberties, Western governments have no problem banning many substances because they may be abused and cause harm. I see no reason why the same should not apply to homosexuals. Can we imagine a Drug Addicts Pride Parade?

Friday, November 10, 2006

The Universe Implies a God

[Timeline of the Big Bang]

The existence of our universe implies the existence of an incorporeal and infinitely powerful Creator.

Obviously nothing physical can come into existence from nothing spontaneously; all objects are merely rearrangements of preexisting substances, but are never really new. Also it is obvious that the universe is not infinitely old. The universe is constantly changing and dynamic and change cannot continue forever. After however many billions or trillions of years the stars would have to burn out; everything would have to wear out, wind down and disintegrate. Just as it is obvious that a burning fire must have been lit at some point in the past or a working clock must have been started at some time so too it is obvious that at some point in the past the universe was created and set in motion by an omnipotent, eternal and incorporeal Creator, who exists forever, unbound by time and space, whose power is unending and without limit.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Splitting Hares: a proof against Judaism?

The following is a passage from Leviticus:

11:1 God spoke to Moses and Aaron, telling them
11:2 to speak to the Israelites, and convey the following to them:
Of all the animals in the world, these are the ones that you may eat:
11:3 Among mammals, you may eat any one that has true hooves that are cloven and that brings up its cud.
11:4 However, among the cud-chewing, hoofed animals, these are the ones that you may not eat: The camel shall be unclean to you although it brings up its cud, since it does not have a true hoof.
11:5 The hyrax shall be unclean to you although it brings up its cud, since it does not have a true hoof.
11:6 The hare shall be unclean to you although it brings up its cud, since it does not have a true hoof.
11:7 The pig shall be unclean to you although it has a true hoof which is cloven, since it does not chew its cud.
11:8 Do not eat the flesh of any of these animals.

This passage has been used by skeptics to disprove Judaism.

First of all, it is argued that the hyrax and hare do not chew a cud. Second of all, the Talmud (Chullin 59a) states that that the animals listed here are the only ones possessing one sign of purity – either hooves or a cud, but not both. Modern zoologists however have discovered that warthogs, babirussas, peccaries, and llamas also possess this characteristic.

In my humble opinion, this type of argument indicates the desperation which atheists resort to in trying to convince themselves and others that the Bible is bogus.

The Bible is teaching the Jewish people to eat only animals that possess both signs of purity. In order to avoid errors, the Bible then lists all those animals native to the Middle East, which is where the Bible was given, which possess only one pure sign and are therefore forbidden but which might be mistaken as permissible. Warthogs are native to sub-Sahara Africa, babirussa to Indonesia, peccaries to the southwest United States and llamas to South America. No Jews lived in those regions until modern times. Do skeptics really believe that the Bible should have listed the llama and for the next 3,000 years until Europeans reached Peru, Jews would have been scratching their heads each time they read the Bible, having no idea what this animal is? The Talmud also presumably means that these are the only Middle Eastern animals with one sign of purity. [The Talmud Megillah 11a states that Achavshveros ruled "from one end of the world to the other". This obviously means "the Middle Eastern world".]

The hare and the hyrax do appear to chew a cud and were believed until modern times to have chewed a cud. Therefore the Bible warned Jews to avoid them although they appear to have one sign of purity.

Leviticus 11:5-7 therefore perfectly accomplishes it obvious purpose – which is not to deliver a modern day zoology lecture, but rather to teach the Jews to avoid consuming animals which could have easily been mistaken as pure.

This is completely in conformance with the well known Talmudic principle “The Torah was written in ordinary conversational language”. See Maimonides, Hilchos Yesodei haTorah 1:12 for similar cases.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Judaic Literature – Providing a Proof of Judaism

[Rabbi Moshe Feinstein; one of the greatest rabbis of the 20th century]

One of the strange and unique features of Judaism is the structure of Judaic literature.

Judaic literature was written in five stages with authors in the later stages never contradicting those in the earlier stages:

- The prophets; 1300 BCE to 300 BCE.
- The early rabbis; 300 BCE to 200 CE
- The Talmudic rabbis; 200 CE to 500 CE
- The Talmudic commentaries; 500 CE to 1500 CE
- The commentators on the Talmudic commentaries; 1500 CE to 1950 CE.

Other religions, and correct me if I’m wrong, will generally have two stages – the founder and the commentators on the founder. There is the New Testament and canon law, the Koran and the Sharia, etc. The founder of course has special importance, however after him any great scholar is entitled to offer an opinion. In the Catholic Church, for example, Doctors of the Church continue to be added up to the present.

In Judaism, a rabbi living in 1000 CE would never have considered contradicting a rabbi who lived in 100 CE and likewise a rabbi living in 1600 CE would never contradict a rabbi living in 1000 CE. Needless to say, no one after 300 BCE claimed to have the gift of prophesy. This is why the canon of the Bible was closed. There was universal reverence for the sages of each earlier era. This is in spite of the fact that since the destruction of the First Temple, 2,400 years ago, the Jewish people have not possessed any central authority capable of declaring and enforcing a new era of Judaic literature. These eras seem to have formed spontaneously because of a universal recognition that current leaders did not possess the spiritual and academic greatness of earlier ones.

In my opinion, this is clearly proof of the great spiritual level which the Jewish people were elevated to 3,300 years ago at Mt. Sinai and which they have been gradually descending from ever since.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Question Everything

Many people are understandably impressed by statements like this from the National Academy of Sciences:

Science and Creationism: A View from the National Academy of Sciences, Second Edition (1999)

"Scientists most often use the word "fact" to describe an observation. But scientists can also use fact to mean something that has been tested or observed so many times that there is no longer a compelling reason to keep testing or looking for examples. The occurrence of evolution in this sense is a fact. Scientists no longer question whether descent with modification occurred because the evidence supporting the idea is so strong."

However let’s not forget how that even the most eminent and respected experts can sometimes be completely wrong:

Excerpt from the address of the United States Secretary of State to the United Nations Security Council Wednesday February 5, 2003

“We know that Saddam Hussein is determined to keep his weapons of mass destruction”

Even the most intelligent and well informed people are fallible. Question everything.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Why I am Not an Evolutionist

[Professor Richard Dawkins, British ethologist, celebrated spokesman for Darwinism and atheism]

I happen to be a subscriber to National Geographic magazine. The nature photography is simply irresistible. National Geographic also happens to be a leading advocate of Darwinian evolution and this month’s (11/2006) issue included a lengthy article specifically about evolution: “A Fin is a Limb is a Wing: How Evolution Fashioned Its Masterworks” page 110. This article is noteworthy in that it is actually a 25 page editorial endorsing evolution and critiquing the intelligent design theory.

Reading the text and looking at the beautiful illustrations, made me wonder: What would it take to prove evolution to me? [Note incidentally that in my opinion proving evolution true implicitly proves monotheism false, since the Bible, Genesis 1, explicitly states that all species were created separately.]

The answer is: fossils.

Evolution makes an extraordinary claim: that different species are all descended from a common ancestor. This is extraordinary because we know from everyday experience that like always begets like; humans have human babies, fish have fish offspring, cats give birth to kittens and so on. Therefore it seems incredible that apes could somehow produce humans or fish could produce reptiles. This doesn’t mean evolution is impossible; many extraordinary things can and do happen. However it means that a huge burden of proof rests on evolutionists to make their case. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

What the fossil evidence should show is gradual, seamless development, in millions of tiny steps, from microbes to advanced life such as eagles, oak trees, salmon, horses and humans. Just like a child develops from a single cell to an embryo, fetus, infant, toddler, adolescent and adult, gradually, seamlessly, each day progressing slightly further, so, Darwinism teaches, life developed and continues developing on earth.

In reality, the fossils do not show us anything like this. The fossils show sudden changes and jumps from one form to the next. This is comparable to a child remaining a newborn for 5 years, then suddenly, the next day, appearing as a toddler for 10 years, then waking up one morning as a teenager. This simply doesn’t make sense. If I would come into my 7 month old daughter’s bedroom tomorrow morning and find a five year old girl in the crib I would know that this is not a new developmental stage, this is a different child. This is basically what paleontologists find in the fossil record. The alleged transitional fossils or “missing links” which are occasionally reported with huge publicity still do not provide anything resembling a seamless spectrum of development from microbes to advanced modern life.

The answer given is yes, all those tiny, incremental steps did happen; however the fossils sadly never formed or have been lost. Fair enough, however in that case evolutionists have no convincing proof. If a prosecutor would tell a jury that yes, there must have been evidence that the defendant is guilty, but it’s been lost, I don’t think he would get a conviction.

All the other proofs of evolution, from vestigial organs, embryology, homologies and genetics, I personally don’t find convincing since they tell us nothing directly about what happened in the past and bizarrely they seem to be attempts by biologists to psychoanalyze God; to claim, for example, “If God created the ostrich, why did He make it with those useless little wings? So we see God didn’t do it.” I don’t think we know enough about all of God’s possible intentions to jump to that conclusion. This is what I call “Godlessness of the Gaps”: any time we see something and we cannot explain why God would do it that proves that God does not exist. Of course, this may just be proof of our ignorance, not proof of atheism. Since Darwin, the vast majority of “useless” organs have been found to be quite useful.

However, to psychoanalyze scientists a little, why does evolution remain so universally popular in the scientific world? Because the vast majority of scientists are either atheists or something close to atheists and there is no other possible atheistic explanation for advanced life other than variation and natural selection. Therefore, they reason, evolution must be true. The few scientists who are religious believers know that in order to be successful professionally they must conform to the majority.

I believe it’s obvious that if not for atheistic bias, Darwinian evolution would never have been considered seriously as a scientific theory. It’s not science; it’s baseless speculation.

A previous post deals with the issue of fossils at greater length.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The Universe: Made Just for Us

One of the most remarkable things about the universe is that life is able to exist in it at all. In order for living things of any type to exist, there must be stars and planets. However in order for stars and planets to exist, the universe must possess a long list of natural properties.

Cosmologist Martin Rees in his book “Our Cosmic Habitat” (Princeton University Press, 2001, page 162) compares our universe having, by chance, all the properties needed for life to exist to the case of a prisoner standing in front of a firing squad of 50 marksmen and all of them taking aim, firing and all missing. He would naturally wonder why this happened.

We don’t know of any scientific reason why the universe must possess any of these properties, let alone all of them, so why does it?

The obvious answer is that God made the universe for the sake of man, so of course He made it hospitable for life. Just like a builder builds a home with a roof, ceiling, insulation, a kitchen, wiring, plumbing, windows, heating, air conditioning, etc. everything designed perfectly for the future occupants, so God built our world with all the properties needed to make life possible.

For those who refuse to believe in God, the only alternative is to believe that the observable universe is in fact merely one bubble within a vastly larger universe which includes many bubbles, each of which has different properties and some of which, just by chance, are capable of supporting life. There is no evidence to support this, however. [This is a fundamental principle of atheism: “Yes, of course, this or that APPEARS to be intelligently designed, however given enough time and space anything can happen by chance.”]

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Does Egyptian History Contradict Judaism?

[Great Pyramid of Giza]

One apparent conflict between science and Judaism is that according to traditional Jewish chronology, the Deluge (Genesis 7) occurred in 2106 BCE. The Dispersion (Genesis 11) occurred in 1765 BCE. This means that between those two dates, for a period of 340 years, the earth was uninhabited outside of Mesopotamia. Also, presumably, people after the Dispersion spoke different languages than they did before the Deluge.

Egyptians, however, continued speaking the same language from 3200 BCE until 1300 CE. How can this be explained?

My guess is as follows:

I would assume that the antediluvian Egyptians were among the “mighty men of old” (Genesis 6:4). They built the Great Pyramid and spoke Old Egyptian. They died in the Deluge. [I suspect that this early race of superior men also built the remarkable Stonehenge monument which dates from about the same period.]

Following the Dispersion, new settlers arrived in Egypt who wished to revive the language and culture of the earlier inhabitants. They never approached the architectural achievement of the original Egyptians, however they emulated Old Egyptian culture and claimed descent from them. (Many ancient dynasties claimed descent from ancient gods or heroes.)

This is similar to medieval northern Europeans who continued using Latin long after the destruction of Rome and even though they were not Roman. American high schools taught Latin until the 1960s. In fact, this blog is being written in the Latin alphabet. Classical Greek and Roman architectures were often revived. Most people today use a slightly modified Roman calendar.

Interestingly, the Egyptians are virtually the only ancient culture not possessing a flood legend, I would suppose because they wished to deny their lack of continuity with the pyramid builders.

Incidentally, the Deluge itself was obviously a supernatural event, which did not necessarily leave any physical evidence remaining today.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Judaism vs. Secularism

The Bible (Genesis 2:7) teaches us that man is composed of two parts, the body, created from the earth, just as the animals were, and the soul, breathed into us by God. Each man is therefore composed of two opposing halves – one animalistic, one angelic. The animalistic portion includes those parts of our personality which we share with animals – the desire for food, sex, physical comfort, selfishness and cruelty. The angelic portion includes those parts of our personality which we have in common with angels – the desire for spirituality and to emulate God.

Within each person, the conflict continues his entire life, between one side and the other.

Why is secularism more popular than Judaism? Because it is far easier to surrender to the physical and become an animal than it is to constantly struggle and attempt to become an angel.

Why are secular people so often unhappy? Because they are attempting to deny the existence of a vital part of themselves.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Refuting the Torah deniers

[top: Christian mosaic bottom: Charles Darwin]

Ask an atheist:If there is no god, where did life come from?

If he answers “Evolution created it.” tell him that complex living systems cannot spontaneously grow from simple chemicals and simple animals cannot spontaneously give birth to more complex animals. Therefore evolution is obviously wrong.

If he answers “I don’t know.” ask him “Aren’t you just trying to avoid reaching the obvious conclusion; that a higher power created you and you may owe him something?”

If he asks "Who created God?" answer "God by definition is eternal and needs no creator."

If he says "Religion just doesn't interest me. I'm agnostic." Tell him that it should. If his life does in fact have some cosmic meaning and purpose, wouldn't it be a tragedy to live and die without discovering it?

Ask a Christian:

How do you know that the authors of the New Testament didn’t just make up all the stories about Jesus? Maybe he wasn’t really born in Bethlehem, didn’t heal the sick, didn’t return from death. Maybe his followers just fabricated it all.

If he answers “Millions of people believe it; it must be true.” Answer that millions believe in Islam and Buddhism, but of course as he will agree they are wrong.

If he asks “How do you know that Judaism is true? Maybe someone made it up.” Answer that Judaism is based on the tradition of an entire nation which could not be falsified. A large community of people could not unanimously conspire to create a religion. Christianity is based on the testimony of a few individuals.

If he says "Christianity makes me happy, therefore I believe." tell him that it is foolish to devote his life to something which is obviously a scam.

Ask a Moslem or Buddhist:

The same thing you ask a Christian, just modified appropriately.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Rabbi Nosson Slifkin – victim of persecution or heretic?

[genealogical tree of life by Ernst Heinrich Haeckel 1874]

First of all, I don’t feel qualified to answer this question. I will merely present the readers with several facts and they are invited to decide for themselves or consult their rabbis.

Yesterday, I read a fascinating post on the blog The Curious Jew. This post relates the content of a speech given several days ago by Rabbi Nosson Slifkin to undergraduate women at Stern College. I don’t know who the blogger is, however she seems to be very careful and precise so I am assuming that her account of the speech is accurate.

As I understand Rabbi Slifkin, he believes that universal common ancestry, from microbe to man, over the past several billion years is an unquestionable scientific fact. This simply cannot be doubted rationally. Common ancestry is proven by 1) homologies, 2) vestigial organs and 3) transitional fossils.

For an Orthodox Jew, a problem arises: How do we then understand the first chapter of the Bible, which states clearly that each kind of plant and animal was created separately by a direct act of God (Genesis 1:12, 1:21, 1:25), as was man (Genesis 1:27)?

Rabbi Slifkin answers that according to Maimonides’ in his Guide for the Perplexed Genesis 1 should not be understood literally. Rather, Genesis chapter 1 is an esoteric allegory. In other words, it is a fictional story intended to convey some, unspecified, spiritual lesson.

Personally, I find two difficulties with Rabbi Slifkin’s opinion.

First of all, I believe that he is giving far to much weight to the scientific evidence in favor of evolution. Regarding homologies, they prove nothing, since there is no way to distinguish between two organisms that are descended from a common ancestor and two organisms that were created by a common designer. Regarding vestigial organs, in the species we are most familiar with, humans, we know today that no organ is useless and the same presumably applies to other species as well. Vestigial organs are merely organs whose purpose we do not yet understand. And to cite the fossil evidence as proof of evolution is almost laughable. In reality, the fossils do not show anything resembling the continuous, infinitely gradual progression from molecules to modern life which Darwin’s theory predicts. Consider for example the Cambrian explosion and the extinction events. One hundred and fifty years of hunting for missing links has done little to close the unexplainable gaps. This article by biologist Jonathan Wells is worth reading, especially pages 3 through 5.

Second of all, I believe that Rabbi Slifkin’s opinions represent appalling Biblical scholarship. To suggest that the first chapter of the Bible was intended by its author to be fictional is ludicrous. No traditional Jewish authority has every suggested this. In the Jewish Observer May 2006 page 18, Rabbi Chaim Dov Keller, dean of the Telshe Yeshiva of Chicago, states that Maimonides means that IN ADDITION to the literal meaning of Genesis 1, there are other meanings as well. Also, obviously this sets a dangerous precedence. If one Biblical story can arbitrarily be declared fictional, then surely any and all others can be as well.

It would seem to me that Rabbi Slifkin’s teachings are reminiscent of the teaching of the infamous Jewish Enlightenment which ravaged 19th century European Jewry.

For my own interpretation of the fossils, see my post.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Samson’s Struggle – Satmar (and Others) Helping

My son Samson has cerebral palsy; he is mentally fine but cannot yet walk. Because of his condition, he required major surgery on his hips last Wednesday which involved a 4 day stay in the Hospital for Joint Diseases.

What struck me as being remarkable was the great deal of support given to us by the Orthodox community. When we checked into the hospital a representative from Yedei Chesed helped us to find a room in the hospital which we could use temporarily to sleep and nurse our baby. She then came and visited us in the hospital the first night and brought a beautiful toy for Samson. The following night, she graciously brought more items to the hospital needed for our stay. For Shabbos and Sunday morning we relocated to a very comfortable apartment just around the corner made available by Bikur Cholim d’Satmar, no payment required. Now bear in mind that I am not Satmar and Satmar people allowed the hospital social worker to give me keys to the apartment without having any idea who I am. The apartment was clean, with linens and towels and food for Shabbos. As if this wasn’t enough, Chai Lifeline brought a big box of food for Shabbos.

We really felt that caring people, whom we didn’t necessarily even know, were supporting us all the way through a difficult experience.

Can an atheist possibly expect this level of support from fellow atheists? I hardly think so. The only parallel I am aware of is the Ronald McDonald House Charities, which I believe are able to help only a limited number of very critically ill children and their families.

It’s a shame that the media insists on constantly harping on the negative. If one time a crowd of Satmar boys brawl and bloody a few noses, it’s international news. (The Economist reported it!) However thousands of daily acts of selfless kindness and charity go almost unnoticed.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Building Self Control

"Who is strong? One who conquers his desires." the Talmud

Many times people want to stop doing something however somehow they cannot find enough will power to do so. They know something is wrong and destructive, however they simply cannot control themselves so they continue doing it and hating themselves for it.

Is there a simple solution?

In my experience, yes: making vows.

It works like this. Each week you read a list of vows along the lines of:

The following fast days will be obligatory only if I definitely and knowingly require myself to observe them, and I am aware that I am required to observe them an hour after having fulfilled the conditions needed to require the fast.

I hereby accept upon myself that if later this week or next week I knowingly unblock any webpage from ContentProtect software I will be required to fast 1 day during this month of Av, 5766 or next month of Elul, 5766.

I hereby accept upon myself that if later this week or next week
I knowingly and deliberately turn on and listen to a radio or television I will be required to fast 1/2 day during this month of Av, 5766 or next month of Elul, 5766.

I have personally found this to be an incredibly powerful tool for building greater self-control in any area, whether it’s Judaism or weight control or anything else.

Of course, one must be careful and cautious about doing this responsibly and I think it can often be used as a sort of “training wheels”. Once one becomes stronger in a certain area, he can stop making the vow and do it on his own. Hopefully.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Stop Child Abuse

One of the major problems [although NOT the only problem] with having sex outside marriage is child abuse. Sex causes the conception of children. In order for a child to develop properly, he needs a loving, stable, safe environment. If his parents are not married, it’s very unlikely that he will have that. Very likely he will simply be killed before he is born. At this point over a third of unwed pregnancies end in abortion, compared to a small minority of pregnancies during marriage. If he is lucky enough to be born alive, he will very possibly be poor. About 1/3 of children in single parent families are poor. Even if the child is given up for adoption at birth, very often the adopting parents will not give the same level of care that an intact biological family would give. Having myself been born out of wedlock and adopted as an infant, I unfortunately have first hand experience with this.

Similarly, divorce has catastrophic effects on the children involved. “The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce: The 25 Year Landmark Study” by Judith S. Wallerstein explains in great detail the emotional problems and mental anguish suffered by children who grow up in divorced homes. The father often disappears or provides the children with minimal emotional and financial support while he goes on to establish a new family. The mother is busy working and seeking a new mate. The children are basically abandoned; the unwanted products of a relationship which failed. The younger they are, the more they are affected. Their pain is translated into anger and sadness which may lead to self destructive behavior for decades afterwards and also poor choices in their own relationships.

Studies have shown that children living in single parent families are far more likely to suffer from many social and economic problems compared to children in intact families.

If a child is conceived today in the United States, he has about a 25% chance of being aborted before birth. If he is born alive, he has a greater than 50% chance of being raised by a single mother or experiencing a divorce during his childhood. This is virtually a holocaust for American children. And it is a very new situation caused by the decline of morality in society. Fifty years ago, unwed mothers and abortion were rare and divorce was uncommon.

Premarital sex and divorce are not merely personal life style choices. They are really abusive acts which may have a destructive effect for generations. This is the indirect child abuse which has become acceptable in American society, when people decide to consider only their own shortsighted needs. Think of the new, small helpless people who depend on you.

From all the above, the divine wisdom of traditional Jewish moral values is very clear. Let's hope more people rediscover them.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Do We Have a Soul?

Judaism teaches that man has a soul – a consciousness which exists independently of the physical body and brain. This belief has broad implications. It means that there is an afterlife and there are future lives – reincarnation. It means that reward and punishment follow death and therefore the righteous are always justly rewarded and the wicked cannot escape punishment in the grave. More than that, the human soul distinguishes man from the lower animals and from inanimate objects. We are not merely biochemical robots; bags full of water, proteins and nucleic acids. On the contrary, the body is merely a superficial shell. We possess a divine spark which God has breathed into us. This is our true essence.

However is there any scientific proof to support this concept?

Seemingly, yes, there clearly is.

What if we could switch off a person’s brain, wait a little while, switch it back on and then ask him if he was conscious during the time that his brain was not functioning? If a great many people answer in the affirmative, then seemingly this would prove the existence of the soul.

In fact, this has happened, and it has been documented thousands of times. It’s called a Near Death Experience and people whose brains have ceased functioning for 5 to 20 minutes upon being revived frequently recall being completely conscious during this period. Considering the fact that the existence of the soul is something we all feel intuitively anyway, this would seem to be ample confirmation of the soul’s actual existence.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Folk Science or Junk Science?

In the August, 2006 issue of Scientific American magazine page 34 Michael Shermer’s “Skeptic” column is devoted to the topic of “Folk Science”, which seems to mean any beliefs not based on scientific experiments.

One example of folk science is prayer. Shermer cites a study published in the April, 2006 American Heart Journal. In this study, about 1,000 heart surgery patients were prayed for by members of several religious congregations and were found to have no better outcome than other heart surgery patients. According to Shermer this proves conclusively that prayer for sick people does not help them.

The weakness of this conclusion is appalling.

Obviously, prayer involves communicating with an intelligent being who has free will. Therefore the person offering the prayer, the manner of its offering, the subject of the prayer and other circumstances may be crucial. It is not as simple a process as administering a drug to heart surgery patients. Prayer is not a medication; it involves creating a relationship.

To give an analogy, let’s say I want to do an experiment to discover whether or not writing letters to the President of the United States has any affect. One thousand people will write to the President asking that their federal income tax be lowered. Then we will check to see if their taxes drop compared to other people or not. If not, then we can conclude scientifically that the President either does not exist or he never reads his mail.

An experiment like that is obviously absurd junk science which no one would take seriously. Therefore one wonders why Dr. Shermer finds the AHJ study to be so compelling and in fact why the editors of Scientific American magazine even published his column. Could there be a need in scientific community to grasp at any straw which seems to disprove theism?

Friday, July 28, 2006

A description of God

He is infinite - in regards to time, space and strength.
He is eternal, He is everywhere and He does everything.
He has no physical form and His nature is entirely beyond our comprehension.
[The essence of idolatry is the belief that God has some physical form or nature that can be understood by us.]

What He does:
He creates everything.
He controls everything.
He knows everything.

What He does not do:
He does not make mistakes.
He does not have conflicting emotions.
He does not cause pain unjustly.

In summary: He is the Perfect Giving Being.

Man's task: to emulate in a miniature way this Perfect Giving Being. "Coming closer to God", "cleaving to God" etc. means imitating God in our small way.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Two Interesting Quotes

“I once asked the eloquent and personable paleontologist Niles Eldredge whether he knew of any case in which the formation of a new species had ever been documented. I told him I’d be satisfied if his example were drawn from the laboratory, from the field, or from observations from the fossil record. He could muster only one good example: Theodosius Dobzhansky’s experiments with Drosophila, the fruit fly.”

“Symbiotic Planet” by Lynn Margulis page 7

According to evolutionists, billions of new species have evolved on earth yet only one case has ever been documented; a minor variant of the fruit fly produced artificially in a laboratory. All other speciation events have successfully succeeding in concealing themselves from human eyes.

“People who believe in God are happier than those who don’t. A study shows that the faithful are less likely to abuse drugs, commit crimes or kill themselves.”

“Some Dark Thought on Happiness” by Jennifer Senior (who is an atheist) in New York magazine 7/17/2006 page 30

According to atheists, the human mind has apparently evolved in such a way that we can only be happy if we believe in a fantasy. Is that reasonable?

Sunday, July 16, 2006

The foundation of evolution – is it crumbling?

The foundation of evolution is the concept that microevolution is fundamentally identical to macroevolution. In other words, when we observe that animal breeders are able to create new varieties of domestic animals through selective breeding [microevolution], this same process, using natural rather than artificial selection and extending over millions of years, is capable of transforming microbes into plants, animals and also humans [macroevolution].

This is explained in the first chapter of “Origin of Species”.

According to the neo-Darwinian theory, all evolutionary changes are the result of random genetic mutations.

Some creationist authors have questioned whether this is in fact the case.

For example, Dr. Lee Spetner in his book “Not By Chance” page 183 through 208, suggests that in some cases environmental factors seem to cause non-random genetic changes, however he admits (page 184) that the mechanism which could cause this change has not yet been discovered. Dr. Mark Perakh in his book “Unintelligent Design” p. 307 is quick to point out that Spetner’s hypothesis is merely an unsubstantiated assumption.

However, now this may be changing.

In the current, 8/2006, issue of Scientific American magazine, page 55, Mark Gerstein and Deyou Zhen, bioinformaticians at Yale University, discuss the possible functions of pseudogenes. Pseudogenes are apparently useless, dysfunctional copies of normal, functioning genes. Interestingly, however, certain yeast pseudogenes seem to be reactivated when the organism is challenged by a stressful, new environment. “Thus, pseudogenes may be considered not only as dead genes (which nonetheless provide fascinating insights into our past) but also as potentially unborn genes: a resource tucked away in our genetic closet to be drawn on in changing circumstances, one whose possible roles in our present and future genomes are just beginning to unfold.”

I hope that evolutionists will take note of this discovery and cease using microevolutionary changes as proof of macroevolution; the micro changes may well be nothing more than an expression of pseudogenetic activities and therefore have no relevance to macroevolution.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Hitler – was he an atheist or a theist?

The short answer is no, he was not exactly either.

Adolf Hitler was a politician, not a theologian. He never spoke or wrote publicly about religion at length. But he did believe in a god and in an eternal soul. For example, here are three interesting quotes:

Mein Kampf Volume 1, Chapter 8: “What we must fight for is to safeguard the existence and reproduction of our race and our people, the sustenance of our children and the purity of our blood, the freedom and independence of the fatherland, so that our people may mature for the fulfillment of the mission allotted it by the creator of the universe."

Mein Kampf Volume 1, Chapter 11: “Peoples which bastardize themselves, or let themselves be bastardized, sin against the will of eternal Providence”

My Political Testament: “By their [Bormann, Goebbels, etc.] work and loyal companionship they will remain as close to me after my death as I hope my spirit will continue to dwell among them and accompany them always.”

I think it is fair to say that Hitler was a theist, however not in the traditional Western sense of the word. I don’t believe he had any respect for the Bible, except for some of the anti-Semitic portions of the New Testament. He showed respect for Christianity in general only when and if it was politically correct to do so. I don’t believe, and correct me if I am wrong, that there is any credible record of him ever praying as an adult, even in the Berlin bunker shortly before his death.

I think that it would be most correct to say that Hitler’s religion was naturalistic pantheism and Darwinism.

Hitler seemed to have believed in a sort of impersonal god of nature who wanted all life to achieve the greatest perfection possible through struggle, conflict, extermination of the weak and success of the strong. This, combined with German nationalism and anti-Semitism, was the essence of Nazism. Apparently, his god was the Darwinian force of nature. Hitler, while not exactly an atheist, was a post-Christian European.

Mein Kampf volume 1 Chapter 10: “Let me explain: Man must not fall into the error of thinking that he was ever meant to become lord and master of Nature. A lopsided education has helped to encourage that illusion. Man must realize that a fundamental law of necessity reigns throughout the whole realm of Nature and that his existence is subject to the law of eternal struggle and strife. He will then feel that there cannot be a separate law for mankind in a world in which planets and suns follow their orbits, where moons and planets trace their destined paths, where the strong are always the masters of the weak and where those subject to such laws must obey them or be destroyed. Man must also submit to the eternal principles of this supreme wisdom. He may try to understand them but he can never free himself from their sway.”

What we must learn from Hitler is the danger which lies both in Christianity, which was surely the source of Hitler’s anti-Semitism, and Darwinism, which was the source of his contempt for human life and his belief in the positive value of mass murder.

Are We Happy Yet?

We would all like to feel satisfied and have a sense of well being. But how can we reach that goal?

Fortunately, a highly respected social psychologist, Dr. David G. Myers, has reviewed thousands of recent scientific studies regarding what makes people happy and he has published his findings in a book called “The Pursuit of Happiness”, Avon Books 1992.

First of all being rich does not make people happy (page 31), so scratch that. Having happy ancestors does have a big influence (page 122); however for most of us, it’s too late to choose our parents. So what can we actually do to become happier?

Well, in a nutshell, here it is:

- Develop a strong faith and trust in God. page 183
- Believe in an afterlife. page 200
- Focus on spiritual rather than material accomplishments. page 188
- Focus on the present moment more than on the past and the future. page 51
- Focus on what you have, not on what you are lacking. page 56
- Focus on what others are lacking, not on what they have. page 56
- Focus on helping others, not helping yourself. page 194
- Develop good relationships with family and friends; try to be part of a supportive community and family. pages 142 and 155
- Try to find employment which suits your talents. page 129
- Maintain a healthy diet. page 77
- Exercise. page 77
- In general, care for your health. page 76
- Get enough rest. Allow quiet time to relax. page 138

This is the true, common sense, scientifically proven path to achieve greater happiness, not the endless pursuit of wealth, fame, sex, drugs, fattening food and alcohol. All of those things bring a brief thrill, but at a high cost and they cannot provide long term satisfaction and well being. (For proof, read the biographies of the rich and famous.) Many people, especially young adults, are distracted by such things, sometimes wasting years and sometimes ruining or terminating their lives in the process. Instead, simply the quiet, sober, healthy, generous, religious life is what really works. Difficult and boring, perhaps. But in the long run, much happier.

For more details, I recommend Dr. Myers’ book. As well as the Book of Proverbs, which basically said the same things a few thousand years ago.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

A Taste of Nietzsche

Die fröhliche Wissenschaft
("la gaya scienza")

Heilige Grausamkeit 73.

Heilige Grausamkeit. — Zu einem Heiligen trat ein Mann, der ein eben geborenes Kind in den Händen hielt. "Was soll ich mit dem Kinde machen? fragte er, es ist elend, missgestaltet und hat nicht genug Leben, um zu sterben". "Tödte es, rief der Heilige mit schrecklicher Stimme, töte es und halte es dann drei Tage und drei Nächte lang in deinen Armen, auf dass du dir ein Gedächtnis machest: — so wirst du nie wieder ein Kind zeugen, wenn es nicht an der Zeit für dich ist, zu zeugen". — Als der Mann dies gehört hatte, ging er enttäuscht davon; und Viele tadelten den Heiligen, weil er zu einer Grausamkeit geraten hatte, denn er hatte geraten, das Kind zu töten. "Aber ist es nicht grausamer, es leben zu lassen?" sagte der Heilige.

In this passage, entitled "Holy Cruelty", Nietzsche, one of the pillars of modern atheism, has a "holy man" advise the father of a disabled child to kill the child since "Aber ist es nicht grausamer, es leben zu lassen?" ["Isn't it more cruel to allow it to live?"]

Is it any wonder that Nazis looked to Nietzsche as one of their "founding fathers"? And is it any wonder that, to my knowledge, every officially atheistic government in history has been fiendishly cruel? We see today, for example, North Korea is launching missiles while the people starve. Perhaps Nietzsche would have approved such holy cruelty as well; who knows?

Apparently atheists who live in more or less Christian countries accept more or less Christian ethics because of societal pressures, not real conviction. This concoction is called "secular humanism". However when left to themselves in control of their own society, atheists can live according to their true beliefs, which means that human life has no more value than animal life. This explains the huge body count accumulated in just one century by atheistic governments.