Monday, December 25, 2006
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.”
Posted by jewish philosopher at 6:22 AM
Thursday, December 14, 2006
[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.
THE EXISTENCE OF A SINGLE NATURAL OBJECT EXHIBITING COMPLEX PURPOSEFULNESS IS PROOF THAT GOD EXISTS.
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.]
THE FACT THAT JUDAISM COULD NOT HAVE ORIGINATED VIA A FRAUD, DELUSION OR HALLUCINATION IS PROOF THAT GOD WROTE THE TORAH.
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.
Posted by jewish philosopher at 1:08 PM
Friday, December 08, 2006
[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.
Posted by jewish philosopher at 11:31 AM
Monday, December 04, 2006
[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.
Posted by jewish philosopher at 11:39 AM