Friday, January 12, 2007

Kefirah Clowns



(kefirah – in Hebrew, denial, heresy, atheism)

In a few more days it will be a full year since I began writing this blog and this has been one of the most fascinating and enjoyable projects of my life.

One of the best parts of this activity has been my constant interaction with people who are bitterly and completely opposed to all that I believe in, many of whom are intelligent, educated and even (formerly) Orthodox Jews themselves. Corresponding with these people has reaffirmed my beliefs time and again, because never once has anyone produced a convincing atheistic explanation for the origin of the universe, the origin of life or the origin of Judaism; not even one decent explanation which would convince an intelligent, fair-minded person. The atheists have no answers.

How did the universe originate?
Atheist #1: We cannot understand that.
Me: Sure you can’t understand it, if you irrationally insist that nature is all there is, there is no way nature could have gotten started. However if we acknowledge the existence of an intelligent force outside nature, for example God, there is no problem. God did it.
Atheist #2: The universe has always existed. The Big Bang is not the beginning of the universe, but rather merely the beginning of one little bubble in an endless chain of multiverses.
Me: What about entropy? Is the universe a perpetual motion machine which will never stop? That’s impossible.

Why is the universe fine-tuned in a way which makes life possible?
Atheist: There are an immense number of universes and this one just happens to work this way by chance.
Me: There is no evidence of that. You are just trying to avoid the obvious fact that God designed the universe.

How did the first life originate?
Atheist: We don’t know.
Me: You don’t know because there is no natural way for simple chemicals to form living things. However if we acknowledge the existence of an intelligent force outside nature, for example God, there is no problem. God did it.

How did complex life develop?
Atheist: Darwinian evolution! That’s it! I’ve got one answer!!
Me: No one has every seen one new organ or limb develop as a result of Darwinian evolution, not in a laboratory or in a fossil bed. It’s a myth.

Why are we conscious of ourselves and how can we make free choices?
Atheist: I don’t know why we feel self conscious. We don’t make free choices, we just imagine we do.
Me: We have a God given soul.

How did Judaism originate?
Atheist: Just like any other religion. Somebody made up a story, then a bunch of foolish people believed it.
Me: Wrong. Judaism did not begin with someone making up a story. Judaism began with an entire nation, a community of tens of thousands of people, believing a story. A few people could make up a lie. An entire nation cannot unanimously conspire together to falsify history. If you think they can, then join the Holocaust deniers and the Moon landing hoax believers.

So the kefirah clowns have an answer for everything, but they are all bad answers. Anything pointing to God is a mystery, an illusion or a conspiracy. But I guess you can believe anything if you are angry enough, arrogant enough or addicted enough to an irresponsible lifestyle.

Some “tough” questions atheists have asked me:

Where did God come from?
He has always existed.

How did fossils originate?
They are remains of earlier, pre-Adam worlds.

Why does the Torah allow slavery?
Where the government permits slavery, the Torah allows us to purchase a slave and force him to work, but not to maim him, kill him or sexually abuse him. This is far more humane than any other nationality. However to ban Jews from owning slaves where gentiles routinely did would put them at an unfair disadvantage economically.

Why did Jews kill the Canaanites?
The only source for that is the Bible, and if you believe the Bible then you can believe that God told the Jews to do it.

Doesn’t Judaism consider women to inferior to men?
I think Judaism considers women to be on the average slightly more childish and emotional than men and therefore in most cases it is preferable for men to make important decisions. Orthodox Jewish women, however, are almost never raped, beaten, impregnated before marriage and are almost always married by age 30. I think many secular women would envy that situation.

28 comments:

Agkyra said...

I love the picture.

Independent Frum Thinker said...

Rav Chaim Brisker reportedly said that all the questions of Kofrim are in essence answers, answers for them to live the life they want to live.

joebaum said...

How is everybody so sure that fossils are that old?

jewish philosopher said...

I think this article is very thorough.

joebaum said...

Actually why god told them to kill the canaanites was simply for self defense, as he sayd: (bemedbor 33:55,56) "if you will not kill them all (which thay didnt do eventually) you will suffer from them all through the generations to come when thay will try to gain back there land by killing a lot of you" (which thay did).
BTW thenks for your link, but it will take me a while untill i'll get thru it.
thanks again, joe

Henry said...

Why are people worried about fossils anyway? They are only lumps of stone usually buried in the ground, just a few get washed out or dug up.

jewish philosopher said...

Fossils are the entire basis for the silly claim that "religion opposes science".

Henry said...

But fossils are a silly basis for any claim that religion opposes science and it is demeaning to argue over such matters. And, speaking as a scientist, I would firmly assert that religion and science are complementary. One of my best friends is a famous astronomer and priest. He does not find any problems having a foot in both camps and nor do I. Humans have a duty to seek for the truth wherever it is to be found, and religion and science are tools to be used in this quest.

However, the way to fight the "fossils disprove religion" nonsense is not to deny the evidence of the fossil record, such as it is, but to shift the ground for the debate and fight from a stronger - indeed, impregnable - position.

People who use the fossil argument usually have a naive idea about religion and are best disabused of their misconception.

The trickiest issues for religion are free will and evil, not fossils.

Henry said...

Joebaum - people are sure that fossils are old because of (1) the mixture of isotopes of which they are made and (2) the amount of rock that is lying on top of them. Rock is laid down at a definite rate and in principle, all you have to do is work backwards. Besides which you can often see each season's layer of rock under a microscope.

There is also the evidence from the analysis of the genes of creatures living today. You can work out how long ago their common ancestor lived.

Don't worry about it - fossils cannot disprove religion.

joebaum said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
joebaum said...

I geuss i realy have to be a scientist to approve it or disapprove it.
Also i personoly don't feel like that fossils are that old, whether i believe in religion or not.

Henry said...

Go and visit a quarry or cliff where you can see fossils.

SearchingForMeaning said...

Oy mein gott. Have you been reading anything we have been saying JP? You are rehashing that which we have gone over time and time again. Stop trying to insist the world is flat and calling us clowns, and ignoring the 100 ways we show you it's round. It's getting a bit silly and repetetive.

jewish philosopher said...

Search: "hit me baby one more time"

Henry said...

Poor guy is stuck in a bit of a loop. Pity because a lot of what JP says is spot on.

Miri said...

I don't recall Judaism preaching the attitude that women are more "childish and emotional than men" and that therefore men ought to make the important decisions. I recall a lot of Jews condescending to women and underestimating their intelligence and capabilities; I recall several things about the neccessity, dare I say obligation, of a man to consult his wife before making any important decisions. can you point me to some sources that back up this claim of yours that Judaism, not Jews, holds that women are inferior?

jewish philosopher said...

Sure:
A woman may not be a judge.
A woman may not be a witness.
When a woman marries, any money she earns belongs to her husband.
When a woman marries she may not use her own property, which she owned before the marriage, without her husband's permission.
A daughters inherit nothing if there are sons.
(The point is that virtual all property in the Jewish community is controlled by men.)

This should not really be too shocking. To the best of my knowledge, and correct me it I am wrong, there has never been a human society where women have shared equally in decision making. For example, in the United States, there has never been a female President, 16% of US Senators are women, 15% of Congress members are female, 2% of US governors are female. 10% of billionaires worldwide are female, but 90% of those merely inherited the wealth from male relatives. It would appear that in the human species, the male gender is dominant, as is the case with almost all mammals.

It's Me Writing Here said...

Hello, I am enjoying your site, and am relatively new to the blogger world. Especially the Jewish blogger world. I would have to take issue though with this idea that women are "childish"
From what I understand about the Torah perspective, the issue is not childish/adult but logical/emotional.

In regards to the following points:
A woman may not be a judge.
A woman may not be a witness.


A person who is logical may be rational or irrational, as well as a person who is emotional may be rational or irrational--but women and men (to my understanding) are meant to each hold one of these two positions. So a woman should be "understanding" of a person who does wrong, and the man should give clear "judgement" according to halachah about the deeds a person has commited. This is in no way judging the person, but just clearly separating out the deeds.

When a woman marries, any money she earns belongs to her husband.
If understand rightly, the money does not belong to her husband, but to her, and she would receive it all back in case of divorce, but she has given it over to his "stewardship". This does not mean that he can do what he pleases, but he is taking on the responsibility of investing it--and of course consulting with her as he would for other family issues.
When a woman marries she may not use her own property, which she owned before the marriage, without her husband's permission.
this I am unsure about.

A daughters inherit nothing if there are sons.
(The point is that virtual all property in the Jewish community is controlled by men.)

First of all, the fact that it is, does not mean that this is the way it should be. We are not perfect, yet... :)
Also, I don't know if this would be an answer, but if you look at the "woman of valour" there are references to women doing business activities (controlling property).

I think Judaism considers women to be on the average slightly more childish and emotional than men and therefore in most cases it is preferable for men to make important decisions.
Women make and have made decisions biblically, but women are not supposed to make Halachic decisions, due to the point mentioned previously about emotional/logical aspects of women and men.
Also, science experiments (of course this can be questioned as to the validity of the studies done) have shown that women do well in the emotional+logical mode, while men are better at and often use their emotional and logical modes separately...which would possibly mean that a man is better at things like fighting and legal decision making on a continuous basis--while a woman might find her expertise better used in a situation where children are being raised, due to the constant patience and forgivness that are required (as well as very important decision making on a moment to moment basis--since a child's life is made up of all these small details and that is what their eventual character and outlook on life is shaped by).
So the male/female roles are not defined by what they can and can't do, but by what role best uses their various strengths.
I would be very interested in your response, as well as the response of other individuals in the Jewish blogging sphere. With peace,

jewish philosopher said...

I think that the basically submissive role of women is made clearest by a statement in Tanna Dbai Eliyahu Rabbah 10:5 which states that "there is no proper woman other than one who does the will of her husband". As far as the reasons for this, I am just speculating. Women do, after all, have a physical similarity to children - small stature, higher voices, lack of facial hair, bigger eyes and smaller noses, etc.

I think that in fact in all societies, including 21st century America, women have less power than men. However Judaism seems to regard this as a fact, not a problem which must somehow be corrected.

Money that a woman earns while married belongs to her husband. Money which she possessed before marriage is controlled by and used by her husband during the marriage but is returned to her after the marriage ends.

FemaleJewishBlogger said...

Hello,
Here is an article on the Aish website that gives some nice descriptions of the Jewish view of Men and Women
If you have the time or interest, it's worth a read.
I am still trying to define for myself what just does not feel "right" about using the word childish about women. Probably because it gives a feeling of being less than--and I don't think anywhere the Torah regards women as less than men, although most definitely different! Again, enjoying reading the blog...

jewish philosopher said...

Women are certainly not children. Women are fully responsible for their behavior, while children are not. However there does seem to be a child like side to women. For example, the Otzar HaMidrashim under the heading “lolam” section 5 states “A desire, a woman and a baby should always be pushed away with the left hand and pulled closer with the right hand.” The difference between American and Orthodox Jewish society seems to be that Americans believe that this difference is a problem which must be corrected, while men hypocritically go about beating, raping and abandoning women. In OJ, this characteristic is accepted as a natural fact however women are treated generally with great respect.

As far as being inferior to men, the Talmud and Bible never actually say that. Women bring new children into the world. Women are certainly far better at dealing with infants than men. They also seem to have some “woman’s intuition” and women are better judges of character than men, according to the Talmud. Some women are certainly far wiser than some men. Children must love and fear their mothers as well as fathers. The last chapter of Proverbs is King Solomon’s praise of his mother.

Just by the way, this blog is apology free. I try to write only the truth, and if that is politically incorrect or distasteful to some, so be it.

FemaleJewishBlogger said...

Hello again. I am glad that this blog is "apology free." This whole issue of the roles of man and women is something that I am struggling with in my own life. The latest comment you left gave me some insipiration in the direction of the word "vulnerable"--I feel that one of women's greatest strengths (and joys) is the ability to be vulnerable, and then there is a place for the true strength of a woman to arise: the love and giving and clarity of insight.
If a woman is forced to, by situation, be hard and self-protecting all of the time, she can become an empty shell--moving on automan, and bringing joy to noone... I am going to leave this comment-trail at that. Thank you for the correspondence. I do think that when the honest opinions of two people are expressed, then the weak edges of either opinion are worn off and are more likely to become closer to truth. Shalom!

Miri said...

as to women not being able to be judges; as I recall, the requirement for judges is pretty strict. not all men cn be judges either - just those who are wealthy, learned, and honest, right? how many people in general do you think that leaves?

as to a woman not being able to give testimony - a women is reliable for testimony in some matters; for example, niddah, whether or not a house was cleaned for pesach, and other issues of issur viheter. it's not exaclty equal, but your distinctions are not nearly as black and white as you claim.

as to men controlling property etc...eh. I mean technically speaking maybe, but practically speaking, I believe Jewish couples are generally encouraged to keep seperate bank accounts as well as a joint one. I could be wrong abt that; but whether or not it's encouraged, it's still pretty common.

jewish philosopher said...

What about for example Talmudic studies? Women are discouraged from being involved in that, which in effect bars them from the rabbinate. I think that my original statement "in most cases it is preferable for men to make important decisions" is still correct.

As far as relationships go, in Jewish marriages as in other Western marriages, generally one partner is more dominant and it is not necessarily the husband. That's something everyone works out on their own in practice.

badrabbi said...

Lets examine the questions posed to an atheist and his answers:

How did the universe originate?
Atheist Me: We are actively pursuing answers. We know some things, and we do not know other things. On the whole, the moment of origin is not too clear.
JP: Sure you can’t understand it, if you irrationally insist that nature is all there is, there is no way nature could have gotten started. However if we acknowledge the existence of an intelligent force outside nature, for example God, there is no problem. God did it.
Atheist me: But that is not good enough. If everytime we do not understand something, we simply shrug our shoulders and say ‘God did it’, what progress would we be making?
JP: What about entropy? Is the universe a perpetual motion machine which will never stop? That’s impossible.
Atheist me: Entropy is a fascinating and complex topic that we can talk and debate about. But if left to the non-kefirahs, then we would not even know that entropy existed, since, God did it all and what sense would it make to investigate?

Why is the universe fine-tuned in a way which makes life possible?
Atheist Me: This is a very interesting question. The universe does indeed seem very fine tuned for our existence. But we are here; if the universe were not so finely tuned, we would not be here to wonder about it!

How did the first life originate?
Atheist Me: We don’t know. Again, we are working on it. Maybe someday we will be able to reproduce life out of raw ingredients. Maybe not! But the fact that we can not do this right now doesn’t necessarily mean that this would always be impossible. A religious person can not always hide in the midst of science’s limitations and shout that God must have done it!
JP: You don’t know because there is no natural way for simple chemicals to form living things. However if we acknowledge the existence of an intelligent force outside nature, for example God, there is no problem. God did it.
Atheist Me: “God did it” is not good enough. The followup question is “how did he do it?” This is science. We will someday find how it was done. Perhaps then, we would construct a clown bearing an orthodox face!
Also, simply saying “God did it” is not different than saying “Zeus did it” or “Ra did it” or “An alien nation did it” or simply “6 different Gods conspired to do it”. Any one of the above assertions have exactly the same evidence as “God did it”

How did complex life develop?
Atheist Me: Darwinian evolution! That’s it! I’ve got one answer!!
JP: No one has every seen one new organ or limb develop as a result of Darwinian evolution, not in a laboratory or in a fossil bed. It’s a myth.
Atheist Me: That is not what evolution promises. There is no chance that you will see a limb evolve, any more than you will see new continents form from technonic plate shifts. Saying things like this shows simply that you do not understand the dicta of evolution.

Why are we conscious of ourselves and how can we make free choices?

Atheist Me: We do not know yet. Brain physiology is an extremely active area of research. We are gaining insight into the nature of consciousness, but most of the questions in this area remain unanswered.
JP: We have a God given soul.
Atheist Me: But how does a soul solve the consciousness question? What are the properties of a soul that allow people to make decisions or to have free will or to fall into destiny? How is simply saying ‘soul’ without any further explanation helpful?
It is also interesting that not a peep is uttered in the written Torah about souls.

How did Judaism originate?
Atheist Me: Just like any other religion. Judaism is a particularly complex and old religion so that at this time its origin is not exactly clear. Bottom line – we do not know.
JP: Wrong. Judaism did not begin with someone making up a story. Judaism began with an entire nation, a community of tens of thousands of people, believing a story. A few people could make up a lie. An entire nation cannot unanimously conspire together to falsify history. If you think they can, then join the Holocaust deniers and the Moon landing hoax believers.
Atheist Me: The fact that there are a number of people who are denying the holocaust despite overwhelming and recent evidence to the contrary, should indicate that it is at least possible for a group of people to believe in false ideas. But this argument of yours points to the ‘Kuzari Prinicple’ which I will soon take up.

JP: So the kefirah clowns have an answer for everything, but they are all bad answers. Anything pointing to God is a mystery, an illusion or a conspiracy. But I guess you can believe anything if you are angry enough, arrogant enough or addicted enough to an irresponsible lifestyle.

Atheist Me: We Kefira clowns do not pretend that we have answers for everything. We readily admit that we do not know much more than we do know. But we also are not satisfied with ‘God did it’ answers. We must probe further – find things out. We need to know how rainbows are formed and not be satisfied with bible’s explanations that ‘God did it as a sign’. We need to know how animals and plants came about, and not be satisfied with ‘god did it in a day or two’. No one’s curiosity is satiated with a simple ‘god did it’. How did he do it? Why did he do it? Who is He anyway? What are his properties? These are questions that we ‘clowns’ deal with. And out of questions like these, the pursuit of which we call ‘science’, come profound answers, much more profound than the bible ever has provided.

jewish philosopher said...

Bad, you really aren’t so bad. You have highlighted as well as I can the basic problem: as long as we dogmatically adhere to the premise that “nature is all there is”, a great deal about the world around us is inexplicable. That’s why we need religion. Science may someday cure cancer, but it's not going to tell us why we should prolong our lives in the first place.

badrabbi said...

I do not know whether "nature is all there is". Maybe there are supernatural things also. Maybe there are many supernatural things. Maybe there is a world where Gods fight one another, wage wars to win this or that cosmos. Maybe there is heaven, hell, or maybe there are men with white beards on clouds. Maybe there are fat men in the North Pole making presents for kids for Christmas. Maybe they exist. Maybe not. For me to believe in these things I need evidence. Show me enough evidence and I will believe. Until then, I guess, people will make up a clown dolls of me, calling me Kefirah. For the record, I am a proud Kefirah! If God comes down and confronts me on judgement day, he will understand.

jewish philosopher said...

He’ll understand that you closed your eyes to the evidence.