Monday, March 19, 2007
Yisrael Meir Kagan 1838 - 1933 Polish rabbi
Sigmund Freud 1856 - 1939 Viennese psychiatrist
A common attitude in academia seems to be as follows:
Science, the careful, rational, organized study of nature, is the light of humanity.
Until about 1800, modern science did not exist. Nevertheless, people were curious, so to explain the causes of natural events, man invented religion. "God" created the earth. "God" made man. When the crop was good, it was because "God" was happy. When the crop was bad, it was because "God" was angry. When a person died it meant that his soul had left him and gone to a spirit world. Without science, there was no way for people to correctly understand the world so they made up childish explanations.
Science has changed all of this. Now, based on science, we know that the universe has gradually and automatically developed over billions of years from a Big Bang. We know that man evolved from an ape that lived about six million years ago. We know that crops fail or prosper due to global weather changes and infectious diseases. We know that the “soul” is merely the activity of billions of neurons in the brain. When the brain stops working, we perceive that the person has died.
The Pentateuch was written about 2,300 years by the Jewish leader Ezra the Scribe. He compiled it based on several earlier manuscripts and presented it to the Jewish people as having been written 1,000 years earlier by Moses, as related in Nehemiah 8:1. It is simply a collection of Israelite and Mesopotamian myths. The Jews gullibly accepted it as authentic. The Talmud was written by later Jewish leaders who created and compiled a huge body of legislation, covering ritual and civil law. They invented sources in the Pentateuch for all their legislation, although in fact they simply made it up themselves, based partly on earlier Jewish customs. This was accepted by about 90% of the Jewish people until the 19th century.
Today, religion is an obsolete relic of the past, and a dangerous one. It causes unnecessary hatred, intolerance, violence and neurotic sexual repression. The 9/11 attacks are an example of the evil of religion, however there are endless others. It is perhaps the root of all evil. Religion also discourages the study of science and the continuing progress of mankind. We need to educate children in science and especially evolution so that they will no longer turn to religion to understand the world. We must teach our children that egalitarianism, liberal democracy and the Golden Rule are moral and ethical because they will bring the most happiness to the most people, but not because any god commanded anything. They must be reminded that any belief in the supernatural is false and dangerous.
This is the essential belief of atheism, scientism or naturalism. Is it really true?
First of all, this philosophy basically worships scientists as being mankind’s saviors, white knights who have appeared to rescue mankind from all evil, including the machinations of clerics. Probably many scientists like that image; some seem to be vigorously advocating it. But is it exaggerating the importance of modern science?
Science has created some very useful things, like antibiotics and vaccines, cell phones and cars. In the pre-scientific world, the average life expectancy was about 35 years. Today it is about 66 years. The world population was about one billion in 1800 and it is over 6 billion today. On the other hand, science has also created some horrible things like nuclear weapons and gas chambers. In fact, many experts are concerned about devastation in the near future thanks to scientific progress.
Science has also made some interesting discoveries. We now know more about stars and fossils than we once did. However, science is far from answering all the basic questions of life. Science can not tell us why the Big Bang happened, what came before it if anything or why our universe is fine tuned in a way that makes life possible. Science can not tell us how life originated and the story about man evolving from an ape seems unbelievable to many, including this writer. It is true, as has been known for centuries, that the brain plays a role in thought; however science cannot explain why we are aware of ourselves or why we feel that we have free will. Science also does a very poor job of predicting the future. Whether there will be a hurricane next month, whether there will be a recession next year or whether someone will die of cancer in the next decade are all still mysteries which may depend on the anger of a deity for all that any scientist knows.
The story about Ezra being a sort of Jewish Joseph Smith doesn’t hold much water. It is not plausible that the entire far flung Jewish community, as well as Samaritans who were Ezra’s enemies, would have been accomplices with him in his false claim that this scroll had been well known all along and had been handed down for the last thousand years from Moses. The rabbis’ obsession with legal minutiae and the Jewish community’s enthusiastic acceptance of it for two thousand years seems bizarre as well if the Talmud was merely a fiction.
In the last couple of decades, psychologists have begun realizing that religion plays a major positive role in many people’s lives, giving them more happiness and satisfaction, more self control, better relationships, less substance abuse, less suicide and less violent crime. There are violent, suicidal cults and Islam has some serious problems; however this seems to be the exception rather than the rule.
- Science has answered none of the basic questions, such as how did the universe originate, how life originated, what our creator asks of us, is there life after death, how can we prepare for it, etc.
- Science cannot provide morality and ethics or a satisfying, hopeful meaning and purpose in life. Science cannot teach us how to live or why to live.
- Science has not proven Judaism to be false.
- Chemists, physicists and biologists, while intelligent and highly educated, are in principle no different than plumbers, mechanics and dentists. They provide society with a useful service and for this we should be grateful, however their professional training provides them with no special insight regarding religion. Professor Richard Dawkins is a good example of this. Although he is an outspoken and influential atheist, his professional background is actually in the field of animal behavior. Paleontology and Middle Eastern archeology do have relevance to the Biblical narrative, however, as I have explained in posts about Creation, the Deluge and the Exodus, I don’t see any contradiction between them and Judaism.
Posted by jewish philosopher at 12:41 PM