Sunday, December 14, 2008

"Always let your conscience be your guide"


[from "Give a Little Whistle" sung by Jiminy Cricket]


I have noticed that many atheists claim that they are good people even though they don't believe in God or the Torah, because they follow their conscience and their conscience tells them to behave properly.

My question is: Where does the "conscience" come from? Is it something instinctive? If so, then why are primitive societies so violent? It would appear that the only true instincts which people have are to survive and to reproduce by any means available.

My guess is the following. I believe that what we call "conscience" is in fact a residue of religious morality.

For example, let's say a person is raised in a very religious Jewish home and then later in life he decides to become an atheist. As a child he was trained to respect his elders, to share with friends, to be generous and patient, etc. Even after he has a abandoned Judaism, he may continue to feel guilt if he transgresses these values. In other words, he has not entirely abandoning his earlier beliefs; he may choose to retain certain ones which he feels are not too burdensome. In a similar way, he may continue to light a menorah on Hanukah and go to a synagogue on Yom Kippur. His children likewise will be taught by him that it is "bad" to lie and steal and that it's "good" to help others and they too will have a "conscience" although probably it will be weaker than what their parents had. Gradually, these concepts will fade and disappear, just as the Jewish rituals disappear after a few generations.

I think that when a secular person asks himself “Is this the right thing to do? Is it ethical? Is it moral?” he is basically asking “Based on the residual religious beliefs which I still, perhaps subconsciously, retain, am I allowed to do this or not?” For secular people, morality is therefore often a complicated and controversial subject.

This helps us to understand places like for example Sweden, which seem to be very secular yet have a fairly low crime rate. The grandparents of today's Swedes were devout Lutherans and those values have not yet disappeared completely. Neither have Lutheran religious practices - Christmas, baptism, church weddings and so on are observed by almost all Swedes as far as I know. On the other hand, in countries where religion has been forcibly uprooted, like for example Russia, we find a society which includes so many people with no conscience that it almost cannot function. Likewise the United States, after a couple of generations of secularism, is becoming a "Generation Me" with a growing number of psychopaths.

A true and complete atheist should consider humans to be merely meat machines and he should never feel guilt. This explains, for example, the increasing popularity of stranger homocides and serial killing in the United States.

83 comments:

DrJ said...

I could easily use the reverse logic:

The increase in sensibilities regarding violence, equality, social justice, treatment of animals, etc which have advanced in the past 2000 years, have done so unrelated to or despite religion. So your attribution of "original" moral sensibilities to religion is mere conjecture, it could just as easily been the reverse-- man developed moral sensibilities, and codified and refined them into religious precepts. They had both altruistic and barbaric impulses, and the religion helped them focus those impulses. The Torah is an example of this par excellence.

jewish philosopher said...

"The increase in sensibilities regarding violence, equality, social justice, treatment of animals, etc which have advanced in the past 2000 years"

Excuse me, but do we live on the same planet? Ever heard of Auschwitz, Stalin, Pol Pot, North Korea, serial killers, child abusers…. Maybe you’ve been sleeping for the past 200 years, however the Age of Enlightenment and the Brotherhood of Man seem to be hitting a few potholes.

Yeshivish Atheist said...

Why not mention Iran? Now that's a country that's really run by religion.

jewish philosopher said...

So? And when an Iranian says, "my conscience is my guide" he is referring to his religious education, whatever that was.

Yeshivish Atheist said...

And do you think it's a good thing that Iranians base their moral guide on their religious education?

jewish philosopher said...

Orthodox Judaism is the only true religion. But that's not what this post is about.

Child Ish Behavior said...

You make a valid point, however, I think you take it too far with your last comment, "This explains, for example, the increasing popularity of stranger homocides and serial killing in the United States." People grow up with others telling them to do good, and when they see that Judaism prescribes things that don't fit with the values that they ate taught, they choose atheist secular humanism. This has nothing to do with people choosing to kill others, that impulse has nothing to do with the belief or lack of in God. There have been many religious psychopaths, who believe in God and do sins anyway. While I think that your assessment explains the good behavior, I think that the bad behavior exhibited by people are a product of people's animal natures that exists religious or not. feeling guilt and doing a bad action are two different things.

jewish philosopher said...

Atheism does not directly make anyone a murderer. It indirectly causes him to murder by removing any deterrent.

jewish philosopher said...

It's like HIV. It doesn't kill anyone. But it will indirectly kill you by removing the immune system which otherwise would protect you.

Child Ish Behavior said...

With out Bet Din enforcing the Torah laws what deterrent is there even for a religious person? You can argue statistics from today till tomorrow, about who actually does more killing etc. The fact remains that people are only as good as the thing preventing them from doing bad. For a Frum Yid that may be the fear of God's punishment, or the want to do the will of Hashem. However, when a person's inner nature gets the best of them people are capable of anything, no matter what they believe about God. For an atheist, with the residual religious feelings, and the existence of the punishable laws of man in place, these too will be a good deterrent for them not to do bad, until the base nature gets the best of them.

jewish philosopher said...

Everything depends upon belief. If you believe that the court will hang you for killing your wife, probably you won't. If you believe you will burn in hell for killing your wife, probably you won't. If you believe nothing is going to happen to you, and you don't like your wife for some reason and you have a big life insurance policy on her, you probably will.

The Bray of Fundie said...

I don't like the graphic. Jiminy Cricket is among the most subversive, anti-religious subliminal messages ever produced by Hollywood and an utter perversion of what it means to be a human being.

The merits or demerits of your argument in this post are a seperate issue. Your invoking the anti-Torah image of Jiminy was most unfortunate.

The Bray of Fundie said...

The not-so-subliminal message of this graphic (the Pinnochio narrative) is that "conscience" AKA the inclination to good is something external to the being (remember the whole Pinnochio story is about "acheiving" humanity). IOW the essential "me" wants to "run with the wild boys". Any pangs of conscience to do/be otherwise come from external sources trying to impose THEIR will upon me e.g. parents/teachers/society etc. In other words the "real" internal essential me is wild and bad. As such people will view transgression as an assertion of autonomous identity and as a means of self-actualization.

This puts the Torah idea of the Tzelem Elokim on it's ear. Before the initial/original sin it was the yetzer HARA that was a kind of diabolical inverted Jiminy Cricket. It was a serpent and not a cricket to be sure, but it was clarified evil and external to the human beings that it tired to seduce and influence. Adam could not be confused. When he ate from the forbidden fruit knew that he was allowing his serpent to be his guide.

Even post sin when the yetzer hara HAS been internalized this is not to say that the Yetzer Tov has been externalized. Furthermore for Jews we still view our intirnsic will to be identical to haShem's and our thoughts, words or deed to the contrary to be the work of extrinsic factors

גלוי וידוע לפניך מי שאמר והיה העולם שרצוננו לעשות רצונך- ומי מעכב על ידנו? שאור שבעיסה ושעבוד מלכיות

So for a blog dedicated to stemming the tide of OTD I think this was an awful graphic/moshol to use.

jewish philosopher said...

I think people generally are by nature pretty bad, while it's that little inner voice of conscience, no doubt planted there in early childhood training, which influences people to do good.

The Bray of Fundie said...

I think that you underestimate yourself since turning Jewish.

I also think that per Torah shebiksav u she baal peh your Hashqafa is krum as a pretzel.

jewish philosopher said...

I kind of like my hashkofah.

The Bray of Fundie said...

it is wrong and shallow.

jewish philosopher said...

Why don't you dazzle me with your own blog?

Hasidic-Feminist said...

Ever hear of Humanism? Its a philosophy that a lot of secular jews live by. You don't have to believe in God to believe in Humanity.

Anonymous said...

Whenever Atheists get control of a country, and they nolonger have to fera the police, they inevitably wind up commiting mass murder. So this would seem to indicate that the primary reason that some atheists behave morally is fear of getting punished. Remove that, and you get gulags and five year plans.

Cameron said...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XgPdsAGvQZg&eurl

jewish philosopher said...

"Ever hear of Humanism?"

Sure, that's a perfect example of residual religious feelings I'm talking about. I bet 90% of humanists had grandparents who believed in God and the Bible.

Cameron, just some anti-religious rubbish. Actually, darker skin probably is a better predicator of criminality than church attendance, which proves what?

What I would really like to know is this: Among convicted felons, what percentage were attended religious services on a weekly basis at the time of the felony, and how does that compare to the population as a whole? That seems like a very simple and interesting question, however I don't believe anyone has answered that. I'll bet it's something like felons 2% and everyone else 20%, but I really don't know.

Anonymous said...

The book "The Irrational Atheist" by Vox Day does mention an interesting study done on the prison population in Great Britain in 2000. The British prison system asks every prisoner about their religious beliefs. The survey indicates that there are very few people who identify themselves as atheists in prison. Whoever, the number of people who describe themselves as "having no religion" or "belonging to no religion" was overrepresented in the prison population by 300 percent, compared to their proportion of the general ppopulation. I'm sure that a significant percentage of people who "have no religion" are atheists.

And IMHO a lot of people in prison became after commiting the crime. Jailhosue conversions are a real phenomenon. What's significant however, is the person's belief system when he commited the crime.

James F. Elliott said...

You've been watching too many episodes of Criminal Minds, haven't you?

Anonymous said...

I don't watch much TV. I have a life. I did google 'jailhouse conversions" and got 3750 hits.

Dave said...

Or perhaps Hobbes is right and, despite our selfish instincts, we enter a social contract in which we no longer fight with each other because it's ultimately better for our own individual survival.

Or perhaps (in a twist on the same idea) being nice to each other is a stronger evolutionary strategy than killing everyone.

jewish philosopher said...

I think that people will form partnerships with others if it serves their goals. People will form clans, tribes, gangs, corporations, communities, nations or international alliances. However, even so, they can still be cruel and dishonest and have no conscience or guilt.

Hasidic-Feminist said...

JP honey, up until a certain point in time, not believing in god wasn't an option and you know it. Whether you were christian, or jewish, you had to believe in something or you would be rejected by society as a whole.

The idea that you could be a moral person and still reject god only came into focus around the times of the two world wars... so of course today's humanists have believing ancestors. Their ancestors didnt have a choice, they were forced to tout themselves as believers. Isn't it great that we now have the liberty to choose our belief systems? I think that's amazing

THe only truly good people i have ever met are all secular humanists. They are more interested in the quality of their character than a bunch of silly rules that power-obsessed men made up and ascribed to some almighty god so that people would tremble and bend to their will.

JP - do you call yourself a GOOD person? Do you look at yourself in the mirror and see someone kind, understanding, forgiving, non-judgemental, selfless? I am on a mission to find GOODness in people. Believers tend to think that their devout loyalty to their religion is almost a substitute for character, they think they can get away with it. Its like having this big bank account up in heaven, you put in lots of money in the form of tefillos, and charity, and then you go hang out in strip clubs, because honestly, how much can they subtract? YOu've got money in the bank, its ok. You're a good guy, you follow the rules. Does it matter how many people you hurt in a day? nah, you're a good jew. That's all that counts.

Keep up the great work JP.

jewish philosopher said...

"they were forced to tout themselves as believers"

For the past 208 years, no one in the United States had to tout anything.

"THe only truly good people i have ever met are all secular humanists."

Can you name a few? Check out this post.

"Do you look at yourself in the mirror and see someone kind, understanding, forgiving, non-judgemental, selfless?"

Yes, and cute too.

And by the way I know you aren't Hasidic or even Orthodox.

Anonymous said...

"THe only truly good people i have ever met are all secular humanists. They are more interested in the quality of their character than a bunch of silly rules that power-obsessed men made up and ascribed to some almighty god so that people would tremble and bend to their will."

What exactly would be the seculr humanist equivalent of Hatzola,abikur cholim, Tomchei shabbos, etc? And were are all the secular humanist hospitals? Is there a secular humanist equivalent of Mother Teresa?
I'm just curious. Or are you defining good to mean secular humanists?

DrJ said...

"Excuse me, but do we live on the same planet? Ever heard of Auschwitz, Stalin, Pol Pot, North Korea, serial killers, child abusers…. Maybe you’ve been sleeping for the past 200 years, however the Age of Enlightenment and the Brotherhood of Man seem to be hitting a few potholes."


See Steve Pinker's lecture on the TED website about "why everything you know is wrong".
In it he proves that the world is becoming a LESS violent place, not more, on relative (%,rate) terms, over decades and centuries. And relative terms is the only way to measure it, since the population has increased.

Puts things in perspective.

So we can stop whining about how degenerate man has become, given that the crimes that you mention, along with slavery, torture, abuse of women, children, and animals are no longer acceptable among civilized peoples. Yes, there are cruel evil people, but in the past they weren't even considered cruel and evil. You could abuse your slaves and rape your wives with impunity. Even the Torah allowed rape and plummeting, if your enemy was really evil in the eyes of god. You would stone people to death.

The inconsistency in your argument is that you take events from modern history as examples of things that even you consider brutality (to prove how brutal modern atheists are), but the same type of events in ancient times mentioned in the Torah are considered by you to be moral.

So are you a humanist or not? If not, you should have no problem with Hitler or Pol Pot, since god made them do it anyway, therefore what they did was good.

jewish philosopher said...

See Steve Pinker's lecture on the TED website about "why everything you know is wrong".

I've seen it and Professor Pinker's argument is probably one of the most shameless lies I have yet heard from an atheist. And that's really saying something. Basically, he argues that since primitive people in New Guinea are more violent per capita than New Yorkers, therefore this proves that religion tends to make people more violent. Why isn't Pinker moving to a thoroughly atheistic society like North Korea instead of living in the relatively backward, superstitious United States?

"since god made them do it anyway"

They chose to do it. Therefore it wasn't good.

However, from the atheistic point of view, humans are souless meat machines and what we do is completely controlled by the laws of nature. If so, Hitler was no more evil than an asteroid hitting the earth. He was just doing what nature caused him to do.

Anonymous said...

"So we can stop whining about how degenerate man has become, given that the crimes that you mention, along with slavery, torture, abuse of women, children, and animals are no longer acceptable among civilized peoples"

Sex slavery is a huge industry in secular, enlightened countries even today. That covers just about every form of abuse you mentioned except for animals.

Anonymous said...

Religion has always been an important source of moral guidance and authority for Western civilization, but it was never viewed or treated as the *only* source of such guidance. Even during the apex of Western religiosity, the Middle Ages, Judeo-Christian moral teachings were tempered (or, if you prefer, clouded) by the rational ethics of Greeks like Epicurus, Plato, and Aristotle and by the emotion-driven appeal of Celtic and Germanic notions of honor, chivalry, romantic love, and valor in tournaments and war.

Your moral conscience, whether you acknowledge it or not, has been shaped by Shakespeare no less than by Solomon. Your apprehension of social ethics and behavior were shaped by Moses and Micah, but no more than by Milton, Madison, Melville, Moore, and Mill.

Anonymous said...

I was raised in a Reformed Jewish household, but stopped believing in the religion somewhere around the age of 7. . .I remember telling a Christian friend how gullible he was for believing in something as implausible and ludicrous and childish as Samta Claus and his arctic workshop full of elves and levitating reindeer and so forth, and as I told him the obvious truth of the matter (that toys are made by toy companies, and are delivered to kids by their parents, in the middle of the night) it occurred to me that the self-evident ridiculousness of the Santa myth was mirrored perfectly by the equally implausible, absurd nature of the stories that *my* parents had told *me*. . . Like the Eatth being created in 7 days... Or the story of plagues and parting seas... Or the story of Samson and Delilah.

But it wasn't just science that caused my apostacy. It was also my growing impression that God, as the Torah portrays him, was. . . not to put too fine a point on it. . .not a nice guy. Or even an average guy. When I read the story of Abraham and Issac, I was completely unmoved by the sacrifice offered by Abraham, because I was completely swept up in the horror of what it would be like to be Isaac. I imagined my own father telling me that he was sorry, but he was going to personally slaughter me in order to show *his*devotion to God. How wonderful for them both, I thought. Just like the story of Job.. Great for Job... Less so for his original wives and sons, the ones who God let Satan murder, so that their deaths could serve as a test for. *Job* . And he passed it. How great for Job.., but I always imagined myself as one of Job's hapless sons, not as Job, and so I failed to see the moral of the story. . . And the Flood, likewise, struck me as an unjust and even *immoral* act of mass genocide, a criminal atrocity that no human being with so much as a shred of decency or compassion would ever even consider, let alone commit. My parents explained that God is not bound by our standards of morality, essentially because he is omnipotent and therefore beyond any possible imposition of judgment by any other being or force in all creation.

Basically, might makes right. . . Which isn't exactly a useful guide to human morality.

Likewise less than useful, as a guide to morality, are the Bronze Age Hebrews who wrote the Torah. Violent, primitive xenophobes, addicted to every known form of vice and corruption...

Morality, fortunately for us all, comes from other sources than religion.

jewish philosopher said...

"Like the Eatth being created in 7 days... Or the story of plagues and parting seas... Or the story of Samson and Delilah."

If there is no God, how do explain the story of the revelation at Mount Sinai? Take for example a performer like Madonna. She has appeared in to concert probably to millions of people. Would it be plausible to say that she does not really exist?


"It was also my growing impression that God, as the Torah portrays him, was. . . not to put too fine a point on it. . .not a nice guy."

Let's say that God is very demanding. He does not tolerate sin. In those instances where he kills children, He does so because He knows that those children would become evil.

"Violent, primitive xenophobes, addicted to every known form of vice and corruption..."

The Bible emphasizes the sins of the Jews so that later generations may learn from them.

jewish philosopher said...

"Morality, fortunately for us all, comes from other sources than religion."

Let me ask you seriously - does anyone actually think to himself "I really want to punch my wife, however I will not do it because John Stuart Mill would not have approved?"

Anonymous said...

DrJ said... [but I accidentally rejected it - sorry!]

A simple explanation of morality:

We have instinctual altruism towards our close relatives and others that we love. This comes from the natural feeling of empathy, programmed into us by evolution, like many other mammals. We want whats best for our children and spouses, and are willing to sacrifice for them. On the other hand, most of us wouldn't sacrifice a pinky fingernail for a starving child in the Sudan.

Morality is simply an extension of this empathy towards individuals "outside" of our circle of natural empathy. Religion, social contract, "enlargement" of the family circle-- all contribute to this extension of empathy.

Regarding Pinker-- he does not argue that religion increases violence and neither do I. We have all seen that we can bring plenty of examples to both sides of the argument. My point is that "humanism" in its broadest sense-- the extension of natural human empathy to an ever enlarging circle of beings and circumstances-- does not require religion at all.

jewish philosopher said...

"We have instinctual altruism towards our close relatives and others that we love."

I personally doubt that.

An estimated 45,513 “intimate partner” homicides occurred in the United States between 1981 and 1998. That’s an average of about 2,700 Americans each year being killed by a spouse or lover.

About one in five babies in the United States are aborted.

I think that people will naturally form alliances when doing so will have a practical benefit; that may be anything from a romance involving a couple to an international alliance involving hundreds of millions.

jewish philosopher said...

By the way, in addition to spousal homicide, infanticide has a very ancient and distinguished history.

It's difficult to argue that people are instinctively kind or peaceful.

Anonymous said...

"Morality is simply an extension of this empathy towards individuals "outside" of our circle of natural empathy. Religion, social contract, "enlargement" of the family circle-- all contribute to this extension of empathy."

The problem with this approach is that if Darwinism is true, then we are required by Darwinism to compete against organisms that we are niot closely related to. How can we overcome our Darwinian genetic heritage? Moreover, there are individuals who will sacrifice their own lives for someone they aren't related to, even a stranger. Darwinism doesn't allow this.

DrJ said...

JP-

The statistics you quote-- what do they translate into in terms of rates? Very low-- meaning that this is a relatively infrequent phenomenon. Most people do not kill their spouses or babies, and law or religion isn't what keeps them from doing it.

I agree that man is not naturally altruistic-- towards strangers. But to his kin-- like most animals who know nothing of God or laws--he is usually self sacrificing and kind. Of course there are exceptions, but that only proves to rule.

The altruism demonstrated with broader circles-- alliances as you call them-- may be indeed ultimately self serving-- but become and extremely powerful motivator inpersonal behavior. But humanistic considerations have sought to extend this kindness to further out-- for the benefit of mankind, not just one individual.

Think about how environmentalism has almost become a moral idea, but is based on very practical considerations for survival-- but it has somehow been reinterpreted to be a moral precept.

jewish philosopher said...

I think that women generally naturally feel some love for their children. And even that, I wouldn't count on too much. (See Caylee Anthony.)

Beyond that, however, I see little evidence of people being naturally kind or peaceful. If their are, it is only because of fear of God, fear of the police or, as I mention in this post, some residual religious feelings.

In my humble opinion, "humanism" is merely very watered down Christianity and Judaism. Probably 90% of humanists had grandparents who believed in God and the Bible.

DrJ said...

anonymous said:
"The problem with this approach is that if Darwinism is true, then we are required by Darwinism to compete against organisms that we are niot closely related to. How can we overcome our Darwinian genetic heritage?"

FYI Darwinism is not a moral system nor a system of belief. It is a theory describing natural processes. So what if we go against nature? We do it all the time when we use medicine, or any other type of technology, and we don't consider that "anti-Darwinian"...This is the fallacious assumption that the Nazis used.

JP said:
"I think that women generally naturally feel some love for their children. And even that, I wouldn't count on too much"

Again, the exceptional case that you quote proves the rule. Most men I know love their children, too, without any relation to their faith or the law. And the ones that don't are usually pretty messed up people.

I find it hard to beleive that you actually don't think that people tend to love their close kin. (just like animals!!) Your on pretty thin water arguing this.

jewish philosopher said...

Exceptions contradict rules, they don't prove them.

I think I'm just stating the facts. Any honesty, kindness and peace in the world is based either on some sort of threats from other people (police) or religious beliefs (Torah). Subtract that and what do you get? Somalia.

The Bray of Fundie said...

It's difficult to argue that people are instinctively kind or peaceful.

How do you understand the khazal:

"This people/nation possess three chrachtarisitcs? (simanim). They have a sense of shame, they are merciful and they are altruistic"?

jewish philosopher said...

I think it means that if don't have those character traits you aren't a "real" Jew. If you do, you are a "real" Jew.

The Bray of Fundie said...

not sure what you mean by real. My point is...is this about nature or nurture. Sure sounds like Jewish nature to me.

jewish philosopher said...

I think it's like saying "Americans are characteristically honest and hardworking."

The Bray of Fundie said...

That's the "level" you ascribe to an assesment of Khazal?

I think you need to recalibrate your emunas khakomim

jewish philosopher said...

And your point is that according to Chazal, atheists would naturally be good people? Any sources please?

The Bray of Fundie said...

If they were born of Jewish mothers... absolutely. No further source necassery than above mentioned Khazal

"good" is too strong a word. They would be naturally, congenitally endowed with these middos.

However as atheists they would in all likelihood lack the wherewithal to utilize these middos (which we normally associate with "good") properly. Even good middos can be abused and channeled towards evil, note the soft-heartedness/mercy and humility of Shaul HaMelekh.

jewish philosopher said...

How about mamzerim? Or bnei erev rav?

The Bray of Fundie said...

I guess those would be your "unreal" Jews.

BTW I'm not sure if the (IIRC) correctly azus=impudence that Khazal ascribe to mamzerim mitigates their compassion or altruism though it would certainly seem to be in direct nullification of their "baishonim" midah= shame-facedness.

I do know that in Jewish "lore" if not in law mamzerim are reputed to be exceptionally intelligent.

Khazal taught that "A Mamzer talmid khakham is superior to a Kohen Gadol ignoramus"

Anonymous said...

"FYI Darwinism is not a moral system nor a system of belief. It is a theory describing natural processes. So what if we go against nature? We do it all the time when we use medicine, or any other type of technology, and we don't consider that "anti-Darwinian"...This is the fallacious assumption that the Nazis used."

But Darwinism hardwired our neurons to think only about our own genes. Yet somehow we can rise above our programming. Where did that ability come from, if not a Darwinian process. Humans also have the capacity to sink below
the Darwinian programming, and enfgae in all sorts of self destructive behavior. How do we manage to overcome the Darwinian imperative, for good or bad?

jewish philosopher said...

Since all the decendents of a mamzer are also mamzerim, it would seem likely that after 3,000 years, all or almost all present day Jews would be mamzerim as well. So I would not count on Jewish maternity alone to make anyone a good person without Torah.

The Bray of Fundie said...

it would seem likely that after 3,000 years, all or almost all present day Jews would be mamzerim as well.

Bizarre counter Halakhic (mishpakha kivan shenitma nitma)and If I 'm not mistaken counter-statistical as well.

jewish philosopher said...

Let's say one Jew was a mamzer 2,000 years ago. Today probably all Jews would be descended from him. This might help explain the behavior of secular Israelis.

Also, don't forget about the problem of bnei niddah.

The Bray of Fundie said...

Why? Why moreso from him than from his 2 million plus non-mamzer contemporaneous Jews?

As for bnei nidah...is their IYO any inherent/inborn metaphysical advantage of a ben hanidah Jew vis a vis a non-jew? Does the essential identity of a ben/bas HaNidah derive from their mother's Jewishness or nidah status @ the time of their conception?

But it is comforting to see that you've got it all figured out.

jewish philosopher said...

Well, think of it like this. Someone has let's say two children. Those two children each have two children, so he has four grandchildren. And eight great-grandchildren. How many descendents would the mamzer have after let's say 70 generations, or about 2,000 years? Do the math.

I think the problem with a ben niddah is that he was produced by a sin.

So anyway, I don't think the idea that a true, pure, authentic Jew will be a nice person even though he's an atheist has much relevence today. In fact, the "real" Jew would probably never accept atheism to begin with.

Yeshivish Atheist said...

"But Darwinism hardwired our neurons to think only about our own genes. Yet somehow we can rise above our programming. Where did that ability come from, if not a Darwinian process. Humans also have the capacity to sink below
the Darwinian programming, and enfgae in all sorts of self destructive behavior. How do we manage to overcome the Darwinian imperative, for good or bad?"


Altruism can be the result of Darwinism, even on the species level. Influences of altruism is genetic, just not directly. Emotions of love, compassion, mercy, and empathy probably lead to self-sacrifice are genetic to a degree. Also these emotions can serve different beneficial functions other than leading to self-sacrifice.

For example, a person capable of love is more likely to protect his partner(s) thus keeping them alive longer and thus reproducing more.

This way, the love emotion will be selected for one purpose, while indirectly causing another beneficial purpose; Self-sacrifice.


Not all genes serve only 1 function. Genes that allow love can serve multiple functions, as I have elaborated above; the first function will be selected for on the individual level, and the second beneficial function of the same gene can come into play at the species level once said gene has been selected for it's initial function.

However, the Darwinian problem is that in a situation where all individuals are altruistic even though they not closely related, there is selective pressure towards genes that promote cheating.

On the other hand, in intelligent species where one individual can catch, remember, and recognize cheaters, there will be selective pressure against being altruistic towards cheaters, which will cause selective pressure against cheating.

evolution can and does promote altruism sometimes with some species but this doesn't happen with every species. And usually it is the result of a selective pressure on the gene level that serves a beneficial function for the individual, and also has a side effect of good benefit on the species level.

The Bray of Fundie said...

In fact, the "real" Jew would probably never accept atheism to begin with.

Hmm so IYO

Elisha ben Avuyah
Moses Mendelsohn
Benedict Spinoza
Benjamin Geiger

all were either bnei nidah or descnded from mamzerim?

The posuk says:וַיָּרַח אֶת-רֵיחַ בְּגָדָיו and khazal darshin בְּגָדָיו=בוגדיו שאפילו פושעי ישראל מלאים מצוות כרמון="That even treacherous rebellious jews are as full of Mitzvos as a pomegranite".

I know that you are betting on the pure meritocracy horse but I'm afraid that you'll lose that bet.

as for the math, while I will own to being very weak in math I still failk to see why you can't do the same math with the anicent Jews who were NOT Mamzaerim. Assuming a very small minority of first generation mamzerim would that still not yield a statistical probability of a vast majority of non-mamzerim?

I'm just wondering...seeing that a koehn marrying a divorcee' is far less heinous than adultery or incest do you presume that most or all kohanim today are, in fact, khalolim=invalid kohanim?

jewish philosopher said...

"Hmm so IYO

Elisha ben Avuyah
Moses Mendelsohn
Benedict Spinoza
Benjamin Geiger

all were either bnei nidah or descnded from mamzerim?"

I said "probably".


"would that still not yield a statistical probability of a vast majority of non-mamzerim?"

No.

Anonymous said...

"On the other hand, in intelligent species where one individual can catch, remember, and recognize cheaters, there will be selective pressure against being altruistic towards cheaters, which will cause selective pressure against cheating."

But an altruist will sacrifice his life even for a cheater. And how do you recognize cheaters? The altruist doesn't wait to see who will and who won't sacrifice himself. He acts.

Yeshivish Atheist said...

"But an altruist will sacrifice his life even for a cheater. And how do you recognize cheaters? The altruist doesn't wait to see who will and who won't sacrifice himself. He acts."

1) Self-sacrifice is not the only altruistic factor that can be dectected

2) Well like I said there are many factors that influence altruism, such as love, mercy, compassion.

All these things can be detected just by getting to know someone.

For example if I meet two people, one is loving, caring, merciful, and compassionate, while the other is not. I will be willing to sacrifice my life to the first person over the second, since the first person is more likely to sacrifice his life for me.

Thus the selective genetic pressure is against the cheater.

You don't need to actually see someone sacrifice his/her life in order to conclude that there is a good chance he/she might. You can do that just by getting to know the people.

DrJ said...

JP said:
"Exceptions contradict rules, they don't prove them."

If 1 out of 100,000 mothers want to kill their child, then 99,999 don't want to. You're looking at the 1, i'm looking at the 99,999. Which in your mind is a better generalization?

No rule is 100%, you're using black and white thinking.

"I think I'm just stating the facts. Any honesty, kindness and peace in the world is based either on some sort of threats from other people (police) or religious beliefs (Torah)."

And what about mother dogs, cats, whales, monkeys, etc? What Torah makes them behave with kindness toward their offspring?

jewish philosopher said...

Maternal love is probably instinctive, however if there is a conflict, even there, the mother will look out for herself. It's interesting to note that in child homicide cases, the parents are always the first suspects.

Anonymous said...

"example if I meet two people, one is loving, caring, merciful, and compassionate, while the other is not. I will be willing to sacrifice my life to the first person over the second, since the first person is more likely to sacrifice his life for me."


But an altruist will give his life for a stranger.

Yeshivish Atheist said...

"But an altruist will give his life for a stranger."

Ugh, did you even bother reading my comment? I specifically articulated that if the species gets intelligent to get to know each other and if they find one lacking in said emotions they will NOT give their life for them. It's the simple process of catching cheaters. Furthermore they can even publicize his cheating status. Pointing out that some altruists will risk their lives for strangers COMPLETELY MISSES THE POINT. If someone is known to be a total jerk, it's much less likely to get an altruist to risk his life for that individual than for that altruist to risk his life for an individual that is known to be an altruist himself, Thus it is beneficial to be an altruist, since it will increase your chances of someone risking their life for you. The selective pressure is against cheating.

Another example, if someone steals food, the intelligent species can publicize that said individual is a thief, and no one should give food to him, or they could lock the thief up behind bars, or they could ex-communicate the thief. Again, the simple process of catching and publicizing cheaters, puts the selective pressure away from cheating, and in favor of altruism.

Anonymous said...

But people do give their lives for strangers. How is it possible? Thats my point. How can you tel that a stranger is cheating or not? And altruist will sarifice for a know cheater. They sacrifice in many ways for strangers, Charitable giving, blood donations, kidney donations, etc.
they have no way of knowing if the recipient is a cheater or not.
People give up their lives for idealogies, they become religious martyrs for example. Nobody benefits. Mother Theresa gave up her chances at reproduction, which is the same thing as dying, in Darwinian terms, to help the poor of Calcutta. She had no way of knowing that anyone she helped would do the same for her.


And I'm not sure I get your basic premiss, that I'm willing to sacrifice, because some is willing to sacrifice for me. But if I actually make the sacrifice, then any benefit is gone. The value to me of any potential benefit is now equal to zero. So it pays for me to give the impression that I'm altruistic, but not to follow through. "Follow though" means "I lose."

Yeshivish Atheist said...

"But people do give their lives for strangers. How is it possible?"

Because emotions such as love, mercy, and compassion were selected on the gene level for other beneficial reasons, and resulted in a side effect, known as altruism on the species level.

"Thats my point. How can you tel that a stranger is cheating or not? "

Well there are many ways. For example, for example if an individual is caught stealing food, he can be put behind bars, so no one will be altruistic for him, or they could publicize his thievery in the newspapers or what not.

But, again, you are completely misses the point. Even if some altruists are going to give their lives for strangers, that still means that the altruists the stranger knows won't necessarily sacrifice their lives for him. In fact, the altruists that know someone to be a jerk are LESS LIKELY to risk their lives for that person, than a loving, caring, merciful, compassionate person. Thus the selective pressure is STILL against cheating and in favor of altruism. Until you understand this there really is no point in arguing.

"And altruist will sarifice for a know cheater."

Not always, and definitely not as many altruists will be willing to sacrifice themselves for a known cheater, as a known altruist. Which proves my point, not yours. The more people willing to risk their lives for you, the higher the chance of your life being saved. Again, the selective pressure is in favor of altruism, and against cheating.

"And altruist will sarifice for a know cheater. They sacrifice in many ways for strangers, Charitable giving, blood donations, kidney donations, etc. they have no way of knowing if the recipient is a cheater or not."

Again, irrelevant since the same principle applies above. The cheater is forced to rely on anonymous donations while the altruist can simply get to know another altruist and ask for help. The cheater can't do this nearly as well for the reasons articulated above. The altruist is still in more of a beneficial position, because he is more likely to get help.

"People give up their lives for idealogies, they become religious martyrs for example. Nobody benefits."

Actually, many people benefit. Religion (when believed) can make people happy. Scientific studies show that happiness increases life span. Thus a sacrifice on the part of the individual to preserve the belief in the rest of the community can be greatly beneficial on the species level.

Again, I suggest your read the selfish gene by Richard Dawkins. You clearly are confusing evolution on the gene level with evolution on the species level.

Yeshivish Atheist said...

Also, it's very important to note that if the genetic causes for altruism are based for other beneficial functions on the gene level, than the selective pressure won't be in favor of cheaters. For example if the genes for causing love, compassion and mercy, which is beneficial on the individual level ( leads to protecting mates to produce more offspring longer)Than the loss of those genes, although beneficial for cheating on the species level, will also not be beneficial due to the lost genes which were beneficial on the gene level.

Anonymous said...

I did just skim the wikipedia article on the slefish gene. it says that the unit of evolution is the gene. Species evolutiononly exists to promte gene evolution. Which is my point. my gene would never allow me to actually kill myself for a stranger because then they are removed from ever reproducing.

Yeshivish Atheist said...

LOL, you are a prime example of why you need to read the book instead of skimming the wiki article.

"Which is my point. my gene would never allow me to actually kill myself for a stranger because then they are removed from ever reproducing."

Wrong. Not all genes serve only 1 function. Genes that allow love can serve multiple functions, as I have elaborated above; the first function will be selected for on the individual level, and the second beneficial function of the same gene can come into play at the species level once said gene has been selected for it's initial function.

In fact there are other examples of genes going against the organism for other beneficial effects in that same wiki article you read. There are other times when the implicit interests of the vehicle and replicator are in conflict, such as the genes behind certain male spiders' instinctive mating behaviour, which increase the organism's inclusive fitness by allowing it to reproduce, but shorten its life by exposing it to the risk of being eaten by the cannibalistic female. Another good example is the existence of segregation distortion genes that are detrimental to their host but nonetheless propagate themselves at its expense. Likewise, the existence of junk DNA that provides no benefit to its host, once a puzzle, can be more easily explained. A more controversial example is aging, in which an old organism's death makes room for its offspring, benefiting its genes at the cost of the organism.

Anonymous said...

A lot of scientists don;t like the idea of grouip selction at all. It's hard to explain how a gne can sprerad through a group if it doesn't benefit an individual organism. And acording to this:

http://www.scq.ubc.ca/the-controversy-of-group-selection-theory/

The only way a trait like atlutrism can spread through a whole population is under very limited circumstances. And it doesn't discuss self sacrifice at all.

Yeshivish Atheist said...

Have you even been reading my comments? I specifically told you right from the get-go that evolution doesn't always result in altruistic species. I even took some time out of my day to explain what those scenarios are. You're not bringing anything new to the conversation.

"It's hard to explain how a gne can sprerad through a group if it doesn't benefit an individual organism."

Again, have you been reading my comments? I guess not. Okay, one more time, here we go again:

NOT ALL GENES SERVE ONLY ONE FUNCTION.

sometimes a gene can benefit the organism on the gene level, and cause an altruistic side effect on the species level once it has spread through the population and the alleles have fixated.

Yeshivish Atheist said...

Group selection can't result in self-sacrifice? HA! I guess bees don't exist than.

Anonymous said...

Bees practice kin selection, so it isn't self sacrifice.

According to some biologists the make spider allows the female to eat him so he can privide nuorishment for the developing eggs, so it is in his interest.
And he has to take the risk to reproduce, anyway or he will die without reproducing.

And there is increasing evidence that vthe junk DNA isn't really junk at all. Some of it controls the coding genes. Some of it codes for RNA that doesn't code for proteins.

And the examples you gave are of organism vs genes. We are talking about the group vs the individual.

I know evolution doesn't always result in altruistic species. That my point.

Let me see if I'm getting it straight. The gene for parental care also allows us to care for others. But it doesn't allow altruism in monkeys, so it would have to change somehow as humans evolved. So in one proto-human the parenting gene also became the altruism gene. Then it somehow speard throughout the entire population even though it is a decided disadvantage until it actually has spread thoughout the population. So how did it spread? The proto-humans who had the old parenting gene, without the self sacrifice component, would outcompete it. And I get that it is a benefit for an individual to live in a society that does have slef sacrifice, but when the individual actually practices self-sacrifice the benefits become zero, so how can anyone actually practise self-sacrifice?

Yeshivish Atheist said...

"Bees practice kin selection, so it isn't self sacrifice."

Sure it is, it's self sacrifice to protect the rest of the group. The only difference between us and the bees is we do it on the species level.

"And there is increasing evidence that vthe junk DNA isn't really junk at all. Some of it controls the coding genes. Some of it codes for RNA that doesn't code for proteins"

While this is true, there is some junk DNA that we know is junk, such as several ERV genes that are programmed to cause us disease. If they were functional they would kill you. here is a very big difference between a functional ERV, and a functional component of an ERV. Creationists do not understand this.

Yes, we have found a retroviral env that has been co-opted by mammals. Yes, somewhere around 100 human proteins might have evolved from co-opted gag proteins. Yes, we can find retroviral transcripts floating about cells, sometimes. But these are not examples of ERV functionality. They examples of evolution in action-- the host organism salvaging ERV parts for its own use.

Complete ERVs are recombined, mutated, and methylated into junk. When they regain some semblance of functionality, they cause disease! Which is no surprise, as exogenous retroviruses like HIV and HTLV cause AIDS, leukaemia, lymphomas, and various other autoimmune diseases.

ERVs specific to humans, called HERVs, have been tied to multiple cancers, including germ-cell tumors, breast cancer, seminomas, melanoma, ovarian cancer... And autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, and lupus

"I know evolution doesn't always result in altruistic species. That my point."

And my point is that sometimes it does. So what's your chiddush?

"Let me see if I'm getting it straight. The gene for parental care also allows us to care for others. But it doesn't allow altruism in monkeys, so it would have to change somehow as humans evolved. So in one proto-human the parenting gene also became the altruism gene. Then it somehow speard throughout the entire population even though it is a decided disadvantage until it actually has spread thoughout the population. So how did it spread? The proto-humans who had the old parenting gene, without the self sacrifice component, would outcompete it. And I get that it is a benefit for an individual to live in a society that does have slef sacrifice, but when the individual actually practices self-sacrifice the benefits become zero, so how can anyone actually practise self-sacrifice?"

No, you're not getting it straight at all, in fact, you couldn't be more twisted.

The genes that cause emotions of empathy allow us to perform kin care better than other primates, such as monkeys. so it's beneficial on the gene level and will be spread through the population by selective pressure. The SAME GENES ALSO can cause altruism.

Anonymous said...

All humans inherited the maternity gene. SO it had to change to include altruism in a protohuman. In order for it to spread, it has to confer some advantage. But monkeys are already good mothers. What basis is there for saying humans are better mothers? If that was the case, we'd never see infaticide in humans. But we do. In fact it used to be quite common. Abortion is still common. And if it did spread thoughtout the human population, why isn't everyone altruistic?

Yeshivish Atheist said...

I don't think there is 1 absolute gene for maternity. I suspect there are probably many different types of genes that can be expressed at many different levels to provide certain hormones that influence this instinctive ability.

This would explain why some mothers are better mothers than others. Even in nature there are many cases of a mother abandoning her child for no apparent reason. Abortion is not viewed as an actual baby with rights up until a certain point in time so technically the woman isn't considered a mother.

This would also explain how different types of organisms care for there offspring in different ways and on many different levels.

Now that I think about it, not only do some genes serve multiple functions, sometimes multiple genes are required for a single function.

I suspect now that may be the case here. It could be that intelligence played a key piece of the puzzle that is required for altruism to take hold and become beneficial on the species level.

But altruism probably requires other genes too. Most of which would have to have some beneficial function on the individual. For example, love would be beneficial on the individual level since a person capable of love would try harder to protect his/her kin.

Kindness might be beneficial on the gene level if it can be shown to increase the chance of attracting a mate.

There are probably many others as well, but the point is simple:

True Altruism probably requires many different genes expressed at the same time that each individually evolved since it had some beneficial effect on the individual level.

As to why not everyone is altruistic now, this might be explained by upbringing. It is well known that in nature there are many practices that are exhibited by animals that need to be taught to them by their parents even though they already have the genes to perform the task.

This may explain why children with a poor upbringing tend to be less altruistic then children with a good upbringing.

Also, there may be a genetic factor in play as well. Different genes are expressed at different levels in human populations. We're all different. Not everyone is a genetic duplicate of each other, so it does make sense that some Humans are more resistant to Altruistic behavior than others.

I understand that this is not a full and complete explanation, but I am just thinking off the top of my head here. Anyway, at least it puts some food on the table to think about.

Anonymous said...

To change the topic a bit, you made the statements:

1) "If so, then why are primitive societies so violent?"
How do you define a "primitive" society? Someone that lives in the jungles of Africa? A native American? There are plenty of examples of very peaceful tribes in each example. There was an Indian tribe in the SouthWest US (forgot who) that after a battle, the "warriors" were in such a shock that they went through group theropy.

2) You wrote: "I believe that what we call "conscience" is in fact a residue of religious morality."
What about those that grew up Buddists? Or Confusionists? These are "philosophies", not "religions" as there are no dieties in their belief system. Do you believe these folks have no conscience?

jewish philosopher said...

Regarding the morality of cultures unaffected by the Torah, check out the Iliad or the Viking sagas.

Regarding eastern Asia, people today in those areas I'm sure still live with remnants of their traditions.