Monday, August 30, 2010

Evolutionary Morality

[From left to right, Jon Meacham of Newsweek (moderator), Marc Hauser, Daniel Dennett, Antonio Damasio, and Patricia Churchland.]

Marc D. Hauser is an American evolutionary biologist and a researcher in primate behavior and animal cognition who teaches at the Psychology Department at Harvard University. In August 2010, Harvard found him solely responsible for eight counts of unspecified scientific misconduct.

The details are still hazy, however apparently Dr Hauser attempted to enhance his scientific prestige by fabricating results of experiments he had done with monkeys. He is probably best known for his 2007 book Moral Minds: How Nature Designed Our Universal Sense of Right and Wrong, in which he argues that people are instinctively moral and this evolved naturally from our monkey and ape ancestors.

This is hardly unique in the history of science. Freud, history's most famous psychiatrist, is now know to have been a fraud. Margaret Mead, history's most famous anthropologist, was apparently a fraud.

So in any case, the next time you read about some scientific evidence proving that the Torah is bogus, don't rush to throw away your tefillin. Take a deep breath and take it all with a large grain of salt. No offence to any chimps out there, however people who learn their ethics and morals from apes may be a little suspect.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Afterlife - a Moral Necessity

As many people have noticed, in this world, the wicked frequently prosper while the righteous frequently suffer. For example, Mao and Stalin lived long, successful lives while many people who opposed tyranny met early and painful deaths. Considering this, it would seem clear that, in many cases, virtue is foolish and evil is smart. Crime can indeed pay very well.

That is, unless one believes in an afterlife.

The afterlife means that ultimately, justice will prevail. Virtue is always the smart choice and evil is always foolish. Whether in heaven, hell or some future incarnation, all accounts will be balanced out and good will triumph. Judaism firmly believes in such ultimate divine justice.

Of course, like any concept, the idea of an afterlife can be misused. Evil leaders can promise their followers a reward in the afterlife if they will do evil. However if one believes in a loving God who wishes us to help others and who will punish destructive behavior, then the belief in the afterlife is a powerful incentive to be a kind, patient and generous person.

The atheist, however, has no such incentive and on the contrary will quickly learn that dishonesty, selfishness and violence are often rewarded and, unless he simply has a very good natural temperament, he will behave accordingly. Atheism not only permits vice, a really virtuous atheist is simply a fool. His behavior contradicts his beliefs.

A belief in positive moral principles and an in an afterlife, where virtue is rewarded and evil punished, are the foundations of a successful society.

The decline which American society is now experiencing has been brought about by a lack in this belief. The traditional Protestant work ethic, the belief that diligent work is a sign of grace, has now been almost completely replaced by the ethic of the 1960s counterculture: "tune in, turn on, and drop out".

Friday, August 20, 2010

Scientists Ban an Intelligent Designer

What are they so afraid of? That perhaps the Bible is true, clergy will become society's leaders and scientists will be seen as merely glorified plumbers and electricians? Is atheism as much a close minded, intolerant orthodoxy as any other religion? You be the judge.

The primary criticism of this documentary seems to be that of course scientists do not reject God because of any atheistic bias. That is simply absurd; scientists are paragons of objectivity. Rather, scientists reject God because He "cannot be tested". Personally, however, I fail to see how evolution has been tested. No one has ever seen a useful new organ or limb develop through natural variation and selection.

Additionally, it's ridiculous to suggest that having a graduate degree and doing some research makes a person immune to emotions. See contrary examples here and here.

Historically, we know that scientists for decades refused to accept the Big Bang theory for fear that it might cause someone to believe in God.

Some reviewers have felt that it is false and misleading to link evolution to Nazism and that the Holocaust had many causes. Of course, this is not something which can be proven in a laboratory one way or the other, however I think that a strong argument can be made that had there never been a Darwin there would never have been an Auschwitz.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Atheist Creed

[an earlier creed]

We originated as follows:

Nothing became chemicals.
Chemicals became microbes.
Microbes became worms.
Worms became fish.
Fish became lizards.
Lizards became mice.
Mice became monkeys.
Monkeys became people.

The first two steps occurred through still unknown processes.

The last six steps occurred through a process of Darwinian evolution and punctuated equilibrium. Basically, what happened is that life on earth was repeatedly devastated by natural disasters. Then, over the following several million years, new, more complex life forms would appear through a process of random genetic mutation and natural selection.

Judaism originated as follows:

About 2,500 years ago, a charismatic scammer named Ezra the Scribe ruled the Jewish community in Jerusalem. Using some earlier legends and myths as sources, he composed the Pentateuch and presented it to the Jewish people as being the authentic record of their origins. (In reality the Pentateuch is entirely fictional.) The Jews, not only in Jerusalem but throughout the Middle East, as well as the Samaritans who were enemies of the Jews, for some reason unanimously accepted it as being authentic and completely discarded any earlier historical records they may have had.

Free will is an illusion. In reality, we are merely soulless bags of chemicals and our actions are entirely predetermined and controlled by the laws of nature.

Atheists tend to be very coy and vague when it comes to defining their beliefs; they almost always talk about the negative - what they do not believe in. However the above is the clearest picture I have been able to glean from years of research, reading and dialog with atheists.

I find these beliefs to be clearly false for reasons I have explained here and here.

Many people nevertheless embrace atheism, either because it allows them to lead a life of selfishness and hedonism without guilt or because, if they are scientists, it makes them society's most important intellectuals while making the clergy completely irrelevant.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Will Atheism Make You Crazy?

One thing I've always wondered about, is how can a sincere, thoughtful atheist look at himself in the mirror and say to himself "I am merely a soulless, worthless bag of chemicals. I will soon deteriorate and disintegrate. I have no free will; that is merely a delusion. All my thoughts, words and deeds are predetermined and controlled solely by the laws of nature."

It seems to me that someone who actually thinks this way would lose his sanity. It's almost as if he is imagining his own self to be imaginary. I have sometimes wondered if this was the real cause of Friedrich Nietzsche's madness.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Thank God for the Talmud

[a set of the Talmud]

I was watching a movie a few days ago, and one of the characters in the movie was a member of a Christian sect which prohibits blood transfusions. The character died because of her refusal to accept a transfusion. The Torah says "And whatsoever man there be of the house of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn among them, that eateth any manner of blood, I will set My face against that soul that eateth blood, and will cut him off from among his people." Leviticus 17:10 These people believe that this prohibits any consumption of blood, even intravenously and even on pain of death.

It reminded me: who knows what type of impractical and cruel rules a person could fabricate by reading the Torah literally without the benefit of the Oral Law in the Talmud.

I recall myself as a teenager, before my conversion, puzzling over verses about tying a fringe on the four corners of your garment. Where are the corners and what are these fringes?

Groups which have attempted to practice the Torah without the Talmud have failed. The Sadducees disappeared about 1900 years ago. The Karaites and the Samaritans are virtually dead. Neither community, to the best of my knowledge, has an independent school system raising children to practice their beliefs. I would therefore seriously question whether anyone today is actually fully practicing either system. Rabbinical Judaism however numbers in the millions and always has.