Friday, December 24, 2010

Researching the Family Tree


[human migration - the DNA picture]

I have recently been reading about the descent of modern humans from Neanderthals, Denisovans and Africans who lived tens of thousands of years ago. This would seem to contradict the Bible, according to which we are all descended from one man who, according to rabbinical tradition, was created 5771 years ago.

Apparently this is based on the following concept.

Let's say someone wrote a book. Afterwards, copies of  the book were made by scribes who  were illiterate and could  not understand the book however they simply copied whatever they saw. Once in a while a spelling error would be made in the text. Later scribes using that erroneous copy would copy that error. As copies of the book are spread around the world, new errors would be made here and there. Based upon examining which spelling errors appeared in which part of the world, it would be possible to estimate how this  book spread around the world. If error #1 appears in German copies and error #1 and error #2 appear in Russian copies, we could guess that the Russian copies were made based on the German copy. Furthermore, if we could estimate about how often a copiest error is made, we could estimate how far back different copies diverged and how long ago the original copy was made. For example, if present day copies contain 1,000 errors and we estimate 1 error per year, then we can assume that the book is  1,000 years old.

Human genetics is a little more complicated because each person is a combinations of genes from his father and mother. This would be similar to each scribe making a new copy based on pages mixed together from two older copies.

There are some problems with all of this however.

First of all it assumes that genetic mutations occur at a certain fairly predictable pace. Secondly, it assumes that certain DNA "spelling errors" will occur only once in history.

In general, I believe that our understanding of DNA is still in its early stages. Cases have been discovered where children did not have DNA matching their mothers' DNA. On the other hand, innocent people have been sent to prison based on false DNA matches.

It's seems questionable to me whether the new DNA studies actually reveal much more than the earlier physical anthropology,   anthropometry and craniometry did. There is probably something to it but it's far from infallible.

60 comments:

Anonymous said...

First off, I'd like to note your way of describing the metaphorical scribes if flawed. Copy errors of large texts by scribes were a regular occurrence, and it was not uncommon for later scribes to view the errors and either overlook them or assume some specific reason (i.e.: religious documents). The scribe metaphor is actually a much better one that you sell it as.

As for our understanding of DNA: your first example of a child's DNA not matching the mother's is a case of chimerism. As far as I know, all cases of children's and mothers' DNA being different deal with chimerism; its not DNA we don't understand, but rather a rare genetic condition of having two distinct sets of DNA. Your second example is not a case of experts not understanding DNA, but rather misusing a few small markers and misleading laypeople with that information. We understand DNA pretty solidly in the ways we use it today; what we don't understand is what all the stuff of it means and does and why there's so much of it.

jewish philosopher said...

My point is that even when dealing with DNA of people who are now alive, there seem to be a lot of problems; surely we can be a little skeptical regarding DNA of people who lived tens of thousands of years ago.

Anonymous said...

Scientists used to talk a lot about the biological clock. Thy said that measuring differences in DNA could help determine when two species diverged. Then they discovered that it wasn't accurate. Different genes sometimes mutate at different rates.

NC said...

JP:

Skepticism may be in order, however all of science, including those branches which you consider "hard science", are based on inductive reasoning.

Inductive logic has been a challenge for philosophers to validate. Nonetheless it is unquestionably a necessary component of scientific reasoning. If we see a pattern, we assume that pattern holds true unless there is evidence otherwise. This holds true for the sun rising tomorrow, like it does for the transmission and mutation of DNA. Your examples of chimerism and stochastic phenomena do nothing to cast doubt on these patterns.

Its incredible that after reading books on the subject that you still have doubts about common descent. Is there any better theory (without invoking miracles) you have to explain the observations?

jewish philosopher said...

"Its incredible that after reading books on the subject that you still have doubts about common descent."

It seems to me that all the assertions regarding man's prehistoric ancestry and migrations based on DNA are probably very shaky. We know that regarding forensic DNA analysis of people who are alive now there are a lot of problems regarding laboratory errors, contamination, faked results, bad mathematics, etc. Check these articles for example.

http://darwin.bio.uci.edu/~mueller/error%20rates.html

http://www.nacdl.org/public.nsf/0/6285f6867724e1e685257124006f9177

Also there may be rare biological exceptions to the rules which we have not yet fully discovered. Take this article on paternal mtDNA for example.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paternal_mtDNA_transmission#In_humans

So therefore when a scientist tells me that my DNA proves that 1% of my ancestors were Neanderthals living in Europe 100,000 years ago or that all of my ancestor lived in Africa 100,000 years ago, I think being a little skeptical is very reasonable.

NC said...

Genetics tests are used all of the time in the medical field. More diseases and characteristics are being mapped out every day. Are you equally skeptical about that? Its the same thing, and it uses inductive reasoning. Chemical agents are used that bind certain DNA sequences, or other similar techniques.

Let's say you need a bone marrow transplant. After thousands of potential donors have been screened, one is found. Would you accept it to save your life? Or would you say, "wait a minute, this whole DNA thing is very iffy, lots of faking and errors, maybe I'll take my chances and wait the leukemia out."

I suspect that your skepticism is highly selective.

Anon-- often you bring examples of how science changed its mind about something. This is precisely the strength of the scientific method, in that it moves towards the truth by testing and rejecting theories that don't hold up. So the fact that scientists "used to" think something and now they say something else does nothing to discredit the scientific method.

As I have said in the past, if all you are willing to say is, they are all a bunch of liars and conspirators, than there is nothing to discuss.

jewish philosopher said...

Well, NC, what if some day you're arrested and based on some DNA evidence from a 20 year old cold case, the district attorney tells you that you're a murderer. It's science, it's infallible. But you know you didn't do it.

DNA analysis apparently is partly art as well as science, surely when it involves events many thousands of years ago.

Like Reagan used to say "Trust but verify".

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trust,_but_verify 

Anonymous said...

NC,

You listen to RadioLab, don't you? What with chimerism and stochasticity. If not, I tip my hat at your fun and rarely used words!

NC said...

Yes, I do listen to Radio Lab. Its a great podcast!

Anonymous said...

NC:

My point is that the scientists mentioned in JP's post are using a methodology that they themselves rejected.

And, while I'm going to say that all scientists are liars and consipitors, there has been so much fraud in science that I don't think that it is so far from the truth.

NC said...

"And, while I'm going to say that all scientists are liars and consipitors, there has been so much fraud in science that I don't think that it is so far from the truth."

I'll assume to meant to say "not" and "conspirators" in the first sentence....

At the risk of digressing from the subject-- are you one of those folks who refuse to vaccinate yourself or your children? I know somebody like that. Although in other subjects they appear to be completely rational and nice people, when it comes to this they hold completely irrational, unscientific, and conspiratorial views. I think that some people have an area in their brain that makes them blind to the facts on a certain subject, no matter how overwhelming the evidence.

Anonymous said...

NC:

Yes, I meant to say not.
I don't assume that every scientist is a fraud. I do know that all scientists, being human, are capable of error and bias. And many of them are afraid of questioning the professional scientific orthodoxy because that could adversely effect their careers.

NC said...

" I do know that all scientists, being human, are capable of error and bias. "

Fair enough. But pray tell, if some professional group is going to be the authority on scientific matters, who is it going to be? The politicians? The clergy? Bloggers?

Take medicine. Yes, medical professionals and researchers are human, make mistakes, and are sometimes frauds. But on the whole, who will be the leaders and authorities on medical matters? Engineers? Lawyers?

Anon, this is an argument about bias, the bottom line. And I have no objective way of determining who is more biased-- you or the biologists. So I have to make a call. I'll bet on the biologists being more objective than you. Unless you can give me good evidence that the reverse is true.

I think you would do the same if you were inquiring about, say a medical topic that you know little about. As a rational person, and being unable to personally review in detail all of the evidence yourself, you would have to rely on some authority. As JP would say, you'll have to drink the Kool-Aid. Its just the way the world works. Just like you rely on Rabbis for spiritual and halachic matters.

JP, is following a rabbi's ruling "drinking the Kool-Aid"?

jewish philosopher said...

Rabbis generally give sources which can be researched and critiqued by other rabbis. Rabbis that render sort of off the wall rulings quickly get a reputation in scholarly circles (think of Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Abraham Isaac Kook, Menachem Mendel Schneerson).

Anonymous said...

NC:

Just do so research on fraud in the history of science, e.g. Piltdown, Haeckel's drawings, etc. etc. and you'll see what scientists re capable of.

Since scientists can be biased, and are capable of fraud, I examine the evidence to the best of my ability. IMHO, the evidence for evolution is spotty at best, while the problems are huge. And much of the evidence, e.g. vestigal structures, the nested hierarchy, is based on theological reasoning, not scientific reasoning.

NC said...

"And much of the evidence, e.g. vestigal structures, the nested hierarchy, is based on theological reasoning, not scientific reasoning."

That is a misrepresentation.

Vestigial organs and nested hierarchy strongly suggest a common origin, and that is based on deductive reasoning:

1. Species A has useful structure X
2. Species B has structure X but it has no apparent use.
3. Species with similar structures have common ancestry (based on the fossil and DNA evidence)
3. Therefore species A and B have common ancestry.

You can disagree with the premises, but the logic is sound.


Asking why god would do such a thing is indeed theological and not scientific. But the hypothesis of common origin, based on the zoological organization and vestigial structures and DNA-- that is solid scientific reasoning.

I think that your bias is what blows the problems out of proportion, so that the questions look "huge" to you but in reality do not undermine the reality of evolution.

When considering the evidence for a theory, you have to distinguish between problems of things that are unexplained, and those which actually falsify the theory. All of your "holes" are of the first type.

NC said...

"Rabbis generally give sources which can be researched and critiqued by other rabbis. Rabbis that render sort of off the wall rulings quickly get a reputation in scholarly circles "

As do scientific authorities.

Anon, can you suggest a way of finding out who is more biased among 2 individuals, or 2 groups? You obviously believe that scientists are biased and you are objective. I think the opposite. I was wondering if there is a way to verify that.

Here's an idea. Submit both arguments to scrutiny by a third party who has no stake in the outcome. Take your Bible creation theory, and scientists evolution theory, and present it, say, to a Buddhist and see what he says.

jewish philosopher said...

"As do scientific authorities."

But when they can't, I don't believe them, just like I don't follow fishy rabbis.

Anonymous said...

Since organs might have lost their function afer species were created separately, vestigal organs are not proof of evolution.

You seem to be confusing two different arguements, homology and vestigal structures.

If we could come up with a good theological explanation for why the Creator would create things using a nested hierarchy, then that would remove that as evidence for evolution.

Anonymous said...

NC:

If you read some of the scientific literature, you will find that the scientists are biased against any non-naturalistic exaplanations. They say things like "G-d did it" is not allowed because it isn't testable, isn't falsifiable, isn't naturalistic, etc. They admit to having a priori biases against any non-naturalistic explanation. I am also biased against non-naturalistic explanations. I am, however, willing to follow the evidence where it leads. IMHO, it does not lead to Darwinian evolution.

NC said...

"If you read some of the scientific literature, you will find that the scientists are biased against any non-naturalistic exaplanations."

BY DEFINITION science studies NATURAL explanations!! Studying "miracles" would not be science! It would be theology.

"Since organs might have lost their function afer species were created separately, vestigal organs are not proof of evolution. "

You might be able to use that argument for something like an appendix (assuming its vestigial), but it doesn't work for things like body hair, toenails, or piloerector muscles. These things provide no apparent survival or reproductive advantage to humans, and clearly do for other mammals.

"If we could come up with a good theological explanation for why the Creator would create things using a nested hierarchy, then that would remove that as evidence for evolution."

Why? You are confused. People have come up with "divine" reasons to explain all kinds of natural phenomena, but that does not distract one bit from the explanatory power of the scientific reason. Scientific logic is not contingent upon lack of theological explanation. Example: Do theological theories of divine punishment or suffering in any way detract from the germ theory of disease? Does JP's theory about AIDS being a punishment for sodomy mean that its NOT coming from the HIV virus? Even he wouldn't say that.

Anonymous said...

NC:

I think the experiment you suggested was already attempted. I read about a survey that found that more people believe in ghosts than believe in evolution.

Anonymous said...

This is interesting:

http://www.sciencemag.org/content/330/6012/1740.summary

Anonymous said...

There is no KNOWN explanation for pilioerector muscles. They use to say the same thing about the appendix and the tonsils. Now we know that they have fucntions. This is an example of Darwinism of the Gaps.

And the reason the nested hierarchy is evidence for evolution is because G-d didn't have to create organism that can be organised into a nested hierarchy. He could have done it any way. While evolution does not predict a nested hierarchy, it gives an intellectually satisfiying explanation for the nested hierarchy. But if we could find a reason why a creator would use a nested hierarchy, then it no longer supports evolution.

Again, the support for evolution comes from theological reasoning.

Anonymous said...

And who gets to make up the rules about what constitutes a scientific explanation, anyway?

Anonymous said...

I like my wife's hair. She likes mine. My toenails protect my toes when I drop things on them. I'm not sure these things serve no purpose.

Anonymous said...

Is there a Rav that you follow and run your posts by for a halachic perspective?

Nc said...

The "gaps" you mentioned are yours, not mine
Evolution has a perfectly reasonable
explanation for the presence of these structures. It
is only a gap for you because you insist it must have a function.

That science updates itself and modifies theories in line with new facts is a STRENGTH not a weakness. For some reason you find this to be something to ridicule.

FYI evolution DOES make predictions. In cases where it only explains what we see it does so without any need to resort to theology. You seem to be confusing arguments about god with arguments about nature.

Btw your toenails make you MORE likely to injure your toe, not less. Ask any diabetic or serious runner. Pardon the rudeness, but do you like your wife's leg hair?

jewish philosopher said...

"Is there a Rav that you follow and run your posts by for a halachic perspective?"

No, however all comments are welcome.

Anonymous said...

When science can't explain something, like the origin of the Universe, the fine tuning of the Universe, the origin of Life, the human mind, the origin of human morality, etc. people say that saying "G-d did it" is cheating because it is a "G-d of the gaps" arguement. Well, it a "gaps" arguement applies to evolution as well.

Evolution does make predictions, true. The nested hierarchy is not one of them. Evolution does not require a nested hierarchy. Some of the predictions evolution did make, didn't work out so well. For example, I would expect DNA to match morphology. But there are so many exceptions like distantly related species having similar DNA while more closely related species don't evolutionists have to come on to things like horizontal gene transfer. Or species really did change from one into another, I would expect to see that in the fossil record. But since that isn't evident, evolutionists have to resort to apologetics the incompleteness of the fossil record, or punctuated equilbrium. Evolutionist used to talk a lot about biogeography. Not so much anymore.

Anonymous said...

When I drop something on my foot, if it hits my toenail, it doesn't hurt so much. If it land on skin, it hurts more. And I don't mind my wife's leg hair. It bothers her more than it bothers me. She likes my leg hair. Is your point that leg hair on humans serves no KNOWN purpose? Evolution of the Gaps. Furthermore, how does evolution explain that human body hair appears after puberty? That is not the ancestral condition. Apes are born hairy. It must be an evolved condition. If it evolved, it must serve a purpose. Please correct me if I'm wrong.

NC said...

Your question about hair reveals a basic misunderstanding of both evolution and philosophy of science. Evolution does NOT say everything has a purpose. That is different than requiring a REASON why something exists. So you have byproducts, spandrels, and embryonic remnants. Your naval serves no purpose. But there's a reason its there. Like a remnant of an old building. See the difference?


A gap is only a gap if an excuse is given rather than a detailed and logical explanation. To say either "god did it" or "evolution did it" and to end the discussion there, are both unsatisfactory. But to say evolution caused something to be because x or y and to give a detailed mechanism, that is not a gap.

There is also a difference between saying, "we don't know", which is perfectly fine, and saying "we can't know" (like how all of the millions of species reappeared after the flood), which is an excuse for a contradiction that can't be explained.

BTW we now know why morphology doesn't always match DNA, and we have a detailed mechanism to explain it, so its not a "gap" or a failure of evolution theory.

Anonymous said...

NC:

The apperance of body hair after puberty is an evolved condition. It doesn't happen in apes. Therefore, it has to serve some Darwinian purpose in order for it to evolve. This is Darwinism 101.

There is no good, detailed explanation for the origin the Universe, the origin of life, or things like the origin of the mind, morality, or religion. so when we people say "G-d did it"it is called a "G-d of the Gaps"
fallacy. So when people say things like "There is no KNOWN reason why G-d would create life in a nested hierarchy and not do something else" the same reasoning should apply. It is an "evolution of the gaps" fallacy.

So much evolutionary thinking is based on the assumption that we CAN know and DO know what G-d would or would not do. For example, he would never loop the laryngial nerve under the aorta.

For a scientific theory with so much support, evolution sure seesm to need to come on to apologetics, ex post facto explanations, etc. There is punctuated equilibrium, horizontal gene transfer, etc.

NC said...

1. Speaking about modern evolutionary biology in terms like "Darwinism" and Darwinistic" is like referring to modern physics as "Newtonism". We've moved on since then.

2. Personally I don't have a problem with the G-d of the gaps. We don't know something. Call it whatever you want. God. Q!%FDKSL. whatever. Its something we don't know. Calling it god doesn't particularly help me understand it, but it doesn't mean its wrong. It just means it contributes nothing to understanding the question. If evolution can help us understand it better, thats great. If not, fine.

"So much evolutionary thinking is based on the assumption that we CAN know and DO know what G-d would or would not do. "

That is simply a wrong and ridiculous statement. You keep repeating this despite it being false. Evolution says nothing about God. For or against Him. Its silent about god, like the rest of science.

Its pretty clear to me that you really confuse religion and science. The fact is that there are plenty of religious scientists who do accept evolution and don't see the contradiction, as you do.

Anonymous said...

Darwin himself wrote that a creator did not have to distribute organisms the way they are found, so it must be evolution. A creator did not have to creat organisms in a nested hierarchy, so it must be evolution. A creatr would not creat cave fish with vestigal eyes, so it must be evolution. All these arguements can be found in the literature. The real, direct evidence for evolution, that is that one species can change from into another, is actually very spotty and circumstantial at best. For example, it is inferred that since the fossil record shows different species living at different times, they must have evolved. OR since e.coli can learn to eat different food, (even though they are still e.col) then bacteria can evolve into a blue whale.

Anonymous said...

NC:

It seems to me that when the post is about science, I stick to talking about science. I just talk about following the evidence where it leads. It is the evolutionists who make metaphysical claims like saying "G-d did it" is cheating or that if it isn't falsifiable, it isn't allowed. (Who gets to make the rules, anyway?)

NC said...

"Darwin himself wrote "

It doesn't matter what Darwin wrote. He was using his logic at his time. That's history. Modern evolutionary biology knows more than he knew in his day, and does not depend on Darwin being an authority. When faced with a new question in biology, nobody opens up Origin of the Species to look something up.

"I just talk about following the evidence where it leads. "

Its interesting that you, anon, have been able to tease through all of the data and come to a remarkable conclusion, the evolution is false. Perhaps you should present this earthshaking finding at a conference or in a journal, and see if it holds up to scientific scrutiny. I suspect it won't. But anyway, with such a remarkable discovery, why do you waste your scientific prowess on me? See if you can convince real professionals.

" is actually very spotty and circumstantial at best"

Almost all scientific knowledge is "circumstantial". That's what inference is.

In epidemiology we have something called an "odds ratio". It is an estimate of the relative risk of getting a disease in relation to some exposure or treatment. Its all based on inference, or "circumstantial" evidence as you call it. But without it, we'd all be living 15 fewer years than we do now.

Anonymous said...

NC:

Numerous books and articles, including peer reviewed articles in journals, on the problems with evolution have already been published. The Discovery Organization website has a long list. If its peer reviewed its canonical, y'know.

And, IMHO, the actual, empirical evidence for epidemology is much stronger than the actual, empirical evidence for evolution.

Anonymous said...

This is interesting:

http://www.the-scientist.com/news/display/57793/

So the reproductive isolation of fruit flies that eat different things is not genetic, which means it is not evolutionary. Rather it is due to bacteria in the flies guts. See, the evidence for evolution is not only spotty, it gets spottier and spottier as science acquires more empirical knowledge.

NC said...

Interesting study, but I don't see how that article either supports or refutes evolution. The authors claim it "fits" a certain evolutionary theory but it is not in any way a proof of evolution and it is not presented as such.

The Discovery Institute is a religious organization (even though they deny it) promoting a specific agenda.

Anonymous said...

They use to say that fruit flies developing partial reproductive isolation was evidence of evolution because it was the first step in speciation. Now, it turns out that this is not so.

So what if the Discovery Institute is Religious? They have a list of publications that made it into the peer reviewed journals. You can check for yourself. And, of course, the evolutionists also have agendas. Why should they ahve any more credibility? And the membership of the Discovery Institute includes Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, Orthodox and non-Orthodox Jews. It even has an agnostic on board. So, if it is religious, it is a rather stange sort of multi-denominational organization.

NC said...

Credibility is relevant here. They promote a clear conservative, religious agenda. Furthermore, I question is if any of their articles which made it into peer-reviewed journals in any way seriously challenged accepted evolutionary biology. Since neither your or I are qualified to determine this, I will choose to accept what the scientific experts say at Harvard, Yale, Columbia and the Wiezmann Institute, rather than the "Discovery Institute", which is just a front for scientists with a religious conservative agenda. Its all a matter of who you believe.

BTW, do you accept ID theory? Even that is not so consistent with the Genesis story.

Anonymous said...

But they link the articles, so you oculd cehck them out. I guess you have so much faith in the "experts" that you accept what they say without any thought. I wish I had your faith.

Which ID theory do you mean? There is the idea that each species was created separately? Then there is typology, the idea that each basic type was created separatly, then evolved into separate species. Then there is the theory of common universal descent that involved tinkering during life's history.

NC said...

Anon
This raises the question: how do we know what and whome to believe? Its like reading news. How do you REALLY know whats going on? Everything is filtered and editorialized. But ultimately you choose your sources. Do you believe the New York Times or the Tehran Times?

I choose scientific sources with a track record-- a record of accomplisment, acheivement, development and progress.

I have no problem with you using the bible or other religious sources for moral perspectives or spiritual inspiration. But they have kind of a poor track record when it comes to physics and biology.

You claim to be analyzing the data yourself and coming to your own conclusions. But I really don't think that's possible, given the complexities of the field and your lack of objective perspective.

NC said...

The prevalent ID thoery as I understand it is that the species did have common ancestry and did mutate to new forms, however this was a directed process that occured quickly rather than random natural selection over long periods of time. Thus it allows for God intervening in creating the various species, and will some reinterpretation, allows reconciliation with the biblical creation story, and doesn't contradict the fossil record.

The other versions you mention, including young earth, aren't taken seriously even by the religious scientists any more.

NC said...

This article documents how underreported the problem is:
http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1809880,00.html

NC said...

You're burying your head in the sand:
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/14/nyregion/14abuse.html

jewish philosopher said...

"Sex predators operate with ease among the ultra-orthodox communities"

Oh really? Just try being a sex predator in the ultra-orthodox communities. I doubt you'll survive more than a few weeks.

Anonymous said...

NC:

I must say I admire your faith. You have perfect faith that since science created the cell phone, it will answer all the problems with evolution someday. And you have comletye fsith in scientists, so you can't question their word.

I'm must admit that I don't have such a strong faith in anything. I'm a realist. I just examine the evidence to the best of my ability, and follow where it leads. I like to believe that I don't have nay a prior biases like the scientists who claim that saying "G-d did it" cheating for various metaphysical reasons.

NC said...

"I'm a realist. I just examine the evidence to the best of my ability, and follow where it leads."

This reveals poor self insight.

Everybody thinks this about themselves. Everybody likes to think of themselves as a moderate and objective person. I am sure that Muslim extremists say the same thing about themselves. They are just being logical and following the evidence.

I am a supporter of Israel. I can make every argument in the world why Israel is right about everything. But I don't imagine for a second that I am truly objective. I admit: I was born a Jew and love Israel like family, and therefore defend it. And I have enough insight to know, that I or Israel can sometimes be wrong.

jewish philosopher said...

NC, can I tell you something very sincerely, and I probably shouldn't say this. However there are moments of weakness, I won't go into detail, when I wish I could convert to atheism myself. But I just can bring myself to do it. I can't see how I can ignore the evidence for Judaism which I've written here.

http://jewishphilosopher.blogspot.com/2006/12/truth-of-judaism.html

How do you do it? Doesn't your conciense nag at you? Aren't you afraid of damnation at all? Seriously. How do you do it?

jewish philosopher said...

should be "But I just can't bring myself to do it."

NC said...

I will be honest, too.

1. I know longer find those arguments, which I myself used to spout, compelling. I have read enough and learned about the history of Judaism and other religions to know that these arguments are no less fallacious than the religious claims of other religions.

2. Having said that, I cannot be 100% certain that I am right. Perhaps I got it wrong. Perhaps God is keeping tally of all of my mitzvot and sins and it will be played back to me one day. Or perhaps the Christians got it right. Nonetheless I think I am a good person and if there is a God, he would not sentence me to eternal damnation. I have no reason to believe the Talmudic rabbis on this matter more than my own common sense.

The bottom line: I am not afraid of damnation. To me it most likely doesn't exist, and if it does, it won't happen to me, or else, I'll be in good company!!

My only "guilt" would be towards certain other people who might have expected differently of me.

jewish philosopher said...

Read the first half of Exodus. Read the gospels. Read a biography Muhammed. Check out the sources as far as we know of all three. Do Moses, Jesus and Mohammed all seem equally credible?

NC said...

Your question really oversimplifies the problem. Of course Judaism is the most "authentic" of the three. But, the accounts were written in 3 completely different periods of history, were originally written for different audiences, in different eras with different cultures. It is therefore very difficult to compare "credibility". By what standard? What appears "credible" (or not) to us (which is influenced by our own biases) is far less relevant than how the original target audience saw it. Obviously a lot of people found Muhammed's and Jesus' story compelling and credible.

Islam and Christianity are both offshoots of Judaism, so of course when speaking of those 3, Judaism is the most "authentic" or "original". But Judaism itself was the product of other "original" religions in the region. The archeological evidence for this is pretty strong (like the Ugaritic inscriptions).

jewish philosopher said...

Mohamed never claimed to perform miracles.

Jesus allegedly did, however they were apparently so unconvincing that his fellow citizens almost unanimously chose to kill him.

So you've basically got two guys who, like Joseph Smith for example, claimed " Hey,, guess what - God just talked to me. Believe or be damned." Anybody could say that.

Moses brought the ten plagues, split the sea, brought manna from heaven and was witnessed by millions speaking to God at Mount Sinai. Until perhaps Spinoza, no Jew doubted this.

NC said...

What can I say?

You're ridicule of other people's faith shows in fact you understand little about the psychology of belief. What do you have to say about the fact that something which seems so obviously false to you is sincerely believed and true, by billions of people? What does it say about faith? What does it say about the link (or lack thereof) between faith and truth?

The Sinai story speaks to you, fine. The Kuzari argument is unconvincing for reasons we have already discussed. It is unconvincing to millions of non-orthodox Jews and billions of non-Jews. Just as some came to believe something as true (such as Muhammed receiving the Koran from God)and they became Muslims, so there were people who came to believe the Torah Sinai story and they became Jews.

An amateur claim about the psychology of belief cannot prove an event from thousands of years ago. A story cannot prove its own truth!

BTW that is why atheism is not a religion. It is not based on a tradition, an authority, a story being handed down. It is the rejection of religious claims. You reject 99.9% of the world's religious claims, and atheists reject 100%. Is that so hard?

Also, I don't find atheism a temptation at all. In fact I lost something-- as sense of security and mission, which religious people have. I miss it. I personally gained nothing from my change of heart. But I would never wish to have my eyes closed again (like the pink pill in Matrix).

jewish philosopher said...

Listen, I'm actually being serious here.

We know how other religions began. Some guy said "God talked to me. Believe it or go to hell." No one, even the believers in those religions, really disputes that.

Now in regards to Moses, apparently something else very different happened. We know that Judaism alone claims something entirely different. The question is - what happened? The question is, how do we that what happened isn't exactly what Jews for thousands of years claimed happened?

Anonymous said...

NC:

If you start by examining the evidence, and follow where it leads, without any precocieved ideas about what G-d would or wouldn't do or what constitutes a legal claim, IMHO, it leds to ID.

jewish philosopher said...

NC, let me put it like this. Roughly, atheists as far as I can tell believe:

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.

Now to me this is staggeringly difficult to believe. I just can't bring myself to accept it, however easier my life would be if I were to do so.

So my question is - how do you do it? How does all the above seem perfectly rational and plausible to you? How do you escape the feeling that something is very wrong with this whole story?