Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Death Penalty and Me

[Senator Coburn - Republican, Oklahoma. He tells it like it is.]

A number of months ago I was expelled from a nursing school because of a my opinion that male to male anal intercourse should be punished by death. Looking at comments on several posts I have written on this subject, I have been compared to a Nazi war criminal by some people, along with various unprintable other names. Gays are glamorized today as a "sexual minority" while sodomy is a "human right", ideas most people would never dream of applying to pedophiles, for example.

I came across today a statement made a few years ago by Tom Coburn, currently United States Senator from Oklahoma. In a 2004 interview he declared that he favors the death penalty for "abortionists and other people who take life."

It's interesting that when a southern Christian politician makes a statement condemning to death thousands of licensed American physicians, he can be elected to one of the highest offices in the country by a wide margin. If a Jewish blogger in New York makes a similar statement, he won't be allowed to change a bedpan.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Monotheism: The Genius of Judaism

[proclaiming God's unity]

Perhaps the most striking and original concept of Judaism is monotheism – the belief in one God.

Looking at the world around us, there seem to be endless separate and even conflicting forces – rain, wind, fire, the sun, the moon, plants, animals, disease, birth, death, etc. The conclusion drawn by most people in earlier times was that each of these forces was controlled by a superhuman, but not supremely powerful, being and these beings were constantly interacting with each other and even fighting with each other. Humans might hope to appease these gods through sacrificial offerings or various rituals. This was the early paganism still practiced in some places today.

Modern man laughs at this; however actually, modern science is not much different. The modern scientist still believes that the universe is controlled by laws of nature. If you ask a scientist, what causes lightening, he will not reply “Thor did it”, but rather he will reply that, although we still don't quite know how, the laws of physics cause a lighting flash. Nevertheless, he will be at a loss to explain where these laws came from and why they exist. Some laws of nature seem to be contradictory, such as the laws of quantum mechanics and general relativity. The attempt to create one theory of everything is still very elusive. So instead of gods who must be appeased with sacrifices, we have today laws of nature, which we must simply try to understand and cope with as best we can. That may be a step in the right direction, however it still has its limits.

Judaism from day one has taken an entirely different approach: “Know this day, and lay it to thy heart, that the LORD, He is God in heaven above and upon the earth beneath; there is none else.” Deuteronomy 4:39. We are not at the hands of bizarre superheroes or mysterious forces of nature. Rather, behind the scenes, there is one lord and master who is orchestrating everything. Furthermore, he is a judge and a lawgiver. Mere sacrifice is not enough; he demands obedience, as the next verse states “And thou shalt keep His statutes, and His commandments, which I command thee this day, that it may go well with thee, and with thy children after thee, and that thou mayest prolong thy days upon the land, which the LORD thy God giveth thee, for ever.”

This is truly the theory of everything and it greatly simplifies our understanding of the universe. Yes, there are many forces of nature, however one Creator made them and one divine Ruler established them and manipulates them according to His wishes. He is the one God whom we must serve and the one Lawgiver whom we must obey. This is an amazing example of Occam’s Razor. This idea is so sensible, that the majority of mankind now accepts it. But it all began with a few Jews in the Middle East several thousand years ago.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Are Orthodox Jews Missing the Fun?

[Firearms: the American preference]

A sign that atheists are disproportionately unhappy: they kill themselves far more frequently than other people. And I think it's reasonable to assume that for each person completing suicide, far more attempt it, think about it or are just very sad. In contrast, Jews have a low rate of suicide and I suspect that Orthodox Jews have very low levels although it does occur rarely.

The high level of suicide among gay men may be related to the high level of atheism. (Note that African Americans, although also having a difficult socio-economic situation, have a low suicide rate. Obese people, although shunned and ridiculed, also have a below average rate. Practicing gay men however have an elevated rate, which may be consistent with atheists in general.)

Arnold J. Toynbee noted "Civilizations die from suicide, not by murder." Is this why the Jews are the eternal people?

Sunday, April 10, 2011

A Contradiction in the Torah

Exodus 12:40 states “The habitation of the Children of Israel during which they dwelled in Egypt was four hundred and thirty years.”

This verse clearly contradicts Exodus 6:18-20 which states that Kohath lived 133 years and Amram lived 137 years. Kohath came to Egypt with Jacob (Genesis 46:11). Moses, the son of Amram, died at the age of 120 (Deut. 34:7), which was 40 years after the Exodus, making Moses 80 years old at the time of Exodus. Therefore the Egyptian exile could not have lasted more than 350 years. (In fact, according to the Talmudic tradition, it lasted only 210 years.)

This contradiction has been addressed by many Biblical commentaries, from ancient times to the present. Personally, I have not yet found an explanation which I, with my tiny intellect, feel is very plausible. (I believe the ibn Ezra comes the closest by stating that the verse means that there were 430 years from Abraham's departure from Ur his birthplace until the departure of the Jews from Egypt. However that's entirely different than what the verse actually says.) Needless to say, critics of Judaism have used this verse as proof that the Torah was not written by God, since obviously God would not have made a mistake and the number 430 is clearly a mistake.

I believe, however, such a conclusion is unwarranted.

The evidence in favor of the divine origin of the Torah is overwhelming. Exodus 12:40 is a single verse which I don’t understand. In my opinion, this does not outweigh the evidence in favor Judaism.

This same type of logic is commonly applied in any other area of research.

Take for example the discovery of DNA in dinosaur bones. This would seem to contradict the well established fact that dinosaurs lived tens of millions of years ago, because soft tissues can never survive that long. However rather than contradict the massive evidence of the age of dinosaurs, scientists must simply accept the fact that somehow in this case soft tissue did survive 70 million years, although we don’t understand how.

Only when the preponderance of evidence would favor a much younger age for dinosaurs, something almost inconceivable, would that conclusion be accepted. By the same token, in regarding Judaism, only when the preponderance of evidence would shift to a human authorship of the Torah, something almost inconceivable, could that conclusion be accepted.

In other words, as the old Yiddish saying goes, “Fun a kasha shtorbt man nischt”. “You don’t die from a contradiction.”

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith?

[global warming - are they ready for it?]

The New York Times today noted:

Over the past 540 million years, life on Earth has passed through five great mass extinctions. In each of those catastrophes, an estimated 75 percent or more of all species disappeared in a few million years or less.

For decades, scientists have warned that humans may be ushering in a sixth mass extinction, and recently a group of scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, tested the hypothesis. They applied new statistical methods to a new generation of fossil databases. As they reported last month in the journal Nature, the current rate of extinctions is far above normal. If endangered species continue to disappear, we will indeed experience a sixth extinction, over just the next few centuries or millennia.

The above is all correct, however what the Times fails to mention is that each mass extinction has allegedly accelerated evolution. Therefore, a true believer in evolution should applaud current events.

Are there perhaps fewer true believers than we would think? I wonder if an atheist can be "Orthoprax" - preaching the orthodox point of view while privately knowing it is nonsense?

Whose Fault Is It?

[Muslims burn stuff too.]

The New York Times today noted:

So Terry Jones, the Florida pastor who organized a Koran burning on March 20, wanted “to stir the pot.” Mission accomplished. Perhaps he’d care to explain himself to the family of Joakim Dungel, a 33-year-old Swede slaughtered at the U.N. mission in Mazar-i-Sharif by Afghans whipped into frenzy through Jones’s folly.

I wonder if the Times holds all crime victims responsible for the behavior of the perpetrators - are rapists whipped into a frenzy by the sight of young women walking in the street, are robbers whipped into a frenzy by the sight of fur coats and jewelry, should the victims be punished instead of or along with the criminals?

I'm not a supporter of Pastor Jones; I wouldn't waste my money buying and burning a Koran. However the attitude of the Times implies that we must rush to appease murderers. I don't think that's a wise strategy. Ultimately, there is no end to it and the criminals themselves must bear sole responsibility.

Friday, April 01, 2011

The Soul is Real

[trailer for Source Code; released today]

This movie's plot is based on Captain Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) waking up in the body of an unknown man.

What's interesting is that among all the reviews, no one to my knowledge is baffled by the basic premise that a person could theoretically inhabit someone else's body. No reviewer has objected "I don't understand what this is talking about. A person does not 'inhabit' a body. A person is his body. So what does this mean?"

No one would make a movie about an iPad waking up in a PC; it makes no sense. The iPad and PC are different machines and each is what it is.

This shows that we intuitively see ourselves as inhabiting our bodies but we don't identify ourselves by it. Therefore it is at least conceivable that "we" could "wake up" in a different body. We don't identify ourselves with our bodies but rather we are an incorporeal essence which could conceivably move to another body.

In other words: We are not merely a bag of chemicals produced by mindless natural forces. We have a soul.