Friday, July 20, 2012

Tomchei Shabbos - a Tradition of Kindness

A little Tomchei Shabbos volunteer
One of the most remarkable organizations in the Orthodox Jewish community is called Tomchei Shabbos.

The way Tomchei Shabbos works is basically as follows. If an Orthodox Jewish family is struggling to make ends meet, they may contact the local office of Tomchei Shabbos and request assistance. From that point, they will receive every Thursday night a box of groceries dropped on their doorstep. The box will probably contain basic necessities such as bread, fruit, vegetables, chicken and fish. This package can be of great help to families on a desperately low budget. The food is, to the best of my knowledge, paid for by donations and the work of boxing it and delivering it is done by local volunteers.

This is very similar to the food banks which are common place in many areas, however it goes a step further than any non-Jewish organization that I am aware of, in that the food is delivered directly to homes, saving people the embarrassment of appearing at a food bank location.

"who is like Thy people, like Israel, a nation one in the earth" (2 Samuel 7:23)

This is of course part of Jewish tradition stretching back thousands of years. Judaism invented the obligation to do kindness.

Leviticus 19:18 states “Thou shalt not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD.”

Leviticus 19:34 states “The stranger that sojourneth with you shall be unto you as the home-born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.”

Deuteronomy 26:12 mentions the tithe of crops which must be given to the poor in the third and sixth years of the Sabbatical cycle while Leviticus 23:22 states that the remnants of the harvest must be left for the “poor and the stranger”.

Deut. 15:7 mentions the obligation to give loans to the poor according to their needs. This loan must be given without interest (Leviticus 25:36) and it must be forgiven in the Sabbatical year (Deut. 15:1).

We are obligated to celebrate our holidays together with the strangers, orphans and widows (Deut. 16:14).

How radically different this is than the thoughts of a recent icon of atheism, Christopher Hitchens, who wrote in his book Letters to a Young Contrarian page 140 "Don't be afraid to be thought arrogant or selfish." [he was] and "Do not live for others any more than you would expect others to live for you." [he didn't].

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Maybe Evolution's Not So Bad

not so bad really

Getting away from all the atheist polemics about how evolution has refuted the Watchmaker Analogy and therefore evolution is the basis of atheism and science has proven evolution and therefore atheism is scientific and believing in God is not, what do scientists really believe regarding evolution?

Well, I recently came across a 2006 statement from the International Council for Science, which is endorsed by virtually all of the world's leading scientific organizations. Apparently, this can be considered to be the current official scientific opinion about evolution:

We, the undersigned Academies of Sciences, have learned that in various parts of the world, within science courses taught in certain public systems of education, scientific evidence, data, and testable theories about the origins and evolution of life on Earth are being concealed, denied, or confused with theories not testable by science.

We urge decision makers, teachers, and parents to educate all children about the methods and discoveries of science and to foster an understanding of the science of nature. Knowledge of the natural world in which they live empowers people to meet human needs and protect the planet.

We agree that the following evidence-based facts about the origins and evolution of the Earth and of life on this planet have been established by numerous observations and independently derived experimental results from a multitude of scientific disciplines. Even if there are still many open questions about the precise details of evolutionary change, scientific evidence has never contradicted these results:

In a universe that has evolved towards its present configuration for some 11 to 15 billion years, our Earth formed approximately 4.5 billion years ago.

Since its formation, the Earth – its geology and its environments – has changed under the effect of numerous physical and chemical forces and continues to do so.

Life appeared on Earth at least 2.5 billion years ago. The evolution, soon after, of photosynthetic organisms enabled, from at least 2 billion years ago, the slow transformation of the atmosphere to one containing substantial quantities of oxygen. In addition to the release of the oxygen that we breathe, the process of photosynthesis is the ultimate source of fixed energy and food upon which human life on the planet depends.

Since its first appearance on Earth, life has taken many forms, all of which continue to evolve, in ways which palaeontology and the modern biological and biochemical sciences are describing and independently confirming with increasing precision. Commonalities in the structure of the genetic code of all organisms living today, including humans, clearly indicate their common primordial origin.

We also subscribe to the following statement regarding the nature of science in relation to the teaching of evolution and, more generally, of any field of scientific knowledge :

Scientific knowledge derives from a mode of inquiry into the nature of the universe that has been successful and of great consequence. Science focuses on (i) observing the natural world and (ii) formulating testable and refutable hypotheses to derive deeper explanations for observable phenomena.

When evidence is sufficiently compelling, scientific theories are developed that account for and explain that evidence, and predict the likely structure or process of still unobserved phenomena.

Human understanding of value and purpose are outside of natural science’s scope. However, a number of components – scientific, social, philosophical, religious, cultural and political – contribute to it. These different fields owe each other mutual consideration, while being fully aware of their own areas of action and their limitations.

While acknowledging current limitations, science is open ended, and subject to correction and expansion as new theoretical and empirical understanding emerges.

This statement is followed by a listing of pretty much every scientific organization in the world - in other words, this seems to be the official consensus of opinion of the global scientific community at this point in time.

Interestingly, I have almost no problem with this. The word "evolution" can mean simply "change" or "development". As I have pointed out, I don't see any problem with the idea that life has changed over time. As far as the cause of this change over time, the statement leaves that unexplained.

The single sentence I would object to is "Commonalities in the structure of the genetic code of all organisms living today, including humans, clearly indicate their common primordial origin." I would say the truth is "Commonalities in the structure of the genetic code of all organisms living today, including humans, clearly indicate their creation by a single intelligent designer." I would just change those few words, and beyond that I have no problem with the the official consensus of opinion of the global scientific community.

My problem therefore is really with atheists who misuse, abuse and distort scientific conclusions for the sake of their own sectarian agenda; who  make evolution into basically a substitute for God.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Nietzsche - an Atheist Icon

[the great man, about age 31]

Friedrich Nietzsche is certainly one of the most famous atheists in history, coining the phrase "God is dead".

He is also known to have been one of the great inspirations of the Nazi Party, which was founded twenty years after his death. The Nazi philosopher Alfred Baeumler loved Nietzsche. Hitler personally attended the funeral of Nietzsche's sister in 1935. Supposedly, a copy of Thus Spoke Zarathustra was given to every German soldier in the Nazi era and it was revered as a bible by the Hitler Youth. (This did not begin with the Nazis, actually. During World War I, German soldiers received complimentary copies of Nietzsche.)

What would Nietzsche himself have thought of the Nazis? Probably not much. He was not an anti-Semite or a German nationalist.

So what was it which drew the Nazis to him?

Seemingly, the answer is the following.

Nietzsche believed that the strongest desire of all life is the will to power - the striving to reach the highest possible position in life. This would imply, among other things, that a man can only find happiness and satisfaction in life by dominating others. Nietzsche provided a profound philosophical foundation for the rejection of Judeo-Christian altruism and the embrace of violence and cruelty.

According to Nietzsche, the will to power is the most fundimental human need, superceding survival, reproduction or anything else. Based upon this,  it is easy to understand why fanatic Nazis gladly chose death in battle rather than surrender.

The core of Nietzsche's teachings formed the core of Hitler's teachings. Although still debated by scholars, Nietzsche, the atheist, may have been to Fascism what Marx, the atheist, was to Communism.

From this we see that there is no limit to the evil which may be spawned by the Godless mind.

Nietzsche never married nor fathered children. He became demented at age 44. The dementia became progressively severe until his death at age 55.