24 November 2008

Skepticism and uncertainty.

Everyone expects answers.

For example, at Yeshivish Atheist, Jewish Philosopher says of Atheists:

I’ll ask “What made you become an atheist?” Invariably I am told “Logic! Facts! Look at evolution and the documentary hypothesis!” Fine. So I proceed to ask them some questions about evolution and DH. Invariably, there are no answers. “We don’t have to have all the answers!”


"And I still think it's highly suspicious: Why are "skeptics" so extremely unskeptical about evolution and the documentary hypothesis? "

Rabban Gamliel says:

" You just keep on thinking there must be answer. I gave you good kashyas about DH and you haven't been able to answer . You yourself say it is just a matter of trust about which side you want to go according to. Why should I take your questions seriously and have to answer them only to have you ignore inconvenient questions. You have a bias Baal."

And Rabbi Maroof charged:

"It is also cute how similar your conclusion is to the conclusion of a believer faced with a kashya on the mesorah who defers to the authority of others to resolve his existential dilemma."

I've been meaning to post about this topic for a while so here goes.

A while ago, I heard tell on the radio the story of a statesman (I didn't catch the name) who was defending himself after changing his mind on an important issue. The statesman responded, "I was formerly of one opinion. But then I received some new information and I changed my mind. What do you do when you receive new information?"

That's an excellent question.

Yes, RG, JP & RJM. Of course I have bias. We all have bias. But for most of my life my bias was in favor of religion. But, I was exposed to new information and now yes, I'm biased the other way.

So you can't use my bias to claim that I am not open. I was biased towards OJ. I received new information. I changed my mind. If I receive new information, I'll reconsider. Spin is not new information. Spin is spin.

Once upon a time ago, I was a regular Frum, Ehrliche yid.

Without a word about Evolution or DH, exposure to a different worldview about the ANE turned me into a skeptic.

And so I became skeptical of religion.

Until relatively recently, I too was highly skeptical of Evolution. But reading just a bit about evolution, facts & theory, answered most questions I had about evolution. I can't say there is no more reason for me skeptical about Evolution than there is to be skeptical about relativity. Still, in both disciplines, there was a breakthrough theory that explained the facts. Both theories made predictions that proved to be true and were falsifiable. So why should anyone be skeptical about evolution? It's not the same thing, of course, but are you skeptical about a caterpillar turning into a butterfly? Anyhow, most objections seem to relate to the odds of evolution, not the mechanism. Even religious believers can accept evolution as God's mechanism. So Evolution is NOT unreasonable, especially as a tool in the hands of God.

Even though I now believe it's highly unlikely that there is anything like a personal God,I still am a touch skeptical about Atheism; so I won't rule out a personal God. But don't say I'm not skeptical.

I was introduced to DH way after my skepticism set in. Yet, even for the DH, I see no reason to be skeptical about the general story of multiple authorship. There is no more reason to be skeptical about than than to to be skeptical about Shmuel having multiple authors. What is amazing about the DH is the breakthrough thinking, and how a simple proposition, multiple authors in different times, answers hundreds of what are otherwise textual inconsistencies.

The DH is like a puzzle. Once, you know how it works, it's not that amazing anymore. What is amazing is how well it fits. Sure, the scholars may be wrong about some or even many of the assignments and they may even disagree. But the basic premise is no more breathtaking than the fact that the Earth revolves around the Sun.

So what's your problem? There are still some unresolved questions about evolution and DH?

Well that's the big difference between Religious and the Secular worlds. Even though religion has nothing to back it up with, it claims it has all the answers. Secularity is about the search for answers. Nothing is taken at face value. But questions don't stop the march of progress. On the contrary, it helps create progress.

Here's how Charles Pelligrino says it in "Return to Sodom and Gomorrah".

It is only fair to warn you that the chronology of Earth and the cosmos is still developing. New evidence may shift some of the dates even as this book goes to press. We should not be surprised, for example, to learn that the first Babylonians, the first tools, or the first living thing appeared earlier than indicated. It is even possible (though not probable) that some new discovery may invalidate the entire chronology. while this will be cause for astonishment, it will not be cause for despair. It will only make the universe a bit more interesting than scientists have supposed. The chief difference between the Biblical chronology and the Cosmic chronology is is that the former is based on faith (answers) and is finished while the latter is based on doubt (questions) and the picture will never be complete. A model based upon doubt is always subject to being torn down and rebuilt on the basis of new evidence, as has happened frequently during the twentieth century with the discovery of continental drift, relativistic time, and the results of Voyager 2's grand tour of the solar system.

Science questions everything, including it's favorite models.

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    21 November 2008


    Any comments entered now, either in Haloscan or Blogger, may be lost......

    I'll be back in business when I can figure out how to get Haloscan back up and running. Or maybe I should revert to Blogger comments. What says you?
    (That's what I get for updating my Template.)

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    16 November 2008

    Praying for others

    It is axiomatic ( I feel like Artscroll) that "he who prays for his fellow will get answered first" -

    המתפלל בעד חברו הוא נענה תחילה

    Vos is Neis reports "Ultra-Orthodox Jews participate in a prayer calling for the end of the worldwide financial crisis"

    But read a bit further.

    Rabbi Israel Bunem Shriber, the head of the yeshiva took his place in the front row and turned to the students with a strong message: the financial crisis is overseas, but everyone should be prepared because its coming our way very soon.
    "You students might ask, ‘What is it my business if a wealthy Jew in America is suffering from economic problems?’ Well, I say that if there is an earthquake in Honolulu it should matter to us since troubles always come closer and closer," said Shriber.
    Soon everyone had joined Shriber in wailing in prayer

    Not, "we should pray for our brethren in America who are losing jobs left and right. We should pray for Frum Yidden (and skeptics!) who's savings have gone up in smoke."

    Our holy brethren in Israel aren't really praying for Americans. No, they're admittedly praying for their own sorry fat rear ends that they refuse to remove from the Kolel benches.
    If and when this economic crisis passes, I'm certain these prayer days will be featured as a regular part of the Chareidi Fundraising engine.

    Just shameful.

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    Waiter man

    This is dedicated to those like me who sit through long Shabbos davenings while their brains are elsewhere.

    For those of you who don't know how to "Zets" the words to match the song, I've italicised some.

    If you can't figure out what tune this goes with, take your head out of the Gemorah for a bit.

    It's right after Mussaf on Shabbos
    The BaalHabos looks around for the wine
    He races his way through the Kiddush
    Gevald, this drink tastes so fine

    He says, son, can you serve me some Kugel
    I don't really care if it's hot
    Cause its better than davning and sitting some more
    So give me whatever you've got.

    La la la, de de da
    La la, de de da da da


    Get us some schnops, you're the waiter
    Get us some Kugel and fish
    Well, were all in the mood for a niggun
    It feels just like I'm at a Tish.

    Baalhabos in the Shul is the Gabbai *
    He gets me Maftir or Shlishi
    And he's quick with a vort right Uffen Ort
    But there's someplace that he'd rather be

    He says, Yus, I believe this is killing me.
    As the smile ran away from his face
    Well I'm sure that I could be a Doctor
    If I could get out of this place

    Oh, la la la, de de da
    La la, de de da da da

    Now Moishe is a whiz with Gemotriah
    He's looking around for a wife
    And he's talkin with Yoel who's sitting in Kolel
    And probably will be for life

    And the Rav is reciting some Toireh
    As the oilam slowly get stoned
    Yes, they're sharing a Vort they call loneliness
    But its better than being alone


    Its a pretty good crowd for a Shabbos
    And the Rav, he gives me a smile
    cause he knows I'm a treat, they're just coming to eat
    To forget about him for a while

    And the chulent, it smells so delicious
    And the Kugel goes down with the beer
    They eat up the food and they drink up the Shnops
    And ask, how, do I get out of here

    Oh, la la la, de de da
    La la, de de da da da


    *No, No, I'm not the Gabbai. Or maybe I am. It doesn't make a difference, It just fit in the song. So don't go around eyeing your gabbai with suspicion.

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    09 November 2008

    Very promising.

    Check out this new kid on the block.

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    Here I am, sporting his likeness and I've never introduced you to this. It's electrifying. Enjoy.

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    01 November 2008

    Another perspective

    Guest post by Dr. Solomon Schimmel, Professor of Jewish education and psychology at Hebrew College.

    Dear Baalhabos,

    The question you raise on October 29th about James Kugel’s warning to potential readers of his book is quite interesting. Knowing Professor Kugel personally, as I do, I am sure he is quite sincere in what he wrote. Apropos of this matter, in my new book, The Tenacity of Unreasonable Beliefs: Fundamentalism and the Fear of Truth (Oxford University Press, 2008), Chapter Seven titled "On De-fundamentalizing Fundamentalists" deals with the moral considerations one should take into account when trying to undermine someone’s faith and beliefs.

    Allow me also to paraphrase and summarize an exchange I had a few days ago relevant to this issue. I received an e-mail from a very thoughtful individual who had read my first book, The Seven Deadly Sins: Jewish, Christian, and Psychological Reflections on Human Psychology. He sensed from that book that I am a believer and said that my book has played a role in assisting him on his current journey from secularism to belief and faith. So he searched for other books I had written and came across The Tenacity of Unreasonable Beliefs. However, after reading the book description and readers' comments he received the impression that this new book reflects or advocates agnosticism or atheism. He is very much concerned about and opposed to religious extremism and fundamentalism but wanted to know if my book was like the recent super critical books about religion, or whether "it reflects someone who believes in the strength of the traditional religious ethical and moral teachings, but is simply troubled – as so many of us are – by extremism.” I sensed that this individual is in a delicate stage of religious exploration and might be concerned about exposing himself to a book that would be inimical to his journey.

    So I answered him as follows:

    "Thank you very much for your kind words about my book The Seven Deadly Sins, and for writing to me about my recent one.

    In The Seven Deadly Sins I try to explain that from my perspective there is much psychological, ethical, and spiritual wisdom in religious devotional literature even for people who do not accept the theological assumptions of the religions I deal with, primarily Judaism and Christianity. So I don’t think that in that book I present myself as a ‘believer’ or a "non-believer" in the traditional theologies. I don’t really discuss theology except insofar as it is useful to do so to address my main concerns of the book, the specific seven deadly sins. In The Tenacity of Unreasonable Beliefs I primarily analyze and critique fundamentalist versions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, focusing on their respective claims about the direct divine revelation and origin of their sacred scriptures. At times I also analyze and critique other aspects of theology, but primarily in order to point out that the claims that some religious people make for some of their beliefs, and the theological concepts they posit and evoke, don’t meet the criteria of rational coherence and consistency. However I do not argue for or against atheism or agnosticism per se. I do not criticize people who believe in God, but criticize people who claim that their belief is either provable, or who ignore evidence and experiences that challenge their beliefs. I also critique what I consider to be some immoral or unethical teachings in the various sacred scriptures. So if you are on a journey to faith, or are already a person of faith, you might find aspects of my book disconcerting and not conducive to where you are or would like to be going in your spiritual quest."

    I then recommended to him that he might find another book of mine, Wounds Not Healed by Time: The Power of Repentance and Forgiveness, to be more conducive to his present interest and inclinations. He appreciated my response and said that he will first read Wounds Not Healed by Time before deciding whether to go ahead and read The Tenacity of Unreasonable Beliefs.

    So, even though I publish a book which I want people to read and which I hope will challenge some of their beliefs or at least get them to think critically and with greater self-awareness about them, it is still their choice as to whether or not they want to expose themselves to ideas that might be threatening. However, when someone lets me know that they are concerned about exposing themselves to threatening ideas and asks me if my book may be in that category, I think it is only proper to give them an honest answer and respect their needs and sensitivities.

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    On the origin of Language - Doublet ??

    I must have seen or heard this somewhere yet I don't remember anyone discussing this.

    Noach 10:5 - a very simple naturalistic discussion.

    ה מֵאֵלֶּה נִפְרְדוּ אִיֵּי הַגּוֹיִם, בְּאַרְצֹתָם, אִישׁ, לִלְשֹׁנוֹ--לְמִשְׁפְּחֹתָם, בְּגוֹיֵהֶם.

    Of these were the isles of the nations divided in their lands, every one after his tongue, after their families, in their nations.

    Noach 11 - Miraculous origin with Godly intervention.

    א וַיְהִי כָל-הָאָרֶץ, שָׂפָה אֶחָת, וּדְבָרִים, אֲחָדִים. ב וַיְהִי, בְּנָסְעָם מִקֶּדֶם; וַיִּמְצְאוּ בִקְעָה בְּאֶרֶץ שִׁנְעָר, וַיֵּשְׁבוּ שָׁם. ג וַיֹּאמְרוּ אִישׁ אֶל-רֵעֵהוּ, הָבָה נִלְבְּנָה לְבֵנִים, וְנִשְׂרְפָה, לִשְׂרֵפָה; וַתְּהִי לָהֶם הַלְּבֵנָה, לְאָבֶן, וְהַחֵמָר, הָיָה לָהֶם לַחֹמֶר. ד וַיֹּאמְרוּ הָבָה נִבְנֶה-לָּנוּ עִיר, וּמִגְדָּל וְרֹאשׁוֹ בַשָּׁמַיִם, וְנַעֲשֶׂה-לָּנוּ, שֵׁם: פֶּן-נָפוּץ, עַל-פְּנֵי כָל-הָאָרֶץ. ה וַיֵּרֶד יְהוָה, לִרְאֹת אֶת-הָעִיר וְאֶת-הַמִּגְדָּל, אֲשֶׁר בָּנוּ, בְּנֵי הָאָדָם. ו וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה, הֵן עַם אֶחָד וְשָׂפָה אַחַת לְכֻלָּם, וְזֶה, הַחִלָּם לַעֲשׂוֹת; וְעַתָּה לֹא-יִבָּצֵר מֵהֶם, כֹּל אֲשֶׁר יָזְמוּ לַעֲשׂוֹת. ז הָבָה, נֵרְדָה, וְנָבְלָה שָׁם, שְׂפָתָם--אֲשֶׁר לֹא יִשְׁמְעוּ, אִישׁ שְׂפַת רֵעֵהוּ. ח וַיָּפֶץ יְהוָה אֹתָם מִשָּׁם, עַל-פְּנֵי כָל-הָאָרֶץ; וַיַּחְדְּלוּ, לִבְנֹת הָעִיר. ט עַל-כֵּן קָרָא שְׁמָהּ, בָּבֶל, כִּי-שָׁם בָּלַל יְהוָה, שְׂפַת כָּל-הָאָרֶץ; וּמִשָּׁם הֱפִיצָם יְהוָה, עַל-פְּנֵי כָּל-הָאָרֶץ.

    1. And the whole earth was of one language and of one speech. 2 And it came to pass, as they journeyed east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there. 3 And they said one to another: 'Come, let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly.' And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for mortar. 4 And they said: 'Come, let us build us a city, and a tower, with its top in heaven, and let us make us a name; lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.' 5 And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded. 6 And the LORD said: 'Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is what they begin to do; and now nothing will be withholden from them, which they purpose to do. 7 Come, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech.'
    Come, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech.'

    And who'd of guessed? Chapter 10 just happens to be "P" and Chapter 11 happens to be "J".

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