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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