Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Paul Davies' God

"[A] deistic god, a sort of god of the physicist, a god of somebody like Paul Davies, who devised the laws of physics, god the mathematician, god who put together the cosmos in the first place and then sat back and watched everything happen…one could make a reasonably respectable case for that." - Richard Dawkins (@3:25)


What Happened Before the Big Bang?

By Paul Davies

It is often said that science cannot prove the existence of God. Yet science does have value in theological debate because it gives us new concepts that sometimes make popular notions of God untenable. One of these concerns the nature of time.

Many people envisage God as a sort of cosmic magician who existed for all eternity and then, at some moment in the past, created the universe in a gigantic supernatural act. Unfortunately, this scenario raises some awkward questions. What was God doing before he created the universe? If God is a perfect, unchanging being, what prompted him to act then rather than sooner?

The fifth-century theologian St. Augustine neatly solved the problem by proclaiming that the world was made with time and not in time. In other words, time itself is part of God's creation.

To make sense of Augustine's concept, it is necessary to place God outside of time altogether, and the notion of a timeless Deity became official church doctrine. However, it is not without its own difficulties. How can a timeless God be involved with temporal events in the universe, such as entering into human history through the Incarnation?

Today, religious people like to identify the creation with the Big Bang of scientific cosmology. So what can we say about the nature of time in the scientific picture?

Albert Einstein showed us that time and space are part of the physical world, just as much as matter and energy. Indeed, time can be manipulated in the laboratory. Dramatic time warps occur, for example, when subatomic particles are accelerated to near the speed of light. Black holes stretch time by an infinite amount. It is therefore wrong to think of time as simply "there," as a universal, eternal backdrop to existence. So a complete theory of the universe needs to explain not only how matter and energy came to exist, it must also explain the origin of time.

Happily, Einstein's theory of relativity is up to the job. It predicts a so-called "singularity" at which time abruptly starts. In the standard Big Bang scenario, time and space come into being spontaneously at such a singularity, along with matter.

People often ask, What happened before the Big Bang? The answer is, Nothing.

By this, I do not mean that there was a state of nothingness, pregnant with creative power. There was nothing before the Big Bang because there was no such epoch as "before." As Stephen Hawking has remarked, asking what happened before the Big Bang is rather like asking what lies north of the North Pole. The answer, once again, is nothing, not because there exists a mysterious Land of Nothing there but because there is no such place as north of the North Pole. Similarly, there is no such time as "before the Big Bang."

Of course, one can still ask why a universe popped into existence this way. Cosmologists believe the answer lies with the weird properties of quantum mechanics, a topic beyond the scope of this essay.

We can now see that Augustine was right, and popular religion wrong, to envisage God as a superbeing dwelling within the stream of time prior to the creation. Professional theologians acknowledge this. The doctrine of creation ex nihilo (out of nothing) does not mean God pushing a metaphysical button and making a Big Bang, then sitting back to watch the action. It means God sustaining the existence of the universe, and its laws, at all times, from a location outside of space and time.

Can science give any credibility to such a notion? Mostly, scientists either are atheists or keep God in a separate mental compartment. However, there is a strong parallel in the scientific concept of the laws of nature. Like the theologians' God, these laws enjoy an abstract, timeless existence and are capable of bringing the universe into being from nothing. But where do they come from? And why do these laws exist rather than some different set?

Science is based on the assumption that the universe is thoroughly rational and logical at all levels. Miracles are not allowed. This implies that there should be reasons for the particular laws of nature that regulate the physical universe. Atheists claim that the laws exist reasonlessly and that the universe is ultimately absurd. As a scientist, I find this hard to accept. There must be an unchanging rational ground in which the logical, orderly nature of the universe is rooted. Is this rational ground like the timeless God of Augustine? Perhaps it is. But in any case, the law-like basis of the universe seems a more fruitful place for a dialogue between science and theology than focusing on the origin of the universe and the discredited notion of what happened before the Big Bang.

39 comments:

Moshe said...

"Atheists claim that the laws exist reasonlessly and that the universe is ultimately absurd. As a scientist, I find this hard to accept. There must be an unchanging rational ground in which the logical, orderly nature of the universe is rooted. "

But if the "rational ground of being" is forever silent and uncaring, the universe is still MORALLY absurd. On what grounds should we assume a priori that the "rational ground of being", while apparently able to "root" (whatever that means) the laws of physics, does not care about his/her/its creations [rootations?] and cannot communicate with them?

Orthoprax said...

Moshe,

"But if the "rational ground of being" is forever silent and uncaring, the universe is still MORALLY absurd."

Why do you believe morality is dependent on revelation?

"On what grounds should we assume a priori..."

Who is doing so? Determinations of the (un)likelihood of divine communication is found out a posteriori, following observation and investigation.

ksil lo yavin said...

excellent post...enjoyable.

and now i understand why i cant wear shatnez and eat pork! it all makes sense.

Orthoprax said...

Ksil,

"and now i understand why i cant wear shatnez and eat pork! it all makes sense."

Why would you think I would cover all issues in one post? Rational reasons for observance I have covered numerous times in previous posts on this blog.

Moshe said...

OP,
"Why do you believe morality is dependent on revelation?"

Because no one has ever been able to demonstrate, divine revelation aside, why the rational man should be just, particularly when no one's looking.

"Who is doing so? Determinations of the (un)likelihood of divine communication is found out a posteriori, following observation and investigation."

Pray tell how one can determine that, say, Micah's words "It hath been told thee, O man, what is good, and what the LORD doth require of thee: only to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God" were not likely the result of a divine communication?

Geonite said...

The more I learn about Kabbalah the more I see it jiving with science.

ksil lo yavin said...

OP, sorry, I was not saying it in that way.,...i was more thinking outloud.

you are so good at articulating the point you are trying to get across, it makes the other side seem SO SILLY,,,,you are immpresive.

Orthoprax said...

Moshe,

"Because no one has ever been able to demonstrate, divine revelation aside, why the rational man should be just, particularly when no one's looking."

Must we have this debate? Aren't you tired of it yet?

Points: 1. Intimidation based obedience is not morality, it's just obedience.
2. Claims of revelation have obvious and profound reliability problems.
3. You are apparently defining "rational" as "self-interested," a mistaken notion, both philosophically and devaluing to moral worth.

Ideally, the rational person should be moral because he recognizes something as simply the right thing to do. I would say that it is living a moral life which justifies our existence. It is the kind of selfishness you propose that I would say squanders one's life in hedonistic pursuits.

"Pray tell how one can determine that, say, Micah's words "It hath been told thee, O man, what is good, and what the LORD doth require of thee: only to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God" were not likely the result of a divine communication?"

I dunno. Define what you mean by divine communication. Why would you think it was divinely communicated as opposed to being Micah's own idea?

Moshe said...

"Must we have this debate? Aren't you tired of it yet?"

Just admit that you like it.

1. "Intimidation based obedience is not morality, it's just obedience. "

Just because one believes morality is revealed does not mean there is compulsion. Man has free will.

2. "Claims of revelation have obvious and profound reliability problems."

A. So do certain fundamental ontological assumptions that we all make.
B.The very fact that the claims of faith cannot be conclusively demonstrated actually vouchsafes the exercise of free will.

3. "You are apparently defining "rational" as "self-interested..."

No, I'm saying that, without revealed morality, man has no compelling reason not to act in a self-interested manner.

"Define what you mean by divine communication."

Which one of those words don't you understand?

"Why would you think it was divinely communicated as opposed to being Micah's own idea?"

Off the top, b/c:

a. Micah thought so.
b. Billions of others accept the claim.
c. My intuition tells me so.
d. As the archeologist W. Albright once observed, it's amazing that the concepts of Judaism [e.g., a moral God, the idea of tikkun olam] emerged out of a near eastern background where it was unanimously held that blind fate was the ultimate power, the gods were immoral, and the world was what it was, and could not be improved.
e. If there is a "rational ground of being", it does not seem unreasonable to suppose that, if He could initiate the universe and the laws of physics, He would also be concerned with, and could communicate with, intelligent beings created as part of that universe.
f. The miraculous survival of both the Bible itself and the Jewish people.

Orthoprax said...

Moshe,

"Just admit that you like it."

I actually find it rather stale. I dropped out of blogging for awhile because it's just the same old, same old.

"Just because one believes morality is revealed does not mean there is compulsion. Man has free will."

If the reason you obey orders is because you fear the consequences of disobedience then that has nothing to do with morality. It's just obedience.

"So do certain fundamental ontological assumptions that we all make."

And therefore that allows us to accept anything that passes our fancy? Can you name one thing that you would not permit someone to ontologically assume if they wished?

"The very fact that the claims of faith cannot be conclusively demonstrated actually vouchsafes the exercise of free will."

I have problems with even that formulation, but disregarding that for the moment, if the source for morality is deeply epistemologically flawed then what confidence can we have in its particular instructions?

"No, I'm saying that, without revealed morality, man has no compelling reason not to act in a self-interested manner."

And I say that with traditional so-called revealed moral orders, the compelling reason to act obediently is purely out of self-interest. Desire for reward; fear of punishment.

"Which one of those words don't you understand?"

Did God say those exact words? Was it just a divinely forwarded sense that Micah interpreted as these ideas? Did those sentiments reflect Micah's understanding of the world as imposed by his personal apprehension without divine agency? What exactly do you mean?

"Off the top, b/c..."

Fine, and as we've gone over numerous times on these blogs, that while you may insist otherwise, none of those reasons individually or collectively really suffice to support your conclusion, especially in the light of everything else we know about the text. A posteriori.

Moshe said...

"If the reason you obey orders is because you fear the consequences of disobedience then that has nothing to do with morality. It's just obedience".

Who says out of fear? That's b'dieved.
The highest madreiga is out of love.



"And therefore that allows us to accept anything that passes our fancy? Can you name one thing that you would not permit someone to ontologically assume if they wished?"

A. As pertains to a metaphysical claim, it is not for me or you to "permit" anyone to believe anything.

B. As to whether I would consider someone else's metaphysical claim reasonable, you may recall my "indicia of reliability" criteria in a discussion we had a long time ago, I think on XGH's blog.



"if the source for morality is deeply epistemologically flawed then what confidence can we have in its particular instructions"

I disagree. Not demonstrated in the same manner as a scientific hypotheses does not equal "epistemologically flawed".



"Did God say those exact words? Was it just a divinely forwarded sense that Micah interpreted as these ideas? Did those sentiments reflect Micah's understanding of the world as imposed by his personal apprehension without divine agency? What exactly do you mean?"

Excellent question. Al regel achas, I would say it was a message received from God, which Micah then wrote down in his own words. Analogy: The many books talmidim of R. Soloveichik have written presenting his ideas.

"none of those reasons individually or collectively really suffice to support your conclusion"

We obviously just disagree on this one.

"especially in the light of everything else we know about the text"

What do we "know" about the text that "proves" that it was not divinely revealed?

Maybe you're right. Maybe this is getting stale. So allow me interject something new. Here's a quotation:

Man is a beast. The only difference between man and
the other beasts is that man is a beast that knows he
will die. The only honest man is the unabashed egotist.
This honest man pours contempt upon the mendacity,
the lies, the hypocrisy of those who will not acknowledge
their egotism. The one irreducible value is life, which
you must cling to as you can and use for the pursuit
of pleasure and of power. The specific ends of life are
sex and money. The great passions are lust and rapacity.
So the human comedy is an outrageous medley of lech-
ery, alcoholism, homosexuality, blasphemy, greed, bru-
tality, hatred, obscenity. It is not a tragedy because it
has not the dignity of a tragedy. The man who plays
his role in it has on himself the marks of a total deprav-
ity. And as for the ultimate and irreducible value, life,
that in the end is also a lie.

(Robert E. Fitch, "Secular Images of Man in Contemporary
Literature," Religious Education, LIII, p. 87.)

Please tell me, A. does Davies' formulation have any bearing on whether Fitch's theses are true; and B. Do you agree with Fitch? Why or why not?

A gutn Shabbos.

Orthoprax said...

Moshe,

"Who says out of fear? That's b'dieved.
The highest madreiga is out of love."

Then you undermine your original point. Love is not rational. The highest madreiga could also be to do good out of love for your fellow man.

"As to whether I would consider someone else's metaphysical claim reasonable, you may recall my "indicia of reliability"..."

Fine. So we are at a standstill. I find your "indicia" to be wrongheaded. Every other religion has its "indicia" that you do not accept.

"I disagree. Not demonstrated in the same manner as a scientific hypotheses does not equal "epistemologically flawed"."

If the idea of revelation is unreliable then what is said to be revealed is even more unreliable. To make a leap of faith based on "indicia" that xyz action is deserving of death is an obvious problem.

"What do we "know" about the text that "proves" that it was not divinely revealed?"

Must we? Again, you use the word "prove" inappropriately. Everything that modern criticism has revealed about the Torah's origins, its repetitions, it's contradictions, its counter-historical fantastical stories, its parochialism, and its occasional support of what we today would recognize as immoral. It all points to human authorship with no necessary imposition of special divine communication.

"A. does Davies' formulation have any bearing on whether Fitch's theses are true; and B. Do you agree with Fitch? Why or why not?"

A. I'm sure Davies has more to say than what is found in this short essay. So I don't see how it's fruitful to compare apples and incomplete oranges.

B. I don't agree with Fitch for obvious reasons, while recognizing the questionable choice of including the likes of homosexuality and blasphemy as inevitable social ills. A man can believe in nothing but still recognize the value of society, community, family, peace and stability for his own well being. Even a "egotist" beast can realize he is a social animal and that his happiness and well-being is directly associated with the happiness and well-being of those around him. As much as a person would not want to be a victim, he would self-interestedly maintain the social order and not have himself do harm to undermine it.

As a clear analogy: the alcoholic is short-sighted and loses more than he thought to gain.

The smart hedonist seeks law and order, as that provides a safe way to permit the pursuit of happiness. A smart hedonist would even idealize the sense of justice and should support recompense to wrongs done to others as security insurance in case someone does wrong to him.

Society and law and order came into being for these reasons and more, before ethical religion came into being.

Moshe said...

"Then you undermine your original point. Love is not rational."


A. How does that undermine my original point [June 9, 2010 7:03 PM]? What does it even have to do with it?

B. Love may not be rational, but, like God, it is sublime. There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your rationalism, Horatio.

" It all points to human authorship with no necessary imposition of special divine communication."

Says you. Even if one grants, for argument's sake, your characterization of what we "know", it may just point to a human element in writing down the divine message, or it may just represent maculations that have developed over time in an originally pristine test. Either way, there would be a divine element inextricably intertwined with the human element in the text.


"A man can believe in nothing but still recognize the value of society, community, family, peace and stability for his own well being..."

Or not.

"The smart hedonist seeks law and order, as that provides a safe way to permit the pursuit of happiness."

Yeah, as in he orders and makes laws that facilitate his power.

If he can get away with it, there is no reason a smart hedonist would not commit murder. As the lion king does not shy from killing even other lion's cubs, if such killing promotes his power standing or sexual conquests, so too the atheist has no reason to abstain from anything he can get away with that offers similar rewards. True, most people are too weak to get away with what they please. But that is only because they lack sufficient power and/or will. "Law and order", as you describe it, is a refuge of the weak, and has no intrinsic value. Either you accept a divine morality, or you acknowledge the law of the jungle. Law and order may prevail much of the time at the jungle's surface, but the beast is never far removed.


"Society and law and order came into being for these reasons and more, before ethical religion came into being."

Some societies--built upon notions of the divine rights of kings with absolute power--until the Torah came along and said "Thou shalt not...".

Orthoprax said...

Moshe,

You said, quote, "Because no one has ever been able to demonstrate, divine revelation aside, why the rational man should be just, particularly when no one's looking."

If you are offering "love of God" as the reason for moral action then you undermine the point for rational man, as love is emotional and not rational. Love of humanity is equally valid, if not more so, if the point is rational basis for action.

"Love may not be rational, but, like God, it is sublime. There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your rationalism, Horatio."

I have no idea why you think this is a meaningful statement. You cannot vaunt "rational man" from one side of your mouth and from the other decry him.

"Says you. Even if one grants, for argument's sake, your characterization of what we "know", it may just point to a human element in writing down the divine message, or it may just represent maculations that have developed over time in an originally pristine test. Either way, there would be a divine element inextricably intertwined with the human element in the text."

Sure, whatever you say. I get it: divine communication is completely and utterly unfalsifiable according to you. Super duper. You get a gold prize in obfuscation.

"But that is only because they lack sufficient power and/or will. "Law and order", as you describe it, is a refuge of the weak, and has no intrinsic value."

And since people are more or less on even ground compared to one another, it would stand to reason that any one person is weak compared to the numbers of enemies he would create if he carried out a reputation as you describe. It's more often a better strategy for one's well-being to work within the system and promote the system rather than trying to cheat and undermine it. This is Civilization 101.

What is the fate of the people who attempt to do what you describe? True, sometimes they succeed, but more often they end in ruins and die before their time. Game theory bears out the truth that the best, reasoned strategy is to work with other people rather than being at each other's throats.

I would agree that philosophically it is more appealing to have an objective standard to determine specific moral questions, but even without it people do successfully keep social order to the betterment of society at large. Many countries in Europe, being essentially post-religious nations, exhibit just these characteristics without a majority of people believing in an ethical deity.

In short, your theoretical conclusions are not borne out in reality.

"Some societies--built upon notions of the divine rights of kings with absolute power--until the Torah came along and said "Thou shalt not..."."

Ethical religion is not something only ancient Israel thought up. For example, have you ever read the Egyptian Book of the Dead? Look up Spell 125.

Moshe said...

"If you are offering "love of God" as the reason for moral action then you undermine the point for rational man, as love is emotional and not rational. Love of humanity is equally valid, if not more so, if the point is rational basis for action".

You raised the objection that "If the reason you obey orders is because you fear the consequences of disobedience then that has nothing to do with morality.". I was simply addressing your narrow point about fear being the motivation, by demonstrating that fear was not in fact the ideal motivation.

Getting back to the broaderissue, i.e., the "why to the rational man should be just" issue, if you believe that God your Creator is omniscient and omnipotent, and that just actions on your part will be in consonance with his will, and unjust actions will not be, it certainly would be rational to act justly, and irrational to act unjustly. Now, just because there may be consequences, good or bad, to an act, does not place the act outside of the boundaries of morality. You can obey God or defy Him. That is called moral choice. The fact remains that only the believer has a rational basis for acting justly "behind closed doors".


"I have no idea why you think this is a meaningful statement. You cannot vaunt "rational man" from one side of your mouth and from the other decry him."

The point is that faith is intuitive, that religion consists of specific dogmas and/or practices which come after faith, and that the metaphysical claims of religion cannot be demonstrated by rational means, though the likelihood of their being true can be evaluated to some degree by rational indicia of reliability. BTW, what you wrote earlier about my indicia criteria is simply not true. There are no Jewish or Christian or Muslim indicia. The indicia are neutral rational criteria. (For example, does the religion seem to be a money maker for its proponents, are there any contradictions in its claims, etc..)


"Sure, whatever you say. I get it: divine communication is completely and utterly unfalsifiable according to you. Super duper. You get a gold prize in obfuscation."

Stating the obvious is not obfuscation. You just don't like it. And note that the "indicia" can be used to evaluate the likelihood of the claim, up to a point. And any historical and/or scientific claims made can be falsified.

" It's more often a better strategy for one's well-being to work within the system and promote the system rather than trying to cheat and undermine it. This is Civilization 101.
What is the fate of the people who attempt to do what you describe? True, sometimes they succeed, but more often they end in ruins and die before their time."

Tell that to the victims of Stalin, Mao and Pol Pt and other good atheists who achieved absolute power.

"Many countries in Europe, being essentially post-religious nations, exhibit just these characteristics without a majority of people believing in an ethical deity."

Yeah, like condemning Jewish soldiers for defending themselves even before all the facts are in, and supporting Hamas. Some ethics.



"Ethical religion is not something only ancient Israel thought up. For example, have you ever read the Egyptian Book of the Dead? Look up Spell 125."

I am not familiar with that particular document. Let's stipulate for argument's sake that it reflects "ethical religion". Nonetheless, the fact remains that Egyptian religion as a whole and over time did not view the gods as ethical and demanding ethical behavior from people. I also do not know whether the spell you mention has been conclusively dated. Perhaps it postdates the Exodus. Or perhaps it reflects Israelite ideas transmitted during Israel's sojourn in Egypt.

Let's not forget, too, the whole Egyptian idea of Pharaoh as a god, and the harm that emanates from such a conception.

Orthoprax said...

Moshe,

"Getting back to the broaderissue, i.e., the "why to the rational man should be just" issue, if you believe that God your Creator is omniscient and omnipotent, and that just actions on your part will be in consonance with his will, and unjust actions will not be, it certainly would be rational to act justly, and irrational to act unjustly."

Why? How is it rational to act in consonance of what you believe to be God's will? If it's not in my perceived interest, why do it?

"You can obey God or defy Him. That is called moral choice."

No, that's actually the definition of obedience.

"The fact remains that only the believer has a rational basis for acting justly "behind closed doors"."

Do tell. What you said above didn't say much.

"The point is that faith is intuitive, that religion consists of specific dogmas and/or practices which come after faith, and that the metaphysical claims of religion cannot be demonstrated by rational means, though the likelihood of their being true can be evaluated to some degree by rational indicia of reliability."

I understand that, but that evidently undermines your claim that revelation provides the rational man with rational reason to be moral. Your thesis first starts with faith - a prerequisite irrationality!

"BTW, what you wrote earlier about my indicia criteria is simply not true. There are no Jewish or Christian or Muslim indicia. The indicia are neutral rational criteria."

Religions rely on faith, but they offer "indicia" to make it seem like their faith is reasonable. Few rely on naked faith alone. You yourself offered several "indicia" here that are specific to Judaism and the Bible. You refer to Albright, the survival of the Jewish people, etc.

"Stating the obvious is not obfuscation. You just don't like it. And note that the "indicia" can be used to evaluate the likelihood of the claim, up to a point. And any historical and/or scientific claims made can be falsified."

Ok, so tell me how to falsify your claim of divine communication. Tell me one observation or test one could possibly make that would be conclusive evidence against your claim if it were found.

"Tell that to the victims of Stalin, Mao and Pol Pt and other good atheists who achieved absolute power."

Red herring. History is littered with the fates of people like Hitler, Mussolini, Hussein, etc. I can't even count how many times a palace intrigue to gain power was later turned upon the perpetrator. Those who live by the sword, often die by the sword.

"Yeah, like condemning Jewish soldiers for defending themselves even before all the facts are in, and supporting Hamas. Some ethics."

Is this supposed to be a substantive response? They obviously have civil society, which is the point to which you have failed to respond.

"I am not familiar with that particular document. Let's stipulate for argument's sake that it reflects "ethical religion"."

I invite you to do some research then. In any event this is a trivial argument. It is very obvious that ethical religion is not something that only the Jews adopted. Eastern religions also offer several clear examples of this, without getting into any potential confusion with ancient Egypt and chronology nonsense or supposed spillover from Sinai. Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, etc. All are ethical religions, though they do formulate the issue differently compared to Western perspectives.

Moshe said...

"Why? How is it rational to act in consonance of what you believe to be God's will? If it's not in my perceived interest, why do it?"

If there is a Supreme Rational being, it would be irrational for an inferior rational being to act against His will. Imperfect analogy: If you tell your patient to do X,based upon what you know to be the latest medical research, and the patient, who is, in comparison to you, ignorant of the relevant science, deliberately acts to the contrary, the patient is not acting rationally.

"No, that's actually the definition of obedience."

I disagree. For example I haven't read Plato for a while, but as I recall, in the The Republic he makes the argument that the rational man should act justly because to act to the contrary would corrupt his soul. I.e., one should act justly to avoid a negative outcome emanating from a metaphysical reality. Acting justly to avoid the negative outcome of divine punishment, while not the ideal, is not too different from Plato's scenario. Plato posits a metaphysical soul, a certain believer posits a metaphysical deity, and both are motivated to act justly by the harm that will ensue if they don't. Was Plato, too, not writing of morality?



"I understand that, but that evidently undermines your claim that revelation provides the rational man with rational reason to be moral. Your thesis first starts with faith - a prerequisite irrationality!"

Non rational does not mean irrational.


"Ok, so tell me how to falsify your claim of divine communication. Tell me one observation or test one could possibly make that would be conclusive evidence against your claim if it were found."

Let's take the case of Micah, since we discussed him above. Say we found Micah's private diary , in which he makes Barnum's boast that "a sucker is born every day" and further boasts how much money he is making off the gullible peasants with his prophecies. Would that demonstrate to a metaphysical CERTAINTY that he was not getting a divine communication, despite the fact that he was an apparent charlatan? No, it would not. But my indicia would lead me to the conclusion that it was extremely likely that there was no divine communication involved to him.


"Red herring. History is littered with the fates of people like Hitler, Mussolini, Hussein, etc. I can't even count how many times a palace intrigue to gain power was later turned upon the perpetrator. Those who live by the sword, often die by the sword."

But it seems that officially atheist regimes have a particular predilection for mass murder.

"Is this supposed to be a substantive response? They obviously have civil society, which is the point to which you have failed to respond."

I see little value in "civil society" that come to such uncivil conclusions.Sodom and Gomorrah had a form of civil society also.



"Eastern religions also offer several clear examples of this".

I am not very familiar with eastern religions. My understanding, though, is that in them there is a sort of fatalism. One , for example, rises above the pain of oppression by achieving a state where one is oblivious to pain. The Jewish approach would be to say that one must work to end the oppression. Note further that the whole concept of individual rights has emanated from western countries influenced by Judeo-Christian ethics, and not from the east.

Orthoprax said...

Moshe,

"If there is a Supreme Rational being, it would be irrational for an inferior rational being to act against His will."

Why? What the Supreme wills may not be to your individual best interest. I guess I'm waiting to hear yet another faith claim to back up your "rational" man.

"Imperfect analogy: If you tell your patient to do X,based upon what you know to be the latest medical research, and the patient, who is, in comparison to you, ignorant of the relevant science, deliberately acts to the contrary, the patient is not acting rationally."

Unless of course I'm wrong! Or he values different things more than his health!

"Plato posits a metaphysical soul, a certain believer posits a metaphysical deity, and both are motivated to act justly by the harm that will ensue if they don't. Was Plato, too, not writing of morality?"

Except that you are not saying that we should merely "act justly" but that we should do the purely ritualistic and sometimes even the apparently immoral because you believe that it was so commanded with terrible consequences if we disobey. You can try to reformulate Judaism into mechanistic consequences but if you believe it was a system intentionally devised then it's still simple reward and punishment - like a rat in a maze.

Similar to Plato, secular man could just as easily say that immorality corrupts his character, which is self-evidently true rather than superimposing a metaphysical faith.

"Non rational does not mean irrational."

Define these words then. How are they different? Either way they lack reason, aka rationality.

"Would that demonstrate to a metaphysical CERTAINTY that he was not getting a divine communication, despite the fact that he was an apparent charlatan? No, it would not. But my indicia would lead me to the conclusion that it was extremely likely that there was no divine communication involved to him."

So if a person makes a good show or even genuinely believes what he is saying then you agree that there is absolutely no way to differentiate that from divine communication? There is nothing about the message itself that can distinguish divine from human.

"But it seems that officially atheist regimes have a particular predilection for mass murder."

As if theistic regimes never did, but that's not the point. The point is that living by the sword is a bad bet.

"I see little value in "civil society" that come to such uncivil conclusions.Sodom and Gomorrah had a form of civil society also."

It doesn't matter what you value or what you liken it to. The point is that they represent a clear counter to your and Fitch's claim that they would have fallen into depravity by now. They had antisemitism when they were super-religious societies too.

"I am not very familiar with eastern religions."

You don't seem very familiar with most religions besides your own. Maybe you should study them before you make sweeping claims about Judaism's uniqueness.

"Note further that the whole concept of individual rights has emanated from western countries influenced by Judeo-Christian ethics, and not from the east."

Except that Judaism doesn't evince rights that others must respect but rather duties that one must perform. The concept of individual rights can be traced better to Greek philosophy in terms of Aristotle, Cicero, Seneca, etc.

Moshe said...

"Why? What the Supreme wills may not be to your individual best interest. I guess I'm waiting to hear yet another faith claim to back up your "rational" man."

Again, if you would act against the will of a Supreme Rational Being, by definition you would be acting irrationally, as He, being omniscient, would know your self-interest better than you would.


"Unless of course I'm wrong!"

I have never even considered such a far fetched thing.


"Except that you are not saying that we should merely "act justly" but that we should do the purely ritualistic"
and sometimes even the apparently immoral because you believe that it was so commanded with terrible consequences if we disobey."

We are going in circles. As stated, the higher and true motivation is love and recognition of God as the Supreme Being.



"Similar to Plato, secular man could just as easily say that immorality corrupts his character, which is self-evidently true rather than superimposing a metaphysical faith."

Why care about character, when you can have power?

"Define these words then. How are they different? "

Irrational means contrary to reason. E.g., to say "X is alive; he died 30 years ago", or "X was physically present in Chicago at the exact same time he was physically present in New York."

Non rational means not demonstrable by reason, but not contrary to reason. E.g., I believe that the reality that I perceive is not just part of a dream, or "I love X".

"There is nothing about the message itself that can distinguish divine from human."

Not necessarily true.Use the indicia. For example, if the message is irreconcilably self contradictory [e.g. "god is good and he is evil"], or if it was nonsensical [e.g., "All chairs are hereby commanded to recite psalms"] , it would likely not be divine.

" The point is that living by the sword is a bad bet."

Maybe not, if you've got the biggest sword.

"The point is that they represent a clear counter to your and Fitch's claim that they would have fallen into depravity by now."

I, and I would guess Fitch, make no such claim. Most societies will usually hold most people in line. The problem is that, for the individual who can get away with a crime , there is no rational reason, absent God, for that individual not to commit that crime.

My specific comment about "societies" that started this part of our conversation pertained to the autocracy of pre-Torah societies--"Some societies--built upon notions of the divine rights of kings with absolute power--until the Torah came along and said "Thou shalt not...".

Modern western societies, such as those you write about, have been influenced by the values of the Torah respecting the inherent worth and dignity of the individual member of society. (They did not get those ideas from the Vikings). So within their borders, they have had a civil society. Pity that they have not yet fully divested themselves of all forms of invidious prejudice towards outsiders. This does not only pertain to Israel. Ironically, they also lately have been expressing less than friendly sentiments towards their Muslim immigrants. So perhaps they still have a way to go in the civility department.



"Judaism doesn't evince rights that others must respect but rather duties that one must perform. The concept of individual rights can be traced better to Greek philosophy in terms of Aristotle, Cicero, Seneca, etc."

I disagree. The duties reflect and implement implicit values, which are functionally synonymous with "rights". Greece and Rome were societies built upon slave labor where whatever democracy and respect for individual rights existed at times was for the benefit of only a small number of propertied males.

Orthoprax said...

Moshe,

"Again, if you would act against the will of a Supreme Rational Being, by definition you would be acting irrationally, as He, being omniscient, would know your self-interest better than you would."

How do you know God is supremely rational? How do you know he is omniscient? It's pure faith.

I'm waiting for you to tell me (based on faith, naturally) that God is also supremely benevolent, otherwise how can I know if He really is supposedly advising me in my best interest?

"We are going in circles. As stated, the higher and true motivation is love and recognition of God as the Supreme Being."

Acting based on love of something that rests on faith only compounds your irrationality. What you are offering is very far removed from rational man. Reason doesn't even come into play in your thesis.

"Why care about character, when you can have power?"

Why care about power when you have character? Why care about the supreme being if you have power?

"Non rational means not demonstrable by reason, but not contrary to reason. E.g., I believe that the reality that I perceive is not just part of a dream, or "I love X"."

So is it irrational or nonrational (or rational even) to believe that, say, aliens abducted me last night but left no evidence and scrambled my memories so it's all unclear in my mind? Logic dictates that you cannot categorically deny this, but would you find it an unreasonable conclusion?

Can you give me examples of nonrational beliefs that can be found in other religions besides your version of Judaism?

"Not necessarily true.Use the indicia. For example, if the message is irreconcilably self contradictory [e.g. "god is good and he is evil"], or if it was nonsensical [e.g., "All chairs are hereby commanded to recite psalms"] , it would likely not be divine."

Heh, as if those couldn't be trivially reconciled by faithful apologetics! Maybe, as you say, "it may just point to a human element in writing down the divine message, or it may just represent maculations that have developed over time in an originally pristine test"! I can think of ten ways on one foot to darshen my way out of your irreconcilable self-contradictions. Divine communications seems to be completely unfalsifiable.

"Maybe not, if you've got the biggest sword."

Maybe, but you have to sleep sometime. I don't know why you argue here, since it is evident from history that many a tyrant came to a bitter end.

"I, and I would guess Fitch, make no such claim. Most societies will usually hold most people in line.

So what's holding society in line if self-interest and corruption should be all pervasive? Presumably there is some extant interest in the social order despite religious doubt.

"Modern western societies, such as those you write about, have been influenced by the values of the Torah respecting the inherent worth and dignity of the individual member of society."

So why then do the hordes of the secular continue to so value those values? Are they being profoundly irrational? Or is it possible that those values can rest of platforms other than theism? Perhaps they can stand on their own?

"The problem is that, for the individual who can get away with a crime , there is no rational reason, absent God, for that individual not to commit that crime."

..Because he fears divine punishment? Square one.

Orthoprax said...

"I disagree. The duties reflect and implement implicit values, which are functionally synonymous with "rights". Greece and Rome were societies built upon slave labor where whatever democracy and respect for individual rights existed at times was for the benefit of only a small number of propertied males."

The United States of America was also founded upon slave labor, where democracy and individual rights also benefited only a small number of propertied males. Hum.

I'm sorry, but this is a trivial argument. Look up the famous names who argued for the idea of individual rights and see who they have expressly built upon.

Duties and rights are actually different things philosophically. By Right, a person owns his own life and cannot have it forcibly taken from him. Differently, Judaism recognizes that human life ultimately belongs to God, and therefore we have a duty to preserve it - the individual is irrelevant. These ideas may have the same consequences 99% of the time, but they are philosophically different. This becomes very obvious when it comes to individual rights with respect to liberty, which Judaism - particularly Biblical Judaism - puts very strong limits on.

An individual has the right to make his own path in life and live and believe as he sees fit as long as he doesn't interfere with the same rights of those around him. Biblical Judaism harshly disagrees and orders capital punishment for all sorts of unsanctioned liberties.

Moshe said...

"How do you know God is supremely rational? How do you know he is omniscient? It's pure faith.":

Nu?


Reason doesn't even come into play in your thesis.

As stated, it comes into play with the indicia.



"Why care about power when you have character?"

It's a basic human drive.

"Why care about the supreme being if you have power?"

Because you are rational, and accept the [admittedly faith based]proposition that God is omniscient, benevolent, etc.


"So is it irrational or nonrational (or rational even) to believe that, say, aliens abducted me last night but left no evidence and scrambled my memories so it's all unclear in my mind?"

You mean they got you too?

Seriously, I would say irrational, in the sense it is unreasonable. You would be making a claim about physical reality, which is subject to falsification. The available evidence [brains are not programmable, no evidence of aliens, vast distance between earth and other galaxies] strongly argues against such an assertion.

In contrast, BTW, to your presumed belief that I am not just part of your dreams, which is something you assume to be true intuitively, but have no evidence to support.

"Logic dictates that you cannot categorically deny this, but would you find it an unreasonable conclusion?"

Yes

"Can you give me examples of nonrational beliefs that can be found in other religions besides your version of Judaism?"

Karma



"I can think of ten ways on one foot to darshen my way out of your irreconcilable self-contradictions. Divine communications seems to be completely unfalsifiable".

You seem to want God to be a sort of supreme mathematical proof. In truth, He is as real as, say, love or beauty, which are nonrational concepts which also cannot be "falsified". The language of faith, as I have told you before, is more akin to poetry and music than math. Just as a great poem can have multiple messages and interpretations, so it is with the Torah. A mathematical proof with a solitary answer would make a poor work of art. And a poor God. And a morally irrelevant Torah. Both you and the "fundies" make the same basic error, in this respect.

"So why then do the hordes of the secular continue to so value those values? "

They have been influenced by Judaism, even if they won't admit it.

"Duties and rights are actually different things philosophically. "

The duty, de facto, actually creates the right. Philosophical distinctions and $3.00 here will get you a nice cup of coffee at Starbucks.

"Biblical Judaism harshly disagrees and orders capital punishment for all sorts of unsanctioned liberties."

Complain to the Karaites. In normative rabbinic Judaism, it is virtually impossible, as a practical matter, to impose the death penalty, as you well know.

Alex said...

Davies' essay was very good, but it had a few things that makes me wonder if he shot down a few straw men:

> "If God is a perfect, unchanging being, what prompted him to act then rather than sooner? The fifth-century theologian St. Augustine neatly solved the problem by proclaiming that the world was made with time and not in time. In other words, time itself is part of God's creation."

Was Augustine truly the first to come up with that? Any rabbis who said a similar thing first?

> " However, (the notion of a timeless Deity) is not without its own difficulties. How can a timeless God be involved with temporal events in the universe, such as entering into human history through the Incarnation?"

Just because Davies chose to ignore any possible answers doesn't mean there aren't any satisfying answers.

> "Today, religious people like to identify the creation with the Big Bang of scientific cosmology."

A good percentage, at least.


> "We can now see that Augustine was right, and popular religion wrong, to envisage God as a superbeing dwelling within the stream of time prior to the creation."

Was rabbinic Judaism a subset of this "popular religion"?

> "Science is based on the assumption that the universe is thoroughly rational and logical at all levels. Miracles are not allowed. This implies that there should be reasons for the particular laws of nature that regulate the physical universe. Atheists claim that the laws exist reasonlessly and that the universe is ultimately absurd. As a scientist, I find this hard to accept."

Is it really "as a scientist" that he objects, or is it really "as his personal philosophy tells him" that he objects?

Orthoprax said...

Moshe,

"You seem to want God to be a sort of supreme mathematical proof."

No, I was talking about divine communication, something that deals with physical reality and ought to be falsifiable or else it is indistinguishable from human works. You do not claim to understand revelation as you do music or poetry, so you are being disingenuous.

"It's a basic human drive."

And that makes it rational to pursue? Hardly.

"The available evidence [brains are not programmable, no evidence of aliens, vast distance between earth and other galaxies] strongly argues against such an assertion."

Amnesia is not hard to induce, an absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, advanced technology (as mastered by ETs) could likely allow them to traverse large distances. I think you pick and choose "indicia" just like any believer in alien abductions.

"Karma"

Interesting. Anything else? Anything that is found in other religions that plainly contradict Judaism?

"They have been influenced by Judaism, even if they won't admit it."

So you believe that those secular humanists are all profoundly irrational?

"The duty, de facto, actually creates the right."

And this is where it fails to encourage a theory of rights - because according to the theory of rights, it is our rights that create duties.

"Complain to the Karaites. In normative rabbinic Judaism, it is virtually impossible, as a practical matter, to impose the death penalty, as you well know."

That's not the point. The point is that there is little recognized right to liberty in Judaism.



Alex,

"Was Augustine truly the first to come up with that? Any rabbis who said a similar thing first?"

Not that I know of. Generally, Jewish metaphysics in the Middle Ages was a poor cousin to Christian thought.

"Just because Davies chose to ignore any possible answers doesn't mean there aren't any satisfying answers."

I don't think he was offering that as an unanswered challenge, but simply as a tangential point.

"Was rabbinic Judaism a subset of this "popular religion"?"

I may be wrong, but the earliest Rabbi I know who stated that God created time was Rashi.

"Is it really "as a scientist" that he objects, or is it really "as his personal philosophy tells him" that he objects?"

It is his scientific appreciation of order that leads him away from suspecting chaos and absurdity are at the root of existence. His thesis is not a scientific one, however.

Moshe said...

OP,

"No, I was talking about divine communication, something that deals with physical reality and ought to be falsifiable or else it is indistinguishable from human works. You do not claim to understand revelation as you do music or poetry, so you are being disingenuous."

A. Revelation is not a physical reality, it is a spiritual/metaphysical one. Writing it down is the physical reality.

B. I don't think anyone understands poetic or musical inspiration, or divine revelation. They exist, but in mystery.

"Interesting. Anything else? Anything that is found in other religions that plainly contradict Judaism?"

The doctrine of original sin comes to mind.


"So you believe that those secular humanists are all profoundly irrational?"

No. And I don't see how that would follow from what I said.

"The point is that there is little recognized right to liberty in Judaism".

Back to Micah :
וְיָשְׁבוּ, אִישׁ תַּחַת גַּפְנוֹ וְתַחַת תְּאֵנָתוֹ--וְאֵין מַחֲרִיד... But they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig-tree; and none shall make them afraid...
(4:4)

Or, if you prefer:

"Because freedom from slavery and oppression were dominant themes in the Old Testament, the legacy of Israel and Judah nourished American liberty. It warned -- as in the story of the Tower of Babel -- against Man’s attempt to be God. It forced Man -- as in the story of Adam and Eve -- to recognize his mortality and fallibility and to appreciate that there can be no Utopia on earth. Again and again, it inveighed against the belief that Utopia can be captured and made concrete in idolatry. On the other hand, however, it left ample room for effort to make life better. This is the central meaning, as I read it, of God’s Covenant with Noah and its reaffirmation with Abraham, with Moses, and with the later prophets." [Neal Riemer, The Democratic Experiment, p. 47].

Orthoprax said...

Moshe,

"A. Revelation is not a physical reality, it is a spiritual/metaphysical one. Writing it down is the physical reality."

Fine: and therefore unfalsifiable. As before, I get it. There is nothing that can distinguish a special divinely-communicated text from one merely human derived.

"B. I don't think anyone understands poetic or musical inspiration, or divine revelation. They exist, but in mystery."

Understanding not in depth, but of kind. You believe that divine communication is an event in real historical time that imprinted on real physical artifacts. It is rather unlike whatever is not understood about poetry, etc.

"The doctrine of original sin comes to mind."

So how can you possibly decide among "nonrational" conclusions?

"Because freedom from slavery and oppression were dominant themes in the Old Testament, the legacy of Israel and Judah nourished American liberty."

This is very obviously a different understanding of liberty than the personal liberties we have enshrined within the first amendment, where rights are declared - to freely do, say, and believe whatever we want as long as we do not infringe on our fellows.

Moshe said...

OP,

"So how can you possibly decide among "nonrational" conclusions?"

Based on faith and the indicia.

The bottom line is that the objective "nonfalsifiability" of revelation and faith does not bother me, just as the "nonfalsifiability" of say, beauty, does not bother me. Just as I believe that there is beauty in the world, so too I believe in revelation. I further have no need to be a sort of intellectual Grand Inquisitor and pass judgment on the veracity of the faith beliefs of others. Obviously, based upon the indicia, I have my opinions, but if I do evaluate others, particularly non-Jews, it is mainly based upon their actions, not their creed. I believe this to be the authentic Jewish way. Now, as far as my fellow Jews are concerned, I would like them to share my faith, but that cannot be compelled. Nor , admittedly, can it be demonstrated by rational proof. Some people will not appreciate music or beauty, others will never experience the sublime experience of faith. That is their loss, I think. But even more important than faith alone is the observance of the mitzvot. Ultimately you are what you do. And practice can actually lead to faith (Im yirtzeh Hashem by you). A big problem, nonetheless, with orthopraxis, is that it can easily descend into the monstrosity of being a "scoundrel within the boundary of the law", as we have seen recently with so many so called "frummies" committing detestable criminal acts. Wearing black is not a substitute for emuna. Nor is a kippa sruga, for that matter. And yes, I do make the assumption that such people were orthoprax, and lacked emuna. But I make the assumption based upon personal experience dealing with such people.
(BTW,In no way am I even hinting that you fall into this category. You, I think, just lack, shall we say, a certain poetic appreciation.)

Orthoprax said...

Moshe,

Ultimately when you make claims about facts of the world you must be prepared for those who would rationally challenge how you claim to come to your conclusions. Objective facts, unlike beauty, are not true merely in the eyes of the beholder.

R.W. said...

It's amazing how things change when the shoe is on the other foot.

When, way back when, you were having your debate with YA on the existence of God, your 'arguments' were every bit as obstinately blinkered and suffered from the exact same deficiencies you (rightfully) ascribe to Moshe's.


If you took an honest look in the mirror, you will see...Moshe.

Orthoprax said...

RW,

I don't recall that particular debate, but I suspect there was at least one significant difference in my arguments when compared to Moshe's.

DrJ said...

Moshe-

1. I would remind you that you are actually an atheist, a skeptic and a heretic. Yes, in relation to Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Shamanism, and all of the thousands of dieties and religions that existed until now. You are utterly skeptical about their religious assertions, reject the evidence as shabby, remain a rationalist, and accept only proofs based on logic and solid scientific evidence.

Now, if you just look at your own skepticism towards those things, why can't you understand the sketicism that an "outside" person has of Judaism as well? There is NO DIFFERENCE WHATSOEVER, CONCEPTUALLY. Look in the mirror, man!!

2. "Morality" consists of 2 componenents: individual altruism, and organized welfare societies. Both components can be explained and maintained without a diety or revelation. Individually, we have altruisitic instincts towards our loved ones. Just like the animals. Then, societies develop for the sake of promoting mutual welfare. Cheaters are punished.

No big deal. No God needed. Morality consists of individual impulses and collective societal decisions.

Family said...

OP,

I'm confused, are you still an atheist?

InvestigatorG said...

OP,

This post presents a point I recently came across on a Christian site.

"Breathing requires air, not a profession of belief in air. Likewise, logical reasoning requires God, not a profession of belief in Him. Of course the atheist can reason; it’s because God has made his mind and given him access to the laws of logic—and that’s the point. It’s because God exists that reasoning is possible. The atheist can reason, but within his own worldview he cannot account for his ability to reason. " -Dr. Jason Lisle

I find that the relative order in the universe and the laws by which physical matter, reason, and science in general are based show evidence for a Creator rather than for a cosmic accident.

But, I'm just getting into this way of thinking called skepticism. Please help me see my error in judgment, if you can.

JoshSN said...

You definitely need to watch this, it's an hour long:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ImvlS8PLIo

It's called "A Universe From Nothing" and it seems to explain how a universe must explode into being if there happens to be an empty universe lying around.

Cape Coop said...

Where did this blog go? I miss reading it. Please, send me the link to the new location, I so enjoy reading these posts and the ensuing commentaries.

Holy Hyrax said...

Hey, are you still checking email

A said...

Hi OP and all reading this,

I miss this blog! I'd love to hear anyone's response to these 2 questions:

1) Do you believe in God and why?

2) If yes, to what extent do you believe the torah to be divine and why?

it's ok if the answer to 1&2 are the same :)

To start things off, I'll answer:

1) I think there probably is a God. One can doubt any of the bodily senses and emotions, but in context, they are as true as you can get. My sense and emotion of God due to the nature of the world and myself is just as real as any of my other senses. I think my answer below adds some evidence.

2) I think the mass revelation of God at Sinai and strong longevity and "goodness" of the torah and Jewish people is a plausible albeit imperfect argument. I think it is enough to say that there is a small but realistic probability that the torah has at least minimal divine input.

Anonymous said...

Big Bang does not imply god exists.

See S.M. Carroll (2005), "Why (Almost All) Cosmologists Are Atheists," Faith and Philosophy 22, p. 622.

He also says most modern cosmologists are convinced that conventional scientific progress will ultimately result in a self-contained understanding of the origin and evolution of the universe, without the need to invoke God or any other supernatural involvement This conviction necessarily falls short of a proof, but it is backed up by good reasons.

Sean Carrol is a PHD in Physics and Astrophysist at Cal Tech

hajjandumrah said...

It’s great to see good information being shared and also to see fresh, creative
ideas that have never been done before.

umrah packages
cheap umrah packages
cheap Umrah tickets
cheap Umrah flights
umrah flights
umrah tickets