Tug of War – an Open Letter to Tildeb


Tug of War – an Open Letter to Tildeb


Let me again begin by thanking you for your comments. Your comments inspired me to study and to think and to expand my understanding of the issues that we have been discussing. For this I thank you.

The Limits of Science

You seem to be under the impression that science and religion are engaged in a tug of war. Science seeks to open the minds of men to knowledge and understanding while religion wants to keep those lights shut. You see religion as something that only thrives on the absence of knowledge and it would follow that those who invested in religion have every interest to preserve and perpetuate mystery and darkness in the collective house of mankind. Science, on the other hand seeks to know and understand, it seeks to unravel the mysterious and the unknown. So we have our tug of war, with religion pulling toward darkness and science striving for light.

I can understand why you see things this way. Throughout history men of science were opposed by men of religion. And with time, light prevailed over darkness and Galileo and Copernicus were vindicated while the men of the cloth never paused to ask themselves why their beliefs put them in opposition to the truth. In our own age you see men of religion arguing with science as if the truth could be bent by yelling loud enough. You have no other way of interpreting what you see without reference to this struggle between light and dark.

The reason I do not share your worldview is because I understand that science is limited in its scope. Science can examine, explain, measure and quantify anything and everything that is physical. But there are realities that are not tangible. Human dignity, courage, justice, compassion, and the sanctity of human life are not things that can be measured and quantified with physical tools. The yearning to know, the joy of discovery, the pleasure of creating and the appreciation of selflessness are as real as physical facts although they cannot be examined by science. The human experience extends far beyond the range of science.

Because these realities are not tangible they are more easily exploited by evil people. It is that much easier to present a mixture of truth and falsehood in the realms that cannot be measured with physical tools, but that does not make these experiences any less real. Although these experiences are not tangible they can still be measured and quantified. The gauge that measures these qualities is the universal sense of justice, morality and kindness that resides in the heart of every human. The problem is that this gauge is not as accessible as it should be. In many societies, it has happened that the concepts of justice and morality have been warped in ways that are almost unrecognizable to other human beings.

We do not need to go far to see this phenomenon. Both you and I see the terrorist attacks of September 11 2001 as an extreme expression of evil while members of a different society see those same acts as expressions of morality and justice. It would then seem that there is no way that we can rely on the universal sense of justice to measure and quantify right and wrong.

I will not tie up this strand of my argument right here and now. Instead I will pause and make two points. One point is that we consider this act to be evil although there is no way to prove it through hard science. I put it to you that this knowledge (that those terrorist acts were evil) is as real to you as any scientific fact.

The second point that we can learn from these events is that the human sense of reality can be warped. And if some people’s sense of reality can be warped then we can be sure that the same thing is happening to us on some level or another. We need to take measures to break free from that which warps our way of looking at the world. I propose that one way of helping us see beyond our limited perspectives is the medium of conversation.

Warped Perspectives

I have mentioned in a previous post that my community has been around for some time now. The collective perspective of the traditional Jewish community spans many generations and many cultures. We have encountered various opponents and antagonists more than once and after a while certain patterns emerge.

We have encountered science and the scientific community over the centuries. Since science is the study of truth and since we worship the God of truth, we have never found ourselves in conflict with the method of study known as science. In fact, many of our great teachers were learned in the sciences themselves. However, we did come into conflict with members of the scientific community. I am not talking about conflicts with people who happen to be scientists in a way that is unrelated to their occupation in life. I am referring here to conflicts with the scientific community as the scientific community.

Allow me to illustrate with an example. Throughout our history we have had various interactions with the science of the ancient Greeks. The Greeks believed in an eternal unchanging world and this conflicted with our belief in a world that had a beginning. Since these scientists had acquired their knowledge through the scientific method (or so they thought), they felt very confident with their knowledge. After all, the scientific method is a study of reality, how could anyone compete with that?

But both you and I know that those scientists were wrong. Where did they go wrong?

Here is where our historical perspective can help us. In every generation, scientists enjoy their knowledge and rightly so. Their knowledge was justly earned for it was obtained through a rigorous unrelenting search for truth. But this enjoyment of their knowledge often skews their perspective of reality. The human tendency would have us maximize that which gives us honor and joy and minimize that which does not contribute to our benefit. In the case of the scientist, it is the knowledge that he possesses that is magnified and his ignorance is minimized in a way that is incompatible with reality. In every generation we find the scientific community seeing itself on the pinnacle of a high mountain when with hindsight we can see that they had barely reached the top of a molehill.

How does this pattern play itself out in our generation? Let us examine the landscape of the thought process of humanity in our day and age.

You have argued that atheism is the default position of every human being. We are born without belief and we do not believe in anything unless we learned it, or to use your word, we were indoctrinated with it.

I will mention that we are born with an innate knowledge of existence that extends beyond the limitations of our own. It can be argued that this sense of a more substantial existence than our own transient existence is sensing the Divine. I will not focus on this right now. Instead I will focus on the argument of intelligent design.

At some point we come to recognize that the world we live in is amazingly complex, it is full of sophisticated function, it is loaded with wondrous beauty and an immense range of pleasure. Even if the default was atheism, at this point of recognition the default changes. The human mind naturally assumes that such sophisticated complexity must be intentional and the human mind moves toward understanding that there is a power above and beyond nature that intended this beautiful world.

This line of thinking is pervasive. People throughout history and from many cultures came to this understanding. It is not an argument that was produced by indoctrination of one sort or another. The wonder of the world moved people to think in the direction of a supernatural entity (or entities) that stands behind it all. This is the natural flow of the human mind. It doesn’t mean that it is right, but it is natural.

Enter the theory of evolution. The theory of evolution proposes that the sophistication and complexity that is evident in living organisms arose through natural laws. Some people have used the theory of evolution to undermine the argument from the complexity of the world.

But let us step back and see what the theory of evolution has accomplished. Even if we were to accept every aspect of neo-Darwinian evolution there is still so much sophisticated complexity that is not explained. There are many aspects of our universe that are not alive and are not touched by the theory of evolution. The delicate balance between the various physical forces, the balance between the various elements, the balance of temperature, as well as many other factors, all need to be precisely aligned in order to sustain life on this planet. The portrait of intentional sophistication is virtually untouched by the theory of evolution.

Within the realm of living organisms, we find sophistication and wonder, even after the theory of evolution. How does the theory of evolution dictate that nature should be flooded with such a variety of taste, smell and color? How does the theory of evolution explain the fact that we have the faculties to appreciate and enjoy this variety of experience? And evolution doesn’t touch upon the very origin of life itself.

Evolution only explains a fraction of the complexity that we experience here on earth. Yet people use it to dismiss all of the beauty that is part and parcel of our daily existence. I propose that too much weight has been placed on this theory.

The excitement generated by the theory of evolution has also brought many in the scientific community to turn a blind eye to some of the problems that are evident in the theory. Perhaps the most prominent of these is the phenomenon of convergent evolution. If evolution is unguided and undirected then how did an organ as complex as the eye independently repeat itself in mammals and mollusks? How about echolocation in bats and dolphins, or electrocution in eels and stingrays, or the same mechanism for hearing in the South American katydid and vertebrates?

People who are enthralled with the theory of evolution tend to exaggerate problems with the creationist world view. Out of millions of highly functional and purposeful systems in the natural world, science has observed a few oddities. These are elements of various systems which seem to be cumbersome or useless. Evolutionists seize these as evidence for the inadequacy of the designer.

But this question has no basis in reality. One cannot pass judgment on a machine if they have no clue how it was built. Nature is full of highly functional systems that the scientific community has not yet unraveled. How then can they pass judgment on one wire or cog of the machine if they still did not fully figure out how the machine works? The man who could tell me how the liver turns orange juice into blood, how the birds find their way over oceans in the dark, how plants get energy from the sun, how the tropical spitting spider manufactures its glue, that same man will be qualified to tell me that this one nerve could have been wired more efficiently or that this string of DNA serves no purpose.

There is no question that the perspective of creationists is also warped by their predisposition. These people tend to play down the evidence for evolution and play up the problems with the theory. I am not claiming innocence from this human malady. I am saying that life is a two-way street and that we all need to look both ways before crossing.

Warped Perspectives II

There is another area of reality which is sometimes difficult for us to get a grip on. Suffering and pain have the ability to occupy our entire horizon. While a person is experiencing pain it is not only difficult for them to see that there is more to life than their personal trouble, it is even hard for them to imagine anything but the darkness that they are experiencing. This holds true not only for the sufferer but also for those who empathize with them.

The book of Job addresses this phenomenon. This book articulates the argument of the sufferer and it tells us that many of the arguments that people use to counter the cry of the sufferer are not only wrong, but immoral as well. The three friends of Job who attempted to argue on behalf of God are rebuked by God for speaking improperly (Job 42:7). It is immoral to tell a sufferer that he brought the suffering upon himself with his sins. It is also immoral to try to dismiss the pain of the sufferer with various philosophical arguments.

The moral position is to recognize the power of suffering and pain to dominate a person’s horizon. It is right to acknowledge the weight of the hurt and to empathize with the troubled heart. But it is also right for the sufferer to recognize that as a limited being his perspective is also limited. For the sufferer and his comrades to pass judgment on all of existence is a denial of the limitations of our perspective.

The lesson of the book of Job seems to be that the world has no right to pass judgment on the sufferer, and the sufferer can recognize that he is in no position to pass judgment on the world.

My nation lived this out about 70 years ago. We suffered and the world judged us. Many people continue to judge us. But we did not let our suffering change our perspective of the world. We still believe in the inherent goodness of man and we still believe in the blessing of life.

Human existence is flooded with goodness. The senses of sight, sound, smell, taste and touch, the joys of friendship, a baby’s smile, discovering, growing, accomplishing, overcoming challenges, and so much more. The joy of existence itself is there for us to appreciate. Our lives have so much goodness in them. Yes there is suffering, and from the position of suffering all of these become so small if we see them at all. But we can understand that the standpoint of suffering does not give us the most accurate view of reality.

No Stronger than the Weakest Link

There are only two reasons why any of us do anything. We act only in the hope of acquiring pleasure or because we are trying to escape pain. A noble act is not one which is altruistic because there is no such thing as real altruism in the human experience. A noble act is one which is performed in order to satisfy one of the noble pleasures or to escape a noble pain and allow me to explain.

The human experience encompasses a very wide range of pleasure and pain but there are three categories of pleasure and pain which are noble (there is a fourth category, but we’ll leave that for now). If a person acts because he is motivated by one of these three categories, we say that he has performed a noble act. These are the drive to empathize, the drive for justice and the drive for truth.

To illustrate. You are standing in a lonely subway station, no one is there and the security cameras are all turned off. There is a beautiful painting on the wall and beneath the painting stands an open can of black paint. You are suddenly overcome by a childish urge to take the paint and splash it across the painting. Why will you not do it? You will not be caught, there will be absolutely no repercussions for your actions. No one will ever know that it was you who destroyed the painting. Why not?

Some people would say that the reason they will not destroy the painting is because so many people enjoy it and they feel bad for the people that will no longer enjoy it. This is empathy or kindness. Another person might say that he cannot destroy the painting because it does not belong to him. This person is motivated by the drive for justice. His sense of right and wrong prevents him from this destructive act. A third person will say that he cannot destroy the painting because it is beautiful. This person is motivated by the drive for truth and harmony.

Each and every one of us possesses these three drives to some degree or another. In some of us these drives are dimmer while in others the drives are more refined and stronger. But all of us are sensitive to these pains and pleasures when we are at the receiving end of a cruel and unjust act. If we are hurt by the cruelty of another we identify that act as an act of cruelty and when we are hurt by injustice or by a lack of honesty we identify the act as unjust and dishonest.

If someone risks his life to save another person, we generally identify the act as a noble act. This is because such an act is usually motivated by the drive to empathize with another. If the person risked his life only because of a calculation that this act will bring him honor and fame, we would not consider this act to be so noble.

If a person returns a lost object we see that as a noble act. But this is because we see the act of returning a lost object as an expression of the drive for justice or for kindness. If the act was performed solely for the sake of receiving a reward, the act will not be so noble anymore.

If someone is careful with their speech, they never lie or exaggerate and they speak only the truth, we would say that this is a noble man. But that is because we assume that this person is motivated by an affinity for truth and an aversion to falsehood. If we were to discover that this man is frightened to lie because he sincerely believes that his nose will grow longer every time he lies, we will not see this man as noble as we thought.

It is the motivations that determine the nobility of the act.

There is however a factor that we consider when we evaluate a given act. As humans we are blessed with intelligence. If the noble motivation produced catastrophic results and those results could have been predicted by human intellect, we do not say the man was noble, we say he was stupid. But as a general rule, it is the motivation that determines the nobility of the act.

This applies not only to activities but to our way of looking at the world. Religious people tend to consider those who share their particular worldview to be “good” while those who disagree with them are “bad.” But if we look at the foundation of our worldview we might want to reconsider.

Why does a person accept a given worldview? In many cases, it is simply because this is the worldview of the society around them and they never considered looking at the world in a different way.

This is not an ignoble motivation but it is also not very noble. Once a person realizes that other people have different worldviews, the quality of empathy should have him see that his worldview may be in error. The drive for truth should push a person to rethink and reexamine that which he has been taught.

If a person resists the pull of truth and refuses to reconsider and the person resists the pull of empathy and he dismisses those who see the world differently than himself, then we cannot consider his adherence to his worldview as something noble.

Similarly, if he refuses to reconsider his worldview because of fear, be it fear of supernatural punishment or fear of ridicule and contempt from his peers, then again, we cannot consider his stubborn insistence on clinging to his worldview as something noble.

However, if a person considers and reconsiders his or her worldview and his drive for truth, kindness and justice lead him to accept a given worldview (be it the one he started with or one that he learned later in life), then and only then can we consider his acceptance of a given worldview to be noble.

Many atheists criticize religion on these grounds. They cannot imagine a person adhering to the worldview of any given religion unless that person violates their own drive for kindness, justice and truth. If you care about other people and you respect their right to live, how then can you worship a God who commanded His people to massacre entire populations? If you care about justice, how then can you follow a code of law that seems to be unjust? And if you are following your affinity for the truth then how can you believe in myths that have already been debunked?

These are fair and honest questions and they demand real answers. The tendency of religionists to dismiss or ignore these questions makes the atheist look more religious and noble than them.

I cannot answer for other religions and I will not answer for them. I will however say that as a general rule, I will not pass judgment on members of other religions even if they provide no answers for these questions. I am personally acquainted with some very kind, honest and just people who believe the strangest things. I will not say that these people are violating their sense of integrity, kindness and justice in maintaining their belief system. I would much rather believe that these people are not aware of the problems with their belief system or that their bias doesn’t allow them to appreciate the true weight of these questions.

I will however attempt to answer for Judaism.

Judaism begins with a national testimony. The Jewish child is born into a nation of witnesses. These witnesses are not testifying about a person or a group of people who told them a story. This nation testifies about events collectively experienced, about events that dramatically impacted their lives and about a national encounter with the Divine. The testimony of Judaism stands apart from the foundational testimonies of other belief systems in that it is national, it speaks of concrete, physical life-changing experiences and that it never required interpretation.

The law that surrounds this testimony preserved a community that stood as an island of justice, kindness and morality in an ocean of cruelty, depravity and injustice. This same law molded countless individuals into paradigms of goodness and continues to do so until today. Over the centuries, those members of the community who deviated from the law, slowly slid into the depravity of the surrounding society within a few generations.

Did the God of Israel command the annihilation of an entire population? Indeed He did, but as the Sovereign of all life when God takes a life He is not taking but that which is already His. Those He directed to fulfill this command were people who had no reason to doubt the truth of His existence or the truth of the command because these were the very people who witnessed bread raining down from heaven and a pillar of cloud and fire that showed them the way in the wilderness.

Are all of the laws of the Torah just? For the Western mind the answer may be “no.” There are some laws that seem strange and even unjust to the worldview of the modern Westerner. There is no question that some of the Torah’s laws seem strange and unjust to the mind of the Moslem, to the mind of the medieval Christian, to the mind of the Ancient Roman and to the mind of the Greek philosopher. But the totality of the Torah’s laws has passed the test of time. The grand total of the Torah community towers above the societies that ridiculed it in respect for human life, in the rights of all people, in morality, in kindness and in fairness and justice. We cannot tweak any of the laws because we don’t know what will happen to the grand total when we start moving around any of its components.

Have the foundational stories of the Torah been debunked? No, they have not. No historian today doubts that David reigned over Israel and that his son Solomon built a temple in Jerusalem. No historian today doubts that the heart of the Psalms date back to David’s harp. So we see that the national self-identity of the Jewish people is the same today as it was 3000 years ago. A self-identity that sees the nation bound in a covenant relationship with the Creator of heaven and earth, a covenant that was sealed and validated in a miraculous exodus from Egypt. And the national self-identity was surrounded by a law of holiness that was given to us by Moses.

There is no record of another self-identity for this nation. Israel has no literature or art that tells a different story. And this self-identity is unique. It stands apart from the self-identity of any other nation in that it speaks of a covenant sealed in concrete events experienced in this world with the Author of morality and truth.

Has archeological research corroborated this testimony? Not necessarily, but it is also wrong to say that archeological research has contradicted it. The archeological record indicates that there was an influx of people into Canaan at about the time of Joshua’s conquest. These people were culturally different than the Canaanites who inhabited the land before them. This could then be the evidence of Israel settling the land in the days of Joshua. However, there is no Egyptian record of the exodus. But evidence from silence is not evidence of non-existence. The silence of the Egyptians could be understood as a reluctance to record an embarrassing episode which is common not only amongst ancient historians, but amongst some modern ones as well.

The sensational announcements by some members of the scientific community that the exodus story has been “debunked” and the respect that these announcements receive by various media outlets should not move the honest person. These pronouncements by a “majority” of “scholars” deserve as much credit as the anti-Israel pronouncements by the same “majority” of “scholars.” The respect that the BDS movement garnishes in the “scientific community” and the popular view in that community that Israel is an apartheid state which oppresses the Palestinian people for no legitimate reason tells us how much respect the opinions of this community deserve.

The Jewish acceptance of the tenets of Judaism is rooted in the Jew’s appreciation of truth. To the degree that the Jew has refined his sensitivity to truth to that same degree will he appreciate the honesty of the bearers of the testimony. The acceptance of the tenets of Judaism is also rooted in an appreciation for justice and kindness. To the degree that the Jew’s sensitivity to justice and kindness has been cultivated and refined to that same degree will the Jew appreciate the achievement of Israel to maintain this island of morality in an immoral and cruel world.

Confidence and Doubt

Honesty, kindness and justice demand that we consider the possibility that we may be wrong. If I believe that the deepest convictions of so many people are simply dead wrong, then I need to analyze my own convictions. If so many people can walk in darkness with absolute faith that they are walking in light, I need to ask myself how I know that this is not happening to me.

Perhaps I can reassure myself with the experiences that I find in the path of my worldview. The feeling of God’s embrace in the kindness of existence, the sanctity of Sabbath that is palpable in a Jewish home. The closeness to God that I experience when I live out one of His commandments or when I immerse myself in His word. Or the love and awe that comes alive when I stand in prayer before my God. Perhaps I can look to these and tell myself; this must be real.

Perhaps, but then I would need to explain away the experiences provided by all other belief-systems. Members of every religion lay claim to amazing experiences and I dismiss these as misleading, so how can I lean on my own experience if spiritual experiences can be false?

Maybe it is miracles, answered prayers and uncanny predictions that have come to pass that will confirm my belief system.

Maybe, but then I will need to explain how competing belief systems also lay claim to some of these.

Perhaps I can lean on the logical arguments that stand at the base of my belief-system? But I must realize that my mind has been conditioned by my upbringing and by the religious culture in which I was raised. Arguments that seem powerful and irrefutable to me do not seem to move people who do not share my religious background. How then can I rely on the appeal of these arguments to my own sense of truth when the thing I am seeking to validate is that very sense of truth?

Perhaps I can look at the jealousy that my worldview generates amongst those who wish they had the truth. Both Christianity and Islam find the need to malign my worldview in their effort to lay claim to divine truth. If I wouldn’t possess the truth then why would these pretenders need to put the slander of my worldview in the center of their respective narratives?

Perhaps I can look at the hatred that my worldview generates amongst the villains of history? Hitler, Stalin, Torquemada and Osama bin Laden were worlds apart from each other on many issues but on two issues they all stood together. They were extremely evil people and they hated Jews and Judaism. Perhaps the fact that the destroyers of civilization see my worldview as something that stands in their evil way, this could then validate my worldview as the truth that opposes the evil represented by these men?

Maybe I can look to the irrational and dishonest hatred that my worldview still generates amongst the insane of our generation? Why would people who care nothing for human life accuse me of disrespecting human life if I didn’t represent a higher truth? Why would people who don’t bat an eyelash when genocide is taking place in many parts of the world suddenly erupt in self-righteous indignation when my people strike out in desperate efforts of self-defense? Perhaps this strange phenomenon can confirm that my worldview is something that stands in intrinsic opposition to crookedness and falsehood?

Should I look to the wondrous survival of my people against all odds? Not only the survival of the physical people of my tribe but the survival of my worldview in a world that brought everything to bear in an international effort to eradicate my way of thinking. A worldview that continues to inspire new generations of Jews, not with threats of death and punishment but with the life and vigor that is inherent in Judaism. A worldview that continues to illuminate the lives of people in so many generations and cultures with its awesome grasp of the human experience. What is it in Judaism that continuously gives light? And how did this worldview survive if not for the hand of God that directs the history of man?

Maybe I should look at the impact that my worldview had on world civilization? So many people who were cultivated and raised in the cradle of my worldview, a worldview that promotes wisdom, life and the human effort to improve the world around them, went on to make great contributions to the general welfare of mankind. Is this not a vindication of the worldview that developed the creative genius of so many people?

Should I look to the levels of justice, kindness and truth that were maintained by those who followed my worldview to authenticate my beliefs? The statistics which set those who adhere to my worldview apart from the general population? Or perhaps I should look to the moral giants that took the principles of Judaism to great heights of morality, empathy, holiness and truth?

I look to all of these and my sense of belonging to the eternal community of Israel is reinforced and strengthened. I am but a human being and I always need to be aware of the possibility of walking in error. But this awareness does not need to freeze me into inactivity or an inability to commit myself to a given worldview. The fact that I am a human does not prevent me from walking in the truth as I understand it and experience it. The fact that I am a human being does not stop me from living for the truth that resides in my heart and be willing to die for it.

Tug of War

We are all engaged in a tug of war. We can refer to this tug of war as a battle between light and dark or we can speak of the conflict between kindness, justice and truth on the one side with selfishness, greed, and immorality on the other. This conflict is going on not only in the world at large but inside each and every one of us. Most of us want to stand on the side of good and oppose bad but we are extremely capable of fooling ourselves.

I happen to have been born into a society that sees itself bound up in covenant relationship with the Author of morality and justice. The song of our king David resonates in our hearts and inspires us to recognize the beauty of truth. My people have been striving for morality and justice in their own lives for many generations. In this struggle of theirs my people have illuminated the lives of the societies around them.

The way I see things, stepping away from this covenant community is a step in the wrong direction. It is a step in the direction of darkness and injustice. But this does not mean that I see everyone who doesn’t belong to the covenant community as my enemies or as the enemies of light.

I see people in all societies pulling towards goodness and morality, each according to their own understanding. I see others pulling the rope towards chaos, darkness, cruelty and destruction. Many of these are sincerely convinced that they are the champions of truth and justice. There are people in my own community whose actions are simply motivated by greed and self-centeredness yet they are sincerely convinced that they are maintaining the legacy of Abraham and Moses. So there is a tug of war going on and one of the most frustrating aspects of this war is the aspect of confusion.

I believe in the inherent goodness of man. I believe that if man is confronted with the truth in all of its stark clarity with no room for confusion, then he would submit to the truth. But that stark clarity of truth is not so readily available in this world of confusion.

We can however take strides towards the truth. The most important step we can take is to try to make our own lives reflective of the truth. To try to move our own selves towards more humility, more kindness, more justice and more truth. To try to identify the hypocrisy and greed that resides inside ourselves and overpower these with love and truth. This is the most important contribution we can all make in this universal tug of war.

But there is another contribution that we can bring to the table and that is the medium of conversation. We can find people who are committed to the truth and speak things over. A respectful conversation amongst people who seek the truth can do much in dispelling the cobwebs of confusion from our collective lives. This conversation may be tedious and frustrating but the clarity that is generated from such a discussion is a worthy product.

This conversation is going on right now and has been going on for quite some time. And while there have been ups and downs but in a general sense the conversation is moving towards more justice, more kindness and more truth.

I see the Protestant reformation of the Church as a product of this conversation. One of the important catalysts in the reformation movement was the access that Christians had to alternative interpretations of Scripture. It opened their eyes to see the world differently than the way the Catholic Church would have them see it.

The renaissance was another positive milestone in the ongoing human conversation as is the democratization of many societies throughout the world. The loosening of the Church’s grip on the minds of men and the trend within Christianity to seek the Jewish roots of their faith are also important steps in this conversation. The fact that in some regions of the world, people are moving towards atheism and away from crooked religion is also a step towards morality and truth because crooked religion is further from the truth than sincere atheism.


The conversation continues and there are many forces that move the conversation in different directions. Some of these forces are angry, hateful, greedy, and power hungry. These forces often exert explosive power and they direct the conversation in a negative way. These evil forces have misdirected the conversation for centuries on end.

But ultimately truth will prevail. Truth is slow but steady. It is powerful but generally not explosive. Its power lies not only in the fact that it is real while everything else is but a dream but also in the relationship that human beings have with the truth. Human beings yearn for the truth. There will always be people who will search for the truth and even if these are persecuted and silenced, another generation will stand up and pick up where the truth seekers before them left off. And with time, maybe a lot of time, the knowledge of reality will cover the minds of men like the waters cover the sea.

















This entry was posted in Addressing Atheism, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

350 Responses to Tug of War – an Open Letter to Tildeb

  1. Dina says:

    This is brilliant.

  2. tildeb says:

    The ‘tug-of-war’ you describe is as follows:

    The way I see things, stepping away from this covenant community is a step in the wrong direction. It is a step in the direction of darkness and injustice.

    You explain why this is your conclusion with profuse rhetoric and length. It makes for nice reading. It sounds reasonable. So my standard question whenever presented with an opinion is: “Is this claim true and how might we know if it is?”

    Well, to go back through all the rhetoric and pull out what your claims really are is a very large job. You have given us a sweeping view that Judaism is really a search for what is true, that truth is highly prized, and that its pursuit by Jews has produced much to benefit all mankind. So much skipping from point to point means the number of times I raise my question becomes dozens and then hundreds in such a lengthy post. But it reads nicely.

    So, although I found myself recognizing standard fallacies commonly used to justify all manner of faith-based beliefs including religious, I’m not going to spend the Herculean effort to dismantle this post point by point and demonstrate why it’s built on claims that have nothing to do with what’s true, what is the case, what we can know about them, but on faith that is first imposed on reality and then offered as if adduced from it. Separating the ‘true’ wheat from the obfuscating rhetorical chaff, so to speak, is a major undertaking.

    So I’ll cut to the chase and revisit your conclusion. Is it the case and can we know if stepping away from this ‘covenant community’ really is a step in the direction of darkness and injustice?

    I think we can know. I think we can compare and contrast populations of real people who do not share a ‘covenant community’ and see if by statistical comparison if in fact these populations suffer from higher levels of ‘darkness and injustice’ as revealed in rates of societal dysfunction.

    The answer is knowable because we have that information available to us. And it is contrary to your conclusion. The robust correlation between higher rates of societal dysfunction is not with those who have no ‘covenant community’. In fact, in reality, the robust correlation is with higher rates of belonging to ‘covenant communities’.

    All of the preceding post and the conclusion you think you have reached is rendered for what it is by this actual and correlated adduced conclusion from real populations of real people in real life: you use a large set of faith-based beliefs and impose them on reality that is at odds with, contrary to, and in a ‘tug-of-war’ with what is actually the case.

    So you have a major problem if seeking what’s the case, what is true, is really your goal. I don’t think it is.

    I think you have gone badly wrong somewhere and I think I know where you’ve done this: you have empowered the wrong method to inquire into reality. You have empowered your faith-based beliefs to be an equivalent method to study all kinds of areas of interest to that of an honest evidence-adduced method that does not assume the conclusion. In other words, you have empowered your conclusion by assuming it’s true first and then worked backwards to justify whatever interpretation you can find to then ‘support’ you conclusion. This is confirmation bias hard at work but nicely hidden behind rhetoric. And it does read nicely.

    You demonstrate this biased method throughout each part of this post selected not because it may or may not be true but because it supports, it ‘confirms’ your conclusion. That’s how you ‘arrived’ at the conclusion you started with and how what is the case, what’s ‘true’ in this sense never was your intention… even if you honestly think it was. And I think you can blame your faith-based method for this failure where you come to a conclusion opposite to the one revealed by reality: large populations without a ‘covenant community’ are much more functional and enjoy much higher rates of, to use the opposite of your terms, ‘light and justice’.

    • Concerned Reader says:

      Here Tildeb. To put some weight behind your words.


      The thing is, even Judaism teaches that the Bible can’t make you moral, it gives you choices. People can use any religious text, or an ideology and misuse it to negative effect.

      • larryB says:

        He’s almost as interesting as Phil Nye.

        • Concerned Reader says:

          I don’t understand why Bill Nye gets so much hate lol. Its important also to consider that correlation of crime rates and religiosity isn’t just about finding some blind direct correlation of faith and higher crime rate per se, but is more about the observed cumulative effect that religion’s downplaying of external influences, interaction, and knowledge, can have on societal function. As an example, lower crime rates in a secular country like Sweden (as compared to a more religious country like the USA,) may have less to do with the faith itself, and more to do with the impact such faith can have on education. Lower crime rates generally means more exposure to diverse ideas, better education, etc. and isn’t just about picking on religion.

      • tildeb says:

        That’s a really good find. Lots there to consider.

      • Concerned Reader
        In my article I clearly wrote that sincere atheism is closer to truth than crooked religion – so a study that lumps all religion together on the one side in order to contrast the behavior of the “religious” over and against the behavior of atheists has no bearing on what I wrote

        • Concerned Reader
          Just an example – on page 15 of the article that you linked it says that secular people were more likely to help Jews during the holocaust than religious people. Obviously the religion of these “religious people” was Christianity, not Judaism.

          • Concerned Reader says:

            Rabbi, the point of the essay is to dispute the notion that religious “truth” makes one objectively better off by using statistical data. Even you have recognized the fact that without Judaism, Christianity would simply not exist. You yourself recognize that Christianity is not the only mistaken messianic movement to have emerged from within Jewish history, and to have had similar mistaken ideology, or negative impact.

            The fact that Christianity is a “crooked” faith system is not the issue that is central to what was brought up. The central issue is the assumption of superiority by so many people based on very subjective faith claims.

            If anything, what is at issue centrally for many atheists regarding religion is the uncritical stance many religious people take with regard to their own truth claims, especially considering religion’s universal claims of authority over other peoples.

            Many Religions are not merely content to say, “my faith is true for me,” but often say “my faith should be true for everyone.” While I grant you that Judaism is less outspoken in this regard, I cannot ignore that Christianity itself spawned from Judaism, though mistaken it may be, it has unmistakable roots in Judaism, has even been replicated by it.

            The problem is as simple as the fact that one person’s one true faith can be another man’s idolatry based on subjective experience and knowledge. The fact that this one truth is transmitted by book makes it even more complicated, since there has never been just one way to read or interpret a text.

            The big issue is that the atheistic individual is mocked by religion as amoral or somehow worse off/foolish as an individual, because he/she doesn’t have a stake in the G-d argument.

            Atheists would not take “militant” issue with theism if theism itself wasn’t so imperialistic or emphatic about its own inherent authority, or if the faithful were more introspective about the limits of their own knowledge.

            If faith based ideology didn’t impact the public domain, governments, educational systems, medicine, the civil liberties of unaffiliated people, etc. the discussion wouldn’t need to be so virulent.

            This essay is responding to the common faith based refrain that says “religion more likely=better people, non religion =more likely worse people.” Whether that is the intent of what you write, (or of Judaism generally) is immaterial because that is sometimes the impact of the rhetorical flourish you and other theologians often employ.

            For example, (based on academic scholarship) I don’t believe for a second that Jesus and his earliest students actually thought that halacha was useless, or that Jews should cease their observance of it. What’s more interesting is that I believe this based on the sources written and passed down by Pauline gentile Christians, (which itself is very telling about how even Paul’s Christianity has changed.)

            However, There was much rhetoric therein that was exclusively read that way , no doubt.) These sources had such negative impact because people assumed divinity and “inspiration,” based on subjective experience.

            What does that have to do with anything? What does it show us? It shows that someone merely having the belief in a “supernal” “unassailable” wisdom can cloud judgements because people no longer need to think critically. Someone like yourself in a position of authority can say something at one point in time, and in one context rhetorically, that may much later have unintentional lasting impact just because of your perceived authority as a religious teacher.

            Religious truth assumes a conclusion of absolute knowledge and truth before it has demonstrated the efficacy of such a claim. Unaffiliated people are adversely affected by that assumption, yourself included, (as it pertains to Christian missionaries.)

          • Concerned Reader
            I encourage you to read my original essay and you can see how I didn’t say anything about the superiority of religion in general – I used statistics that relate to Jews and to Jews only to show that something is unusual about this worldview – I fail to see how a statistical studies that lumps all religious worldviews together has any bearing on what I wrote.

          • Dina says:

            My dear Connie, atheists make the same assumption of moral and intellectual superiority. In fact all the atheists on this blog have been far, far more convinced of their moral and intellectual superiority than any Christian I have ever spoken too. And, boy oh boy, that is saying something.

            Of course that is my own subjective experience 😉

    • Hi Tildeb
      I admit that I have a bias, I was born into a certain community and it would be difficult for me to tell my family and friends that I was wrong. So yes, I look at the evidence with colored glasses but this has nothing to do with faith. If I would be an atheist, and I have friends who are, I would have the same problem. Most of us approach these issues with a bias and I think that we need to acknowledge this bias as we sift through the evidence. I know of no other honest way of approaching these questions.
      Now you propose that we test my conclusions with facts from the real world.
      I did precisely that and these facts support my conclusion. Your argument that “covenant communities” in general tend towards social dysfunction has zero bearing on this discussion because no one ever claimed that all covenant communities are telling the truth. In fact this would be a mathematical impossibility since the various covenant communities preach mutually exclusive doctrines.
      But when we look at the one covenant community that I am talking about the hard facts confirm my position.
      I have provided statistical evidence for the Jewish community and they are way ahead of every other society, not only today but throughout history.
      Here are some statistics for you to consider – From 1858 thru 1863 in Germany Jewish male crime was 37 percent lower than the surrounding population and female crime was 66 percent lower.
      The numbers in Germany from 1890 thru 1894 had the Jewish rate of crime for theft and assault at 50 percent of the surrounding population and from 1909 thru 1910 the differential was 40 percent.
      In Czarist Russia in the year 1907 the Jewish rates of crime were 25 percent less than the surrounding population. In Poland, from 1923 to 1925 the rate of Jewish was half of that of the population around them and statistics in the United States from 1920 to 1929 also put the Jewish crime rate at about half of the general population.
      These statistics hold true as far back as records were kept and in every country where Jews reside.
      I posted this post – https://yourphariseefriend.wordpress.com/2015/10/11/jews-and-civilization-an-open-letter-to-tildeb/
      Here are some more links for you to check out. http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/judaica/ejud_0002_0005_0_04715.html
      I suggest that you do some homework before arriving at sophisticated (but unfounded) conclusions about how I arrive at my conclusions.
      I propose we do the following – I’ll put forth some definers of social dysfunction – Crime rates, Suicide rates, Alcoholism and drug abuse rates, rates of teen rape, rates of divorce, rates of philanthropy and helping others out and we’ll see how these correlate to Jewish identity throughout history and how these rates contrast with the rates of atheistic populations. If you think that other factors should be on the list – I am willing to hear and let’s see what we can find out.

    • Dina says:

      Tilde B., you keep saying that there is greater social dysfunction in religious communities than in non-religious communities, but the one study I asked you to cite (quite some time ago) was one that showed correlation, not causation and also failed to examine Orthodox Jewish communities. The social functionality of these communities is astonishingly high if you use as your measures violent crime, family stability, drug and alcohol abuse, etc.

      I’d be interested to see you respond specifically to this point.

      • tildeb says:

        Well, Dina, that’s why I consistently called it a ‘correlation’.

        The point isn’t to say that religions cause social dysfunction… because we don’t really know why the correlation is so robust – it may be because social dysfunction leads to higher rates of religiosity. But the correlation is present and does cross all other kinds of boundaries like ethnicity and language, and so on.

        The point is to say that the oft-cited assertion that a lack of religious belief – or the lack of the right kind of religious belief, or religious belief done in the right way, and so on – is a negative factor is some way – perhaps a decrease moral or ethical behaviour, for example – is actually contrary to the evidence we have from reality.

        So the interesting point is that the assertion itself doesn’t come from reality. Where does it come from? Simply put, religious people are often told that this is what happens if religious belief is rejected – some kind of downward spiral into darkness and injustice.

        This assertion is not only completely imaginary, it simply not true… yet recycled time after time after time by those who trust their religious presumptions and religious assertions and religious teachings without actually testing them against reality!

        • Tildeb
          I wonder why you are referring to claims that are recycled when I wrote a lengthy article – not once asserting that all religion leads to a more moral society – but that one specific religious worldview does that – so I do not see how your comments on this subject are anything but a distraction

          • tildeb says:

            I explained why: your conclusion “The way I see things, stepping away from this covenant community is a step in the wrong direction. It is a step in the direction of darkness and injustice” is another recycled version that a lack of religious belief can and does lead people away from a better, more highly functioning society. This is simply not true and it isn’t about atheism: a lack of belief in gods or a god seems to be a move towards light and justice and this everything to do with the tug-of-war you describe.

          • Tildeb
            I was talking about a specific covenant community and not the concept of “covenant community” in general – I thought that was obvious from the context. And from what I have seen and from statistical evidence that I have seen – my statement is supported by facts in the world of reality

        • Dina says:

          You addressed an argument I haven’t made, Tilde. I didn’t talk at all about what happens when religious belief is rejected. You also haven’t addressed my main point about Orthodox Jewish communities. I’m interested in hearing your response to that.

          Rabbi B. has pressed you on your failure to respond to this point this several times as well. I’m very interested to hear your response.

          Thank you.

          • tildeb says:

            Judaism is an outlier in that it is as much a cultural identity as it is a religious one. This muddles the data about rates of societal dysfunction regarding the correlation with religious practices because to claim Jewish identity does not necessarily have anything to do with accepting Jewish religious beliefs and a large minority of Jews do, in fact, reject the religious identity altogether.

            Conversely, it muddles the data about Jewish rates because of the global dispersal of Jews. There is simply no question that the Jewish identity – those who identify as Jewish – has punched far above its weight class compared to others in all kinds of areas of academic, scholarly, and artistic achievement. So it’s comparing apples to oranges to try to use only this data to empower trust in the Jewish religious identity. The two – the religious wing and the cultural wing – are not the same thing and so rates related to the term ‘Jewish’ may or may not refer to the religiosity of those polled.

          • Tildeb
            I am aware of this phenomena – many people who are biologically and culturally Jewish are atheists (this preponderance is especially high in former communist countries). But still statistical research has been made showing that identity with the Jewish RELIGION has a positive impact on crime statistics, alcoholism, and other social issues. Furthermore, many of these statistical studies date back to the days when most if not all Jews were religious.

          • Tildeb
            For example this comprehensive study https://archive.org/stream/alcoholandthejew027935mbp/alcoholandthejew027935mbp_djvu.txt explicitly examines the various levels of observance within the Jewish community and their particular rates of alcoholism.
            Speak to a policeman who patrols an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood and ask him about the crime statistics.

          • tildeb says:

            Yes, these rates among the Orthodox community are significantly lower in the same way that unemployment in Soviet Union was significantly lower. The latter is achieved by reducing the autonomy and intellectual freedom of those who constitute the former. And this method has significant and pernicious influence on the wider society.

            For example, the Orthodox community is a staunch adversary of equality rights for LGBT. Orthodox communities have a significantly higher birth rate, which goes hand in hand with a significantly higher rates of prescribed and allowed gender roles and far higher in Orthodox communities compared to the wider populations in which they find themselves..Orthodox communities are a staunch adversary of mandatory public and secular education. They are a staunch adversary of inter-faith marriage. They are one of the most entrenched adversaries of evolution. The Association of Orthodox Jewish Scientists, for example, has a telling motto, which is “Science in the service of Torah.” Not the truth, not what is the case, not reality to arbitrate claims made about it, but to serve the Torah. This is insightful.

            So sure, most socially dysfunction rates are lower in Orthodox communities but at what personal cost? Robots can have the lowest rates possible in these areas of social dysfunction but this isn’t to say that turning children into Orthodox automatons with detailed rules and regulations they must follow for almost every facet of their daily lives is therefore a ‘healthier’ and more ‘functional’ way to live when one must first subsume one’s rights and freedoms to this patriarchal and privileged system.

          • Dina says:

            Tilly, you are missing the point.

            You contended that highly religious societies correlates with high social dysfunction. The Orthodox Jewish community is an exception. All the reasons you cited for this exception ought to apply to all the other religious communities. Why don’t they? So you still haven’t even begun to address this phenomenon.

            Furthermore, you made many statements of opinion in your post. It is an opinion that Orthodox Jews are robots and automatons incapable of thinking for themselves with no personal automony, not a fact. It is an opinion that we maintain healthy social function at great personal cost, not a fact.

            And you made a grave error. You called our system “privileged.” Here you reveal your ignorance of historical facts and current reality. I daresay there is not another people that has been more consistently hated and persecuted as the Jewish people throughout history. Even today Orthodox Jews are viewed with suspicion and even hatred by secular liberals, religious and secular Muslims, vast numbers of Christians, and, um, pretty much everyone else. Privileged? Again, what planet are you living on?

            With your opinion-based rant you reveal not only your ignorance of the facts on the ground but also your ugly personal bias against Orthodox Jews. They are religious and yet dare to have healthy societies. That must be because they are horrible people. Seriously, Tilly! As a man of science you can come up with better explanations.

          • Tildeb
            So we have a reply to what I wrote instead of to what I didn’t. This is progress.

            In this comment however you call Orthodox people “automatons” and “robots” – I find this view to be unfounded in reality. What do you know about the creativity of the Orthodox community? Did you judge their per capita rates of original publications? Or per capita rates of opening their own businesses with creative ideas? Or the patents filed by Orthodox people? I live in the Orthodox community and I see their creativity and I don’t think we have anything to be ashamed of. Your prejudices are not rooted in reality.

            Now you want to argue that the statistics of social dysfunction don’t mean anything if it goes together with opposing the rights of the LGBT community. I will point out that no one opposes the rights of the LGBT community to vote or to be treated as an equal citizen as it relates to any law. The area where there is opposition to the LGBT community is in their insistence on redefining the universal concept of marriage.

            So you believe that it is worth having a higher murder rate, a higher rate of rape and all types of violent crime if that would mean getting a redefinition of marriage. – What science is this opinion based on?

            You seem to have harnessed what you call science into the service of liberalism.

          • Dina says:

            Tilde, you haven’t answered the point because I specifically referred to the healthy social function of Orthodox Jewish communities and not the cultural contributions of individual Jews. The data are not at all muddled. So what say you?

          • tildeb says:

            Dina, you accused me of claiming causation in place of correlation. I responded to that false charge and corrected your comprehension. I then pointed out why I had used this data and why it was important to do so. You have failed to recognize that entirely; instead you have complained I have not addressed specifically Orthodox Judaism. I don’t need to for my criticism to stand. What I have done is explained in last comment why the data regarding Judaism is muddled because of the cultural overlay of the identity. One cannot use this data as if the religious belief enabled the academic, scholarly, and/or artistic achievements without appreciating the contributions by cultural Jews – scattered throughout the world – who may or may not have any religious belief at all.

  3. tildeb says:

    Morality is a comparison term, which is handy to describe, compare, and contrast the consequences of actions and behaviours. Morality is not a thing, so I agree with Mak in this regard but our sense of reciprocity is real and quite physical.

    • Dina says:

      Do you agree with Mak that morality is up for grabs, that there is no such thing as good or evil? I won’t kill your kids and you won’t kill mine. That’s how I understand his position.

      Although now that I think of it, then it would be fine to kill our own kids.

      • Concerned Reader says:

        Although now that I think of it, then it would be fine to kill our own kids.

        Dina it is absurd to entertain the notion that if someone didn’t have a religious code of ethics that they considered absolute, that they would then kill their own children, (or at least have no excuse not to.) I find this an interesting topic for you to bring up especially when the Bible itself commands certain people be killed rather often for various infractions, and whole groups at that. Thank goodness the rabbis decide not to read those verses as literally or stringently as one might decide to.

        • Dina says:

          Con, you’re joking, right? That’s not what I said or even implied. Read my comment again more carefully.

          • Concerned Reader says:

            What exactly did you mean then by joking around with that last part of your comment? It didn’t come across as humorous. I just quoted the portion of your comment that seemed out of place, could you clarify?

            “Do you agree with Mak that morality is up for grabs, that there is no such thing as good or evil? I won’t kill your kids and you won’t kill mine. That’s how I understand his position.”

            This carries a connotation that you believe that having a religious standard somehow correlates to a greater sense of right and wrong, more positive social function, than others.

          • Dina says:

            It wasn’t a joke, Con. Mak said that there is no such thing as morality. Humans simply learn over time that it’s to their mutual benefit to not steal from, murder, and rape each other. I just used an extreme example to illustrate the point.

            Religion does correlate to a greater sense of right and wrong (leaving social function/dysfunction out of the picture for a minute). Even atheists like Mak admit that there is no such thing as right and wrong. He even asserts that we have no free will. So there.

          • Dina says:

            Con, atheists want to have it both ways. They want to claim the mantle of moral superiority but at the same time they insist that there is no such thing as good and evil and no such thing as free will. Does that make sense to you? Because it sure doesn’t to me.

  4. Concerned Reader says:

    My dear Connie, atheists make the same assumption of moral and intellectual superiority. In fact all the atheists on this blog have been far, far more convinced of their moral and intellectual superiority than any Christian I have ever spoken too.

    Does that excuse the behavior by either side? No it doesn’t.

  5. Concerned Reader says:

    “We have encountered science and the scientific community over the centuries. Since science is the study of truth and since we worship the God of truth, we have never found ourselves in conflict with the method of study known as science.”

    Rabbi B, with much respect, right off the bat you are making a small category mistake. You seem to be under the impression that what we call today the “scientific method” has existed for untold centuries since the time of the Greeks. In reality this is not entirely correct, because Science has not existed in the past in the form that it does today. It has evolved.

    You are inadvertently conflating natural Philosophical argumentation (a classical ancient form of logical reasoning) with the modern empirically based scientific method.
    A marked difference between philosophy (upon which ancient Greeks, Medieval thinkers, and early Renaissance thinkers relied for their knowledge,) and the modern scientific method, is the acknowledgement of the modern empirical method that a philosophical argument (such as an argument for a first cause,) needn’t necisarilly be true, even if it seems to fit the form of classical logic or “common sense” to human persons. What is known in modern science is always open to change, (quite unlike most philosophical arguments that are not open to empirical research.)

    I mean to say that A philosophical proof like a first cause argument is on a wholly different level vis its proving power than say Newton’s laws of gravitation. One is based on direct observation and mathematics, the other is based mainly on an idea that appears consistent ideologically to a human being.

    For example, an argument for design, (while it sounds rational philosophically to a human mind relating to other human minds,) cannot demonstrate or account for observable empirical facts with testable, repeatable, independently verifiable results. It is solely an inference to what is PERCEIVED to be the best explanation. Science is largely empirical, so it tries not to assume that it has the best explanation because its modus-operandi is to keep learning more, to keep refining the method and the hypothesis.

    “The Greeks believed in an eternal unchanging world and this conflicted with our belief in a world that had a beginning. Since these scientists had acquired their knowledge through the scientific method (or so they thought),”

    “Belief” is the operative word here rabbi. The Greeks “believed” in an eternal cosmos under the control of fates, and at the mercy of gods. That is philosophy backed by anthropocentric inference and assumption, not empirical science.

    “The human mind naturally assumes that such sophisticated complexity must be intentional and the human mind moves toward understanding that there is a power above and beyond nature that intended this beautiful world.”

    The human mind also “naturally assumed” for centuries that the earth was a heavenly body that was fixed in the heavens, motionless. It was argued for centuries that the world was stationary, so movement therefore required an agent. Humans assume many incorrect things, Judaism knows this.

    Scientific Empirical research proved that philosophical assumption can be wrong even if a philosophical argument seems reasonable to us. A hypothesis that was seen as philosophically anthropocentric ally valid was proven wrong by empirical data that anyone could examine. That’s the difference that I believe you are unintentionally forgetting.

    “Enter the theory of evolution. The theory of evolution proposes that the sophistication and complexity that is evident in living organisms arose through natural laws. Some people have used the theory of evolution to undermine the argument from the complexity of the world.”

    Theory in science means empirically verifiable data. People “believe” in natural selection because we have (as a species) engaged in artificial selection of traits in our breeding of creatures for hundreds of years. When humans have created whole new breeds of animals that can no longer reproduce naturally with a similar animal, artificial selection has occurred and a new sub species of a given animal has emerged.

    It is a straw man among people opposed to evolution that “you have no missing links.” You do not find “missing links” because the process is always in motion. It doesn’t stop.

    • Concerned Reader
      Thanks for your comments it is these type of questions that further the conversation by correcting and pressing for clarification.
      You make an important distinction between the method of thinking applied by the ancient Greeks vs the method of thinking employed by the modern scientific community. This distinction needs to be made – but still and all I think that the pattern of human behavior associated with a method of inquiry that is linked to the natural world is still relevant – but the distinction clearly demands that we not conflate the two (ancient Greeks and modern scientists) together as it relates to how valid their method is.

      The point I was making about “naturally assuming” that the complexity of the world is intentional was not to say that this proves that it is intentional but simply to refute the argument that belief in a Designer requires unnatural indoctrination – that premise is false

      I am not sure what you are trying to say with your last point – If you are correcting me on the usage of the word “theory” in association with evolution and you are arguing that evolution has been observed and that it is going on today so we should call it a fact and not a theory – Indeed – but the full sweep of neo-Darwinian evolution is still but a theory and the evolution that we observe today actually challenges some of the premises of neo-Darwinian evolution. One example is that the evolution that we observe is completely predictable and follows an obvious path that is a direct reaction to the surrounding environment – this challenges the premise of neo-Darwinian evolution which posits that the mutations that make up evolution are entirely random and the environment only filters the beneficial mutations from the detrimental ones
      So I am calling evolution a theory because what the word “evolution” means in people’s minds is but a theory although the concept has been demonstrated as a real fact

      • tildeb says:

        I’m so sorry to see that you’ve already made a faith commitment to this kind of creationist position that is incompatible with our scientific understanding of reality and every single application, therapy, and technology we use based on it. I’m sure you think you’re quite capable of compartmentalizing creationist belief so that it doesn’t interfere with you understanding of other science but what you said here about fact and theory demonstrates a very wide chasm between scientific literacy and your faith-based position and no amount of reality I can introduce will close this gap as long as you maintain your deeply anti-scientific faith-based commitment. I sincerely hope you do not pass this tragic and willful ignorance on to children as if a virtue… but I fear you do…. and with a clear conscience.

        What a shame.

        • Dina says:

          Tilly, it might be worthwhile to consider that the only Jews who survived as Jews are those who remained committed to the faith. The rest have disappeared and continue to disappear through assimilation (Pew which you greatly respect has a study on this). Of course the survival of the Jewish people as such is meaningless to you, but to those of us who care that is significant.

          If Rabbi B. wants his children to remain Jewish, then he had better pass on his tradition to them.

          Also, why is it is so tragic? What is so tragic about being Jewish, except for everyone hating us? Do you hate Jews so much that you wish they would disappear?

          Sorry for sticking my big Jewish hook nose in, Rabbi B.

          • tildeb says:

            It’s tragic, Dina, because it is closing minds before they have a chance to learn.

            Evolution is not a contrary ‘tradition’ (under which you excuse the the teaching of Iron Age mythology to be equivalent and even superior to today;s understanding) but a central pillar of modern biology. To stand against evolution is to stand against the most profound insight into the natural world ever achieved. Such a stand is a remarkable demonstration of the pernicious influence of religious belief. To refute evolution on religious grounds (or, in the case of the Academy of Orthodox Scientists, to abuse science to comport to Torah) is pure indoctrination of religious beliefs that are not supported by reality but stand against it. Even worse, it teaches children to think that their beliefs define and describe reality, that reality can somehow and magically be made to come into accord with faith-based beliefs. In any other human endeavor, this reversal – assuming that one’s beliefs are true first and that reality must align with them) is called by medical definition a ‘delusion’ but, because the DSM V privileges by exemption religious belief from being properly diagnosed as a delusional pschopathology, earnest people think this kind of indoctrination is not just okay but pious and therefore righteous. It is not. It is not a knowledge position but a theological one that is incompatible with coming to understand how reality operates – in this case, how life (allele frequency) changes over time mostly by the mechanism of natural selection – independent of our beliefs about it. This hypothesis can be tested and the theology contrary to it found to to be factually wrong; reality does not comport to our beliefs about it no matter how much certainty we grant to the faith that this is so.

            Understanding this order is central to interacting with reality in a healthy and respectful manner. Understanding that evolution has been established as a fact in exactly the same way and with much stronger evidence than, say, germ theory or the laws of thermodynamics, demonstrates the extraordinary difference between creationist beliefs and how life actually changes over time and presents irrefutable evidence for common decent.

            We are related, you and I, not by divine fiat or some creationist POOF! event or arbitrary identity like some shared religious belief but by our common ancestry. This is demonstrable. We are also related to cabbages and non kosher critters, to the ancient blood worms found in Berger shale predating us by hundreds of millions of years. And this understanding matters to give battle to reality denying campaigns to the stereotyping necessary for group vilification.

            I disagree with you that Orthodox Judaism is a force for light and justice and I’ve listed some of the problems inherent with this set of beliefs. Of course, you take these observations to be an expression of hate towards your group identity but this will not be the last time you are wrong about a lot of things when viewing the world through your religious lens. Because you empower faith-based beliefs, I know that your method of understanding how reality operates has been perverted and used to promote your religious identity over understanding and respecting reality and those of us who live fully in it. It’s a rather vicious cycle you’re and so I feel for you and those you bring into the delusional fold. But I also know that your epistemology is broken and so your beliefs will be highly skewed and this is to be expected.

            But that doesn’t mean I have to respect you specific religious beliefs. I think you’ve fooled yourself and will pay whatever the costs are to remain fooled. To break out of that is very difficult and comes at a very high cost most people are unwilling to pay. Unfortunately, part of that cost is borne by me in the form of people imbued with power in public office kowtowing and publicly subsidizing and exempting and privileging your religious beliefs with serious consideration. Just look at the ongoing battle with ignorance when it comes to teaching children basic biology, namely, evolution. Orthodox Judaism is a major player in spreading this ignorance and imposing it on others through no choice of their own under the false label of ‘tradition’.

          • Dina says:


            So why do you care about this terrible tragedy? If we are content, and our kids are content, and we’re not bothering anybody, then why are you so bothered by it?

            Why can’t you just live and let live?

            Why can’t keep your contempt and pity for us poor benighted folks to yourself and just accept that most of the world is just not as rational, reasonable, and smart as you?

            I asked you a bunch of questions about morality. What is it, really? Do you agree with Mak that there is no such thing as good and evil and free will? If so, how do you justify your claim that you are morally autonomous (and what does that term even mean to you)?

            Is it evil for parents to kill their babies if they regret having them or have some kind of impairment? Why or why not?

        • Tildeb
          And what did I say about fact and theory that conjures up no explanation in your open scientific mind other than the one that my opinion is “faith based”? Is there something inaccurate about what I wrote?

          • tildeb says:

            YPF, you said “If you are correcting me on the usage of the word “theory” in association with evolution and you are arguing that evolution has been observed and that it is going on today so we should call it a fact and not a theory – Indeed – but the full sweep of neo-Darwinian evolution is still but a theory and the evolution that we observe today actually challenges some of the premises of neo-Darwinian evolution.”

            There is no higher category in human scientific knowledge than the term ‘theory’. You would know this if you understood science. And the process of evolution has been shown to be as much a fact as any other. Yes, evolution is both a fact and theory and because it has surpassed all – repeat ALL – challenges to it, is not a topic that is open to serious questioning in the scientific community because the evidence for it is simply overwhelming. Not only that, but evolution comports with every other field of study about reality. The only challenge to it is strictly and solely religiously motivated because it interferes with this important theologcial necessity of POOF!ism by a divine agency of Oogity Boogity!

            That’s it. That’s the sum total of ‘knowledge’ that stands contrary to accepting evolution as a fact. That’s the side you’re committed to and not for any rational, scientifically valid reasons. It is wholly and solely a faith-based commitment you have made contrary to how we know reality operates, a commitment you then misrepresent as if an equivalent and reasonable consideration to ‘teach’ (almost always with some public subsidization) to vulnerable children. This is sad and tragic and should not be either respected or legally allowed to occur. It is no different in method and justification from denying the holocaust ever occurred.

          • Tildeb A few points – In a previous comment you “accused” the Orthodox community of opposing public education. Every statistical study of public education in the US shows that public education has been and continues to be an abject failure. The amount of money spent in relation to the knowledge that the students actually acquire is horrendous – yet you choose to ignore this hard reality when forming your worldview.

            You speak of opposition to neo-Darwinism as if it would be a crime against humanity to ask questions. But the scientific method is all about asking questions. Yes – some of the questions are motivated by religion – but not all. You dismiss any and all questions under the umbrella of “religion” even if the questions are rooted in science. Dr. Lee Spetner has written a scientific critique of neo-Darwinian evolution and I have seen only one response online which actually addresses (part of) what he wrote – every other response from those who disagree with him basically said we don’t have to listen to him because he is religious – decidedly not scientific.

            One last point – Denying reality is foolish but not all denial of reality is equal – denying the holocaust is an obvious prelude to murder. Denying the reality of evolution (and note that I called it reality) is not – so there is no moral equivalent.

          • tildeb says:

            Point one: public education is not an an abject failure. In the States, much of it is tremendously underfunded so that the claim it is poor can be made. The same is not true in many other countries like Japan, Finland, and even Canada. It is a unifying force that carries with it the potential for tremendous social benefit and cohesion respecting diversity and differences. Again, Canada is fine example to produce peace, order, and good governance from widely divergent populations and communities. Separate schooling for religious reasons is an excellent method to indoctrinate children with such discredited notions as Poof!ism.

            Point two: evolution has already undergone more than a hundred years of critical questioning and has handled ALL challenges. It is upon evolutionary theory that genetics was born and now the modern synthesis is beyond simpleton questioning. Your questions have already been answered again and again and again but you maintain them not because they are legitimate queries but because you have been trained to ask them as if they remain unanswered. Hence, the charge of scientific illiteracy in this regard. And you promote this ongoing scientific illiteracy with children sent to schools where the evolutionary components of basic biology have very often been physically removed for purely religious reasons. That’s why it’s tragic.

            Point three: because evolutionary theory is basic science, pretending to question it is inherently dishonest when done for religious reasons but presented as if excused for religious reasons. This method is identical to the one used to teach children that the holocaust never happened, for political reasons. There is no qualitative difference in this censorship methodology. It has nothing to do with morality and everything to do with not respecting reality in order to serve some other agenda… in your case, the religious agenda. That;’s not respecting what’s true; that’s imposing a doctrine over it and claiming equivalency. If you think that’s intellectually virtuous, then I’ll disagree you whether the censorship involves what’s true about evolution or what’s true about the holocaust.

          • Tildeb
            Public education in the US is an abject failure and blaming a lack of funding for this failure is simply failing to face reality – http://fee.org/freeman/the-failure-of-american-public-education/
            This is for point one – I will get back to you shortly on points two and three

          • tildeb says:

            I agree that public education in the US faces significant problems. What I’m saying is don’t blame public education: blame the US system that implements its broken model and fix it. There are many models that do work exceptionally well and far outstrip private education in all kinds of ways, most notably in areas of foreign languages and socializing. Private schools can and do produce high levels of student achievement by comparison for many non-academic reasons.

            But this isn’t the end of the story, so to speak.

            For example, there are typical classrooms in the Toronto public system (a major multicultural center in Canada) at the elementary level that contain literally more than a dozen different first languages, many ethnicities, mixtures of religious affiliations, and several students requiring physical, behavioural, and specialized cognitive IEPs (individual education plans). One might assume that such a classroom would achieve poorly on scholastic achievement testing because of the lack of student body homogeneity. And it does score poorly. One might think this is an indication of failure… especially when compared to equivalent elementary private schools that pick and choose which students they will accept and who do in fact score very highly in scholastic achievement tests.

            The argument here seems straightforward and the conclusion self-evident: public bad, private good, and here are the comparative testing results to back it up.

            It’s quite wrong. And here’s why:

            Those same students complete the same grade comparative scholastic testing at 15 and 16 years of age and rank very highly, much higher as a mean average than the same mean average as their private school peers and this trend continues into university where public education students far outstrip private school graduates in rates of university undergraduate degrees obtained and post graduate degrees and doctorates.

            How can this be?

          • tildeb
            reality is not on your side according to a Canadian government agency who has every reason to want to believe that public does work better – check your facts before you shoot your mouth off especially if you want to maintain your reputation of being a follower of reality
            In any case – I grew up in Toronto – I attended elementary school there (private of course) I will say that my interaction with public school students in Canada (we played street hockey together) was much better (in the sense of the public school kids being more civilized) than what my kids experience here in the US. But I would attribute this to a history of a strict immigration policy that only allows more educated people into the country not to the success of public schooling.
            The only reason this subject came in in any case was to show that opposition to public schooling need not rest on an irrational basis.

          • tildeb says:

            You’re right. I stand corrected. Thank you for bringing this latest data (2015) to my attention. I was using old data from PISA for international comparisons and finding below average elementary data with above average Grade 10 results and BC data for private school post secondary attainment. The StasCan data is more relevant and I’ll change my opinion accordingly.

            The question I ask myself now is what is it these private schools are doing better, then, and how can we improve public education to achieve improved results?

          • Tildeb
            You assume that because I am a religious person you could then dismiss my words, you do this not only to me but to people who are by any standard real scientists, Whether they are religious or not if they dare question any aspect of evolution – then they could be dismissed as “creationists” even if they are actually atheists. The rhetoric that is used to defend evolution would not have to be marshalled if it was as obvious as gravity.

            And by the way – I challenged you to give me ONE technology or treatment that we have today only because of the theory of evolution

          • tildeb says:

            Look, I know this really a waste of time as long as you choose to maintain a creationist faith commitment. Nothing I can say or anything I can provide you from reality has any place in such a commitment. But you did ask me a question that I think deserves an answer. So I’ll spell it out.

            Asking me to provide “ONE technology or treatment that we have today only because of the theory of evolution” is the wrong question. It is equivalent to asking me to provide “ONE technology or treatment that we have today only because of the theory of gravity”… as if only the directness demonstrates the theory’s validity.


            Understanding how the theory does produce direct knowledge is through first grasping that ‘theory’ means ‘explanation’. The right question, then, is to ask whether or not some explanation leads to new knowledge… new knowledge that is then successfully used to produce applications, therapies, and technologies that work and do so for everyone everywhere all the time.

            If this new knowledge is successfully put to work this way, then each and every expression of that knowledge in each and every application, therapy and technology that utilizes it is what demonstrates that the explanation is much more likely to be correct and properly deserves a higher level of confidence.

            Evolution in this sense deserves our highest confidence because it has produced staggering quantities of new knowledge and an avalanche of applications, therapies, and technologies that work for everyone everywhere all the time. No other theory can boast the same.

            This is why it’s important to realize that genetics aligns perfectly with evolutionary theory. Every application, therapy, and technology that utilizes genetics or any of its branches utilizes the theory of evolution and demonstrates its usefulness.

            It’s important to realize that geology aligns perfectly with evolutionary theory. Every application, therapy, and technology that utilizes geology or any of its branches utilizes the theory of evolution and demonstrates its usefulness.

            The same is true throughout medicine, plate tectonics, animal husbandry, linguistics, anthropology, paleontology, crop sciences, embryology, immunology, biogeography, mining, atomic theory, and so on. Nowhere in any of these fields of knowledge do we find a single rabbit in the pre-Cambrian, so to speak. It all aligns perfectly with the explanation of how life changes over time we call evolutionary theory.

            This is not the full story for us. Keep in mind two really important things here – things the creationist rarely does…

            1) that none of these fields has to accord and align with, or even support evolutionary theory; they just do… and
            2) that any other alternative explanation for any of the subsets where evolutionary theory may be seen as questionable has to then expand to account for all the rest that does.

            Suggesting that POOF!ism is a reasonable scientific alternative simply makes no sense. As geneticist Theodosius Dobzhansky said in his essay’s title “Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution. Evolution beyond any reasonable doubt is how biology works. That’s why its understanding is a fundamental organizing principle for understanding life on earth in all related fields of knowledge. Keeping this understanding from children can only be done either out of ignorance or cruelty.

            As when faced by specific details revealed by, say, genetics, (why does the human genome and all great ape genomes contain identically positioned genetic damage from an ancient simian virus, for example, and why does the fruit fly genome doesn’t but does share 75% of the same positioned genes?).. what creationists (and Intelligent Design advocates) don’t face is this mountainous evidence in support of the theory of evolution in all these fields and ignore all the knowledge applied by this understanding; instead, both rely on cherry picking bits and pieces of data that are then used solely to support confirmation bias for heir preferred form of creationism, and that’s exactly what you’ve done in both your post and commentary. Espousing superstitious nonsense believing in POOF!ism in place of honest understanding trying to pass it off as some equivalent kind of knowledge is not a quest for the truth, not heading towards light and justice. It is ignorance writ large.

          • Tildeb this one deserves a lengthy reply – I hope to respond in the near future >

          • tildeb says:

            You might want to take into consideration Russell Blackford’s essay in the philosophical journal the Conversation about why there really is an incompatibility between religions and science, where he describes what I have accused you of doing to maintain your creationist faith commitment, where the all-too-common refusal by religious thinkers to accept anything as undercutting their claims has a downside for believability. To a neutral outsider, or even to an insider who is susceptible to theological doubts, persistent tactics to avoid falsification will appear suspiciously ad hoc.

            To an outsider, or to anyone with doubts, those tactics will suggest that religious thinkers are not engaged in an honest search for truth. Rather, they are preserving their favoured belief systems through dogmatism and contrivance.

            If your response to me assembles an assortment of critiques and quibbles against problematic bits and pieces that only seem to be contrary to evolutionary theory, don’t bother. They have already been either adequately addressed by evolutionary biologists and/or fail to do what I reminded you is important: to offer an alternative and testable theory that successfully explains why so much knowledge produced from so many fields of study that doesn’t have to but does in fact align with it reliably and consistently over time continues to produce applications, therapies, and technologies works for everyone everywhere all the time.

            I am well aware that to do so will yield a Nobel so creationists have their work cut out for them.

            Perhaps you could take another tack and explain why you think – having rejected the notion that perhaps the creator account is false – reality fails to comport with the historical, geological, anthropological, linguistic, and genetic claims made in the first five books of the bible?

          • tildeb says:

            Sorry… the link to Blackford’s essay – Against Accommodationism: How science undermines religion – is here.

          • tildeb
            I want to thank you for the link to the article
            Here are some links that you might find interesting
            I appreciate your comments and I hope to post some response to your comments on these subjects

          • tildeb says:

            His arguments based on his religious position are transparently poor. To give but a single example for the first article, science is a method. That understanding completely derails and undermines his entire thesis by dismantling every premise he uses to justify it.

            For the second article, of <i.course science is a self-correcting mechanism because it requires reality to arbitrate it. Imagine if the religious had such a method!

            The third article creates the same straw man used to decry ‘scientism’. It’s a fallacious and puerile argument because no one I’ve ever encountered actually believes ‘science’ as he describes… certainly no working scientist.

            Searching for these kinds of arguments and then granting to them some level of confidence because they come from the same religious cloth you wear is a clue about the what it is you are actually seeking: not the truth, not what is the case, not what reality has arbitrated to be worthy of confidence, but a defense of your beliefs because you have to assume they are true FIRST. This is putting the cart before the horse and then left wondering why such beliefs never, ever, not once produce new knowledge. That’s the next clue. And the very simple conclusion worthy of a higher level of confidence than beliefs that are contrary to reality is because the faith commitment is in all likelihood misplaced. But I sincerely doubt you are able to grant that possibility any meaningful consideration because you have simply assumed otherwise and cloaked it as ‘pious’. And that term – piety – is what you actually seek not for the sake of what’s true or seeking what is actually the case but so that you can claim that you are pious for your intransigence.

          • Tildeb O follower of “reality” – and which piece of reality persuaded you that I attributed any more credit to the articles because they came from a man of the cloth? That is merely your closed minded prejudice at work. Perhaps my bias has me favoring the articles but the source of the article is meaningless for me – I judge them by how the arguments appeal to me not by who said them. Your pre-judgment of me and about how my mind operates is evidence from the world of reality to the point that these articles are making.

            1000 Verses – a project of Judaism Resources wrote: >

          • tildeb says:

            How do I know? Because these arguments put forth do not stand on their own merit. So why would you grant them any confidence? If not for a shared faith (and you obviously follow the blog), then what other reason is there? I am at a loss without the religious connection.

          • Tildeb I don’t follow the blog – I just discovered it a few days ago. The reason the articles appealed to me was precisely becauseit attempts to document from non-religious sources that the human beings that make up the scientific community are plagued by dogmatism as much as anybody else. We all are plagued by our bias – but the belief that we are somehow immune from this human condition or the belief that those who believe differently than yourself are incapable of rational thinking (which I only found amongst atheists and Christian missionaries – both of them convinced that I am incapable of rational thinking) is a true obstruction for respectful conversation. >

          • tildeb says:

            You seem to have skipped my criticism altogether, which was that science isn’t about beliefs or personalities; it’s a METHOD. The reason why this is understanding is essential to grasp is because it doesn’t allow people to hide behind dogma. Science is arbitrated not by peers, not by authority, but by results arbitrated by reality to be the same for everyone everywhere all the time.

            That’s understanding is very helpful in describing why your cell phone works: it is built on an understanding about reality and how it works independent of our personal beliefs produced by the METHOD we call ‘science’. Your cell phone doesn’t work because of beliefs you hold, beliefs you have accepted as true, beliefs chosen through interpretation of various authorities and personalities that you deem suitable and worthy of confidence. It just works because the understanding applied to the technology has been arbitrated by reality to be reliable and consistent demonstrated by your cell phone in that it will work for anyone, anywhere, at any time. That’s the reality and it is not determined by our beliefs about the moral implications of a universe ‘designed’ with various kinds of electromagnetic waves.

            To believe otherwise and suggest a supernatural ‘explanation’ really does indict that person who, without coming up with a better understanding of how cells phones work, trolls the internet to come up with crackpot beliefs about invisible divine entities that ‘permit’ signals to be carried to selected cell phones deemed ‘worthy’ of receiving the ‘One True Message’ (TM). That belief is irrational because it is not built on information adduced from reality but simply applied to it and then privileged by some to be taken seriously because it is so darned ‘pious’. That doesn’t make the irrational belief reasonable; instead, it describes the willingness of the person to believe in hidden agencies of Oogity Boogity! to be credulous to the point of gullibility. And when that same person tries to justify the contrary anti-scientific belief to why cell phones work and their origins – by supernatural intervention through POOF!ism – under the banner of seeking what’s true, then we’ve left the field of what’s reasonable, what’s rational, what’s scientific, and entered the realm of religious belief cloaked in deception.

            Why does this matter?

            Well, as Jeffery Taylor explains, “If a close friend of yours told you he was feeling out of sorts and planning to go have a hole bored through his skull – an ancient procedure known as trepanation, once regarded as therapeutic for a number of ills – what would you do? You would explain to him that no evidence exists to recommend this, that medical science long ago discredited the gory practice. So no drilling through the cranium for him.

            If, however, he were to accept your argument and desist from trepanation, yet instead choose to visit the local lobotomist for relief, you would have to urge him to refrain once again, as no evidence justifies lobotomies, once thought curative for various mental disorders, either. So no ice-pick up the eye socket for him.

            In both cases, you would have saved your friend from unnecessary brain damage and pointless emotional duress, and would deserve his gratitude. Switching from bale to bane would have done him no good.”

            There is no qualitative difference in teaching children to believe in religious authority that produces zero knowledge and insight into reality any more than then there is teaching them to grant confidence and trust in alternative surgical care that fails to produce any healthy outcomes… like trepanation and lobotomy. Religious belief is just another version, another failed product, of faith-based methodology. And all of us – ion one way or another – continue to pay the price for this unnecessary foolishness.

          • tildeb you missed the point of the articles I linked. Yes – science is a method but scientists are humans and just because they are engaged in a method known as science doesn’t prevent other human factors aside from reality affecting their field. And besides I showed you how according to your own standards of reality my system produces results (social function statistics) but when you realized that this aspect of reality doesn’t work in favor of your dogma you moved the goal post

            1000 Verses – a project of Judaism Resources wrote: >

          • tildeb says:

            a method known as science doesn’t prevent other human factors aside from reality affecting their field.

            Yes it does… over time… hence the term ‘self-correcting’. Reality arbitrates, not people.

            I showed you how according to your own standards of reality my system produces results (social function statistics) but when you realized that this aspect of reality doesn’t work in favor of your dogma you moved the goal post.

            No, I didn’t. My point was that contrary to assumptions about people who claim no belief in gods or a god and religiosity does not correlate with a higher level of social functioning. In fact, religiosity NEGATIVELY and ROBUSTLY correlates. You have tried to make the case that your brand of theism is the outlier. I pointed out that the data was mudddled by having no means to sift the secular and cultural Jew from your particular brand of Judaism.

            You have since decided in your mind that I have not addressed your point. At the very best, your particular brand of theism may in fact be the outlier. So what? The correlation I raised in regards to the claim still betrays the assumption theists maintain that non believers are less well behaved in society than theists… or at best comparably so. This is a lie. You have not revealed it to be anything less. So there has been no goal post shifting by me.

          • Tildeb I responded to your argument in which you assert that the statistics do not differentiate between secular and religious jews with the simple rebuttal that they do – the study on alcoholism explicitly focuses on this correlation as well as do current statistical studies in Israel (Taub center for social …) I also pointed out that most of the articles refer to a time when most if not all Jews were religious That theism in general is more moral than atheism is a lie – I never claimed such a thing in fact I explicitly wrote that a sincere atheist is more moral than a a crooked religionist or should I say more Godly?

            In any case – I acknowledge that you brought up points that deserve a response and I am working on it

            1000 Verses – a project of Judaism Resources wrote: >

          • tildeb says:

            Timely reminder from John Cleese and commentary by retired NZ science guy Ken Parrott.

          • tildeb
            I have no doubt that science is a method of acquiring knowledge and a good and honest one at that – no question or quibble. My point is and was that human beings who engage the scientific method as their primary occupation are subject to the same faults that other human beings are subject to and this affects them as individuals as well as a community – do you dispute this?

          • tildeb says:

            Do you really think anyone suggests scientists are anything but human?

            Come on.

            Where I take issue with this approach is the suggestion… well, the thesis by the author of your linked articles… is that because scientists are human that their fields are therefore equivalently susceptible to the same foils.

            This is not true and demonstrably not true.

            For example, the chemical explanation for doing chemistry is not altered one iota by the foils of those engaged in applying its understanding.

            If you gave this silly thesis more than a passing thought, you’d know this perfectly well. Yet you persist in trying to maintain this false equivalency, that science is simply an expression of those who do it. That’s why I keep reminding you that science is a method and NOT a product.

          • tildeb
            The only reason I keep trying to explain this is because of your prejudice against religious people
            Here is an article by a scientist (not a rabbi) documenting what I am talking about
            (As an aside – is this not a research paper? how do I know that it is true?)

          • tildeb says:

            Published research papers are a product of science. And these products can be open to the foils of those who do them. That’s not the issue! You falsely – like the original author – assume that the products are equivalent to the METHOD and so you conclude incorrectly that it is the METHOD that is rightly held to be an equivalent belief to a religious belief. And that’s where you are wrong. It’s a false equivalency because the scientific method is self-correcting. Religious belief is not.

          • tildeb its good to see that we are on the same page. I wholeheartedly agree with you that science as a method is something categorically different than religious belief. I never said that they were equivalent and if you understood that from my words I apologize for not being clear enough.

            1000 Verses – a project of Judaism Resources wrote: >

          • Dina says:

            All we’re saying is that some scientists present science incorrectly–do you dispute that?

            No one is suggesting that science itself is the problem. For example, the famous British doctor Andrew Wakefield proved that vaccines are linked to autism in children. He was dishonest in obtaining evidence, his study was flawed, and eventually he was stripped of his license (his exposure is a happy ending; sadly not all such frauds are exposed).

            The practitioner, not the field, is the problem. And some practitioners cause enormous damage. Despite being thoroughly discredited, the anti-vaccine movement has grown and even caused deaths.

            Our knowledge of science comes mostly from experts who are not always truthful. There isn’t some sort of natural, organic science experience wherein we absorb pure, unadulterated facts, you know?

          • tildeb says:

            All we’re saying is that some scientists present science incorrectly–do you dispute that?

            No, I do not dispute that. But that’s not what is being suggested.

            It is being suggested that evolution is open to some kind of scientific debate because some scientists are subject to human foibles. This is absolutely, unequivocally, irrefutably wrong. To deny evolution is to deny the METHOD of science as a means to gain understanding about how reality operates. Creationism in all its forms does exactly this: denies the METHOD of science.

          • tildeb here is where I disagree. neo-Darwinism is a product of science it is not the method and while it is true that certain aspects of evolution have been incontrovertibly proven but some aspects are still open to debate amongst scientists. Interestingly it is specifically the one aspect of evolution that runs counter to intelligent design that is not clearly proven as I outlined in my post entitled “Random Reality”


          • tildeb says:

            The fact that evolution has been raised to the level of theory should give you great pause. There is no higher level of confidence in science.

            Think about that. You’re trying to suggest that you’re the smartest person in the room because you doubt.

            Again, in scientific language there is no higher level of confidence. It has been earned.

            You’re first question should be why? Why does nothing in biology make sense without this foundational understanding? Why is evolutionary theory an essential understanding?

            If you followed this line of reasoning, the world of biology opens up to you. You could follow this trail for the rest of your life and come to have an excellent appreciation of why evolution is true… because its explanation fits everything reality has revealed to us about how life changes over time AND it has yielded entirely new branches of highly productive science.

            None of this had to be the case. It just is.

            Now, along comes a theist who has made a faith commitment to creationism in some form. How is this person to come at understanding evolution?

            Well, BioLogos tried and failed to create a middle ground. If evolutionary theory and creationism were compatible, this should have provided the forum for it to happen. It was a dismal failure. The are not compatible.

            So what’s a theist to do?

            Follow the lead of denialists.

            First, to make room for an alternative explanation, one must create doubt. This is done by trying to raise the quibbles that are common in any expression of robust science to the level of creating what only appears to be doubt and then pretending that this doubt is covered up by conspiracy, by special funding, by indoctrination, as if there really was a scientific debate where none exists… as if by making the case that because evolutionary theory only accounts for 99.999999999999999% of all available data, there is enough wiggle room for some supernatural explanation.

            Secondly, use the lack of certainty in science to damn it. By admitting there is room for error, the evolutionary biologist must now face a majority of citizens in the US who have drunk the creationist Kool-Aid and think that because .000000000000001% of data that isn’t clearly accounted for is evidence against the theory, that’s all the justification needed to argue that the 99.999999999999999% that is accounted for either is probably wrong or no better than equivalent to the creationist explanation.

            Thirdly, categorically fail to add to that percentage that support the explanation far beyond a reasonable doubt and intentionally ignore the dozens of fields of studies that have produced applications, therapies, and technologies reliant on the theory of evolution to work as it does by means of these products for everyone everywhere all the time.

            Finally, pretend the questions raised by creationists about evolutionary theory have not been answered time and time again and keep asserting the faith commitment that creationism is an alternate scientific explanation.

          • Dina says:

            Are those percentages accurate, or did you estimate them, and if so, how did you arrive at your estimate?

          • tildeb says:

            Completely made up. But what isn’t made up is that over 97% (higher in elite colleges and universities) of all scientists agree that evolution is a fact and, in biology, the theory is fundamental to any modern understanding of how life has come to be as it is. Notice that ypf likes to use the creationist term ‘neo-Darwinists’ to describe what he really means: ‘scientists’. Also note that since genetics came into being, it meshes perfectly with evolutionary theory. It didn;t have to. What we call ‘evolution’ today is actually better described as a synthesis between Darwin’s thesis of descent by common ancestry and genetics that demonstrates exactly this beyond doubt… which is why evolution is now considered a ‘fact’ as well as a theory.

            If one is going to doubt evolution on its scientific merit, then one has to – to be consistent and intellectually honest – doubt every other theory that has less merit than evolution. And that’s ALL of them.

          • Dina says:

            Thanks, Tilly. I appreciate your response.

          • tildeb says:

            You may find this 8 minute video enlightening. It demonstrates how separate lines of inquiry in unrelated fields about a single pair of related species support the same evolutionary hypothesis of common ancestry when they don’t have to, when different fields like genetics could have produced significantly different results but how all just so happen to align with the evolutionary explanatory model. Now multiply this result about cetaceans to hippos not twice, not two hundred times, not two thousand times, but by millions of times and you’ll begin to grasp just how compelling and overwhelming is the evidence for evolution through common decent. In addition, you’ll finally grasp just how comparably devoid is reality providing any evidence at all – certainly nothing even remotely equivalent – for the creationist explanatory model.

            Now add all the applications, therapies, and technologies that are based on the evolutionary model that just so happen to work for everyone everywhere all the time, and you’ll realize that evolutionary theory is deserving of its name: a theory, the highest attainment any explanation can have in science – that has successfully met all challenges to it.

            To assume some other form of a POOF!ism explanation is reasonable in comparison is to either be ignorant of the overwhelming scientific evidence for evolution in every avenue of inquiry that utilizes reality as its source, or have made a faith commitment to believe contrary to this evidence.

            There is no middle ground and anyone who tries to tell you differently is not being honest even if they are earnest. Don’t be fooled. Look to reality for explanations that supposedly describe it.

            That’s why creationists are justifiably treated with contempt by the wider scientific community… not out of bias, not out of hatred, not out of anger or political considerations, but because neither ignorance nor religious belief is a reasonable excuse to maintain that ignorance or religious commitment in the face of this overwhelming evidence from reality… when all this information about why evolution is true, is a fact, is a theory, is widely and easily accessible to anyone who honestly inquires.

          • Dina says:

            Tilly, you wrote: “This is sad and tragic and should not be either respected or legally allowed to occur.”

            If I understand you correctly, you are saying that teaching religion to children should be illegal. I assume you mean even privately, as in private schools. How do you propose to do this? What kind of penalty would you like to see imposed on adults who teach religion to children?

            While you ponder your answers to these questions, you should consider that you want to impose your agenda every bit as much as you claim religious people impose theirs.

            By the way, you haven’t substantiated your outrageous claims that it’s legal in some states for parents to abuse and kill their children on religious grounds and that people trust convicted criminals over atheists.

            That’s why it’s hard to take you seriously. You claim to be interested in facts but you make assertions that aren’t true.

          • tildeb says:

            Unable to use the Googles, I see. Let me help you lift the veil of willful ignorance you wear proudly… You state, “you haven’t substantiated your outrageous claims that it’s legal in some states for parents to abuse and kill their children on religious grounds” Yes, so very, very outrageous to say what’s true. Shame on me, but hey, don;t for a second think it might be just a wee bit more outrageous to allow children to suffer and die for the religious delusions of their parents to be freely exercised:

            “Thirty-eight states and the District of Columbia have religious exemptions in their civil codes on child abuse or neglect, largely because of a federal government policy from 1974 to 1983 requiring states to pass such exemptions in order to get federal funding for child protection work. The states are Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. Additionally, Tennessee exempts caretakers who withhold medical care from being adjudicated as negligent if they rely instead on non-medical “remedial treatment” that is “legally recognized or legally permitted.”
            Sixteen states have religious defenses to felony crimes against children: Arkansas, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Minnesota, New Jersey, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin
            Fifteen states have religious defenses to misdemeanors: Alabama, Alaska, California, Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, Kansas, Maine, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, South Carolina, and South Dakota.
            Florida has a religious exemption only in the civil code, but the Florida Supreme Court nevertheless held that it caused confusion about criminal liability and required overturning a felony conviction of Christian Scientists for letting their daughter die of untreated diabetes. Hermanson v. State, 604 So.2d 775 (Fla. 1992)

            States with a religious defense to the most serious crimes against children include:

            Idaho, Iowa, and Ohio with religious defenses to manslaughter
            West Virginia with religious defenses to murder of a child and child neglect resulting in death
            Arkansas with a religious defense to capital murder
            The scope of the religious exemption laws varies widely. Some protect only a right to pray or a right to rely exclusively on prayer only when the illness is trivial. For example, Rhode Island’s religious defense to “cruelty to or neglect of a child” allows parents to rely on prayer, but adds that it does not “exempt a parent or guardian from having committed the offense of cruelty or neglect if the child is harmed.” Rhode Island General Laws §11-9-5(b) Delaware’s religious exemption in the civil code is only to termination of parental rights, rather than to abuse or neglect, and does not prevent courts from terminating parental rights of parents relying on faith healing when necessary to protect the child’s welfare. See Delaware Code Title 13 § 1103(5)(c).Many state laws contain ambiguities that have been interpreted variously by courts. Some church officials have advised members that the exemption laws confer the right to withhold medical care no matter how sick the child is and even that the laws were passed because legislators understood prayer to be as effective as medicine.”

            And so on and so on and so on…

            As for the trust issue applied to atheists, here’s the study. I listened to a radio interview by one of the authors and the point was that outwardly pious people – including ‘redeemed’ criminals – were more acceptable to parents as husbands for their daughters than atheists. I’m sorry I cannot find it but the point remains that atheists are regularly held in the lowest esteem when it comes to trust not for anything they’ve done but becuase of the widespread bias against them as immoral agents. You know, the same kind of tripe you’re trying to spread.

          • Dina says:

            Tilly, what you said about distrust of atheists is still ridiculous because I hang out with religious people and I don’t know a single one who is more comfortable with convicted criminals and with atheists. You don’t have enough data to support this ridiculous contention. Show me the studies. Like I said, peer-reviewed and replicated. Some guy talking on a radio show with an agenda to promote is not going to convince me and shouldn’t convince you either–unless you want to believe it because you want to establish victim status for your group. If you do, it’s not working. You’ve got the mainstream media on your side and against religion, so excuse me for not feeling sorry for all the hatred and persecution poured on you from all sides.

            And the question of marriage is equally ridiculous. Ask any atheist if they would rather marry an atheist who is a reformed criminal or a religious Christian. Seriously!

            Oh, and speaking for myself, I have nothing against atheists as people either. I don’t hate them or distrust them any more than anyone else. I feel the same way about, say, Christians or Buddhists. Disagreeing with someone’s position is not the same as hating or mistrusting them.

            I believe, as many of my friends do, that good and honest people can disagree and still be friends. Good and honest people can believe that atheism is wrong and not hate or distrust atheists. Good and honest people can believe that religion is wrong and not hate or distrust religious people. So now let’s move on.

          • larryB says:

            I went to the religious exemption page you gave a link to and a lot of people are being prosecuted. there is no right to kill your kids. Murder is still illegal. Yes courts will interpret things differently and people will try to stretch laws to fit their needs. That is the case with all laws. Like gay marriage in calif., overturned by the courts. Abortion, about 1 million humans murdered a year, still legal. Both bad decisions supported by the courts. How about this,
            I wonder where the bottom of the barrel is? Do religious people support these things? Most people
            I know do not.

          • Dina says:

            Tilly, while you’re pondering Larry’s point, think also about this:

            It’s legal to refuse to vaccinate your kids. A lot of secular liberals refuse to vaccinate their kids because of a now-debunked connection between autism and vaccination. So is it okay for secular liberals to be allowed to not protect their kids from preventable and deadly diseases just because they are not religious?

            Oh, and a lot of them only use alternative medicine, which means their kids get no relief from simple ailments such as headaches and fever because those stupid herbal remedies don’t work. I call that child abuse. But it’s okay because they’re not religious.

            My dear sir (or ma’am?), you are much more about pushing your agenda than publicizing truth. The only one you’re fooling is yourself.

          • tildeb says:

            Murder is still illegal.

            When your argument hinges on a tautology, you know you’ve gone astray. Medical neglect and physical abuse that causes injury and even death is allowable in many states as long as it is religiously motivated… which was my point you’ve managed to wave away. The kids are still injured and dead while the perpetrators are given at most either very lenient sentences or a mere legal slap on the wrist. As I continue to say, this is pure and unreasonable privilege – or should I say, pandering – ensconced in in various state laws.

          • Dina says:

            Tilly, can you please respond to my points about vaccinations and alternative “medicine”?

          • Dina says:

            I guess you just can’t admit when you’re wrong.

          • Dina says:

            Sorry, Tilly, I shouldn’t have said that, it was below the belt.

            Fine with me if you think it’s pointless to answer my challenge. But then you oughtn’t to bring up the point again and again if you won’t answer challenges to it. Just saying.

            Will you at least respond to Jim’s and my challenges on morality?

          • tildeb says:

            Every time I do respond to your questions, you ignore them and move on to the next. It’s just tedious.

          • Dina says:

            So what’s your excuse for not answering Jim’s challenge on morality?

            Besides, it’s not true. You mixed up Rabbi B. and me in your comments–for example directing comments about evolution to me although I didn’t raise it–so I only responded to our points. True, I didn’t respond to the correlation study thing, so here goes: I concede that you were careful to use the word “correlate,” my mistake.

            However, you relied on ONE study, but more evidence is needed. The study must be peer-reviewed and replicated several times and must examine religious communities that do enjoy a high level of healthy social function such as Orthodox Jews and Mormons. Please realize that studies that try to prove that religion is bad (or that gay parents are good for kids, as another example) are conducted by authors with a bias that colors their selection of evidence.

            Furthermore, if someone issues a fair challenge, you ought to step up to the plate and address it, no matter how tedious.

            Here is a summary of some challenges you failed to address:

            1. The inconsistency of your stance that atheism is morally superior while simultaneously holding that good and evil and free will do not exist.

            2. The phenomenon of functional religious communities, other than assuming (not proving) that this social function is achieved at the cost of robotic obedience–which for some reason doesn’t work for the dysfunctional religious communities.

            3. Whether it is evil for parents to kill their own babies if they are impaired (such as Down’s syndrome).

            4. What morality is, anyway, if abstract concepts do not exist.

            5. Why you condone legal exemptions for child abuse and murder for secular liberals who refuse to vaccinate their kids or treat them with conventional medicine.

            Azi is right: you really are not responding to most of the points raised here.

          • larryB says:

            tautology? All I am saying is that it looks like some bad things are changing. And there are bad things are all over the place. Like abortion you glossed over. Killing is killing. I know you probably have an exemption for that one and gay marriage since you did not mention either one. I have read many of your conversations with others and know what to expect. I will be getting back to you about criminalizing what you teach your kids. I know the mantra you preach White coats good, black robes bad.

          • larryB says:

            I wish I had the link for this but 15 years ago maybe more, the teachers union was about to go on strike. The San Jose mercury news did a full 2 page story on the status of educaion in california. They described how california test scores had been much lower that east coast schools. They went on to describe how california rewrote the test questions, three years in a row until the test results in california were better than the east coast schools. Poofism, california students were much better educated than students on the east coast. They gave examples of the math questions calif. students were asked vs the questions the east coast schools asked. The difference in difficulty was startling. There are three Stanford graduates in my family here in the Bay Area who were teachers. They all quit years ago because of the system.

  6. Fred says:

    Rabbi, the students at the religious boarding school I worked for only had classes half the day (they worked in vocational areas the other half) and they scored the highest on their ACTs in the state, including in science. Here’s the kicker: only a few of the teachers had teaching credentials that would be accepted at most American high schools….and they worked for room, board and a $500 per month stipend. You are correct that public education is woefully inadequate, especially considering the amount of money spent on it. These kid’s parents were paying $8500 per year for school tuition, uniforms, a dorm room, food and extracurricular activities.

    • tildeb says:

      Yeah, who needs credentialed teachers and accredited schools with established curriculum when you have the Lord guiding your teaching?

      Actually, I can teach you how to get very high ACT scores without knowing anything specific. It’s called ‘Teaching to the test.’ All the information you need is provided in the questions themselves. I can’t do that with the SAT.

  7. Jim says:

    It appears to me that there is a certain level of confusion. There has been an accusation, a couple of times now, that the kinds of questions Dina is asking implies that she holds atheists in contempt as immoral agents. My object here is not to defend Dina, a task for which she is perfectly suited. I only wish to give a brief outline of the issues.

    To that end, however, I must point out that Dina has stated unequivocally that she does not believe that atheists are by virtue of being atheists, immoral people. In fact, she has stated quite the opposite. She believes that many of them are very fine people. Nor has she asserted anything approaching the Christian position that atheists, because they do not believe as she does, are going to hell. This being the case, we can consider fairly what is the aim of her questions.

    Dina has illustrated for us an important distinction. A great difference lies between a ‘moral’ action done for expedience and one done because it is ‘the right thing to do.’ Let us consider the example she brings up. Philip may agree not to kill each Shem’s children because each he afraid that if he kills, then he or his child will be killed in retribution. It is a matter of security and self-preservation. Refraining from killing is not a moral action (or I suppose a moral inaction). It is expediency, a matter or personal practical benefit. But on the other hand, let us say that Shem believes that Philip and his children have intrinsic value and that he has no right to kill them. In fact he has a duty not to do so. This is a moral action (or again a moral inaction) rather than expedient. Although both have refrained from doing the same act, the underlying principles are quite different. One acts from self-interest and one acts from moral obligation.

    Dina’s follow up comment that nothing need prevent one from killing his own child was not an implication that atheists will do so. It was not an implication that they are immoral wretches. In fact, few people will be motivated to kill their own children. Instinct, for one thing, is working against such an act. Dina did not assert that they are likely to kill their own children. She is only pointing out that fear of retribution does not hold them back in the case of their own children, and if it should become expedient, then they have no compelling reason not to do so. (It will seldom become so expedient.) No moral obligation exists in the mind of the atheist to say that he may not harm his child.

    This is purely an exercise of logic. Now some atheists will say that obviously it is wrong to kill one’s own child. This position is logically inconsistent, however. If one says that duty and rights are not real but abstractions created by society for practical purposes, then one cannot say that it is wrong to kill one’s own children. One can only say that he is personally disgusted by such acts. He is not tempted to do so. But then he really only speaks to his preference. He might also not understand why someone like pistachio pudding—I sure don’t—but he cannot say that eating such pudding is wrong. It just does not appeal to him.

    It is not hard to imagine a time when it might be expedient for Philip to kill Shem. Let us imagine a scenario when Philip is guaranteed to get away with killing Shem, or at least he believes he is. He believes that he will suffer no retribution due to the privacy of the act. Perhaps he has found the Ring of Gyges. And he has motivation to kill him. Perhaps Shem is carrying a vast sum of wealth untraceable. It has now become personally practical to kill Shem and take the gems, money, or what have you. If he wants to act according to the ethical principles he has adopted, he ought to kill Shem.

    Now, Philip might not kill Shem anyway, even if he does not fear retribution. Let us not think this makes this particular action ‘moral,’ however. Two good reasons will still hold him back, neither of which makes the decision not to kill moral. The first is habit. He is accustomed to the idea that we must not kill one another, even though the basis for the law not to kill was fear of retribution. When opportunity arises, he ignores it due to inertia, though he does not worry about retribution. The other reason is that he fears for his reputation. It is not just what others will think about him, but what he will think about himself. Neither of these reasons is moral. Philip is an amoral agent, not an immoral one.

    If an atheist comes along then and says that atheists are among the most moral people in the world, this is a nonsense claim. Atheists happen to act in ways consistent with moral behavior, but because they find it expedient. They are amoral.


    • Dina says:

      I never had pistachio pudding. Sounds like it should be delicious. I’m going to have to experiment with that. One day when I have time :).

    • Concerned Reader says:

      “If an atheist comes along then and says that atheists are among the most moral people in the world, this is a nonsense claim. Atheists happen to act in ways consistent with moral behavior, but because they find it expedient. They are amoral.”

      This is really only an is-seems distinction Jim, that’s all. A religious person also acts in accordance with G-d’s will as a matter of expediency (even though he may in fact believe in G-d,) the belief itself has no causal power relating to moraityl, that’s why we have the concept of sins in religion. Even those who “know” G-d can do evil things, (even using faith to do it.) Its mere logical sophistry devoid of substance that tries to make religious morality somehow more logically consistent than atheistic morality, if indeed there is a distinction.

      • Dina says:

        Con, how can someone claim the mantle of moral superiority if he doesn’t believe there is such a thing as good and evil or even free will, as Mak and Tilly have both admitted to? I challenged you on this and you didn’t answer.

        There absolutely is a distinction between doing or refraining from doing something because it’s the right thing to do or because it’s the expedient thing to do. As Jim said, you will do the right thing even if it’s not expedient if you do it because it’s right. But if you do it because it’s expedient, then you won’t do it if it becomes inexpedient. Which brings us to the example (just an example!) of killing kids. What do you say to that?

        You’re dismissing Jim’s argument and mine without carefully examining it.

      • Jim says:


        As is frequently the case, you too quickly dismiss as sophistry that which you do not comprehend. You show this when you attribute to me claims I never made. For example, I did not claim a “causal power” in theism “relating to morality” or that “those who ‘know’ G-d can [not] do evil things.” If I had said that belief in God makes morally good people, then you would be answering me. But I never said that. Unfortunately, you too quickly and without comprehension read first Dina’s words and then mine and responded with counter-arguments irrelevant to what either of us actually said or intended. Before you can dismiss an argument as fallacious, your first step should be to understand it.

        I am not calling atheists ‘bad’ people. I certainly never came close to calling theists ‘good’ people. These are assumptions you have made in your defensiveness. I have only argued that one cannot at the one time argue that he is morally superior and at the same time deny any of the tenets of morality.

        I look forward to the day when you take the second part of your moniker seriously.


        • Concerned Reader says:

          “I have only argued that one cannot at the one time argue that he is morally superior and at the same time deny any of the tenets of morality.”

          Sorry for the delay in responding, I was on a trip. Why the insults implying I’m being careless in reading? Maybe you need to read more carefully yourself, and learn to discern that what I addressed is connected to your initial statements even if you did not mean to imply.

          Why Jim, can’t a person argue moral superiority while denying a set of tenants, free will, objective morality or otherwise? (btw I don’t think that is what Tildeb is doing, I think you and Dina are inadvertently assuming that based on presuppositions.)

          Jim, the point I made in my objection is that there is no connection or correlation between being moral and holding or denying a set of tenants of morality as absolutes. A person can claim moral superiority if his actions are consistent with the moral duty regardless of whether he accepts the reality of some standard.

          So, to me, a person, based on their actions can indeed claim the moral high ground if their actions are consistent independent of acquiescence to an objective morality.

          You have said
          “one cannot at the one time argue that he is morally superior and at the same time deny any of the tenets of morality,”

          BUT that is your assumption (based in part) on the certain related premises that I addressed in my initial response. Read more carefully, what I wrote is connected to your question.

          The point is, There is nothing wrong with claiming moral superiority if you are in fact being the more moral individual when the rubber hits the road in terms of your actions.

          It becomes irrelevant whether or not a person reveres or believes in a list of moral tenants that they hold as absolute. This is especially true if (as many people do,) you can just skirt such standards, even if you believe in them.

          A human being does not need to believe in an objective absolute moral code or in a list of commandments in order to claim moral superiority if his/her actions are in fact more consistent and correct in the moment.

          As an example. Whether or not the atheists believe in the biblical code, believe in the G-d who gave it, etc. they are still exposed to this code by societal convention, and are still capable of following the code in a more consistent way than religious people (in spite of the atheist’s lack of belief in the code, or in G-d.”

          If we look at all the evil actions that religious people do (in spite of their possessing an absolute moral code and belief in G-d,) it illustrates the point in spades that there is no correlate between morality, moral knowledge, moral discernment, moral action, etc. and religious belief in a moral standard.

          You are implying that an atheist is inconsistent if he claims the moral high ground, (because he doesn’t believe in an objective morality, the existence of a moral code, in free will etc.) I believe that your assumptions are incorrect.

          If I believe it is wrong to steal (in terms of a divine command theory, objective morality, free will, or moral code) but I then steal anyway,) while an atheist (who denies free will and denies any such a moral command or standard,) does not steal, he does in fact have the moral high ground regardless of his beliefs. It is whether or not one’s actions are moral when the rubber hits the road that matters.

          “Con, how can someone claim the mantle of moral superiority if he doesn’t believe there is such a thing as good and evil or even free will, as Mak and Tilly have both admitted to?”

          Because Dina, we all live in the same world full of shared experiences regardless of what beliefs we hold. The belief in the code of ethics/objective morality is only peripheral to how we behave. Such a code is only as useful or relevant as where it actually leads a person in terms of their actions. Whether or not someone’s actions are motivated by belief in an objective moral standard, or by a belief in free will, etc. is not as important as the actions themselves. The atheist who commits not to kill anyone is more moral then the theist who gives the litany of reasons why its OK by divine decree to do so.

          • Concerned Reader says:

            A great difference lies between a ‘moral’ action done for expedience and one done because it is ‘the right thing to do.’ Not entirely correct Jim.

            I say this because many people (including religious people) have very different interpretations of what the “right thing to do” is, and that’s the point. A value judgment is not necessarily right or moral. Expediency however, (because it is a decision based on the in the moment moral question and context,) is often more relevant than “the right thing.” value judgment. Expediency is where the rubber actually meets the road in the real world, so it carries the banner for moral imperatives more.

            Let me illustrate the point.

            If we were living in the middle ages during a pogrom and a band of Christian zealots decided to burn down a synagogue, these people would be acting out of step with their moral standards, Out of step with belief in their deity, out of step with their conscience,) and all of this in spite of their belief in absolute morality and free will. One man stands alone in the crowd of the zealous and says “do not do this evil thing, come to your senses.”

            It just so happens that the objector is an atheist. He does not care about anyone’s religious squabbles, about their ideas of divine rights, he just sees humans wanting to kill other humans without a cause. He acts with moral rectitude on the expedient thing. He meets the immanent moral need. The religious systems have very different ideas of “the right thing,” this atheist only has his expedient decision, (which could cost him his life.) One’s moral standard and belief is often meaningless, even if the religious premises are accepted.

            How would any of you act if G-d told you to kill women and Children, or your own child? G-d commanded this level of devotion in the Torah, would you do similar if he asked? Just curious.

          • larryB says:

            May I cherry pick a couple questions in the middle of your conversation with Jim?
            If you make the statement, rocks can fly then pick up a rock and throw it and point out the fact that the rock did fly. Did the rock fly? Yes it did. But, can rocks fly? If someone tells you there is no god stop acting like a fool, there is no such thing no such proof. Is he helping you, He thinks so, or not? Does God exist? I may point to everything and say yes he exist, look around you. He would simply say ah thats nothing. see what DNA does, see what happens when we do this or that. Is he more helpful in his teaching about the existant of god, because there is no such thing, he just wants to help you, or not. Wouldn’t it depend on what he believes? If he bleieves in what he is teaching then he is being honest. But his belief and even his doing of this or that do not disprove god. If an athiest trys to stop a group of christians from burning down a synagogue even at great risk to his life, you cannot claim he is acting out moral superiority, he does not believe in such a thing. Rocks cannot fly just because you say so.

          • tildeb says:

            Wow. Just… wow.

          • Concerned Reader says:

            Larry since the discussion with Jim is largely about ethics, and about whether belief in an objective moral standard makes any difference to the question of the moral high ground and who holds it, I would say the theological questions don’t matter in this. That’s the point. Many people around the world believe in various deities, believe that these deities require moral conduct of people, etc. but even in these covenant communities there are immoral people who behave immorally regardless of their stated codes and beliefs.

            Atheists do not see the relevance in requiring the belief in an immutable moral imperative (or the deity attached to it) when it is a fact of our limited existence that even such an imperative has to be judged by religious people on a case by case basis. As i’ve said many times, “the theoretical existence of an absolute doesn’t mean we have the authority or knowledge to act on behalf of such.”

          • larryB says:

            Thanks for responding thoughtfully, I am simply trying to understand what your getting at. If you dont mind,
            I think my point is that to the athiest, not you, he is not being moral. To us he might be a god send and thanks for stopping the nuts who want to burn the synagogue. You are the man. He would simply call it how he sees it, the crazies had to be stopped, and can you believe the hyprocracy of the christians. He is exactly right, they would be nuts to do that. Regardless of either parties belief, he did the right moral thing to us and to him it was simply the right thing to do. The word moral, is not is his vocabulary.
            No diety required. Either way he did the right thing.

          • Jim says:


            The point of calling you a careless reader is not to insult but to correct. It is beyond counting the times you have argued against a point that I have not made but you read into my comments. Here you have done it again, responding to statements I neither made nor implied and which do not follow logically from my arguments. However, upon reflection, I recognize that it is not my job to correct you. And if it were, I could certainly do it in a manner more sensitive to your feelings. I apologize.


          • Jim says:


            It is true that if we start with different assumptions, then we will come to different conclusions. The initial point of divergence between us is whether or not for an action to be moral it must be properly motivated. You deny that the motivation for an action determines its morality. I disagree, obviously. This does not make my argument “sophistry,” as you call it.

            Let us make a brief investigation. If you are willing, I will put aside the word ‘moral’ for the moment, which is a fuzzy word to which I am not partial. Let us examine the word ‘unselfish’ and make a comparison between it and ‘moral’.

            Let us say that there is a man who does his friend a favor. In fact, let us say that he performs the favor unasked. Superficially, we might be led to believe that the act was unselfish. It is my assertion, however, that we do not know this just by the act itself.

            Sometimes, a man does a favor for his friend, because he wants something in return. In such an instance, we will be hard-pressed to call the act unselfish. Even if he initiated the favor unasked, if he did not do it for his friend, but for himself, this is not an unselfish act.

            Acts of charity often appear unselfish but can be done for reasons other than unselfishness. A businessman might give charity because it enhances his reputation. He might give for a tax break. Neither of these acts is unselfish. The businessman performs the act of charity for his own benefit. Similarly, the friend who does a favor to receive one in return acts for his own benefit, not for that of his friend.

            This does not mean, obviously, that the friend who received the favor received no benefit. Happily he did. It only means that the favor done was only superficially unselfish.

            From this, I think it is safe to say that a friend may benefit his friend without doing it unselfishly. In fact, we may never know if a particular action was unselfish or not. We might only know that it benefited or did not benefit the recipient.

            Similarly, the moral quality of an act is not defined merely by the act. Superficially, we see an action and we approve or disapprove. We can see that it either harmed or benefited someone. But we do not see the intention of the act. We do not know if it was a moral action or not. It may only have coincided with morality accidentally.

            Certainly you must recognize that an action can be the right one but not motivated for the right reasons. Such an action is difficult to call ‘moral’. A man really wishes to hire a prostitute, but he does not because he is afraid she might be an undercover police officer. His abstinence is not moral. It just coincides with morality. It is a happy accident.

            If you consider these points, I think you will see that I have not been too hasty in declaring that if one does the right thing for the wrong reasons or merely out of expediency, it is not a ‘moral act’. It happens to coincide with moral law, but being motivated by something else, it is not strictly speaking ‘moral’. I hope you will also see why I did not argue that theists are by definition moral people. Obviously one can believe in a god, or even God, and perform what appear to be moral actions for considerations other than the moral law. I never stated or implied otherwise, nor does it follow logically from my initial argument.


  8. Azi says:

    I rarely comment but I have to say, it looks like Tildeb is in a bit over his head on this blog. He probably should stick to blogs where facts and science DON’T back up their arguments. Is it just me, or is it clear to all that he has no response to most (if not all) of Rabbi B’s posts?

  9. Azi says:

    Thanks for re-enforcing my point Tildeb. You are in over your head in this forum.

    • tildeb says:

      No, Azi, I’m not in over my head. YPF was considerate enough to write a post with some of my criticisms in mind so I was considerate enough to respond. The length and breadth of the post was asking for weeks worth of unpaid work to respond point by point. So I summed up, which started this thread. That Dina expects me to continue to respond to her never-ending ‘questions’ for which she gives not a rat’s ass is not soemthing that determines the depth of water here. I have switched to the evolution-denying faith commitment YPF must hold as evidence against his point that Orthodox Judaism is all about seeking the truth. It’s obviously not and the evolution-denying is ample evidence for that. That you can’t see the difference between growing weary of pointing this out and spending too much of my time offering explanations that have no chance of success not for lack of merit but for faith-based and outright rejection of what’s true that doesn’t serve the faith commitment is a problem that does not reside with me.

      When this faith commitment is taught to children within the confines of what should be an educational and not religious service as mandated by law, then I think the pernicious effect of realty-denying religious belief is plain. It is my mistake to go off on this tangent and make what I’ve freely admitted is in error. But that error I own is not evidence against me but a mark in my favour that you don’t seem willing to respect. Again, that’s a problem that does not reside with me because unlike creationists, I really do respect what is true. And what is true is that I am not in over my head but that this audience is hostile to having as much intellectual honesty and fortitude as I have demonstrated here.

  10. Concerned Reader says:

    “If an athiest trys to stop a group of christians from burning down a synagogue even at great risk to his life, you cannot claim he is acting out moral superiority, he does not believe in such a thing. Rocks cannot fly just because you say so.”


    You absolutely can say that the atheist has the moral high ground in this hypothetical case, that’s the WHOLE POINT! What is relevant in day to day life in our shared reality is doing good to one another. There is the point to be made that one’s belief or non belief is not the factor that describes a person’s moral compass.

  11. Concerned Reader says:

    If you consider these points, I think you will see that I have not been too hasty in declaring that if one does the right thing for the wrong reasons or merely out of expediency, it is not a ‘moral act’. It happens to coincide with moral law, but being motivated by something else, it is not strictly speaking ‘moral’. I hope you will also see why I did not argue that theists are by definition moral people. Obviously one can believe in a god, or even God, and perform what appear to be moral actions for considerations other than the moral law. I never stated or implied otherwise, nor does it follow logically from my initial argument.


    Jim, if you consider your statement here “it happens to coincide with moral law,” I think you will see the issue atheists have with your statement. The category of “moral law” itself which you employ is an abstraction subject to temporal human interpretations. The moral thrust of a “moral law” is contingent on a proper interpretation and implementation determined on a case by case basis. As such, even a fixed code is relative. I think that is a point you are missing.

    “Moral law” then as such is itself not concrete, that’s the point. “moral law” is quite often defined and redefined (even by religious communities) to the point of ineffectiveness. (just look at how various faith communities take a general imperative like “thou shalt not kill,” and create endless justifications for killing in spite of the command. Not just in war time, but also sanctioned or holy killing.

    The ideal moral may exist but the utility is what matters, and many of the hypothetical horror scenarios you can dole out make no sense when we account for human agency.

    The utility of an action, and the expediency of the action takes precedence precisely because a rational agent is present to weigh consequences. Blind obedience to any “moral law” is not always itself moral.

    It is not because someone can’t be motivated by a lofty ideal or a moral standard, but because such conceptions of these standards (as applied by humans )are still relative even when we think in terms of LAW.

    • Jim says:


      I will give this a more thorough reading when I have a moment. But, glancing through right now, I see a glaring error. The imperative you quote “thou shalt not kill” is badly translated. The command is not to murder.


      • Concerned Reader says:

        That is the exact issue to which I refer. It is not an error to say “do not kill.” That should be the ideal at all times. Only extenuating circumstances should prompt the use of such force.

        • Concerned Reader says:

          When the Christians killed so many, of their own, and of others, they used the exact justification that there is no such command not to kill, only not to murder. The Torah lays down that the deceiver should die. When the thrust of such a command depends greatly on subjective interpretations, that’s where the problem lies. One group says “he is the heretic” the other says “no its him.”

        • Jim says:


          I appreciate the way you value human life. However, when you write that it is not incorrect to say, “do not kill,” you put yourself in a contradiction. Your argument shows why the command is properly rendered: “You shall not murder.”

          You admit a distinction between killings. There are in fact, “extenuating circumstances” that permit killing. The statement “do not kill” does not admit of such instances. It forbids killing absolutely. The word ‘murder’ does admit of such distinctions between killings. So, in fact, the proper rendering of the command is: “You shall not murder.”


          • Concerned Reader says:

            You missed my central objection to “thou shalt not murder” Jim, “When the thrust of such a command depends greatly on subjective interpretations, that’s where the problem lies.”

            The Christians believed they were operating within the bounds of the distinction between don’t kill and don’t murder when they killed thousands of “heretics” both Christians and non Christians. My central point was thou shalt not kill should 99% of the time mean exactly that. Genocides of any kind are not ok, killing “heretics” is not ok.

          • larryB says:

            I do not want to interfer, but
            “The Christians believed they were operating within the bounds of the distinction between don’t kill and don’t murder when they killed thousands of “heretics” both Christians and non Christians.”
            Thats a bold statment you cannot prove. People make all kinds of excuses for their bad behavior. Thiest and athiest alike. But they are excuses. They Believe their excuses will exonerate them.

          • Jim says:


            I’m sorry; I did not miss your point. I’m getting to it in a separate comment. I did not mean to leave you with the impression that I did not understand your objection. I’m just quite busy right now and takiing things one step at a time as I can get to them. The first step is to point out that your objection, though nobly motivated, leads to contradiction.

            You do not get around this by your rewrite of the command, by the way. Because you admit that there are instances when one may kill, the door is left open for those who wish to walk through it to justify their killing no less than if the command is “You shall not murder.” So the murderously motivated will be no more bound by your “Do not kill,” because that system still allows for “extenuating circumstances,” of which the murderer will always say, “this is one of them.” Your correction of the law does not fix the problem it purports to fix.

            More when I have time. But I am not ignoring you.


    • Concerned Reader says:

      “You deny that the motivation for an action determines its morality.”

      No Jim, I do not deny that entirely, but I do deny your emphasis. Motivation IS A FACTOR, what I deny is the unilateral application of some standard as itself intrinsically moral, and I hold that view because of the ample evidence provided by religion that in spite of belief in a code, such code fluctuates.

      Even if you accept the premise of divine moral law, the application of such law is not always the moral one, and so this illustrates the atheist’s point.

      Even if you accept the premise of a moral law or code, there is futility of speaking of such standards when we all realize that even these “immutable” standards are in constant flux and subject to tampering. As Tildeb said, the atheist has a leg up precisely because his/her position makes such an atheist the only accountable agent, the only advocate. Something like honor killing, death for blasphemy, death for the wrong sort of worship would have more difficulty propagating within a society that sees each individual as the agent at the helm.

      • Concerned Reader says:

        This whole discussion brings to mind the statements of the Ramban to the king during the disputation with Christiani.

        He said to paraphrase. “It is not the Christian in you that I trust your majesty, but the pagan, because a pagan likes to see a fair fight.”

        “pagan” morality or a philosophical morality prioritizes utility over abstract value judgements every time.

  12. Concerned Reader says:

    “She is only pointing out that fear of retribution does not hold them back in the case of their own children, and if it should become expedient, then they have no compelling reason not to do so. (It will seldom become so expedient.) No moral obligation exists in the mind of the atheist to say that he may not harm his child.”

    “This is purely an exercise of logic. Now some atheists will say that obviously it is wrong to kill one’s own child. This position is logically inconsistent, however. If one says that duty and rights are not real but abstractions created by society for practical purposes, then one cannot say that it is wrong to kill one’s own children.”

    Jim, think about this for a moment. A moral obligation existing in the mind of a person does not need to objectively exist in order for such ideas to form by various societal means. Even if we were to say that duty and rights, or even liberty, or love are only abstractions created by societies, (in the atheistic context,) these societal abstractions would include all religious feeling and mythologies under a general umbrella of societal constructs created by people.

    Judaism itself recognizes that there are beliefs and myths in various societies, beliefs in powers, concepts, and deities, that (to Judaism’s own view) have no objective reality in themselves, but are the mere product of myth formation, human constructs themselves devoid of reality.

    Despite a perceived lack of substance to these other societies’ mythical conceptions and worldviews, all of these societies still have the systems of morality containing the golden rule and other notions. In other words, you don’t need to have an objectively real deity or law to exist in order to create a moral construct akin to a religiously based or motivated one. This answers both your and Dina’s objections.

    You have a rhetorical spin that assumes that an atheist (who denies free will or who denies an objective moral law) will then have no logically consistent reason not to do horrible things.

    You are consistently neglecting that such a person is still a rational agent, capable of rational thought, compassion, imagination, etc. all of his own accord. To you, there is an objectively existing moral code, to the atheist, such codes are only emergent properties subject to human agents.

    • CR
      I do nit see where atheist have a leg up that you insist on. They may not have a shared faith but they certainly have a shared belief/non-belief.


      Planned Parenthood Counter Protest Hosted by SWiSS

      Thursday, Aug 13, 2015, 9:30 AM

      Planned Parenthood
      302 N Jackson St Milwaukee, WI

      15 Atheists Went

      Alright PP allies, Are you ready for a good exercise in FREEDOM OF SPEECH? Join us this Thursday morning as we speak up for choice and STAND WITH PLANNED PARENTHOOD. We will meet at the front doors at 930am. I have Hot Pink Planned Parenthood t-shirts to pass out. See you there.

      Check out this Meetup →

  13. Concerned Reader says:

    Larry, I meant by a “leg up” that they cannot appeal to a nature greater than themselves to justify various theologically motivated actions. If an atheist commits an immoral act, he has nothing to hide behind he is the only one accountable for any action he/she may take. An atheist also cannot conjure legitimacy for a “sacred” or inalienable claim to an authority structure in the way that say, a theocracy can.

    You share non belief with atheists Larry, as does everyone on this blog. You share with the atheist a denial of every single deity save for one. You do not believe in Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Wicca, Daoism, Shinto, etc. neither do they. Did you know that many ancient polytheists considered Jews to be atheistic because their faith was so different than others of the time?

    • Dina says:

      Hi Connie,

      There are a lot of comments of yours that I would like to respond to but I have other more pressing obligations, unfortunately; I would love to spend hours a day on this blog because it’s so stimulating and thought-provoking.

      I don’t expect you to follow every conversation on this blog so you are likely not aware of a dialogue between Tilly and me concerning free will in which Tilly denied its existence. Mak with whom Tilly seems to agree an awful lot also declared that there is no such thing as good and evil; therefore morality is whatever you decide it is. Because there is no free will and no good and evil, people cannot be judged for their behavior. Mak would go so far as to refuse to call Hitler and the Nazis evil–if memory serves me.

      Before I explain the logical inconsistency between these notions and claiming moral superiority, I must point out to you that you spent an awful lot of time arguing against a position that neither Jim nor I took; furthermore, we were careful to try to preempt you by saying this was not our position. Nevertheless, you decided that you wanted that to be our position and argued against it. This is why, speaking for myself (although I bet Jim feels the same way), I get frustrated talking to you. It would be helpful if you responded to what I said instead of to what you wish I had said.

      I did not argue that religious people by default are moral and atheists immoral. I also did not argue that religion automatically confers a moral code and atheism does not. Before you raised the argument, I stated that there are immoral religious people and moral atheists and vice versa. I also stated in another conversation which you may have missed that religion does not necessarily set up a good moral code. I do believe that without religion people are capable of empathy, compassion, and moral behavior not only because these are very human traits but also because common sense observation and a cursory understanding of various cultures and religions throughout history tell me so.

      My quibble is on philosophical grounds. On such grounds there is a logical inconsistency between claiming moral superiority and claiming the non-existence of free will and good and evil.

      Mak has argued that societies evolve such that human beings find it mutually beneficial to employ the traits of empathy and reciprocity. As Jim has pointed out, motivation is an important factor. If your reason for employing these traits are merely for reasons of expediency, then when it is expedient to no longer employ these traits, why would you? Now you might say, because you recoil from doing evil. But what if you don’t? There would be no reason according to Mak and even according to Tilly to judge these actions evil.

      Furthermore, how can you hold a being without free will accountable for his actions?

      Finally, I do not understand your argument that religious people can escape moral responsibility while the atheist cannot. Tilly has made the same argument, and it continues to baffle me. Judaism, specificially, holds the individual completely and 100% responsible for his actions. No one gets away with, say, murder, by saying, “I’m not responsible because I’m religious.” It’s a ridiculous argument. But secular liberals are quick to absolve criminals of responsibility for their actions because of their difficult childhoods or mental health issues or whatever (I’m not saying that there is never a place for that, so please don’t grab this point and run away with it; I prefer if you address my main arguments).

    • larryB says:

      It is impossible for an atheist to commit an immoral act. They do not believe in such a thing. Only to another can it seem immoral.

      • larryB says:

        Not only that, a theist or an atheist will hide behind anything they can find until they get caught or stopped. You think only theist have excuses?

      • tildeb says:

        It is impossible for an atheist to commit an immoral act. They do not believe in such a thing. Only to another can it seem immoral.

        Morality is standard of comparing consequences using ‘good’ and ‘bad’ in the same way height is a standard of comparing ‘high’ to ‘low’. Is height a objective standard?

        Do you see the problem with your statement? Is it it impossible for comparing heights if we do not have an objective standard? Of course not. We can compare heights in many, many ways. We don’t need to believe in an objective standard to compare and contrast heights any more than we do the consequences of actions we call ‘morality’.

        • larryB says:

          That is a great way to make your point. The question I would ask is do we need an objective standard to contrast behavior that resulted in someones murder?
          How would you measure the culpulibity of a person actions that resulted in the death of someone else?
          If he did this it would be 1st degree if he only did that it would be 2nd degree and so on. These are standards someone set. The evidense,”factual measurements” should decide the charge. The objective standard does not exist in the case of abortion. If a woman terminates the life of her unborn child its OK. If someone kills her and her unborn baby, no matter the level of her pregenancy, its a double murder charge. She may have wanted the baby.

          • tildeb says:

            Again, beware the tautology: murder by definition is an unlawful killing. The law, however, puts its emphasis on intention, and it is this that differentiates murder from manslaughter from causing death to self defense.

            I know you want to get into the abortion issue but from where I sit this issue is a medical one. And it’s a medical one because the fetus is not considered in law an individual with rights and freedoms. Applying legal terminology about individuals to a fetus is a category mistake. In the same way I won’t try to abuse the law to force you to own a gun, so too do I think it is despotic to try to abuse the law to force a woman to own a fetus.

  14. Concerned Reader says:

    Dina, I realize that you and Jim have not directly claimed that atheists cannot be moral, but your “philisophical quibble” that intimates that they cannot claim moral superiority in a situation leads to an (unintentional) demeaning of the non theistic position that allows for people to make that black and white assumption.

    “I do believe that without religion people are capable of empathy, compassion, and moral behavior not only because these are very human traits but also because common sense observation and a cursory understanding of various cultures and religions throughout history tell me so.”

    OK, Exactly! So, we can agree that there are non theistic philosophies out there, and that each of these philosophies still confers similar moral codes and guidance. So, the hypothetical “why wouldn’t you kill children if it was expedient?” is shown for what it is, a diversion. A scare tactic. (i don’t believe you or Jim mean that intentionally.) If you believe non theistic systems can spread morality and empathy, then you have allayed your own fears.

    On the issues of free will, good and evil, etc. ask yourself a couple of questions.

    1. Is free will intrinsic to something’s nature or does hashem have to bestow it?

    2. Is something that is considered “good” or “evil” good or evil all the time, or good or evil dependent on the situation, or as G-d decrees? Is good and evil a part of nature or does hashem have to qualify what good and evil are?

    When theists speak of good, evil, free will, etc. they often speak of these as fixed principles. What an atheist is denying is the fixedness of the categories of “free will” “good” and “evil” in the way the religious employ them. Hitchens once explained free will thusly: “we have no choice but to have free will.” In other words, part of being human is being a rational agent. Part of that is making choices. Making choices throughout life however is not the same thing as claiming “free will” in the biblical sense, because free will in the biblical sense is a matter of divine bestowal.

    “If your reason for employing these traits are merely for reasons of expediency, then when it is expedient to no longer employ these traits, why would you?”

    Because Dina, we are rational agents who live in a shared reality. You and Jim have still not addressed rational agency as the key factor in expediency that it is.

    Finally, I do not understand your argument that religious people can escape moral responsibility while the atheist cannot.

    You can’t? Really? There are Christians coming on this blog constantly who ditch their personal responsibility quite often because their deity takes all their negative actions on himself. An atheist cannot do something like that. He has no such option. Consider how some small number of Jewish people take the notion of being “chosen” and make it out to mean superior, both to other Jews, and also to non Jews. An atheist does not have a theological advocate, a supernatural ally on which to rest.

    • Concerned Reader says:

      The atheist has no reason to regard himself as “special,” and so, he is responsible totally for his environment, his interactions, his motives, etc. If he tries to claim some special authority, it can only be mediated by other equal members in shared reality. He cannot claim more authority, superiority, etc.

    • Dina says:


      I don’t think free will has to necessarily have anything to do with religious belief. To me free will means the ability to freely choose among several options and you don’t have to believe in God to understand that; you simply have to have common sense.

      Yet Tilly and Mak deny that we have this ability. If that is the case, how can you hold anyone responsible for his actions? I have posed this question to them and pressed them on it and have yet to hear a response.

      You claim that for religious people good and evil is fixed and for atheists it is not. This is not the case. The same action can be good in one context and evil in another. For example, it is evil to kill an innocent human being. It is good to kill a human being who is shooting up a school yard. By the way, my argument is not with Hitchens but with Tilly and Mak. You waded into the middle of that argument, so you ought to know that it’s wrong to defend them by quoting a different point of view just because the author of that view is an atheist.

      As for my philosophical argument, it does have application in the real world. While atheists can and do have a moral code, they can’t defend it; hence, you have an atheist like Professor Peter Singer who argues that parents should have the right to kill their babies within the first 30 days of their lives if the baby has a disability.

      Then you have atheists like Tilly and his cronies who want to make it illegal for people to teach their children their religious values. This is a very scary position to take, especially in light of the fact that both Tilly and Arch (who was finally blocked) assumed a sudden silence when I pressed them on how they would implement such a law and what kind of consequences they would impose.

      Finally, you have atheists like the Communists and the Nazis who between the two of them killed without compunction and without mercy hundreds of millions of innocents.

      And I say that the atheist has no real argument with all these types of people. They cannot say this is good or evil because they don’t believe good and evil exist.

      You wrote, “we are rational agents who live in a shared reality. You and Jim have still not addressed rational agency as the key factor in expediency that it is.”

      I don’t understand what you’re trying to say. Rational agency, i.e., free will is a key factor in expediency–so why does that change anything? So what? I think if anything you’re making my point.

      Lastly, I’ll address your mockery of my argument that religious people shrug off responsibility for their actions more than atheists do.

      First, the Christians. Yes, a lot of Christians come to this blog and go on and on about Jesus taking on their sins and so on and so forth. But it’s obviously just a bunch of lip service. They don’t really believe it because they don’t behave like they do. They absolutely believe in personal accountability in their personal lives. I know this because I know some of these people personally. They live in some sort of cognitive dissonance.

      Second, the Jews. Believing we’re chosen does not mean we believe we are superior to others but even if it did that has nothing to do with moral responsibility. Even religious Jews with a superiority complex believe we are 100% responsible for our own actions. Your “chosenness” argument is completely irrelevant.

      Third, you failed to address the fact that atheists are quick to absolve criminals of responsibility, much more quickly than religious people.

      Fourth, how can you hold anyone responsible for his actions if he lacks free will?

      • Dina says:

        Just going off the topic here for a minute, Con, but why does it bother you that Jews believe they are chosen but it doesn’t bother you that atheists believe they are morally superior?

        Something to think about, eh?

  15. Concerned Reader says:

    why does it bother you that Jews believe they are chosen but it doesn’t bother you that atheists believe they are morally superior?

    I’ve already explained that the concept of being “chosen” bothers me because of how it gets abused, not because I dislike the concept of being “chosen” intrinsically as it is properly understood.

    An atheist claiming moral superiority doesn’t bother me in the same way because both the atheist and myself recognize as a fact of reality that his claim is ultimately terrestrial, and only has power in the moment unless society decides together to assent to his value judgement.

    An atheist who claims moral superiority knows that ultimately his claim’s power ceases with himself unless others in our shared reality and society assent to his value judgement and decide to carry it on for the rest of us.

    It is only a terrestrial value open for amendment if it needs to be amended. Religious value judgements by contrast lack this basic corrective element because of belief in divine authorship and inerrant authority.

    The Jewish people’s status as “chosen” can be very easily misrepresented as an intrinsic eternal theological principle, a disembodied idea separate from regular terrestrial existence. Religions make eternal claims with eternal consequence. Some people maintain that Jews are “chosen” just by virtue of being born as Jews. Its very dangerous if misapplied.

    Theological claims assert their eternal, immutable, sanctified rectitude (and in many ways) they do this in spite of the observed negative effects these beliefs can have. There is not a corrective element that is open to criticize divine law and change it if the effects are negative.

    • Concerned Reader says:

      Its not the good things in a religion that make people cringe, its the evils that occur (which are hard to correct) because people believe the values to be immutable, divinely approved, etc.

    • Dina says:

      Con, one of the reasons I enjoy reading your comments is that you are more open-minded than most and you are respectful. Thank you for explaining why Jewish chosenness bothers you and why atheists’ belief in their moral superiority doesn’t.

      Still, I couldn’t disagree with you more. You write that the idea of chosenness could be dangerous if misapplied. Well, the 3,500-year results are in, and as far as we can see, no danger has ensued. If you point to the conquest of Canaan, then I would say, if you have to go that far back in history, you’re being neurotic.

      The fact is, the Jews, both religious and secular, both with a superiority complex and without, have proven to be extremely well-behaved citizens of every country they have ever inhabited–not only completely harmless, but also contributing overwhelmingly positively to the world.

      So I think, with all due respect, you can sleep easy at night knowing that there is no danger at all to you or to anyone else from Jews and their notions of chosenness.

      Since that is the case, I still do not understand why the imagined danger of chosenness would bother you more than the openly stated goals of atheists like Tilly and his friends who would like to impose their atheist world view on everyone else because they know they are morally superior. They would like to make it illegal, among other things, to teach religious values to people’s own children. That is a dangerous belief indeed.

      For this reason, it is irrational for you to be more disturbed by Jews’ concept of chosenness whether correctly or incorrectly understood than by atheism’s claim to moral superiority and its accompanying totalitarian instinct.

      • Dina says:

        Con, I did discuss a lot of other points in my comments. I would love to get your thoughts on that as well when you have the time. Thanks!

      • Concerned Reader says:

        As I have said before Dina, Jews for the past 2,000 years have not had the political (or religious/theocratic) autonomy in order to be able to inflict the forms of harm that other religious groups like Christianity have, so I would say the numbers aren’t exactly “in.”

        The average person in most societies is “well behaved” by the standards set by their society. I’m not saying that I believe Jews are just going to start hurting people or something like that, but I do know as a historical fact that notions of being “chosen” privileged, separate, etc. have been used by many to do great harm based solely on that subjective judgement.

        A person can even say, “when I say “chosen” or “separate” it doesn’t mean better, it just means I have a different role.” This hasn’t stopped bigotry, or violence. A notion of “chosen” is subjective opinion and not quantifiable by observable evidence. It is only a value judgement, and still has documented historical potential for harm.

        For theocratic types of violence in Judaism we only have to look back to the 1st century. Granted, that was a very very long time ago, but the evidence is there.

        • Dina says:

          Connie, in order to support what you say, you must provide specific examples that prove it (if they didn’t teach you this in college then your education was a waste of time and your Comparative Religion degree is meaningless). If chosenness in Jews causes violence, then you need to cite an example of when that has happened and show how the two are linked. Your example of 1st century theocratic violence has nothing to do with the concept of chosenness, even a misapplied concept of chosenness.

          Come on, Connie, you know that Jews are not at all dangerous and your moral equivalence to other peoples who have been dangerous and violent is strange and disturbing.

          I asked you why you fear Jews’ chosenness more than atheists’ moral superiority complex when their stated goal is to impose their atheism by force, such as making it illegal to teach your religion to your children. This is the third time I am asking you this question and I think it deserves an answer.

          • tildeb says:

            their (atheists) stated goal is to impose their atheism by force, such as making it illegal to teach your religion to your children.

            Oh, Dina… so much heat, so little light.

            Secularism is not imposing atheism on anyone. It is the state staying out of the religious business altogether. This is a benefit to both theists and atheists. Theists seem to have a great deal of difficulty understanding why. And speaking of why, why is it so common for theists to presume that anything less than abusing law and governance to help them privilege their religious beliefs in the public domain is either an ‘attack’ on religious belief or an imposition of atheism? Is it a physiological brain impairment or simply a lack of any ability to think beyond one’s bias?

            One of the areas of public domain is education and we have institutions paid for and staffed by the public with proper professional accreditation to implement this policy so that in principle every citizen has equal access to it and all can then enjoy the social benefits accrued from its widespread attainment. Abusing the education system as a means to indoctrinate children in some particular religious belief is another privilege that should either not be tolerated as equivalent or not accredited unless it meets the same standard of curriculum expectations. So by all means, teach your children at home in the private domain to believe in whatever agencies of Oogity Boogity favoured by parents, whatever brand of POOF!ism best matches up with these supernatural creative agencies, and so on. But take note of who it is that has no regard transferring their belief identities unto children, identities imposed on them without their considered permission. In any other area of life, such an imposition would would be considered ridiculous (yes, of course my toddler through blood inheritance is an Ann Rand Republican and claims tribal membership to the Manchester United fan club) but, when it comes to religious belief, all of a sudden the ridiculous becomes a virtue. See? Magic at work. I mean, really….

          • Dina says:

            Tilly, either you implied or stated outright that teaching children religion should be illegal and you made no distinction between private and public domain. If you are changing your position to mean that religion should not be taught in public schools (which it isn’t as far as I know), then I agree with you and no longer have any quibble with you on the matter.

            Parents are allowed to teach their children whatever religion or no religion they want and to send their children to private schools that teach their views, and this right should never be encroached upon by government. If you agree then we are on the same page.

          • Public education.
            The ex-mayor of Los Angeles, Antonio Villaraigosa, was asked why he did not have his own kids in public school despite his strong advocacy of public education. Villaraigosa, whose wife was a public school teacher, said, “I’m doing like every parent does. I’m going to put my kids in the best school I can. My kids were in a neighborhood public school until just this year. We’ve decided to put them in a Catholic school. We’ve done that because we want our kids to have the best education they can. If I can get that education in a public school, I’ll do it, but I won’t sacrifice (emphasis added) my children any more than I could ask you to do the same.”
            A 2007 Heritage Foundation study found that 37 percent of representatives and 45 percent of senators with school-age children sent their own kids to private school. Of the members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus with school-age children, 38 percent sent them to private school.
            About 11 percent of all parents — nationwide, rural and urban — send their children to private schools. The numbers are much higher in urban areas. One study found that in Philadelphia a staggering 44 percent of public school teachers send their own kids to private schools. In Cincinnati and Chicago, 41 and 39 percent of public school teachers, respectively, pay for a private school education for their children. In Rochester, New York, it’s 38 percent. In Baltimore it’s 35 percent, San Francisco is 34 percent and New York-Northeastern New Jersey is 33 percent. In Los Angeles nearly 25 percent of public school teachers send their kids to private school versus 16 percent of Angelenos who do so.

          • tildeb says:

            A clear indictment that something is badly wrong with public education in each of these states. I suspect it has a great deal to do with violence.

          • larryB says:

            I’m not sure if anyone mentioned violence but i’m sure its part of the decision. I can tell you this, in the four years of high school I had here in good ol California, I asked for a high school level English class and never received one. there was no room. they had plenty of reading classes, study of mark twain, but no plain English classes. the requirement for a high school degree at the time for math was—1 semester of biology. do you believe that? its true. a recent conversation with a sophomore in algebra was he had been failing all year. but magically-poofism- he stayed after class for about a month, whatever and got a b. not because he gained knowledge, he admits that but because he got extra credit for staying after class. its a joke.

          • larryB says:

            if I created another tautology, take it up with the people who should have been my English teachers. thank you very much!

  16. Concerned Reader says:

    “manifest destiny” “chosen” “separate” “pure” all very subjective words that usually signify uniqueness of role or purpose, and yet all of these words/concepts have been used to inflict great harm in history, usually under the label of divine right or providence.

    • Concerned Reader says:

      A clear indictment that something is badly wrong with public education in each of these states. I suspect it has a great deal to do with violence.

      I was also going to add, I doubt these statistics are mainly because of any religious character to private schools per se, or about general quality. You can get a good education at a public school, its just more difficult with less resources. Public schools are underfunded and obsessed with standardized testing, not with enabling teaching of important subjects like Science, Math, etc. Public schools also have to vie for available meager state resources put towards education. It is no secret (or surprise) that politicians send their children to private schools, they can afford it.

      • Concerned Reader I don’t really care one way or another about this issue but to say that public schools are underfunded is simply false – i provided a link earlier that shows that public schools spend more, much more per student than do private schools. I don’t see any need to speculate over the lack of success of public schools – fact is that anything run by the government goes bad – look at teh US postal service vs. UPS or Fed Ex

        1000 Verses – a project of Judaism Resources wrote: >

        • tildeb says:

          Is there a Republican meme you don’t believe is true and therefore support?!

          Only in the US is there a sizable minority that actually believes that adding a profit margin makes an organization better and cheaper and the product they produce of superior quality.


          I mean, the US military is a laughing stock of the capitalist world, right? It just cannot compete with the organizational wizardry of private armies of Afghanistan warlords.

          I mean, the local fire department is in shambles if it cannot find a profit in getting to a burning house or building, right? Too expensive.

          I mean, it’s just a shame that Salk didn’t patent his Polio vaccine and sell it to a multinational pharmaceutical company. We could have gotten rid of this disease through efficiencies if only the insurance companies could have somehow gotten involved.

          Good grief. Do you even take a moment and actually think critically about what you are eagerly supporting?

          • Dina says:

            Tilly, is there a Republican meme you don’t disagree with and therefore support? Do you think that only those who agree with you are capable of critical thought?

            The government is good at doing what it’s supposed to do, which is primarily keep us safe (as in defense and firefighting and policing). It’s terrible at the extra stuff that it has taken on and that has made it bloated, corrupt, and unwieldy.

            More and bigger government is not the solution to every problem. You’ve been shown that public education in this country is not underfunded as you claimed. Instead of addressing that challenge, you poke fun at Rabbi B.’s critical thinking capabilities. I think this needs to be pointed out.

          • tildeb says:

            Yes Medicare is a terrible thing. Food stamps disgusting. Old Age Security shameful. Clearing the streets of snow and providing clean drinking water a complete waste of resources.

            Come on, Dina… think.

          • Dina says:

            Furthermore, the multinational pharmaceutical companies you sneer at have done groundbreaking research and created medications and technologies that save lives.

            Nothing is perfect; there are definitely problems with insurance companies and big pharma–but just because something isn’t perfect doesn’t mean you should tear it down. Certainly, I don’t have a lot of faith in big government doing a better job. Look at how governments have taken over healthcare in all the socialist democracies in the world–yet the citizens of those countries come flocking to the U.S. for treatments. Coincidence? Hardly.

          • tildeb says:

            Wow… you love to miss the point, don’t you? Would we better served if Salk has patented the polio vaccine so that private companies could charge ‘customers’ a profit margin?

            Again, Dina… think.

          • larryB says:

            The last report on the news I hear about welfare was that the cost of providing welfare had reached 82 cents on the dollar. The recipients got 18 cents. A quick look around the offices and it looks more like a jobs program than a welfare program. Welfare is a great thing and needs to be there for people. Many in my family have used it at one time or another. But to deny it is inefficient is a mistake.

      • tildeb says:

        Well, this is just it. The supposed causal connection between private schools and better test results – and the deduction that public schools therefore yield poorer test results – is actually just a correlation, and this becomes obvious with even a cursory examination of motivations: for example, parents who care and think schooling is actually important. That fact alone I suspect has a more robust correlation with student achievement if compared directly between private and public than just about any other single factor I can think of.

        For example, I did an eight week placement at the third lowest ranked elementary school out of some 250.throughout the province (including private schools). In six weeks, I implemented a math program for the lowest two dozen ranked students in the school (grades 4, 5, 6, ranked at or below the 5th percentile – I’ll leave their various designations and diagnoses and familial problems to your imagination and you’ll probably estimate the scope of these problems far too low) – for an hour a day without any other teaching support or aid. These students then raised their test scores at the end of six weeks to the 95th percentile for their grades and continued to be excellent and high achieving academic students for at least the next three years. After that, I don’t know.

        It’s not public education that is the problem per se, but poor achievement does tell us that something is not working in whatever setting it is… including family problems! Mind you, I’m a philosophically inclined advocate that teachers should be remunerated by their students’ achievements during their tenure, which tells you I’m not your typical public education certified teacher but one who advocates for students’ best and long term interests. Private schools are not the answer but an understandable alternative when the local public school has endemic problems.

  17. Fred says:

    CR, “chosen” is probably the least subjective word one can think of. It is black and white; there is nothing grey about it.

  18. Concerned Reader says:

    Did you both miss the 1st paragraph? I’m not saying modern Jews “have done bad things” I’ve said the potential exists, very different things. I was addressing the potential for abuse.

    “chosen” is a subjective term in the sense that only one holy writ (of one nation) applies this term/claim of being “chosen” to that nation in contrast to those of other nations who are not chosen. You have to assume the truth and authority of the Torah in order not to view the designation of Jews as chosen, as only a subjective value judgment.

    • tildeb says:

      This was the very point that derailed the Charlottetown Accord – a Canadian alteration in the Constitution, namely, that the province of Quebec should gain special consideration and powers justified because the population of the province was supposedly a ‘distinct society’. Distinct from what? How is that separation determined? If something is distinct from something else, then the something else must also be distinct. If one group of people is chosen to be excluded from other people, then the other people must also be chosen.

      As soon as one introduces this idea of being special and therefore worthy of special consideration, one opens the door to justifying anything less than equality. One is empowering privilege by this notion and this is a guaranteed recipe for ongoing, systemic, and discriminatory problems.

      • Dina says:

        The idea of Jewish chosenness, which is understandably not well received by anyone (even a lot of Jews), has nothing to do with seeking privilege. If you knew anything about Jewish history and how Jews have related to their host countries, you would know this.

        Religious Jews are probably the least privileged human beings in the free world. We do not demand or expect anything and, in the US, absorb 60% of hate crimes.

        Tilly, it might be unpleasant but very instructive to study up a little on Jewish history.

        Actually, you might like it because it would put Christianity and Islam in a very negative light, and you will thus have more fodder for your hatred of both religions.

        • Concerned Reader says:

          The idea of Jewish chosenness, which is understandably not well received by anyone (even a lot of Jews), has nothing to do with seeking privilege.

          I have said that being chosen gets ABUSED that way. It gets turned into a negative thing. We see this happen.

    • Dina says:

      Con, you’ve completely gone off topic and not answered any of my points or questions. So I don’t know what to do or say at this point.

    • Dina says:

      So Con, you asserted that the reason Jews have not used their chosen status to commit dangerous acts is because they haven’t had the chance to wield their power.

      This is speculation which is easily refuted, since we have data that could very well predict how Jews would behave given some autonomy.

      We can examine Jewish communities throughout history and in all the lands they occupied and ask, how did Jews treat each other and how do they continue to treat each other to the present day?

      The record is not perfect but it is remarkable. Specifically regarding violent crime–which is what you would presumably be most afraid of–Jews were known to rarely engage in acts of this nature. The more religious the Jews, the greater their poverty and oppression, the less crime they engaged in. Fascinatingly, poverty and racial oppression are exactly the excuses employed by the liberal intellectual elite to absolve crime-ridden minority neighborhoods of responsibility for their social dysfunction. Religiosity is precisely the factor that atheists like to point to that correlates with social dysfunction.

      Religious Jews are the least likely to visit harm upon each other, more so than any other religious group in history.

      And how we treat each other is a great indicator of how we would treat strangers.

      Now I’m anticipating an argument. You might argue that Christians treated each other far better than they treated the Jews. You would be correct, but you would still have to recognize that they treated each other horribly.

      The violent crime rates among Christians and among Muslims throughout history were a pretty fair indicator that they would not treat well those who depended on them for protection.

      However, we have gone far afield with this topic. I would still be interested in hearing what you have to say about my other points.

      I will not press you about fear of atheist moral superiority because Tilly has retracted or clarified his view in that regard.

      • Concerned Reader says:

        Well Dina you sometimes insist on comparing apples and oranges. I have seen in previous posts where You look to the crusades and inquisition ( carried out by Medieval Christian theocracies) and compare them to the modern (Secular and not halachic) state of Israel. Not a fair comparison by any means considering lack of literacy rates and a dozen other factors in the past. If we are going to evaluate Judaism as a religion, we need to examine how the religion would have people behave within its traditional dictates. We have not seen a halachic state in the modern world, so that would be something worth discussing, hence my comment. How does halacha generally regard a secular Jewish person? What are his rights and privileges under Torah law while being a secular person? We know from history that Jews are just as capable of fighting among themselves (the Zealots, Sadducee’s, Pharisees, not to mention the Jesus movement, and their sectarian struggles, Hasmonean options for people to convert or leave, the bar Kochba revolt, troubles in 5th century Yemen, the fierce debates between hasidim and mitnagdim, the initial reaction to the works of Maimonides before his writings were accepted, etc.

        • Concerned Reader says:

          So Con, you asserted that the reason Jews have not used their chosen status to commit dangerous acts is because they haven’t had the chance to wield their power.

          Again for the third time, YOU HAVE THE POTENTIAL JUST LIKE ANYONE ELSE

          • Concerned Reader says:

            Dina, what would you consider violent crime? If we are talking only killing thats one statistic, but what about enforcing of religious observances?

          • Dina says:

            Con, violent crime is violent crime: murder, physical assault, rape–in short, an assault that could land you in jail.

            Because enforcing religious observance is a nebulous, vague phrase that is entirely subjective (after all, if I make my kids go to services I am enforcing a religious observance), I say we should stick to evaluating actions that can be objectively measured, such as the definition for violent crime that I proposed.

        • Dina says:

          Con, responding to this statement:

          “Well Dina you sometimes insist on comparing apples and oranges. I have seen in previous posts where You look to the crusades and inquisition ( carried out by Medieval Christian theocracies) and compare them to the modern (Secular and not halachic) state of Israel. ”

          I am flattered that you remember this long-ago conversation of ours. I do believe, though, that I had conceded the point at the time, and if I didn’t, I do now. You might like to review my recent comments to see that I made no such comparison this time. I discussed Jews’ personal interactions over two millennia across the globe. I said that the record was not perfect but that it was remarkable. Do you see the distinction? I chose my words carefully.

          You are the one comparing apples to oranges, comparing murderous disputes such as those between the Zealots and Sadducees to the non-violent and merely strongly rhetorical disputes between Hasidim and Misnagdim, opposition to Maimonides, and so forth.

          I never suggested that all Jews everywhere agreed on everything and lived in peace and harmony–I was talking about the non-prevalence of violent crime and that it is a good indicator of Jews’ non-violent character, particularly religious Jews who are most likely to accept the idea of chosenness that you object to because of its dangerous potential. And I argue that while it is potentially dangerous for other groups, Jews have proven to be the exception.

          One more point, about sectarian violence among first-century Jews. As you know, the Pharisees were the only group to survive Second-Temple Judaism. So in my arguments I refer to the descendants of the Pharisees who have scattered across the globe and retained the Pharisaic character of non-violence. The Zealots didn’t survive to pass their murderous rage on to their descendants, for example.

          I’ll end with a question. I asked you to give an example of how the idea of chosenness is linked to sectarian violence in the first century. My question is, well?

    • Dina says:

      For your convenience, Con, here is the comment I am hoping you will respond to:


    • tildeb says:

      Look at the argument being put forth that tries to show compatibility between religion and science: because many scientists were/are religious, therefore science and religion are compatible.

      Seems reasonable, right?

      Now let’s substitute and see if the argument still holds.

      The Catholic faith and pedophilia are compatible because many Catholic priests were/are pedophiles.

      See the problem?

      The next line of argument is that many people with faith commitments see religious belief and science as having to do with different ‘magesteria’… you know, the old Steve Gould argument that religion concerns itself with the magesteria of the ‘why’ questions and morals and ethics whereas science concerns itself with the magesteria of the ‘how’ questions and the material, factual world and that most religious folk see these two as non-overlapping (NOMA for short).

      This is utter bunk because religious belief crosses the imaginary ‘properly understood’ boundary constantly and intentionally.As evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne wrote when asked to review Gould’s book, “religious beliefs of many people are in absolute conflict with the findings of science. Evolution provides the most prominent example—not only fundamentalists, but also many mainstream Protestants and Catholics, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Orthodox Jews, Native Americans, Scientologists, Muslims, and Hindus, subscribe to creationist narratives. Beliefs about human origin are not the only religious violations of NOMA. Christian Scientists, for example, entertain a spiritual theory of disease, and many Hindus share Glenn Hoddle’s belief that disability is a sign of past spiritual transgression. The fact is that religions worldwide often stray into scientific territory, sometimes with tragic results.”

      See the problem? Only religious belief completely severed from reality itself and as it is NOT widely practiced supports compatibility.

      These arguments try and fail to yield some compatibility between these two incompatible methods of inquiry. When the epistemology of one is incompatible with the epistemology of the other, it is neither surprising nor unreasonable to think this should not be demonstrated in the ontology of each. And this is exactly what we find produced in the reality we share. But that’s not a very wise position to take – even when true – to guarantee good business for PEW.

  19. Fred says:

    >>>>>>The Catholic faith and pedophilia are compatible because many Catholic priests were/are pedophiles.<<<<<<

    Fallacious comparison and you know it. Those religious people who see no contradiction between science and faith are not the same as those pedophile priests who practice pedophilia as a weakness of character or sexual addiction and still consider it a sin. On the contrary, it is secular/atheistic organizations like NAMBLA that condone pedophilia, and in fact it was Dawkins who said that the pedophilia inflicted on HIM as a child had no negative effect on him and left no emotional scar.

    P.S.- It is my guess that Dawkins said that because he does not want critics to point to that experience as resulting in an emotional bias against theism. In other words, that in reality his antitheism is based not in honest intellectual pursuits, but is an emotional reaction to his abusive childhood. Again, just a guess…

    • tildeb says:

      The analogy is correct, Fred, because the reasoning is identical. Because some scientists are religious does not mean science is compatible with religion any more than some priests are pedophiles does not mean religion (in this case, say, Catholicism) is compatible with pedophilia. It is not a fallacious argument but demonstrates the problem of trying to use the religious beliefs of some scientists as a way to demonstrate compatibility between religion and science.

      • Fred says:

        Wrong, you are comparing beliefs with shameful practices that defy the beliefs of the practitioner and they are ashamed of. I know you are smart enough to know that. If not, then I do not know what to tell you.

        • Dina says:

          Good point, Fred. On the other hand, the religious beliefs of religious scientists are not something that they see as incompatible with science and not something they are ashamed of. It’s an apples-to-oranges comparison.

          • tildeb says:

            It’s called ‘compartmentalization’ and we’re all capable of doing this. No religious scientist of repute and achievement allows religious belief to directly influence their work. It simply has no role in the methodology of science and, if it is given a role, then what comes out the other end is pure a faith-based and not evidence-adduced result.

        • tildeb says:

          You are confusing the different objects with the identical reasoning.

          Don’t feel bad; this is what theists have to do all the time, for example, to alter an immoral act to become moral… if they are done by some righteous god.

  20. Jim says:


    My apologies for the long delay in answering you. We have had a lot of sickness at my house the past few weeks, and I just did not have the energy to work on these things. Baruch Hashem, my family is just about better. Only I am still fighting any illness.

    I would like to dispel any confusion on a couple areas, because your arguments seem to address points I never made.

    1. I am not arguing that atheism produces amoral (or immoral) people.

    2. I am not arguing that theism produces moral people. (Moreover, if I were arguing that atheism produces amoral people, it would not follow that theism produces moral people.)

    Now we have a great area of dispute between us, if I understand you correctly. You deny that the motivation for an action defines the morality of the action. I say that the motivation for an action determines its moral quality. I make a distinction between moral actions and beneficial actions. You either do not acknowledge any such difference or consider it unimportant.

    I will try one last argument on this score. If you remain unconvinced, well and good. We differ on this point and will be unable to come to any agreement. That is fine.

    I would like to consider what we might mean by a moral person by studying how a man acting according to a selfish principle can appear to be moral at one time and not moral at another. In the one instance, we might think him a good man. At another, we might think him a bad man. However, it is my contention that he is only a good man if he is acting according to a good principle, even though acting according to an evil principle, he will at times perform acts beneficial to others.

    A man, Anthony, is purely selfish. He acts only according to the principle that if he sees some benefit for himself, he will perform an action. He does not care if he benefits others. They are not his concern.

    Anthony is enjoying a day at a park. It is quiet and people seldom go there. At the park there is a lake. When Anthony walks down to the lake, he sees that there is a man drowning. He recognizes the man as a poor fellow, not particularly well-loved. Now, Anthony is quite capable of saving the man, but he looks around and sees no one. He realizes that no one will care if this poor man drowns, and since no one will know that Anthony could have saved him, it hardly seems worth all the bother of saving the fellow. So, Anthony lets the fellow drown. He sees no reason to exert himself in saving the poor man’s life. It is obvious to us that Anthony is not a moral man in this instance.

    But what if we change the scenario only slightly? Let us say the drowning man is rich. This time Anthony thinks that there is a good reason to save the man. There might be a reward in it for him. Even if there is not a direct reward, he figures making a friend from a rich man is to his benefit. At the very least, he can expect a better reputation as the man who saved this well-known rich man. This time, he saves the man. But are we really to say that he is moral?

    I do not think so. He is acting from the same selfish principle that would let the poor man drown. He only has increased incentives for saving the rich man. He, as a person, is no different. Certainly, the act of saving the rich man would be beneficial to the rich man. But this is not Anthony’s concern. It is only an ‘accident of fate’ that makes the rich man’s good consonant with Anthony’s own. Anthony, himself, however is only concerned with himself and his own perceived benefit. He is unconcerned with the rich man’s benefit for the rich man’s sake.

    I would like to turn this into science fiction, now. Let us imagine two timelines, one in which Anthony lets the drowning man die and a second in which he saves the rich man. And through some merging of dimensions, these two Anthony’s meet. The Anthony who saved the rich man is disgusted by the Anthony who let the poor man die. He denigrates that Anthony as a vicious fellow. The problem is, of course, that he would have let the same man die. Is he really so moral while the other is immoral? Operating from the same principles?

    No, I do not think so. He has no reason to be smug. He does not operate according to moral principles. His selfishness happened to align his interests with that of another. In that instance, he performed a beneficial action. But he is not himself a moral fellow. And it is base that he should mock himself from the other timeline.

    Do we still disagree that the moral quality of an action is determined by motive? If so, then we can only rest with our disagreement I fear. You will say that someone who denies moral obligation is a moral person, because they still benefit others. We disagree on the definition of morality. I make a distinction between that which is merely beneficial to others and that which is done morally. If you recognize no such distinction, any further argument is fruitless, because we are not talking about the same thing.

    Of course, I do believe that we can live in harmony with atheists. For one thing, not all atheists deny that there is any real moral obligation. Secondly, even an atheist that denies moral obligation is likely to act for the good of others and society, because he sees this as practically sensible. I am not claiming that atheists are bad people to be shunned or that they are bad people. I only argue that one cannot claim to be morally superior as long as one denies moral obligation.


  21. Jim says:


    In arguing on behalf of the moral autonomy of atheists, you implied that the Torah is an insufficient guide to behavior due to its ease in being misunderstood. You also wrote that atheists have nothing to hide behind and accept full responsibility for their beliefs and behaviors, something the religious person does not do. I think if we review the facts, we will see that this is not quite so. Indeed, you have proposed quite the contradiction.

    Before addressing directly the claims about theists and atheists, I would reiterate that your criticism of the Torah leaves much to be desired. You write that the law should properly be framed “Do not kill.” I briefly addressed this already, but I would like to expand upon the point for the sake of clarity.

    In correcting what you consider a badly written law, you confuse two different elements, the underlying moral value of a command and the moral command itself. You write that the law should be “Do not kill,” because this is the universal value toward which one should be striving. This may be the value toward which one should strive, but the command you would write is incorrectly framed. “Do not kill” is an absolute statement and contradicts even the exceptions that you grant. It renders no killing permissible, even in defense of oneself and others.

    To be honest, I find it troubling that you so readily ignore that the Torah does lay out the value that underlies the command not to murder. Because you confute command and value, you write as if the Torah does not address the underlying value. Yet I am certain that a man of your erudition knows one of the fundamental tenets of Torah, that all human beings have intrinsic value. Each human being is made in the “image of God.”

    I also find it troubling that you impute fault to the Torah that some people misrepresent it. You are quite familiar with the eisegesis employed by the Church to find Jesus in the Torah. Would you blame their fault on the Torah? As you have noted many times in the past six months, Torah directly forbids associating God with any created being (Deut. 4). That does not mean that a Christian who wishes to give his devotion to a man will not attempt to justify this forbidden practice. I propose that the fault does not lie in the Torah but in readers who come to it determined to find their beliefs therein rather than basing their beliefs on its contents.

    This same fault is what causes people to justify great crimes. They do not study the Torah to understand what it demands of them. They study it to justify their own bad behaviors. You are right that the Church has justified its own murders. This is not the fault of Torah. This is due to the ignorance and arrogance of those who did not study it properly, who cared less for Torah than their own egos.

    As noted before, your own correction of Torah would not solve the problem. You admit that there are exceptions to the prohibition to kill. The same people who rewrite the Torah to suit their needs would do no less with your new phrasing. The proof of that is that many of those Christians who justified killing their fellows translated “You shall not murder” as “You shall not kill.” If a man wishes to err, he will find a way to justify it.

    This being said, I think your correction of Torah is misguided. It attempts to solve a nonexistent problem. And it does not even do that well. But worse, it blames Torah for the malfeasance of those who do not attempt to understand it but come to it with their own agenda.

    Already I have exceeded a page, and I have not begun to address moral autonomy, so I will come back to that. I do not wish my comments to become laborious to the reader, and I have had some complaints about the lengthiness of my comments.


    • tildeb says:

      What I’m reading here is the not-a-true-Scotsman fallacy in the sense that the Torah when properly read and understood indicates the value of its moral laws. There is no means for anyone to independently verify this differential, of course so it’s a rather empty approach. What should be crystal clear is scripture an astounding array of incredibly perceptive moral tents. This absence is revealing.

      I don’t see any command to be kind (a simple enough idea practiced by most humans but rarely upheld as an indication of moral value), to not own other human beings (an obvious answer to anyone morally confused enough to seriously contend ownership might be moral), to respect the autonomy of individual people regardless of race, religious belief, gender, and so on (imagine if a divine agency actually cared about such things enough to comment on and clarify for those morally confused people about the moral cost of such practices), that burnt offerings and prayer really do not work to cause real world effects. The opportunity to give divine moral guidance and teaching seems to me to be utterly lost in dietary restrictions and religious duties. That’s not divine moral revelation: that’s grunt policy and procedure work for low level management of drones who seem to require such ‘guidance’. It really doesn’t matter in any moral sense which drones are selected to be ‘chosen’; the mistake is assuming all of this reveals some raised bar of divine morality when it is obviously not.

      • Jim says:


        I can see why you might think that I committed the “No True Scotsman” fallacy. But this is just because of your unfamiliarity with Torah. Granted, I did not list the sources, but that is because Concerned Reader knows them. A student of Torah knows that Torah does not just teach “Thou shalt not murder” but knows that it defines murder. It also gives the value that all human beings are intrinsically valuable in relation to murder: “Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall his blood be shed; for human beings were made in the image of God” (Genesis 9:6). Concerned Reader is studied in these issues and as it was to him I was writing, I did not lay out the entirety of the Torah for him.

        Unfortunately, you display that you have a superficial understanding of Torah in your comments. Torah emphasizes many of the things that you say it does not. It is not a book full only of ritual as you would portray it, although it certainly has rituals in it. That you do not understand them does not mean that they are not relevant, however. You have not studied Torah with any depth. You leapt to evaluations of the Torah before properly understanding it. You neither understand kosher laws nor sacrifices, which makes you incompetent to rate their value.

        You once wrote, I believe, that interpreting text requires patience and intelligent questions. The Torah is no different. In fact, because it is so terse, it requires even greater care. Moreover, because the interpretations and misrepresentations of the Church have been prominent in western civilization, one is bound to be influenced by their incompetent readings. This means that even greater care is required when reading the book. One may not read it quickly if he wishes to understand it.


        • tildeb says:

          I can see why you might think that I committed the “No True Scotsman” fallacy. But this is just because of your unfamiliarity with Torah.

          No, I’m not unfamiliar with the Torah. I just don’t buy into this notion that one must rely on a sophisticated reading of it and have a checked off list of scholars who have written about it (written extensively about a subject that has no object). Again, this line of defense to claim a higher level of understanding because of this completed reading list is the same fallacy busy at work… unless you think these writings are only meant for the truly sophisticated believers among us, in which case by what metric does the divine show us is the right and proper one for us to know?

          Exactly. There isn’t one.

          We must rely on what we simply believe is the right metric. I happen to favour reality. And you use one that highlights the danger all people -theists and atheists alike – face… confirmation bias. In your case, you exercise religiously sanctioned and venerated confirmation bias. Can you even imagine that it is far more reasonable to think of the Exodus as a complete and utter fiction? You could if you got rid of religiously inspired confirmation bias and looked to reality. What you find is an striking absence of any and all compelling evidence for such a massive migration that should be there but isn’t. Remove Exodus, remove the very core of Judaism. I predict you will not do that in your serious ‘study’ but assume (without compelling evidence) that the fiction is actually fact. There’s your confirmation bias at work and as you can see it’s not an easy thing to overcome. I’m aware of mine and I do my best to guard against exercising it.. Are you aware of yours?

          It is another tactic by the believer to malign empirical evidence when it fails to support a religious belief but the first to be championed if it seems to support one. This tactic is rather telling about the quality of our sophisticated study, don’t you think?

          So, yes, we are all vulnerable to confirmation bias so the question is, How do we best guard against it? Granting confidence to a religious belief before a compelling case adduced from evidence in reality is not the way. It IS a way to make confirmation bias seem pious and righteous. My way is to allow reality itself to arbitrate any and all claims made about it. I simply grant different levels of confidence to claims supported by various levels of compelling evidence. Because I don’t whitewash my inquiries into reality under the banner of philosophy and metaphysics and religious studies, I can deal straight up with religious claims that offer us no compelling evidence to grant them confidence. You do the same in almost every area of your life but make a special exemption for your religious beliefs. That’s worth pondering.

          • Jim says:


            You say that your barometer is reality. I am glad of it. Because it is your barometer, I draw your attention to the fact that in reality you have interjected arguments on my behalf that I have not made. I wrote nothing of needing to consult “a checked off list of scholars”. In fact I appealed only to a standard which you espoused yourself. On this I would have expected agreement.

            I note also that you must then change the topic. You must accuse me of confirmation bias, though I have exhibited none. I note that you have quickly run out of legitimate arguments. Perhaps you can tell us the name of the fallacy when one addresses his opponent’s character rather than his arguments.

            Is your argument so feeble that you must constantly retreat to insulting your opponents’ intelligence to prove yourself right? Your comments so frequently turn to the equivalent of this: “The reason you do not agree with me is because you are not as wise as I am.” Fine, that may be true. Nevertheless it does not address the argument. One wonders who these comments are meant to convince–us or yourself?


      • Tildeb You make the Christian mistake of confining religion to a set of books. The purpose of books is to get people to act and you need to judge a book by the way its target audience lives out its precepts. Judaism is a living worldview and our record speaks for itself. On tis MLK day I will tell you about a 1959 poll taken in the US on the subject of school desegregation. 96% of Jews interviews were in favor which was a higher rate of any other ethnic or racial group – including blacks! (90% approved). A historian of the times (civil rights movement – 1968) describes the involvement of Jews in the movement – half of the whites traveling to Mississippi in the summer of 1964 to encourage black voters to register were Jews, Two thirds of the freedom riders who went to the south to desegregate interstate transportation were Jews. The “Yarmulke” (religious head covering of Jewish men) became the unofficial symbol of the 1964 protests and the two white victims of the protests were both Jewish. These are statistics from the world of reality – not Biblical exegesis by someone who doesn’t believe in the authenticity of the Bible – about as divorced from reality as you can get.

        : >

        • tildeb says:

          You assume without evidence that it was Jewish religious belief that was the motivating factor and responsible for this high percentage. Because I happen to know some of the Freedom Riders, I can tell you straight up that it was far more of a secular movement from my neck of the woods led in large part by people all too familiar with legal discrimination and how to change it, namely, the secular Jews.

          When one utilizes reality, one must be careful not to confuse correlation with causation because that can lead one astray from what is the case just as quickly as any belief in supernatural forces.

          As for your accusation that I confine religion to a set of books, let me be perfectly clear: remove scripture and one removes the founding principles of most if not all organized religions. Or do you dispute this?

          Of course I’m going to use source material… that’s what scholarship is. That’s why we know the Pentateuch is really a series of scrolls written by different authors at different times united in their quest to try to unite a divided people… by creating a false historical narrative back to some god… and even here we have different proposals. The eventual ‘winner’ so to speak was Yahweh, the god of war – a necessary god these distantly related people to unite and throw off their masters. And before you get any knickers in a knot, know that Jefferson did the same sort of thing – creating a ‘people’ where none existed – trying to unite very different populations into a cohesive set of States – united in their grievances. Most nation states have these kinds of mythologized histories leading back to various gods so the Jews are no different. Taking these claims literally and making them fundamental to the national identity is far less common because most people recognize mythology when they encounter it.

          • tildeb
            The fact that people know how to do something doesn’t make them do it – there must be something in the Jewish psyche which motivated them, and I think that the values that secular Jews have – especially back in the sixties is easily traceable to Judaism
            And yes – I dispute the notion that Judaism needs Scripture – the Torah is primarily in our heart – the book is just a crutch to keep us from drifting.
            Your knowledge about the Torah reminds me about your knowledge of evolution – I hope to post something about that subject soon
            But I do thank you for contributing and for your ability to disagree respectfully with people you look down upon – and I mean this sincerely as strange as it sounds

      • Jim says:


        I don’t know why my mind should seize upon such a thing, but of all your objections to Torah, this one is sticking out in my mind for some reason. I do not necessarily think it is the most important objection, nor the one most important to answer. Sometimes the mind goes where the mind goes. But you write that the Torah does not teach that sacrifices and prayers do not have real world effects, and I would like to address this point, particularly in regard to sacrifices.

        It is true, of course, that the non-Torah world believed that sacrifices were effective for creating certain effects in the world. Many people have a mistaken belief that God needs something from them. (Usually these are gods, not the God of the Torah.) They thought that the gods would eat the foods offered them. They believed that they could win the favor of the gods through various sacrifices. If the god accepted their sacrifices, they would bless the people with rain, abundant crop growth, or some other necessity.

        This is not the Torah worldview. One does not slaughter a sheep to receive rain, and if you look the length and breadth of the Torah, you will see that this system of bribery is neither taught nor implied. You will not find one instance where rain or some other human good is promised if people will bring sacrifices. Nor will you find such a reward given due to sacrifices.

        It is true that Christians, because of their own New Testament theology, have read into the sacrificial laws that sacrifice is necessary to achieve atonement for misdeeds. However, this is a mistake on their part. The Torah never makes sacrifice a prerequisite to atonement. The Church will say that God demands the blood of an innocent to pay for the guilty, but such a teaching does not appear in Torah.

        This is reflected in the story of Noah. (For the purposes of this conversation, it is unimportant whether the flood actually happened. We are considering what the story has to say about sacrifices.) It is worth noting that Noah does not earn his place aboard the ark because he pays sacrifices. Indeed, he is preserved because he was righteous. In a world full of violence, he abstained from violence.

        It is not until after the flood that Noah brings a sacrifice. At this point it was an act of gratitude and perhaps a dedication of the earth to God. But it was not a bribe for divine favor. He already had that.

        The sacrifices of Torah are not like those found in, say, The Iliad. In The Iliad a sacrifice might be given to stay the wrath of an angry god. They might be given to earn favor for battle. These sorts of sacrifices are not a part of the Torah system.

        You will not find in Torah a sacrifice to get a favorable wind. In Iphigenia at Aulis, before the siege of Troy, Agamemnon’s armies cannot get to Troy. The winds are unfavorable. They learn that the only way to get to Troy is to sacrifice Iphigenia, Agamemnon’s daughter. And they do (though, if I recall correctly, the goddess Diana takes her away and she is not burned. It’s been some time since I read it.)

        No such human sacrifice is accepted in Torah. The closest thing, the binding of Isaac, is more notable for its differences than its similarities. Yes, Abraham is willing to offer his son, but he is promised nothing in return. It has no utilitarian value. And, of course, no sacrifice occurs. A human life is not a suitable sacrifice. He is not even translated as Iphigenia, but continues living a human life.

        It is of great import that Abraham was offered nothing in return. You claim that Torah does not teach sacrifices cannot affect the real world. This is incorrect. Even at the binding of Isaac, no blessings were promised if Abraham would offer up his son. In no other instance is rain, victory, or other human good promised in exchange for sacrifices. They are not even necessary for atonement. The Torah does not create an exchange system between God and man based on sacrifices. It need not teach that sacrifices cannot affect the real world, because it does not allow for such a system in the first place.


        • tildeb says:

          My point was that God had an opportunity to teach people that such offerings and sacrifices were completely unnecessary because they do not work, because they have no causal effect whatsoever beyond expressing an intention… whatever motivation that intention may have had; instead, god doesn’t seem to mind them in the least and even uses the intention as a test not for lunacy as we would do but piousness by Abraham. That’s some seriously freaky and questionable morality at play by this capricious god, wouldn’t you say?

          • Jim says:


            You are changing the topic again. The binding of Isaac is certainly worth discussing but is only relevant to this discussion as far as your claim that Torah does not teach that offerings do not work.

            On that topic, you have imposed your understanding of sacrifices on the Torah and then demanded it treat them the way you would. Why should it?

            Torah teaches that one should not be superstitious. One is not to practice ‘magic’ or hold seances. Nor does it treat sacrifices as incantations. It associates no gain with sacrifices. You can not hold it accountable for the faults of other systems that do treat it as incantation. Torah is to be studies in its own context.

            Nor do I think one can so readily dismiss the value of sacrifices as an expression of one’s intention. When I buy flowers for my wife, I do it to show her affection. If I only gave her flowers to receive a benefit, I would be a rather crass person. It is not much of an argument that sacrifices are useless because they only express one’s appreciation, remorse, or dedication to God and do not pay a dividend.


          • tildeb says:

            Again, my point was to demonstrate the lack of a simple commandment to eliminate such superstitious nonsense widely practiced at the time (and still used to pernicious effect against those accused of ‘sorcery’). It is this failure to do so that I’m pointing out.

  22. Jim says:


    In considering the question of moral autonomy, I believe we must confront the inherent contradiction in your arguments. At one time you would have us believe that the theist is a mindless drone accepting unquestioningly whatever he is told, thus waiving his moral autonomy. At another you say that he uses scripture to come justify whatever morally abhorrent behavior he wishes to practice. However, this latter suggests that he does not listen to divine commands but rewrites them to suit his own morality. He does not blindly follow scripture at all but seeks support for his own moral code. This latter implies that he is a morally autonomous being after all, just dishonest in his methods.

    It is difficult to believe that a man of your learning would truly argue that religious people mindlessly follow whatever they are told. Certainly you are aware that moral questions have been of great concern to religious minds from every religion. This does not mean that they think out the questions equally well, mind you. It does not mean that theism produces morality. However, it is a great exaggeration to say that religious people do not face moral questions like the great thinking atheists.

    But I do agree that it is distasteful the way Torah is abused by those who wish to justify their own conceptions of morality by reading them into Torah. This is a gross injustice to the Author. Such dishonesty is to be condemned in a theist or an atheist.

    The atheist might seem to be above such behavior. I can understand why one would think that. He need not appeal to Torah to justify his moral code. Because he does not affirm the Torah to be true, he has no need to make it a support for his behavior.

    This does not mean that he will not interpret scientific evidence or political documents to support his own views. The atheist can be just as guilty of misrepresenting facts to justify his own morally abhorrent behaviors. True, he does not attribute such teachings to God, but he does attempt to make them appear objectively true. It is at root the same fault.

    An example:

    Two hundred years ago an atheist and a theist both wish to hold slaves. The theist justifies his slavery by reading Torah passages in a particular way. The atheist cannot make recourse to such a text. But he will find his own justification. He will argue that it can be shown scientifically that Africans are inferior to Europeans, that they are more animal than man and to be treated as such. Neither man is studying the matter objectively. They both use whatever ‘objective’ standard they can apply to justify their bad behavior. They both claim they have empirical proof that slavery is a morally correct action.

    I do not disagree that there are people who misrepresent Torah or other religious texts to justify their own bad behaviors. But the atheist does not fare better qua atheist. Some atheists like some theists will be more honest. Others, however, will leverage scientific or legal arguments to justify their own bad behaviors. The only difference is the material from which they will draw evidence to support their wrongdoing. This fault does not separate atheists from theists. Both hide behind ’empirical data,’ only the origin of which is different.


  23. Concerned Reader says:

    Jim, it appears to me that the point I’ve tried to make (at least three times now) keeps getting lost or swept under the rug. I am not saying that intention and motivation doesn’t matter to one’s moral status, I am saying it is only a small factor in determining one’s moral status, because morality is driven by situation . I am saying It cannot be reduced to a general principle as many try to do.

    In your example of Anthony the selfish man you illustrate the error I am trying to point out. You want to state that “I say that the motivation for an action determines its moral quality.” You then give an example of the selfish man allowing an innocent to drown because nobody will see it. You then illustrate that this man could still do the right thing, (but for selfish reasons,) and therefore still remain immoral despite some utility motivating his actions.

    Your examples suffer from the same issue as your central thesis. You are trying (or so it seems) to boil the decision for moral actions down to some ideological/motivational correlate. This is not going to work. A decision driven by motivation has equal potential both for morality and immorality, so it cannot be the driving force.

    Ideology and motivation are small components of a process that includes so many other factors that boiling it down becomes ridiculous. Life experiences, ideology, situation, utility, remorse, etc. a whole gamut of emotion and thought goes into decisions of morality.

    Let’s say that there is indeed an ideological/motivational component to morality. Take someone who has an ideology favoring goodness in all things. Put that person into a sophie’s choice kind of situation, and you would see that the issue is multifaceted and situationally driven, not primarily motivational. There are so many quandaries we come across in questions of morality when we try to say that its either based entirely on utility, or entirely based on motivation. The reality is that neither of those works to define morality.

    “It is difficult to believe that a man of your learning would truly argue that religious people mindlessly follow whatever they are told.”

    Jim, again you misunderstand. There is a degree of “autonomy” in a religious person’s moral compass, but it exists within a clearly defined envelope that limits its scope for ideological reasons. The compass is tethered within the confines of a system that considers itself to be of unassailable authority. You can have a motivational/ideological system that is the best in the world, but if it sits in the unassailable truth box, it has extreme potential to stagnate and become the embodiment of tyranny, the very thing it claims to oppose.

  24. Concerned Reader says:

    This does not mean that he will not interpret scientific evidence or political documents to support his own views. The atheist can be just as guilty of misrepresenting facts to justify his own morally abhorrent behaviors. True, he does not attribute such teachings to God, but he does attempt to make them appear objectively true. It is at root the same fault.

    The keyword there is attempt Jim. An atheist can attempt to demonstrate the objective truth of his claims, but its not a default position to say his beliefs are objectively true. As a result, Its not a fault of the same degree at all. If an atheist says “X claim is objectively true” I can say “you must show here in our shared reality that X is true.” An atheist does not have a non falsifiable starting position. Everything an atheist or agnostic claims is open for debate and discussion. That’s the difference between the atheist and the religious believer.

    • Jim says:


      A person who begins with the conclusion and then selects the facts to suit his conclusion is using bad methodology whether atheist or theist. Calling such a person open-minded because he does not believe in God is absurd.


      • Concerned Reader says:

        Calling such a person open-minded because he does not believe in God is absurd.

        Why exactly? An agnostic/atheistic view is at least internally consistent.The claim that a deity exists (even according to the opinion of most theists) comes from a place of divine revelation/knowledge, ie it is grounded in an extra/supersensory experience like Sinai, or the Claimed Christian experience of J’s resurrection, not simple corporeality.

        The average atheist by contrast is starting with the shared physical world he/she experiences with others on a daily basis as the baseline experience of reality.

        Consider the fact that in the past most scientists from the time of Newton on, (while they still believed in some deity, ) because of their method of study, were only comfortable being called deists.

        They could not comment on anything we would commonly call religious experience (such as a personal providential G-d) those things were not testable. Someone who knows that he does not know is the definition of a wise an open minded person.

      • tildeb says:

        But isn’t this bad methodology the very definition for religious faith? No one as far as I can tell wakes up one day in Mumbai or Kyoto and receives revelation of the One True God Quetzalcoatl. One has to be exposed to the specific teachings of elders to gain an introduction to the god supposedly that is <a href="http://funki.com.ua/ru/portfolio/lab/world-religions-tree/"<the right one at whatever the historical moment is.

    • tildeb says:

      Misrepresenting facts? Can you give an example of this supposedly stereotypical fault atheists commit that are ‘just as guilty’ as the evidence-denying True Believer (TM) as ‘objectively true?

      Most atheists I know are quite skeptical and critical and require demonstration for claims to be taken as anything more than empty. And it is very difficult to try to present misrepresented facts as objectively true without being taken to task… as I’m sure you’re quite aware. So although some rather naive atheists no doubt will try to do this, at the very least I think the number of atheists who do this is hardly equivalent as a percentage to the percentage of believers who quite willingly grant confidence to the existence of causal agencies of Oogity Boogity! I think this is a blatant false equivalency.

      • Tildeb when atheists lump all religions together when they describe the social dysfunction produced by religion they are misrepresenting facts.

        1000 Verses – a project of Judaism Resources wrote: >

        • tildeb says:

          It’s not religion, per se, that is the problem I keep describing: it is granting to the METHOD called faith-based belief any respect whatsoever because it this method that produces so much perniciousness when acted upon. Religion is the main driver here, the main promoter of faith-based beliefs because in all its religious forms raises this method to be a virtue when, in fact, it’s a vice.

          It’s a vice because it’s not a good method for coping with reality. It does produce social dysfunction. It does misguide, mislead, and misdirect people from ascertaining what’s true about reality, what is the case, what is worthy of confidence when describing how reality operates. It is an absolute failure to to produce knowledge about reality. It substitutes belief based on faith alone in place evidence. It promotes ignorance disguised as insight into reality. It impedes honesty inquiry into reality. It offers pseudo-explanations about reality that are not just wrong but incompatible with much better ones that are adduced from compelling evidence provided by reality.

          These criticisms I raise against the idea that faith is a virtue are as germane to the method used for climate change denial and the anti-vaccine movement as they are to religious belief itself. The harm is always profound when the method – the same one used to defend belief not just in agencies of Oogity Boogity but in all kinds of woo and superstitious nonsense – is granted respect and privilege in the public domain, when it granted to be an ‘equivalent’ belief to an evidence adduced provisional conclusion, when it packaged as an equivalent but alternate ‘voice’ or ‘side’ when in conflict with an evidence-adduced position or explanation. This is the pernicious influence and it does cause pernicious effect.

          Sure, some people – perhaps most – can compartmentalize and use one method here and another method there, accept reality here but deny it there, gain comfort and enjoyment when used here but withheld to promote comfort and enjoyment there. But this in no way suggests there is any kind of net benefit, net gain, net equivalency, to the method that uses belief exempt from reality’s arbitration of it to describe reality itself. The method is a broken epistemology, one that when acted upon really does produce a tremendous amount of real harm to real people in real life. Casting this method of faith-based belief as a vice and have it widely accepted would do a very great deal of good restoring reason and evidence-adduced conclusions to primacy in issues about reality.

          It is in this epistemological sense that all religions can be lumped together when describing and criticizing the faith-based method used to justify them.

          • tildeb My post “tug of war” explained that belief in Judaism is rooted in an observation of reality – lumping it together with belief systems that extol blind faith as a virtue is a misrepresentation of reality

            1000 Verses – a project of Judaism Resources wrote: >

          • tildeb says:

            The term ‘blind’ when it comes to your religious faith changes nothing; you believe in a god for which there is no compelling evidence from reality, believe in a mass migration that left no evidence in reality, believe in a creationist event for which there is no evidence, and so on. No matter how you dress up faith-based beliefs of any kind – be it your religious beliefs or the energy beliefs of the local chiropractor – the method used means the product of belief is not arbitrated by reality but imposed on it and then exported as a virtue. That’s the problem I’m criticizing.

          • tildeb
            I would encourage you to read my article “tug of war” again – I addressed your objection. Just because I don’t fit into your preconceived narrow mold for religionists doesn’t mean you have to adjust “reality” in order for you to keep your precious prejudices.
            You always need to be aware that you may guilty of what you accuse others of doing

      • Tidleb Haeckel’s embryology pictures still found in textbooks printed years after teh fraud was exposed is another example

        1000 Verses – a project of Judaism Resources wrote: >

          • tildeb
            Good grief indeed – it seems that you need to go to your bible (talkorigins website) or to your prophet (Richard Dawkins) to find out if a given “reality” is “approved”
            The talkorigin website simply lies when it says that Haekel’s drawings stopped being used once the fraud was discovered – the fraud was discovered almost immediately and the drawings are still being used in text books published as late as the 1990’s even one in 2004 more than a century later

          • Concerned Reader says:

            The talkorigin website simply lies when it says that Haekel’s drawings stopped being used once the fraud was discovered – the fraud was discovered almost immediately and the drawings are still being used in text books published as late as the 1990’s even one in 2004 more than a century later.

            Rabbi, with respect. Whether or not the drawings of Haekel (a man from the 1800s) appear in a textbook, it doesn’t say anything regarding the merit of the modern scientific research vis the fields of embryology or evolutionary theory that these texts discuss. Bringing Haekel into the discussion is a red herring, a diversion.

            Comparative embryology and genetics still corroborate each other independent of the drawings of Haekel. Would you censure someone for putting a picture of the Ptolemaic geocentric model in a textbook even though science has progressed since then?

            Genetic variation and speciation have been directly observed empirically, driven both naturally and artificially.

          • Concerned reader The context of me bringing up Haeckel’s drawings was occasioned by tildeb’s ridiculous insistence that atheists don’t misrepresent reality – no red herring here

            1000 Verses – a project of Judaism Resources wrote: >

        • Concerned Reader says:

          Misrepresentation of reality for an atheist arises from lack of a direct knowledge at the time, or from usual human errors in judgement etc. case in point your Haekel example. What is being overlooked is the fact that the scientific method itself overall refines our knowledge of a given subject over time, the knowledge itself improves with time, it self corrects. Bringing up Haekel as a mistaken point accomplishes nothing. Atheists can well “misrepresent reality,” but they are not the ones who are claiming an absolute knowledge of reality with absolute consequences based on a revealed knowledge. They say “this is the truth relative to what I know.”

          When you say,”well they can be wrong too,” they know they can be wrong, in fact the method assumes they will be wrong somewhere along the line, and its fine if they are wrong. There is no sin in being wrong.

          Creating a false equivalence between the religious thought processes/hypothesis and the pursuit of scientific knowledge always leads to this “them too” misrepresentation.

          Religious thought as you know rabbi starts with G-d as the axiom, (the Be-er whose beings we are, who created everything.) Religion starts with G-d who it believes to be a self evident reality, that is “known” through study of creation and moreso through study of a revealed wisdom from heaven.

          Science by contrast starts with the shared physical reality which we inhabit together as the axiom, and then seeks to understand the world and humanity based on the study of that world and us.

          • Concerned Reader says:

            http://williameamon.com/?p=382 When I hear creationists debate about natural selection as “just a theory” it makes me think of when gravitation was “just a theory.” If Newton’s equations couldn’t harm theism, then Darwin is not a threat to your theism either.

          • Concerned Reader says:

            What I’m getting at is that theists and atheists have a different epistemology

          • tildeb says:

            Now where have I come across that idea before?

          • Concerned Reader says:

            Tildeb, I’m not saying or implying in any way that science is wrong, or that i disagree with its conclusions. I’m just noting that if we are honest with the question of how each worldview approaches knowledge, theists do treat G-d as an axiom/the default position, and therefore produce a different theory of knowledge that oftentimes blithely dismisses your position. It sucks, but its how pretty much all the sacred traditions on this planet approach knowledge.

            I don’t know of a single sacred text anywhere on earth that tries to objectively prove that deities exist, because the texts just take the existence of such as axiomatic. These texts all treat the divine and supernatural as a given, or as the origin point of everything. Its no secret that this is probably one reason why spinoza said G-d and nature were synonyms.

          • tildeb says:

            If one equates a god with nature, then we’re just playing a semantic game and I wouldn’t care because the result would be a kind of innocuous deism that requires no faith and so produces no harm. What I take issue with is the faith component treated with undeserved respect that does cause harm and does affect us all perniciously. Just think of the anti-vaccine movement that puts all of us at increased and unnecessary risk to satisfy the demand that all of us respect the ignorance of the few. This is unconscionable stupidity.

            You say theists do treat G-d as an axiom/the default position, and therefore produce a different theory of knowledge that oftentimes blithely dismisses your position. It’s not the latter part of that sentence that bothers me because, although it is true, it isn’t the problem. One can deny reality all one wants but reality has a way of giving us a smack upside the head to remind us that our beliefs really don’t define reality… no matter how sincerely or piously we may hold these beliefs. And it’s not the beginning of the sentence that bothers me because I think it’s very accurate, that religious faith requires an a priori assumption that some god is actual, is real, is causal, is creative, is interventionist, and so on… none of which will allow the absence of compelling evidence to cast the slightest doubt on these assumptions.

            What bothers me is the middle part that presumes that a ‘different’ theory of knowledge is in any way meaningful or accurate. If it were true in fact, then it should produce real world examples of this so-called knowledge causally linked to the religious beliefs. This is what’s completely missing in action. Religious belief has not, does not, and in all likelihood never shall produce one jot or tittle of insight into how reality operates and what it contains. There is a complete lack of knowledge produced by this supposed ‘different’ theory. It is because of this lack of production that the ‘theory’ should be discarded as the foolishness it is because it doesn’t work. If it did, then we’d be having a different conversation with theists. It doesn’t, so we’re left with the problematic assumption that this faith-based insight by way of religious belief is a respectful idea worthy of some level of confidence, some level of likelihood that isn’t as close to zero as any other absolutely incorrect ‘theory’ that yields no knowledge production about the reality it purports to describe and explain.

            Getting theists to admit to this fact is almost impossible. Hence the various dodges and diversions from this easily tested claim: show me knowledge produced by religious belief alone. The resulting silence is deafening.

            I understand that theists really do assume without any evidence-based support from reality that their faith-based beliefs really do provide insight into how reality operates and what it contains. The problem is that these beliefs are indistinguishable in substance from that produced by wishful thinking, from magical thinking, from delusional thinking. There simply is nothing from reality to help us distinguish one from another.

            That’s only the very beginning of the problem. It then gets worse from here on in.

            Teaching children, for example, to honour and respect these faith-based beliefs causes all kinds of pernicious effects starting with neural wiring and eventually showing up in various kinds of social dysfunction. This is clear in aggregate population studies, clear in aggregate resistance to real world knowledge that does not comport with certain fundamental religious beliefs, clear in aggregate data for support for religiously inspired bias and discrimination and violence. It’s a daily litany of harm caused by implementing religious beliefs and will never stop producing harm until theists have the intellectual courage and fortitude to face the utter paucity from a supportive reality of their a priori religious assumptions.

          • tildeb Its difficult to have a conversation with someone when you hear nothing that they say. Judaism is rooted in an observation of reality, it produces new information in the realm of behavior and it does not produce social dysfunction as you continue to assert it produces the opposite

            1000 Verses – a project of Judaism Resources wrote: >

          • tildeb says:

            Judaism is rooted in an observation of reality, it produces new information in the realm of behavior and it does not produce social dysfunction as you continue to assert it produces the opposite.

            No it’s not: it is grounded in mythology and fabrication and many of the most highly respected scholarly Jewish rabbis freely admit as much.

            You don’t of course because you know better and seem to believe that anyone who disagrees with you must be doing so from either a state of ignorance or hostility. That’s rather hard to assign to so many esteemed rabbinical scholars… not to mention the veritable host of historical scholars.

            Show all of us that I’m wrong about religious belief including Judaism in all its forms does not produce knowledge. Please demonstrate a single piece of new information about reality – including but not restricted to behaviour – that Judaism has causally discovered. Without that novel evidence, you’re just making another empty claim. You don;t seem to grasp that all it takes to prove your point and reveal mine to be factually incorrect is to produce this single peiece of information. Just one!

            Of all the various sects within Judaism, the orthodox one continues to organize and fund the legal defense of pedophiles under the guise of Pidyon Shvuyim. You seem oblivious to the pernicious effect of gender discrimination in your continued assertions that your particular religious sect is so very special that it not only doesn’t produce and pernicious effects but ‘the opposite’ according to you. The hierarchical form of patriarchy in the Orthodox community cannot help but maintain deeply rooted and sustained misogyny. You may continue to believe that this misogyny causes no social dysfunction because rates of alcoholism may be lower than average but such embedded discrimination really does harm the autonomy, equality of opportunity, and self-value of all women raised under the banner of Orthodoxy. It stratifies social behaviour based on gender and not character. This meets the very definition of social discrimination. That’s not a Good Thing, in case you’re confused. This perniciousness from embedded patriarchy shows up in many ways, not least of which is the arrogance of many male Orthodox Jews to demand a woman who has paid for a plane ticket with an assigned seat move from beside him so that he will not be polluted by her… all to suit his towering sense of male entitlement. This is grossly dysfunctional. I apologize if this idea that patriarchy is a cause of social dysfunction is news to you. Go talk to some women about the real world effect from living in a community that religiously upholds patriarchy.

            Yes, much of Orthodox Judaism is more rational than other sects but there is no means other than belief alone based on faith you import to it to differentiate which Jewish sect honours ‘truth’ more than another… those ‘mystics’ who have faith that they can ward off H1N1 flu by flying over the countryside in a plane while blowing on rams horns or those who honestly believe the literal and historical validity of creationist myths and exoduses that left no physical evidence that should be plentiful if true. There is no qualitative difference and no independent means to differentiate the level of reality denial occurring in either case. This is perniciousness in action – credulity translated into gullibility – when one also and incompatibly believes that discovering what’s true about reality actually matters to those who must first deny reality to believe as they do.

          • tildeb This comment will take time to take apart but I will make two quick points right now – you are looking for one piece of new information – here it is – How to educate children that are growing up in a society that our ancestors never encountered (modern American society) in a way that will maintain the low rape and murder statistics that Jewish people always had This is not something that our ancestors did because they never encountered this society – this is new knowledge that works in the world of reality.

            Just for purpose of illustration – Yesterday my two teenage sons repeated a conversation they had with a Mexican who was getting to know the ropes of our society. The Mexican asked them why it is that Jewish kids don’t steal? The Mexican pointed out that the cops will never catch them because Jewish kids are always on the bottom of the list when the police are speaking of probable perpetrators of a crime.

            The second point I will make is that I resent when you project your narrow-minded mentality onto me. I have no problem with people disagreeing with me. I don’t need to label them as ignorant or hostile.

            1000 Verses – a project of Judaism Resources wrote: >

          • tildeb says:

            That’s not a new piece of knowledge caused by religious belief. It is a generalized rationalization trying to tout what you think is a benefit of your religious beliefs. This example demonstrates no such link.

            Another way to think of the problem is this: demonstrate how the variable – Judaism in this case or any religious belief – causes the result… the new piece of information that brings about new knowledge attainment. Rephrased, can we educate children to grow up in a society to maintain low rape and murder statistics? Yes. Does this result require Orthodox Judaism? No. The two are not causally linked.

            We can and do educate children (the ancestral bit is moot) this way all the time and we do not need any religious belief to gain this result. There is no causal connection between the variable and the product you think demonstrates new knowledge. Therefore religious belief did not produce new information about reality.

          • tildeb
            The educators that produced this unique result drew their information from the body of religious knowledge – to say that the result has nothing to do with the source that produced it is a denial of reality.

          • tildeb says:

            No it’s not a denial. It’s correctly understanding that the link you attribute between education and rape to be religious is not the case because one can educate children to maintain low levels of rape without religion. This shows us that the claim to knowledge by religious belief remains false in your example.

          • tildeb here is a statistical reality – Jews educated in 20th century America by a specific set of educators (parents, teachers, community) have a significantly lower rate of violent crime than any other ethnic group. education, tildeb, is not merely a matter of telling children to do or not do something. educators need to balance love and discipline, freedom and structure, and a plethora of other factors. These educators did what they did on the basis of the body of knowledge known as Judaism. they applied these age old teachings to a situation that is not explicitly addressed in those teachings. they produced a new balance and they achieved pretty good results. So what is your argument exactly? That the education that they received has nothing to do with the results? Will it help you to know that this achievement was mirrored (to greater and lesser degrees – we are far from perfect) in other diverse cultures that Jews found themselves – they drew from the same body of knowledge to apply the age old principles to new and divergent situations – coincidence?

            1000 Verses – a project of Judaism Resources wrote: >

          • tildeb says:

            If explaining to you twice why your example is not evidence for religious belief producing knowledge, then a third time isn’t going to help.

          • tildeb You don’t have to have patience for those who disagree with you – But let me try to explain it again. To accuse my community of “not coming up with new information” is ridiculous to begin with. There is no ethnic group who comes close to our per-capita production of new books – the ideas in some of these new books are breathtaking – fantastic new insights into texts that have been combed again and again and this insight produces guidance for the here and now. For you, tildeb, I chose to present a fact that can be measured on the ground – I encourage you to try to live up to your creed of thinking for yourself and come to your own conclusions. If you are satisfied to leave this question here I am fine – I feel I gave the reader enough info to see the truth.

            1000 Verses – a project of Judaism Resources wrote: >

          • tildeb says:

            I grow impatient with people who seem unwilling to even think for a moment. For example, several times now you refer to the ethnicity of Jews as the common factor. You forget that I’ve already admitted that as an ethnic group, Jews have punched far beyond their weight class in scholarly achievement. All of this is already covered. What I pointed out was the the method if inquiry I call faith-based belief never has does not and probably never shall produce new KNOWLEDGE.

            Rather than think about what it is I’m saying and deal with it honestly and straightforwardly, you rush off and assume that I mean something else that better suits a defense you wish to hold.

            Stop doing that. It wastes time and effort on both our parts. Do as I ask and DEMONSTRATE new KNOWLEDGE achieved by using this faith-based method. I’m telling you right now, no one has been able to. Ever. And for a very reason: faith has no means to gain knowledge about reality because that’s not its job. Its job is presume certain premises are unquestionably true first and then continue to believe they.are true no matter what, without ANYTHING from reality to back it up.

            All you can do at this point is what it is everyone does who wishes to pretend and misrepresent faith-based beliefs as being adduced from reality when in fact it is imposed on it: they switch to fallacies. That’s what you do.

            In particular, faith-based believers already ‘know’ that reality has no business addressing a faith-based belief, which is why reality has already been excluded from having any power or influence over the faith-based belief. They mostly exercise confirmation bias and busily search the interwebs for something – anything – that SEEMS to support their a priori faith-based beliefs to give it the patina of respecting reality. This is dishonest. It’s dishonest because the order of how one comes to a conclusion is backwards: the believer STARTED with the belief and THEN tried to defend it only with information that seems to support it while steadfastly ignoring the mountain of evidence against it. After all, if one honestly wants a belief to be adduced from reality then one lends conditional support based on the strength of the evidence and is quite willing to change one’s mind if that evidence leads to a different conclusion. Obviously Judaism does not work this way: one either believes the central tenets to be considered a religious Jew or one does not. Again, no one wakes up one day in Tuktayuktuk and gains from reality a Jewish understanding of its central tenets. Reality is not where these tenets come from; they are taught to the next generation as if true and immutable… not a level of confidence that shifts with evidence collected from reality. That method – collecting evidence and adducing explanations from it – is the scientific method.

            Exercising confirmation bias and cherry picking and misrepresenting what I’m clearly asking for while ignoring contrary and incompatible scientific knowledge you use on a daily basis is what you’re doing, over and over and over and over and over. It’s tedious. It is intentionally obtuse. It is a method to obfuscate. That’s all it is, all you offering. And the clue is how you come to believe what you do and call it Judaism: you believe it FIRST and then misrepresent, misunderstand, and then mislead how you ‘arrived’ at the conclusion you held before you ever began this charade about respecting what’s true. the fact is, you already KNOW what’s true no matter how much reality shows us that it disagrees with you. And another fact is that you don’t care to inquire honestly into reality when it comes to establishing with independent and compelling evidence in order to increase OR DECREASE the likelihood that your religious beliefs are true. That honesty has no place in faith-based beliefs because, as I said, you already assume that you KNOW what’s true and it’s your particular Jewish sect. Not only that but, unlike all other faith-based beliefs equivalently supported only by confirmation bias, yours just so happens to be the correct one that, unlike all other faith-based religious beliefs, contains no pernicious effects. Amazing, isn’t it? Out of tens of thousands of religious beliefs, yours just so happens to be the right one! Well, aren’t you the lucky ducky.

          • tildeb I am presently preparing a longer reply for this comment of yours but please let me clear one misunderstanding. When I said ethnic group I meant Orthodox Jews producing new works of Torah literature

            1000 Verses – a project of Judaism Resources wrote: >

          • tildeb You are right – I was born into a belief system and I was taught what to think. But you are also dead wrong. Part of what I was taught is that truth is the highest value. As a child I realized that being born into a belief system doesn’t make it true. Since I came to that realization I studied reality to the best of my ability – yes I am biased – but I can do no better than to recognize that I am biased and keep that knowledge in my conscious awareness. Over the years I read many books and discussed matters with people who do not share my bias. Part of what I look for in these discussions is to learn how biases affect the human thinking process and see if I can apply the knowledge to myself. I learned that a bias can prevent even a brilliant person from understanding a simple argument that would go against a dearly held belief. This is not conscious obtuseness – this is a subconscious product of bias. I also learned that sometimes people are prevented from hearing another point of view simply because their education casts their opponent into a given mold and they read everything that their opponent says in light of that mold. The common example comes up in conversations with Christians. They are taught that Jews are legalistic and materialistic – missing the spirit of the law for its outer legal form plus that they are taught that I am born with an ingrained unnatural hatred of their precious hero so any insight that I might offer is dismissed before its out of my mouth. You are employing the same tactic over here. You are telling me how I think you are not reading what I wrote. If you are exasperated with me – don’t feel pressured to read any further I am glad to write this for the benefit of other readers. i would be honored if you would actually read what I write but if you don’t, I won’t hold it against you.

            You asked me a question. you asked if my belief system produced any new knowledge. You now reveal that you believe that this would be an intrinsic impossibility – but if you are truly interested in reality – you would at least try to understand what I am saying.

            My belief system produces new knowledge all the time. One of the reasons that I believe that my belief system is true is because I see how this belief system helps us understand the human condition in a way that can be seen in the real world. The people who adhere to my belief system (Torah Judaism) are amazingly creative – any Orthodox Jewish bookstore will offer a plethora of new books containing new insights that are rooted in Torah knowledge – but I will not spend time talking about that aspect of my belief system. Instead I will point to something that is more easily measured in the real world.

            When Torah Jews came to these shores (North America) they were faced with a challenge that our people had never faced before. Their children were going to grow up in a society that was very different than any society that they ever encountered in their long journey through history. They wanted to impart to their children the timeless values of Judaism at the same time that they wanted their children to be able to succeed in the larger society. This was an enormous challenge and it required innovation and a deep understanding of human nature. Drawing on the understanding of human nature found in the ancient sources our educators worked to achieve these goals. they constantly needed to adjust as the situation changed and they weren’t 100 percent successful but they achieved what should be the envy of every community. They raised a generation of children that rate unbelievably low on violent crime.

            How much of this achievement can be credited to the knowledge found in Judaism and how much could be credited to the simple abilities of human observation that all of us are blessed with? It is not easy to measure this but we can see how other societies that utilize educational methods based on human observation have not achieved the same results and we can reasonably gather that the edge that the Torah Jewish community has is the edge of truth that they possess.

            1000 Verses – a project of Judaism Resources wrote: >

          • Dina says:

            Tilly, since I’m a woman who grew up Orthodox, I think I am uniquely qualified to counter your charge that Orthodox Jewish women are denied equality of opportunity.

            I am a New York Times bestselling author, so forgive me for not feeling sorry for myself for the opportunities I have been denied because of the oppressive patriarchal system I’m living in.

            My sister co-authored a college-textbook in the subject in which she is expert and runs a hospital department for treatment in that area. This hospital treats mostly celebrities and the extremely wealthy. I would tell you about my other sisters but then people might recognize me and I’d rather remain anonymous here.

            My first OB/GYN practice consisted of two Orthodox Jewish women. One of our earliest pediatricians is an Orthodox Jewish woman who wrote a bestselling book on children’s health.

            These are some of the professions of personal acquaintances, friends, and relatives who are Orthodox Jews: pharmacist, psychologist, speech therapist, occupational therapist, physical therapist, teacher, lawyer, doctor, scientist.

            And no, these women, myself included, are not successful in spite of our men. We are enfolded in the community and encouraged to keep going.

            So what the heck are you talking about?

            My whole entire life I have been treated with nothing but respect and kindness and, yes, equality, by Orthodox Jewish men. How do you get to decide what life is like for Orthodox Jewish women? Is it based on some news stories about the actions of a few crazies (which is why they get into the news)? Or are you an investigative journalist who has interviewed lots of Orthodox women and observed how they live?

            I think I’ll take our patriarchal, oppressive system with its strong marriages, stable families, and low suicide rate (a sure sign people are happy) over your whatever-it-is with its high divorce rate and not necessarily happier people.

            You think you know so much about Orthodox Jews. Well, I have news for you. You don’t know anything.

          • Dina says:

            Tilly, you wrote:

            “What I take issue with is the faith component treated with undeserved respect that does cause harm and does affect us all perniciously. Just think of the anti-vaccine movement that puts all of us at increased and unnecessary risk to satisfy the demand that all of us respect the ignorance of the few. This is unconscionable stupidity.”

            What does the anti-vaccine movement have to to do with harmful religious beliefs? The people most likely to refuse vaccinations are wealthy and educated people and who also tend to be less religious and more secular and liberal. I pointed this out to you already and you not only have not responded but now have repeated the charge. But your only example of harm caused by religion is false.

            The anti-vaccine movement endangers the public health and is child abuse, and plenty of secular liberals buy into it. Why is it okay when they do it?

            Regarding your last paragraph, I challenge you to describe the “various kinds of social dysfunction,” “support for religiously inspired bias and discrimination and violence,” and “daily litany of harm” in Orthodox Jewish communities today around the world and also, say, in the last 500 years (just picking a number out of the hat). But first define your markers for social dysfunction and healthy societies, because they might be different from mine. For example, my standards for healthy function are as follows:

            1. Strong, stable families.
            2. Low to no alcohol/drug use.
            3. Low rate of violent crime (i.e. physical assault, rape, murder, armed robberies, etc.)
            4. High literacy rate.

            Good description of good society from Jewish Virtual Library: “Their closely knit communities, cohesive family life, high educational standards, moderation in the consumption of alcohol, their solidarity, consciousness of mutual responsibility, and readiness for mutual help are regarded as the main causes for the generally low crime rates among Jews.”

            I agree with you that some religions are truly dangerous while some are completely harmless. I don’t know about you, but I don’t really quake in my boots when I see a Buddhist. But a visibly devout Muslim makes me uneasy. And some Christians are really scary (most are not). But Orthodox Jews? Puh-leeze. Only anti-Semites are “scared” of Jews–it has ever been thus.

          • dina It seems that according to tildeb’s belief system he is not allowed to hear what you are saying unless your words come with a hechsher (religious approval) from one of his holy men

            1000 Verses – a project of Judaism Resources wrote: >

          • Dina says:

            Yes, it does seem that way :).

          • tildeb says:

            What does the anti-vaccine movement have to to do with harmful religious beliefs?

            Both are faith-based. This has been my central thesis.

            I have written extensively here about how these are the same METHOD and why and how any time this method is employed it produces pernicious effects.

          • Dina says:

            Thanks for clarifying, Tilly. That makes more sense. It seemed as if you were saying that religious people were causing harm with their anti-vaccine ideology.

          • Concerned Reader The scientific method refines our knowledge but the scientific community is tied down by groupthink, by pet theories and by dogma – all of this statistically proven from the world of reality. To speak of the scientific community as if it is synonymous with the scientific method is wrong – just look at how the atheists online dehumanize those who don’t tow the line

            1000 Verses – a project of Judaism Resources wrote: >

          • tildeb says:


            Good grief.

      • Jim says:


        Even you have misrepresented facts to support your argument, just today. You misrepresented the teachings of the Torah, emphasizing its teachings regarding so-called ritual laws and down-playing moral laws. So, you argued that the Torah does not even tell one to be kind.

        And yet there are many laws pertaining to kindness. Off the top of my head:

        One is to leave the corner of his field for the poor.

        One is to leave behind gleanings for the poor.

        One is not to oppress the stranger.

        One is to love his neighbor.

        One is not to leave the mule of an enemy to struggle under a load it cannot carry.

        One is not to take a hold onto a coat as collateral overnight from one who needs the coat.

        The Hebrew word for “charity,” as you know, is tzedakah. The word is related to righteousness and justice and implies that giving to the needy is a moral duty, an act of justice. True, the vague prescription, “Do not be kind” does not appear. Yet kindness is one of the underlying principles of Torah.

        Because you are well-versed in the Torah, you clearly knew this. But you wanted to make the Torah appear not to have even a basic concept like kindness in it. So you selected other commandments and attempted to make the Torah look backward and immoral. This is a clear case of cherry-picking and misrepresentation.

        But you should not misunderstand me. I did not say that all atheists or even most misrepresent facts. (Even if I did, your anecdotal ‘proof’ is not proof of anything, and I am certain you know it.)


        • tildeb says:

          Specifically, I was referring to simple commandments, simple guidance, the kind that anyone could easily follow and agree is a net benefit to anyone to follow. What is so difficult about such a commandment to be kind?

          Here, let me demonstrate:

          Be kind.

          See? It doesn’t require a great deal of obfuscation to find the hidden meaning here, no reading list to get through to glean the sophisticated divinely inspired meaning secreted away in depth of scholarly study.

          If I can do it, why is this such a Herculean task for the writers of the Pentateuch supposedly guided by a divine moral authority?

          Why not some very practical guidance, such as ‘Wash your hands before touching your eyes, nose, or mouth’. See? It’s easy to be clear, to offer real and timeless guidance even if germs are not yet understood rather than use so much scroll space to restrict types of food based on the shape of hooves.

          • tildeb again – Jews are kind – statistics prove that this is so and that this was so in the past more than any other ethnic group and they wash their hands before touching eyes, nose mouth at least as far back as 1800 years ago – its about people not books

            1000 Verses – a project of Judaism Resources wrote: >

          • tildeb says:

            I think you’re trying to present yourself as intentionally obtuse.

          • remi4321 says:

            “rather than use so much scroll space to restrict types of food based on the shape of hooves.”

            I don’t get it tildeb, if G-d wants to restrict the diet of some animal for sanitary (or whatever reason), I think it’s clear enough for anybody that look at an animal at first glance to know if the animal is proper to consume. Look at the animal hooves, “fine I can eat!” It’s exactly the same kind of guidance than your hand washing example. The situation is different, but the guidance is as easy to follow… I could not see any other way to explain the animals that could not be eaten.

            Also, if you have ever looked at any country’s laws, you would see that they are complex, there are abrogated sections, subsections, exceptions, etc.. Courts rules with precedents and laws are hard to interpret. Some matters are hard to understand and the Bible is no exception. If you wanted a recipe for your behaviours, then you may read “chicken soup for the soul” or “the secret”, but human mind is hard to understand and “be kind” would be interpreted by many people in different ways. What would “be kind” means to you? It might be different to someone from different background. Everybody thinks they are nice and that the are right, even Al Capone thought he was a nice guy… El Chapo thinks he is good too, and probably Hitler thought he was going good to the humanity.

          • Jim says:


            In your effort to make the Torah appear arcane, you have invented a problem that does not exist and exaggerated the sophistication required to learn Torah. One ought not distort reality in such ways to further his agenda. It is not scientific.

            First, you create a problem. You demand that the Torah be written as you would write it. It should say, according to you, “Be kind.” Failing to do this, it has failed to achieve what you consider its primary goal. You mock it for treating this as a herculean task.

            And yet, I wonder why the Torah should have written something so incredibly vacuous. Perhaps it should also have commanded: “Be nice” or “Stay sweet (and have a nice summer.)” “Be kind” is a terribly vague commandment. It does not tell us what constitutes kind behavior, to whom kindness is owed, why it is owed, or when. This is a rather puerile command you have dreamed up. In “The Republic” Plato contemplates justice for ten books. I suppose you would have summed them up with: “Be just.” Then you would have done away with the unnecessary sophistication.

            “Be kind” does not lead one to introspection. If you ask someone if he is kind, he is likely to respond: “I try to be.” This answer leaves him satisied with himself. It is hard to argue against. If one were to point out an instance of unkindness, or even instances, he will easily allow himself to believe that these are aberrations. Overall, he is still a kind person. Its generality resists specific criticism. Moreover, he will be able to explain some unkind behaviors as actually kind, if only compared to what he had really wished to do.

            This is not so with Torah commands, by and large. The Torah offers so many specifics that one can ask whether or not he broke a command and get a specific answer. Did you hold on to collateral beyond the given timeframe? Yes or no, not I tried not to do so. Did you pay your workers on time? Did you move your neighbor’s fence? Leave a ditch unattended? The list can go on.

            Even a more general command from the Torah demands more attention than the superficial “Be kind”. “Love your neighbor as yourself” poses a challenge to the human being. He must ask himself why he should go so far. Being kind is one thing, but loving my neighbor as myself, that is something else. The mind balks. One is confronted with the notion that his fellow human being is equally valuable and can never be treated merely as a means but an end in himself. In the Torah system, it is not enough to just “be kind.” One must recognize the intrinsic worth of his fellow human being, must confront that reality, and must act accordingly.

            Yes, the Torah does require a certain amount of thought. So does ethical behavior in general. One who devotes little to no time examining ethical questions will find it easy to justify moral lapses. He will also easily err, not having before his mind constantly the demand that moral law makes upon him. Nor will he have a unified system of ethics.
            And yes, the written portion of the Torah is only part of a system. That system is carried by the Jewish people. It is theirs and they are the ones who best understand its meaning. Neither you nor I will understand it the way an observant Jew does.

            That does not mean that one can understand nothing of it. Nor does it mean, as you falsely charge, that the only way to derive values such as kindness from the written Torah is through the sophisticated work of scholars. You imply that they had to read their own values into the text. This is a bald-faced misrepresentation. As noted already, the Torah states openly that all human beings have intrinsic value and must be treated as such.

            But you, being a Torah scholar, already knew this. It just does not fit your narrative, so you ignored that fact. Intending to make the Torah look ridiculous, you wrote that one would need the works of sophisticated scholars to read kindness into the Torah. It is not secreted away. You obviously know this is not true, but wrote it anyway to demean the Torah.

            (And I am quite amazed that Concerned Reader, who has so often taken it upon himself to point out the rhetoric of others, did not call out what is really empty rhetoric and misrepresentation.)

            Now let us turn to the charge that the Torah does not teach one about washing one’s hands. Why should it? It is much more concerned with the categorical imperative than the hypothetical. You charge it with not teaching germ theory. But that is not its aim. You might as well write that Dawkins knows nothing of value because he does not write on geometry in “The God Delusion”. Just as that is not his concern in “The God Delusion,” neither is the Torah a scientific treatise, a nutrition manual, or a book on engineering. Nor does it purport to be. This criticism is facile.


        • larryB says:


  25. Jim says:

    A brief note on missionary tactics:

    The missionary is not out to educate. He does not attempt to persuade with reasoned arguments. And he is not interested in an exchange of ideas. He has his viewpoint, and he does not care about yours. Generally speaking, he is not listening to you, while he demands that his own voice be heeded. In this regard, Christian missionaries and atheist missionaries are quite similar.

    Both groups of missionaries like to put undue pressure upon their target. The Christian missionary has two main tricks up his sleeve in this regard, guilt and fear. The Christian missionary argues that disbelief in Jesus will place one in eternal torment. It is more reasonable to accept his propositions, however dubious, than to risk eternal punishment. He uses this fear to coerce belief.

    Similarly he plays on one’s sense of guilt. Because of your wrongdoing, Jesus had to die, he will tell you. One cannot but be horrified at the idea that a man should die a horrible death on his behalf. If a man should then reject this crucified man, he only seems to compound the wrongs done to him, wrongs that are supposed to be due to one’s guilt. Rejection of Jesus only seems to compound that guilt. This guilt also helps to coerce belief.

    The atheist missionary also attempts to coerce assent to his propositions. His tools are a little different. He uses social pressure, rather than fear or guilt. He will attempt to make his target fear appearing foolish and small-minded. He employs words like “oogity boogity” and “poofism” in an attempt to humiliate his target and any opposition. This is not argument. This is bullying. The atheist says, in effect: “You do not want to look stupid, do you?” He is appealing to the target’s ego, not his intellect.

    Much like the Christian missionary, the atheist missionary will brook no dissent. The atheist missionary knows that he is right and he cannot be questioned or contradicted. He will assert that atheists are the very best people he knows, the most open-minded and the most reasonable. To question the atheist is not to be tolerated. Atheists release studies that show themselves to be the most intelligent people in the world. This too is mere bullying. Who does not wish to be considered intelligent? But if you are not an atheist, you are obviously feeble-minded. (One must wonder if one’s I.Q. automatically jump 30 points when abandoning his religion.) If one should ask if an atheist could have erred on some point, one is accused of stereo-typing atheists.

    Worse, the missionary will dehumanize the opposition. He projects an image in his mind of what the opposition is and ignores all evidence to the contrary. With the Christian missionary, he is so convinced that the Jew rejects Jesus because of past abuses by the Church (not the missionary’s church, some other church!) that when the Jewish people present objections based on scripture the Christian ignores it. It just does not fit into his picture of the Jew, and he refuses to acknowledge the real reason for Jewish objection to the missionary message.

    The atheist missionary is no better. He lumps all religious people together and fails to acknowledge the differences between them. He mockingly writes that the religious person only acts morally out of fear of hell. When it is pointed out that the Jewish people who observe Torah do it out of love and devotion, this too is ignored. It does not fit his mental picture. When it can be shown that the Jewish people have great moral and practical achievements, the atheist writes off this information as irrelevant. He cannot acknowledge it as true. If he did, he would have to consider the objections raised by his opponent.

    Missionaries do not give a fair hearing to their opponents; they are convinced of their perfect rectitude. They do not allow argument. The Christian missionary declares all those resistant to their message blind, regardless of the evidences and arguments presented. The atheist missionary is not much different in this regard. He too will insist that you listen to his message. But he will take up a mocking attitude when you point to the flaws in his claims. Just as the Christian missionary calls his target blind, the atheist missionary calls his target biased, ignorant, or a “true believer.” Both the atheist and the Christian missionary sidestep the arguments with personal attacks and often with hostility.

    Both missionaries will also consider themselves a greater expert in Torah than the Jew who studies and practices it daily. He is not only an expert in his field but yours as well. When he misrepresents Torah through his ignorance, he will maintain that really he is much more versed than the person who has devoted so much time to it. Address his field, however, and he assumes your ignorance. The Christian will tell the Jew that he just does not understand the NT. The atheist (who claims that science is his purview) will say that anyone who criticizes a scientific conclusion or a dishonest method just does not understand science. Still, he will not grant that the Jew knows Torah better than he does. The Jew is supposed by the missionary to be too blind or stupid to understand his own books, history, or heritage.

    One should not allow such distasteful tactics to influence his decisions. If the missionary claims are true, they should demand assent by virtue of reason, not emotional appeals. One need not allow himself to be bullied by guilt, fear, or social pressure. One must carefully analyze arguments and not be moved by the idea that he will be burn in hell or be perceived as intellectually inferior. These manipulations are not the tools of the educator but the bully.


    • Fred says:

      Excellent, Jim! You always seem to write what I am thinking. Saves me the time to write it myself. 🙂

    • Dina says:

      Yes, this is exactly right! I wish I could help out here but the deadline for my book is looming and I am busier than ever before. Just one quick word about intellect. According to a very controversial study, Ashkenazic Jews as a group are the smartest group of people in the world–the study being controversial for obvious reasons :).

      As a group, Ashkenazic Jews have something like 8 points higher IQ than the next smartest group. I can’t find where I read that study. But anyway.

      I’m expecting a sneering and outraged response from Tilly but I probably will not have the time to continue the argument. So I apologize in advance.

    • tildeb says:

      Jim, I understand your need to reframe my comments by utilizing your beliefs about them as if they – and not my words, my intentions, or my meaning – represented what I actually explained, what I meant, what my motivations were. You utilize the very method that I am criticizing – granting confidence to your beliefs and then imposing those beliefs on reality as if they accurately described it. Well, Jim, they’re not.

      I also understand the need you have to recast my efforts as if equivalent to – and just as irrational – a religious zeal and then assume that this, too, is true. Well, Jim, it’s not.

      Once you get past your false equivalencies here, you may want to reread my comments as they actually are and not as you believe them to be. Remember, this whole exchange started with YPF’s claim that creationism and not evolution was true. I simply responded. I didn’t come knock at your door and try to sell you atheism; all I did was try to explain why we should allow reality and not our religious beliefs about it to arbitrate such claims. If you actually do this and inquire into Judaism and its central tenets, you will find reality does not comport. If you respect reality, then this means you – not I – are obligated to reduce your confidence level in your religious beliefs. This is not a bullying tactic by me: this is me pointing out to you what intellectual integrity should look like in action if one wants to demonstrate this supposed respect for reality. It is reality that is utterly indifferent to your or my beliefs about it. If you find that indifference to be rather bullying, then you really have to get over yourself and the importance you place on beliefs (and confidence in those beliefs) that reality – not me, not atheists, not missionary atheists, not militant atheists, not angry atheists, not strident atheists, but reality itself – fails to support.

      I understand why maligning me allows you the wiggle room you think you need to dismiss my criticisms. If you metaphorically shoot the messenger, then the message can be safely ignored. Well, Jim, it can’t because the message is all about putting aside childish things, namely a pernicious method of inquiry you use and support, and learning how to respect reality.

      I can’t do that for you and I promise nothing in return for your submission to reality’s arbitration of beliefs you think may be true… other than continued respect for your individual autonomy to be as credulous and gullible as you seem determined to be. All I use is words and that’s as far as I’m willing to go to explain why reality and not your religious beliefs is far more deserving of your confidence rather than some silly religious notions incompatible with hard earned knowledge… knowledge incompatible with your religious beliefs in a creative divine causal agency for which there is in total zero compelling evidence in its favour and an utter lack of evidence where it should be plentiful if true… knowledge that just so happens to inform technologies, applications, and therapies that just so happen to work for everyone everywhere all the time.

      Sure, dismiss it all, and pretend it’s the atheist who is being unreasonable in the call to you to respect reality and not your or anyone else’s incompatible and contrary religious beliefs about it. But I think you fool only yourself and I hold out hope that you will have given just enough consideration to my criticism that they work on you slowly over time and perhaps eventually you will find cause to discard these ancient superstitious beliefs as the unnecessary baggage and pernicious influence it really is.

      • tildeb says:

        Quoting conservapedia about atheism is like quoting Answers in Genesis about evolution (or, to drive the point home, it’s like asking a member of the SS to define what a Jew is and then using that description as if a legitimate source). It demonstrates a broad and deep misunderstanding you have about what is a legitimate source and what is espousing a deep personal bias. The term ‘militant’ is a transparent smear against those who criticize religious belief. There is no violence involved whatsoever. There is only reason. How very militant. Yet here you are promoting the same old and tired lie.

        There is an acceptable term for those who are trying – again, through reason – to eliminate any respect for religious belief. These folk practice what is known as ‘anti-theism’. To smear these folk, the widely used canard is that they are against respecting the rights of religious people, that they are intolerant of people of any religious faith, that they wish to reduce or eliminate religious belief by reducing the rights and freedoms of religious people, all of which are grossly misleading and intentionally so. Anti-theists criticize a bad idea called ‘religion’ – a faith-based method to justify all kinds of stuff. Again, reason and not violence is the tool employed by those who exercise anti-theism.

        New Atheism is the act of public criticism of religious privilege to reduce it in the public domain. Note the conservapedia link uses source material and quotations from those already deeply hostile to this goal. The ‘editors’ of conservapedia don’t even have the courtesy to use any of the better known New Atheists who founded this movement to describe what it actually means. That you failed to pay any attention to this little detail speaks volumes about your quest to be both truthful and honest.

        • Dina says:

          That’s not true, what you do is aggressive proselytizing. It is equally obnoxious when Christian missionaries do it and when atheist missionaries do it. It would be nice if everyone could just live and let live as long as their religious practices or non-religion aren’t hurting anybody. And they’re not, Tilly, they are not, your hysteria about this notwithstanding. If you live in the U.S. you are living a fine life free from oppression, and you are not a victim in any way, shape, or form.

          Unfortunately, neither Christian missionaries nor “New Atheists” subscribe to this extremely practical rule for getting along.

        • Dina says:

          Oh, and by the way, Tilly, judging from the sneering condescension and foul language of your cronies Ark and Arch, they don’t just have contempt for our beliefs–they have contempt for us as human beings. That’s what happens when you can’t let well enough alone.

  26. Concerned Reader says:

    Concerned Reader The scientific method refines our knowledge but the scientific community is tied down by groupthink, by pet theories and by dogma – all of this statistically proven from the world of reality. To speak of the scientific community as if it is synonymous with the scientific method is wrong – just look at how the atheists online dehumanize those who don’t tow the line

    Science is no less tied by these negative things than faith systems are rabbi, with the important exception being that a scientist (because of the scientific method,) is dissuaded from holding a priori assumptions, instead opting for a posteriori knowledge.

    • Concerned Reader says:

      it produces new information in the realm of behavior and it does not produce social dysfunction

      Rabbi I’m sure you would agree that historic manifestations of failed Jewish messianic movements have produced social dysfunction would you not?

      • Concerned Reader
        No question – but to label Judaism as a system that produces social dysfunction as a whole is simply out of step with reality

      • Dina says:

        Exactly, Con. The point is, when you stray from Judaism you get a mess! The data even show that as Jews assimilate, their crime rate rises. In the case of the Jews, Judaism creates healthy societies and prevents dysfunction.

        • Concerned Reader says:

          But surely you see that you have just admitted the point Tildeb has been making all over the blog? saying that “correct religion” produces little social dysfunction is partially a weak stance to take in light of the repeated manifestations of social dysfunction.

          Judaism has taught the world that all gods but one, all forms of spirituality that are not based on a noachide path, are indeed detrimental and cause social dysfunction.

          So, when Tildeb makes the statement that there is a causal link between religion and social dysfunction, it is not a wrong statement, you just want to add a qualifier that excludes orthodox Judaism from the list.

          You admit though that when Judaism is not practiced “properly” it too can produce social dysfunction in spades in the form of failed messiahs and assimilating sects.

          The point is, “proper religion” is the needle in the haystack, the sword in the stone, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

          • Concerned Reader The argument is not that the correct religion produces less social dysfunction – the argument is that one belief system produces a higher level of social function – again and again in different cultures – the fact that this belief system on some occasions produces social dysfunction doesn’t change the facts – the statistics heavily favor this belief system

            and to ask that a given religion be excluded from the list is not “just asking” – it is tildeb and his holy prophet Richard Dawkins who bring up social dysfunction to disprove the validity of religion – if the statistics can be used to prove a point then they can be used to prove a point – to use the statistics only when they work for your agenda and to dismiss them when they don’t is dishonest.

            1000 Verses – a project of Judaism Resources wrote: >

    • Concerned Reader
      the a-priori assumptions of the scientist are the theories held sacred by the scientific community

      • Concerned Reader says:

        They aren’t held sacred rabbi, they are established by empirical data. When better theories come along, science will adapt accordingly.

        • Concerned Reader the reluctance that many scientists have in giving up their pet theories – especially if giving them up comes with a stigma of being backward – is a reality. Look at the opposition that Dr. Warren faced in his groundbreaking work in combating ulcers – (Time magazine October 2005) Of course this is not the same as religious dogma – but the difference is not as much as your words would indicate

          1000 Verses – a project of Judaism Resources wrote: >

          • Concerned Reader says:

            Rabbi, Dr. Warren didn’t come up against Science or pet theories, he came up against pharmaceutical financial interests, and their bought reports. Issues like what is in this article are like big tobacco paying experts to say smoking isn’t harmful.

            It has nothing to do with the science, in fact (as the article shows) science exposes the falsity of such attempts by big corporate interests. Can scientists and medical professionals be unethical? Yes! Nobody is saying they cant. Does this affect the validity of scientific research? No! Also consider that Warren (because of his empirical findings) is now recognized for them despite the efforts of the corporations and their interests to discredit.
            That’s the science at work. Real science is indifferent to claims of inherent power/authority, and that’s the point. Science is beholden to evidence, not authority claims. If pharmaceutical companies exert pressure it is in spite of the science. Ask yourself this. If people believed that pharmaceutical companies were divinely ordained or inspired would Dr. Warrens research have meant anything or would he have been like Galileo before an inquisition?

          • Concerned reader Science in and of itself is a method of finding truth but to confuse the scientific community with science is simply inaccurate – the pharmaceutical interest was backed by a popular theory and warren would not have gotten the attention he deserved had he not done his dramatics – how many scientists are intimidated and discouraged by the groupthink? Furthermore, the idea that religion is not open to correction is ridiculous – the whole idea of ethical studies is correction – the community and teh individual are constantly attempting to correct themselves and get falsehood out of our lives – its an ongoing process – groupthink plays a role etc. but its there

            1000 Verses – a project of Judaism Resources wrote: >

  27. Concerned Reader says:

    What does the anti-vaccine movement have to to do with harmful religious beliefs? The people most likely to refuse vaccinations are wealthy and educated people and who also tend to be less religious and more secular and liberal.

    Dina the anti vaccine movement has much to do with harmful religious beliefs. I’m sure Tildeb has Christian Science and Jehovah’s Witnesses uniquely in the sights (to name just two) when making this comment about the anti vaccine movement.

    • Dina says:

      Con, I didn’t know that these two groups were anti-vaccine, but that begs the question of why it bothers Tilly more than the secular libs who are anti-vaccine. If you Google who is more likely to refuse vaccines, these crazy cults don’t come up.

      For example, these were the top three links to come up when I typed in the search engine “people most likely to refuse vaccines”:


      and also


      Rich, white, and educated. None mentioned religion. Most wanted exemptions because of unfounded medical concerns. Check out the CNN article.

      • Concerned Reader says:

        Dina, you work in a hospital (probably why you haven’t dealt with these two groups before, or very much.) Christian science refuses most modern medicine because of their belief that prayer and entreating G-d is all that is necessary to heal disease. Jehovah’s witnesses refuse medical treatments that introduce foreign elements into their bodies, (transfusions most notably.)

        • Dina says:

          Con, I don’t work in a hospital; my sister does (you really don’t read comments carefully, you know). I googled it and showed you what I came up with. Predominantly, the people who refuse vaccines are wealthy, white, and educated. That was the only point I was making. None of the hits said anything about religion, and that is significant.

        • Dina says:

          Quick Internet search: J witnesses lifted the ban on vaccines in 1952.

          • Concerned Reader says:

            The point is that they had a ban on Vaccines at all

          • Dina says:

            I agree with you that it’s crazy to ban vaccines, just answer why it’s crazier for religious people to do it than for secular libs?

            That wasn’t Tilly’s point, but since you’ve taken it that way, why do you keep ignoring the evidence that the people most likely to refuse vaccinations are white, educated, and wealthy?

  28. Pingback: Facing Reality – an open reply to tildeb | 1000 Verses – a project of Judaism Resources

  29. Concerned Reader says:

    I agree with you that it’s crazy to ban vaccines, just answer why it’s crazier for religious people to do it than for secular libs?

    Secular people don’t have an arbiter that they can’t question, that’s the difference. Religion has an entrenched authority claim at its heart that makes it more difficult to question such things as this ban. If a “secular lib” thinks vaccines are bad, he/she can be rationally swayed to see the evidence. If a person believes G-d has commanded not to use Vaccines its harder for them to question that. Simple.

  30. shields3 says:

    yourphariseefriend thank you for the link, I have picked out a few of the relevant issues.

    You say “We have encountered science and the scientific community over the centuries. Since science is the study of truth and since we worship the God of truth, we have never found ourselves in conflict with the method of study known as science.”

    I find that statement “Since science is the study of truth and since we worship the God of truth” unrealistic and incompatible because science bases their claims on evidence that has been thoroughly tested for many years but religious belief relies on ancient scripture and absolute faith. Granted some faiths have reluctantly embraced some scientific discoveries, however it has further fractionated many of the mainstream religions. History will show that science has made life uneasy for traditional religious beliefs and has gone so far as to help reverse progress through defiance by many of the Islamic Muslim countries. Science has been known to find evidence (as against the religious term of truth because science can always change) that may lead to truth or actually be the truth, however nobody has any evidence that your God is any truer than any other gods.

    You say “Allow me to illustrate with an example. Throughout our history we have had various interactions with the science of the ancient Greeks. The Greeks believed in an eternal unchanging world and this conflicted with our belief in a world that had a beginning. Since these scientists had acquired their knowledge through the scientific method (or so they thought), they felt very confident with their knowledge. After all, the scientific method is a study of reality, how could anyone compete with that?”
    “But both you and I know that those scientists were wrong. Where did they go wrong?”

    Of course they were wrong, you did say ancient Greeks who had no way of conducting accurate scientific experiments, however this is how the evidence is found in science, through mistakes and failure. This was rudimentary science the start of man thinking for himself and not relying on a god like figure to explain everything because as today they were also wrong about the gods they worshiped.

    You say “You have argued that atheism is the default position of every human being. We are born without belief and we do not believe in anything unless we learned it, or to use your word, we were indoctrinated with it. I will mention that we are born with an innate knowledge of existence that extends beyond the limitations of our own. It can be argued that this sense of a more substantial existence than our own transient existence is sensing the Divine.”

    Totally disagree, the new brain cannot possibly be “born with an innate knowledge of existence that extends beyond the limitations of our own.” Neuroscientists and Psychologists have maintained babies may understand facial expressions and identify voices however they appear to have no evidence to support your statement. This is truly a statement from an indoctrinated religious view point. As usual it is supported by nothing more than faith by the faithful.

    You say “Even if the default was atheism, at this point of recognition the default changes.”

    The default has to be atheism and how can you have two defaults? Recognition of worshiping a god or an alien race changes nothing because it is an idea they can either pursue or not when they want to make an informed decision. That is how it works, no child who wants to learn to play football and go to school and is aware of religious belief is committed to get into a church to worship a god. This is an observable human fact and I do not need to be a scientist to see this. Children are simply indoctrinated, young adults generally can make informed decisions about these issues if they are free enough to do so.

    You say “The human mind naturally assumes that such sophisticated complexity must be intentional and the human mind moves toward understanding that there is a power above and beyond nature that intended this beautiful world. People throughout history and from many cultures came to this understanding.”

    This is not so. The human mind askes the question of “why and how” and usually younger minds decide what is true from influences within their lives because that also is a natural function of the human mind. The mind is often overruled, hijacked and coerced into a religious belief by people who have the major influence in their lives. Real science learnt from real top class scientists is a reality of life and young people need reality for their future, not faith in Adam and Eve. The only reason people believed there was a higher power from many cultures in history was simply because they had no science to explain why the beautiful but often cruel world was here to destroy their crops or kill their children with diseases. This ignorance does not apply today.

    You say “It is not an argument that was produced by indoctrination of one sort or another. The wonder of the world moved people to think in the direction of a supernatural entity (or entities) that stands behind it all. This is the natural flow of the human mind. It doesn’t mean that it is right, but it is natural.”

    Again this believing in a supernatural entity is exclusively religious doctrine. This is not the natural flow of the human mind in this 21st century. This is a view when science did not exist to explain why and how as I have explained. Do religious people insist on living in the past? If the mind has not been messed with by religious indoctrination, the natural view of the young people today is scientific, believe it or not.

    You say “But let us step back and see what the theory of evolution has accomplished. Even if we were to accept every aspect of neo-Darwinian evolution there is still so much sophisticated complexity that is not explained. There are many aspects of our universe that are not alive and are not touched by the theory of evolution. The delicate balance between the various physical forces, the balance between the various elements, the balance of temperature, as well as many other factors, all need to be precisely aligned in order to sustain life on this planet. The portrait of intentional sophistication is virtually untouched by the theory of evolution.”

    Yes, I agree all the answers are not available and science will be the first to admit this fact, however the evidence science has is the most compelling and far more creditable and in stark contrast to any religious teachings or creationist speculations. And what is even more compelling is the progress science is making in leaps and bounds as technology and innovation show the way.

    You say “I am not claiming innocence from this human malady. I am saying that life is a two-way street and that we all need to look both ways before crossing.”

    This maybe so, however the serious question is: do children in strict religious families and communities really get the freedom to look both ways and make up their own minds? And if they do why do they risk being ostracised and in some cases abused or even killed?

    • shields3 Thank you for your thoughtful and respectful criticism of my article. It is this type of conversation that I was refering to when I wrote that conversation can bring us all closer to truth.

      You take issue with my statement to the effect that my religious community has no problem with the method of study known as science. You tell me that religious belief relies on ancient scripture and absolute faith. The problem is that you don’t know what my religious belief relies on. You judge me by the faith structure of Christianity. My religious belief is rooted in my observations of reality as I attempt to articulate towards the end of this article.

      You acknowledge that the ancient Greeks were wrong but you blame it on their inability to conduct proper experiments. You missed my point on two separate counts. First of all, the Greeks were not aware that they were unable to conduct proper experiments. They believed that they had more than enough scientific evidence to support their position and they poured scorn and ridicule on our position without for a second pausing to think that they might not have the abilities to conduct proper experiments. My point is that reality has demonstrated that the scientific community is prone to overestimating the strength of their position. And the second point is that it was not until 1965 that the Greek understanding of the eternity of the universe was overturned. So it was well into the modern era when science was still making this mistake.

      You take issue with my statement about an innate knowledge of an existence beyond our own. you cannot fathom why I say this unless my brain has been kidnapped by the religious indoctrinators. It happens to be that this is my own original thought and I confirmed it many times over through conversations with people. Try it yourself. Close your eyes and ask yourself what it is that you know that you have not learned. Forget about language, facial expressions, sound. Forget about your five senses and everything you learned through them and ask yourself what would you still know. So far, everyone who tried this exercise came back and said that the only think they would know is the fact that they exist. I then asked them if they could imagine themselves not existing and they all said yes. this shows that they see themselves a dependent existence. I asked them if you would have to place your existence, how would you describe it. and they say that they exist in existence. I then ask them if they could imagine the nonexistence of the existence in which they exist and they can’t. Try it yourself.

      You take issue with my statement that even if the default was atheism, that changes when the person sees the complexity in the world. You argue that there cannot be two defaults. I am not arguing for two simultaneous defaults. There is one default for the thought process before a certain universal observation kicks in and a second one following.

      You say that children need to be indoctrinated to know to worship a given deity – I agree (although I would not use the word indoctrinated). My point was that it is natural for a person to assume that all of reality is NOT contained within the laws of nature. That’s all.

      You continue to argue against the observation of intelligent design by saying that in the past people did not have science to explain the world to them. You are simply proving my point. The world is something that needs explaining. That is a natural thought and that is all that I am attributing to this natural thought.

      You ask if religious people insist on living in the past. Again, all I am saying is that the world is filled with wondrous complexity and the natural mind is awed by that complexity. If science claims to have an answer to all the complexity in the world, all power to them. But please do not stifle the mind of our children from being awed by the complexity. if science really gives them a good answer, they will appreciate science so much more if they were allowed to ponder the question of the complexity of the world on their own without being ridiculed for allowing the question to penetrate their brains.

      You admit that science does not have all the answers. I truly look forward to the day that they will. But this does not tell us to stop our children from being overawed by the wonder inherent in our universe.

      You closed your comment by asking how children in religious communities are encouraged to “look both ways” before crossing the street. This is a fair question. I cannot answer for other communities, I can tell you what happens in mine. We teach children what we believe is true based on our observation of reality. We also teach children that truth is the highest value and that an honest mistake is more moral than a hypocrite who happens on the truth by chance. When someone leaves our fold it is usually out of a desire to enjoy life, and these usually come back because they realize that the true enjoyment is here. there are those who leave because they were hurt by bad individuals and they take these individuals to be an indication of the community at large. When and if these individuals realize their mistake, they usually return as well. Few and far between do you have an individual who leaves the fold because of sincere questions which he/she feels were not answered. And while there are narrowminded individuals in my community who would ridicule and scorn such people but the community at large encourages understanding and empathy towards such people if only because that is the only way we can hope to bring them back. You also have situations where individuals feel betrayed when one of their children/students leave the fold and you could find some negative reactions. but the general attitude is one of pity rather than scorn.

      In any case – thanks again for your comment and for your respectful tone. I look forward to any further criticisms you might have to level against what I have written.

      1000 Verses – a project of Judaism Resources wrote: >

      • shields3 says:

        Thank you for your endorsement of my comments and the interesting views you maintain.

        You say that “You take issue with my statement to the effect that my religious community has no problem with the method of study known as science.”

        The problem with this is science does not recognise any gods as creators of anything but most mainstream religions claim a god or a deity created everything so it is a brave face they show when they want to embrace selected parts of science. In fact, due to the inroads science has made in the last hundred years they have little choice because to flatly reject scientific innovation would more than likely be counter productive in the long run. Many religions are simply being dragged along by science and even more so by social issues with the same sex marriage issue as a case in point. If religions do not eventually comply to societies demands like any business, they will lose the young adults and cease to exist.

        It was not so long ago rock music and some controversial movies and pornographic magazines were thought by some in various religions to be a plan instigated by the devil and boys were told they would go to hell if they masturbated. Of course these things sound quite ridiculous now, however in another 50 years or so it is likely the rejection of the homosexual society or condoms by religious leaders be seen in the same light.

        I would not presume that ancient Greeks poured scorn on each or were aware they were actually conducting something we now call science. They must have known their limitations and believed such things as philosophers, old wise men and the writers of their day, not as formally trained scientists but as the most learned people of their day dabbling in early science. To call them a scientific community and to even consider comparing them with scientists of this century is very far-fetched. Even if it was until 1965 before mainstream thinking changed just suggests nothing or not enough in the way of evidence was available before then to change direction. Rather than show a weakness of scientific investigation you have actually endorsed its proven processes.

        Regarding innate knowledge of an existence beyond our own you claim “It happens to be that this is my own original thought and I confirmed it many times over through conversations with people.”

        Only people who are indoctrinated into a doctrine can think this way and you can use any term you like but the methods and results are the same. The brain is a wonderful yet a very complex organ and for example when fear, shame, guilt, idealism, punishment, Heaven and Hell, isolation etc. is fed into any brain especially a young mind it can cause delays in emotional, intellectual, sexual and social development and of course the blockage of other world views including science, history, culture and much more and in the long run this is sabotaging a mind because the use of guilt is a powerful vicious cycle that feeds on itself with a narrow embedded ideology rejecting facts, evidence and logic to the contrary of the belief is foremost. Check out this site blog and especially the comments from mostly ex- Catholics. Can you tell me Judaism or any other religion that is different?

        I can imagine the nonexistence of the existence in which they exist and it is called death. This is a complicated riddle you use just like what is beyond the universe?

        You say: “My point was that it is natural for a person to assume that all of reality is NOT contained within the laws of nature.”

        This is only because people are taught this to be true by religions, societies, families through ancient story’s, myths, so called experiences and often complete lies. I understand everything cannot be explained by current logic, however I go back to our brains where the answers lie. Until the time when and not if, science finds the answers to why people see ghosts, believe they lived in another life, were abducted by aliens or believe they spoke to a god or Elvis Presley we will have to speculate what the spirit world is and why it appears to exist for only some people.

        from your comment: “But please do not stifle the mind of our children from being awed by the complexity.”

        I fail to completely understand, but are you saying atheism suppresses and effects children’s minds just as religion does? I have to admit children do not have atheism rammed down their throat in a Sunday School or preached at in a church, forced to have mid-week bible reading, made to prey before bed and every meal, told they are sinful and a man died because of this, and being watched every minute by a loving God who controls the world and can send them to hell whenever he desires. I do not think we have an argument here. Atheism is about that freedom to choose what you want to believe. As I have said it is the default position because atheism is not defined as a belief but as having no recognition or belief of the early human creation of gods and deities.

        I am not critical of teaching children morals and truth, however not one religion teaches that “they do not know” Every religion claims they know the truth their god is the only one and everything else is bullshit. How does a child work that one out, no wonder the younger people of today are starting to question religious doctrine like never before? All power to them because the cycle must be broken.

        • tildeb says:

          What we should be teaching children as an essential part of any core curriculum and at home is scientific literacy. One of my favourite science communicators is Dr. Steve Novella who posts regularly at Neurologica. He does what I think is a marvelous job describing what this is and what it means. He has done two posts on this, which helps explain why ‘science’ is not a product but a method (several, in fact) that promotes critical thinking and opens the world up for those with the courage to inquire honestly and with integrity… two features in short supply in these threads here.

          I pass these links on (here followed by here) in the hope some readers will actually read them and come to a better understanding why we hold the opinions we do. The cartoon at the top of the first link demonstrates the central problem we keep pointing out that science and religion are compatible means to figuring out how reality works and what agencies and forces it contains.

          • shields3 says:

            Very interesting and well explained articles. I agree we have to have the children understanding scientific literacy so they have can make informed decisions in regard to placing the superstitious stories in the context they should be.

            I have come across young earth creationists who have claimed all the non- creationist scientists are colluding to destroy Christianity, the evolutionary science is all lies, scientists are satanic and even went on to claim many people in society who did not believe in the Christian God had hidden agenda etc. The woman prayed for them all, however it was so obvious this was only a substitute comment for hate.

            Blogging with someone like that is mind blowing and frightening when you consider a number of kids are being taught this extreme ideology that in my opinion is boarding on insanity. I understand these YEC people are a minority and not all are that extreme however it is critical this stuff is not recycled through innocent children within our communities for obvious reasons.

            I have heard it mentioned that scientists will bow to peer pressure to retain jobs and credibility and therefore making scientific evidence unreliable, but what has always amazed me most is when a faith based person basis their whole understanding of evolutionary principles on a fringe creationist scientist who often holds claim to finding a major flaw of mainstream scientific research in a particular field and speculates that this will throw open the doors for an almighty god to walk in.

        • shields3 When you say “science” does not recognize… you are no longer talking about science as a method of inquiry but rather as a belief system. When I said that my worldview doesn’t eject science as a method I wasn’t talking about recent history. Some of Judaism’s greatest teachers were scientists in their day (e.g. Maimonides and Nachmanides). And by the way, Judaism will not be dragged along about social issues and we will not “go out of business”, we have a 2000 year experiment running and its working quite well.

          My point about the Greek scientists was simply that when scientists take a position they generally do NOT admit that they don’t have all the evidence available in order to render a truly scientific opinion. In some situations they honestly don’t know that there is more evidence to examine but what they should know is that people walked this path before.

          You didn’t seem to understand my question about innate existence. I asked you what you know innately – I would expect that you will answer your own existence – you can also imagine your own non-existence as you so eloquently put it (death – even though that is probably a learned knowledge but the concept of our own non-existence is something that we can all imagine) But can you imagine total non-existence? It is certainly a completely different proposition and much more difficult to imagine. This tells you that the knowledge of existence that is larger than our own is innate to the human experience – nothing to do with indoctrination.

          When I said that it is natural for people to assume that there is something beyond nature I wasn’t talking about seeing ghosts or Elvis Presley I was speaking about the complexity of the world. I wasn’t trying to prove the premise right or wrong I was just demonstrating that it is not something that we need to be indoctrinated with – its there in nature.

          By telling children that “science” has the answer to all the questions you are stifling their minds. Let them ask the questions and be satisfied with the answers themselves.

          1000 Verses – a project of Judaism Resources wrote: >

          • shields3 says:

            Your comment: “shields3 When you say “science” does not recognize… you are no longer talking about science as a method of inquiry but rather as a belief system.”
            Science has had an open mind and investigated just about everything and anything many times, however there is a limit when it comes down to a god that is claimed to be the creator of everything. I think it is quite clear that science has had ample opportunity to investigate this aspect with a scientific method of enquiry and I believe if they actually do find any real evidence of a god it will be a major turning point in numbers attending church congregations.
            I do realise Jewish scientists have been and are recognised, however as science has advanced closer to explaining things such as life on earth without gods the distance between religion and science has steadily widened.
            You state: “My point about the Greek scientists was simply that when scientists take a position they generally do NOT admit that they don’t have all the evidence available in order to render a truly scientific opinion. In some situations, they honestly don’t know that there is more evidence to examine but what they should know is that people walked this path before.”
            The ancient Greek scientists were completely different and you are comparing a medicine man with a surgeon. Scientists today do not have their works recognised or published if their evidence does not meet certain standards and I am surprised you did not know this such as this Wikipedia entry states:
            “The publication of the results of research is an essential part of the scientific method. If they are describing experiments or calculations, they must supply enough details that an independent researcher could repeat the experiment or calculation to verify the results. Each such journal article becomes part of the permanent scientific record. Articles in scientific journals can be used in research and higher education. Scientific articles allow researchers to keep up to date with the developments of their field and direct their own research.”
            Yes, I am sure Judaism has been around a long time but it will only be as long as you have a God to worship. As I have basically indicated religions are not winning favour with this generation and it will get worse over the next generations as science unravels the mysteries of our existence.
            You asked me “what you know innately”
            I understand and innately know that I was lucky to be born, lucky my mother and father copulated when they did and I can imagine if that did not happen I would not have existed in this existence. It is simple really, however your assumption “This tells you that the knowledge of existence that is larger than our own is innate to the human experience” is purely your God like principles working overtime and complicating something that is patently simple. Total non-existence was a fact for all animals and everything until the planet formed, life started, we evolved as humans and we as individuals were born. I can comprehend all of this without bringing a higher power creator into the mix.
            I agree nature is wonderful and full of complexity. The physical side of nature indoctrinates all of us who have seen, smelt, heard, tasted and touched. We are part of this nature made up of the same molecules and I do not know what is beyond it and I do not assume something is beyond it because nobody can provide any evidence to believe otherwise.
            Teaching children about real science is doing them and the future of the world a great service. Teaching them that Adam and Eve were the first humans created by God is a great lie and it is as simple as that.

          • Shields 3 I will not respond to your comment because I feel that I have already given enough information for the reader to come to an informed decision on their own – I will just supply two links that may help you understand why I view things differently.

            > > > http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1182327/ > > > http://pps.sagepub.com/content/7/6/645.full

            1000 Verses – a project of Judaism Resources wrote: >

          • shields3 says:

            Yourphariseefriend I think you are grossly uninformed if from this one article you expect science to be false to the extent you are maintaining. At no time would science ever claim that they cannot get it wrong. You obviously do not read the links you posted or you would have understood the way science works from this passage below.

            “Self-correction is considered a key hallmark of science (Merton, 1942, 1973). Science, by default, does not adopt any unquestionable dogma—all empirical observations and results are subject to verification and thus may be shown to be correct or wrong. Sooner or later, if something is wrong, a replication effort will show it to be wrong and the scientific record will be corrected.”
            “The self-correction principle does not mean that all science is correct and credible. A more interesting issue than this eschatological promise is to understand what proportion of scientific findings are correct (i.e., the credibility of available scientific results).”

            I think you have fallen into the trap by the title of “Why Most Published Research Findings Are False” as has been observed below.

            “I like the content of the paper very much, but the title is a misleading generalization that plays right into the hands of quacks and charlatans, who like nothing better than to cite any expert who seems to be saying that science is so flawed — that “science is wrong” — that it can’t be used to debunk their nonsense. This is their sole interest in the paper, and indeed it has been extensively cited co-opted for this very purpose. A substantial portion of its popularity is probably due to how effectively its title can be used to undermine the credibility of science.”

            “However, in this week’s PLoS Medicine, Ramal Moonesinghe (US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and colleagues demonstrate that the likelihood of a published research result being true increases when that finding has been repeatedly replicated in multiple studies.”
            “Obtaining absolute ‘truth’ in research, say Djulbegovic and Hozo, “is impossible, and so society has to decide when less-than-perfect results may become acceptable.”


          • Dina says:

            Hi Shields,

            You wrote, “As I have basically indicated religions are not winning favour with this generation, etc.”

            I don’t remember if it was you or Tilly who mentioned that religion is shrinking and atheism is growing. That is not the full picture, however. Last year, Pew published a study that shows that by 2050 all religions will grow (except for Buddhism), some dramatically, such as Islam, which will be roughly equal to Christianity. Atheists and the religiously unaffiliated (which means that not everyone in this group is necessarily atheist) will grow in numbers but shrink in percentage of the world population.


            Here’s a CNN article that sums it up:


            By the way, am I correct in assuming you are from the UK or the British Commonwealth? Just based on your spelling…

          • shields3 says:

            Thank you for that link Dina.
            I can see how they arrive at these projections and without any significant events between now and 2050 maybe they are on the money. I hope we can all live in peace for the next 35 years however, that is probably very unlikely as those surveys have no way of taking any scientific, technological, political, natural or social events into account.

            I consider from current world events and trends that they may be wrong and this is due partially to the Islamic State terrorists and radical groups like them that currently and unfortunately is still the favourable choice for many. I doubt this situation will change in the short term and if there is an increase on terrorists targeting Western countries it may cause major religious and political backlash throughout the Western world.

            With the increasing momentum of new scientific knowledge and technology over the last 100 years to continue for the next 100 years the separation between science and religion will widen significantly more than it is today by 2050. This will obviously effect the Christian faith in first world Western countries most of all and I am quite sure the religious hierarchy are well aware of this.

          • Shields 3 The Jewish argument against Christianity is also wreaking havoc to the Christian faith – obviously nowhere near the same degree that science is doing this but the statistic is not negligible.

            1000 Verses – a project of Judaism Resources wrote: >

          • LarryB says:

            Thank you for the links

          • LarryB says:

            I spent 2 years at the IBM research lab in San Jose and the scientist I worked with there religion never came up once. On the other hand I worked with religious people of all sorts and no one ever spoke fearful of science and discoveries other than the possible misuse of it.

          • Dina says:

            Shields, that remains to be seen, doesn’t it? I just wanted to show that perhaps the overconfidence of the atheist in atheism taking over all religion is a bit misplaced. Let’s not count our chickens before they are hatched.

          • tildeb says:

            Admitting to being atheist is growing very quickly in the next generation… here in the Western world. In many places we are approaching a tipping point and this was why I raised the issue. I can’t speak on behalf of those born to large families in paternal societies all of who magically become members of their parent’s religious affiliation and who then are assigned to make up these global projections but we can only hope that over time more people throughout the developing world can have the freedom to decide for themselves rather than having a religious affiliation imposed on them. Now wouldn’t that be something to behold, a world where the non belief of children was the accepted and respected default and only the adult believers committed to a faith by choice were counted in such a poll?

          • Dina says:

            If you really want that to happen then you’ll need to convince your fellow atheists to have a lot of children.

          • shields3 says:

            Dina, your comment “you’ll need to convince your fellow atheists to have a lot of children.”

            Even though I take your comment as on the lighter side, it does spark controversy with me and I would just like to go of the topic a bit to emphasise to readers that atheists do not and cannot indoctrinate their children like religions can do. Of course you get the odd unstable exceptions to the rule who would try, however to indoctrinate children or anyone in atheism runs head first into a few major problems for atheists.

            First of all, they abhor religious preaching and indoctrination, especially to children so it would obviously be counter-productive to pursue this, secondly atheism has nothing like religion to sell such as a belief or a faith based system supported by holly books, churches and traditions that will guide you through all aspects of your life because atheism is basically a state of neutrality. This allows the belief in nothing or something tangible while excluding the acknowledgment of mans invented gods and deities.

            Atheism is the default position in life because this is how we were born, and if gods and deities were not invented and forced by religious man onto default atheists, atheism would not be forced into a position seen and described as non-belief, atheist religion or associated to Satan by many religious persons. The third reason is that many atheists are atheists in spite of religion and all its trappings and therefore want to enjoy the benefits of a free mind and a clear path to whatever they decide in life without the pressure, the commitment or the desire to sermonise their belief to the young.

          • Dina says:


            Let us say that I accept your argument. I do not, but let us say for argument’s sake. Then it is not logically consistent with your position that children are atheist by default. If that were the case, then atheists really ought to have has many un-indoctrinated, atheist-by-default children as possible to counteract the high birthrate of religious people who have zero compunction about passing their religious values to their children. With a birthrate of about one, it’s hard to see how atheism stands much of a chance demographically to make real headway, and harder to understand your optimism.

            Having said that, I do not accept your argument because you and your children (if you have any) do not live in a vacuum. By default, you will pass on to your children your worldview, your values, and your beliefs even if you think you don’t preach.

          • shields3 says:

            I agree LarryB, Religion is rarely discussed anywhere these days, especially in the work place and it is often because there are so many different versions of the same religion with many interpretations that are in conflict with each other and of course many of faith are not wanting to be labelled by their work mates as a religious nut. It is much more acceptable and an easier life if contentious issues such as religious and political persuasions are not discussed in the work place because it may be an issue that effects promotional aspirations and the social aspects within the work place.

            This is a growing trend, many people in the Western religions are taking a step back and taking a real close look at our modern scientific world and what they are actually believing in and if they really want the world to know.

            Dina, I agree atheists have a long road to travel and as tildeb has mentioned many children are indoctrinated before they can even wipe their own bums, so this is obviously a big nut to crack but I believe it will be eventually overcome.

          • LarryB says:

            Sorry, I completely missed your point you had made to YPF earlier.

  31. shields3 says:

    Sorry Dina I forgot to answer your question. You are correct I am in Australia and I use the original British rather than the USA spelling.

  32. shields3 says:

    Yourphariseefriend you say “but the statistic is not negligible.” Sorry but the way you have worded this, do I take it that you mean these issues will have a huge impact on Christianity or do you mean to say almost none at all?

    • shields3 What I meant is that it (the Jewish argument against Christianity) is having a small impact but not such a small one that can be dismissed – I was not making predictions about the future I was just stating facts about the present and past – my general attitude about the future is “wait and see”

      1000 Verses – a project of Judaism Resources wrote: >

  33. Fred says:

    If people are atheist by default, and all humans need to be indoctrinated by a previous believer, then how did the belief in God ever arise? Secondly, I challenge all atheists here to think of something that does not exist and describe it to me. I want an entirely original thought based on no evidence whatsoever.

    • tildeb says:

      So, Fred, what are you beliefs about Cinteteo?

      See? Why, Fred, you old devil, you’re really an atheist! Imagine that! You don’t believe in gods or a god regarding Cinteteo, the gods of maize, and you have no belief in Iztacuhca-Cinteotl, god of the white maize, Tlatlauhca-Cinteotl, god of the red maize, Cozauhca-Cinteotl, god of the yellow maize, and Yayauhca-Cinteotl, god of the black maize. You’re an atheist and you can;t even pronounce these holy names correctly. For shame, Fred. There’s just no end to such atheist ignorance.

      In fact, the only way you might conceivably have any belief in these gods or a god of the maize is if someone – preferably an authority figure backed up by social respect, cultural acceptance, perhaps a religiously guided education, and of course a local worshiping site to facilitate the gathering and mutual reinforcement of this faith community – explained to you how to be a ‘proper’ Cinteteo believer and why you need to have a religious belief about Cinteteo.

      Now you ask, how is this possible that Fred can know nothing about Cinteteo if Fred needs to be indoctrinated into it? How did the person who started this entire Cinteteo belief set come up with it on his or her own? How absurd!

      Golly, Fred, that’s a real problem you have on your hands. Can you think of something that doesn’t exist and describe it to us? I want an entirely original thought based on no evidence whatsoever.

      If you can’t do this, Fred, then you are a natural Cinteteo believer and will need to leave Judaism immediately I’m afraid. You’re worshiping the wrong god, you see, and idolatry is criminal act punishable by death and dismemberment with no right to burial. Your children will inherit your sin of non belief in the One True God (TM) for seven generations and will continue to be ostracized by the pious community. Oh, and you’ll have to pay an additional tax, too. And you can neither vote nor belong to any guilds or professions. If only you weren’t such a strident and militant atheist and used your free will Cinteteo gave to you to become a respectable believer, all of this needless suffering you bring on yourself and progeny could be avoided but you atheists are soooo entrenched in your arrogant superiority,

      • Fred says:

        Sorry, tildeb. Lots of insulting rhetoric, but you did not answer the question, nor did you come up with a thing that does not IN ANY WAY currently exist. If your “maize god” is your answer, I would remind you that the concept of gods exists already and so does maize. You just modified an existing concept. Try again!

        • Fred says:

          In fact, in everything you have posted since you came here, there has not been a single original thought. You know why? Because you are not capable of it.

        • tildeb says:

          Fred, I was trying to get you to see that your second question itself is irrational.

          Firstly, you ask, “how did the belief in God ever arise”. Two things.

          The first has already been answered by CR: we are meaning making critters and will create agency to better respond to unknown or suspected phenomena.

          The second is the making into a proper noun the term ‘God’. That’s a sleight of hand (or tongue, actually). There is no such ‘thing’; you simply apply to the term whatever you believe… it’s supposedly divine properties, abilities, desires, nature. and so on. You pretend to make it real by capitalizing the word. So belief in God is really nothing more and nothing less than belief in belief and you do it all the time. You make it arise all the time. You are the agency responsible for making it ‘real’ in your beliefs about it. That’s why the insistence for evidence adduced from reality – independent of your beliefs – is so difficult for you to handle: you’ve got nothing – no ‘thing’ to work with.

          Secondly, you ask us to ” think of something that does not exist and describe it to me.”

          Look at that sentence. Take note what you’ve done. You’ve used the term ‘something’. Look at it, Fred: some thing. Imagine some thing. The only way to imagine anything is by reference to something already known. Asking us to describe it to you would NECESSARILY involve properties of what is already known. That’s why this question itself is irrational. It’s like asking for the sound of one hand clapping: clapping cannot occur without the second hand so the question itself is irrational. That’s what you’ve done here. There is nothing – no ‘thing’ – imaginable that is exempt from properties we already know.

          As for the smear about my comment being ‘insulting rhetoric’, get over yourself. You being insulted is not an indication of the quality of my comment or the accuracy of my analogy – a comment you misrepresent to be only ‘rhetoric’. It’s not. You’re annoyed because the analogy works perfectly in line with how you think of atheists. So, if the shoe fits, Fred… enjoy your befuddled thinking and know that you describe yourself. Not very flattering, is it?

          • Fred says:

            Sorry, your analogy was silly and irrelevant. I think you are the one who should think about getting over himself/herself. My second questions stands and is accurate. Just because you know that you cannot come up with an original thought or concept does not make my question wrong. On the contrary, it only proves its validity.

    • Concerned Reader says:

      Fred, humans often go through a process called HAAD (Hyper Active Agency Detection.) Its a survival mechanism. When you are a child, and you hear a loud noise, most often, you tense up. Why? Your brain tells you “what was that sound? I don’t think I’m alone.” Its a survival instinct. gods have existed as long as humans could see shapes in the clouds and anthropomorphize the world around them.

    • shields3 says:

      Fred it is quite simple, humans are rumour mongers, story tellers and incredibly superstitious people when they do not understand what is going on. Superstition feeds on itself and stories are inflated with imagination such as fearsome beasts of dragons and trolls that are supposed to have stalked the planet in earlier centuries.

      These type of fables and the natural disasters inherent to man and our planet had a real impact on life often causing mass hysteria and panic, therefore without evidence people believed it had to be someone or something with amazing powers such as a god. I ask you, what alternatives did ancient civilisations have to explain this phenomena?

      Even if the superstition regarding natural disaster today has matured in the Western countries due to scientific explanations we still see the results of mass indoctrination and radicalised jihadists rejecting the laws of man, humanity and all other beliefs by taking lives because they believe it is their gods will. Their children will also be indoctrinated and many will die as young martyrs so do you see the cycle has to be broken for all religions.

      I think tildeb has taken up your challenge.

      • Fred says:

        You did not respond to either question. Rumors do not account for the fact that it had to start somewhere. Now, tell me about something that does not currently exist in any way, shape or form. Then describe it to me.

    • Dina says:

      Fred, what is the point of your challenge? Anyone can make up anything without evidence.

      • Fred says:

        Then try it, Dina. Tell me about something that is completely made-up and new. but I was hoping one of the atheists would try.

        • Concerned Reader says:

          Fred, your question is nonsensical. Asking someone to tell you about something completely made up and new is asking them to come up with a category that does not yet exist. If we could come up with something, it would then cease to be “new and completely made up.”

  34. shields3 says:

    Dina, atheists are not striving to outnumber religious people through childbearing because that is clearly ridiculous. The point is about the protection of children from having to go through intense religious instruction and worship of a god just because it suits their parents’ ideology and as you said they have zero compunction about this issue.

    I do have a daughter who knows I am an atheist and knows why but is so uninterested in this stuff and at age 14 she cares very little about what I believe and has many other things that she wants to do and that is exactly how I like it and all children should have this freedom. She has exposure to Catholic friends at school and when she was younger went to church with some of them a couple of times and found it boring.

    I do not preach atheism to children, what could I say except quote some facts such as 98% of scientists agree with evolutionary principles, make her read scientific books and say prayers to Darwin every day and take her down to the museum every Sunday to see the evidence. What can I offer to induce atheism, as I do not have sin, eternal life, heaven or a hell?
    Preaching should be strictly for religious adults and how parents can even consider manipulating and controlling a child’s mind with their personal belief system is beyond comprehension.

    • Dina says:

      I agree, your low birthrate is a very good idea :). Just saying that unfortunately for you, the only way to beat the religious at the demographics game is to raise the birthrate. However, far be it from me to suggest you do so!

      What will you tell your teen if she asks if there is a God?

      • shields3 says:

        Dina, I doubt she will ever ask me such a question, the unencumbered teens have the chance of finding out these things for themselves. She is bright, and understands that people believe in different things regarding religion and politics and often asks me about political issues. She also understands her friends who are Catholic come originally from strong Catholic countries and decades of traditional Catholic families and she asks me why I waste my time blogging religious people and often jokingly tells me to leave them alone:)

        Of course she understands my views as an atheist. She has overheard my long drawn out debates with Mormons and Seventh Day Adventist callers to my front door and she finds them absolutely mind numbing and boring. Unbelievable I say!

        • Dina says:

          Shields, let us imagine she did ask you. What would you say?

          Also, are the children of atheists more likely or less likely to be atheists when they grow up?

        • Dina says:

          By the way, I’d like to thank you for your respectful tone. Thank you!

          • shields3 says:

            Thank you Dina for your comment, I do believe there is more respectability here than in many other similar blogs and this is reflected within all of us who currently blog here.
            If my daughter were to ask me I would be surprised because she knows my views, however hypothetically I would be completely straight and explain I believe science has the answer to most things including her question. Of course if she were to ask how the universe became into being I would explain science does not know this yet and I do not believe any god created it.

            I do not know any statistics regarding children of atheists being atheists when they grow up, however my father who died a few years ago was an atheist for many years and then he went through a divorce after my mother left him (I could not blame her) and he had some other common issues that compounded his problems. After subscribing to the scientology magazine for a period of time I was amazed when he started to attend church in his late 50’s and within a couple of years met and married a Christian missionary woman he met in the UK who was far too good for him but that is another story. The point being his religious life commenced for reasons of despair rather than the father who traditionally used rationality with a black or white perception for everything to make his decisions.

            I think for many sceptics, agnostics and very few true atheists as they age they inherit more problems than they are used to having such as financial disasters and family responsibilities, sickness etc. and in a similar reaction as the ancient people who looked to their gods when they had no hope and no answers to solve the problems in their world the similar logic applies to personal problems for some people today.

            I believe seeking a change, comfort and assistance through the spiritual world psychologically makes a difference to the individual regardless of the religion in question but unfortunately for some the spirits are liquid from a bottle of alcohol or relief in the way of an illegal drug.

          • Dina says:

            Hi Shields,

            I know it’s been a while; I’ve been wanting to write for some time but now I finally submitted my manuscript and have a bit more time. I wanted to address the claim that the religious education of children constitutes child abuse. I do not remember if Tilly or you said it; maybe you both did.

            Studies show that the overall physical, emotional, and psychological health of religious children is slightly higher than non-religious children (you can Google this). Granted, it’s only a slight edge–but you would not expect abused children to have that edge. When atheists make these over-the-top, hysterical, melodramatic statements, they only hurt their credibility.

            I’m sure atheists can find reasons to argue that children should not be educated in any religion without resorting to silly hyperbole. Does that make sense?

          • sklyjd says:

            Hello Dina, I do not believe I said this because education in any subject is for the good of the child and as long as the learning is balanced with other beliefs such as in religious education I see no problem.

            My argument would be about indoctrination of children and this is normally instigated by the adults at home. The free world has fought plenty of wars and thousands have died to maintain our freedom from political and religious ideologies such as communism and radical religious terrorists, therefore why do some religious parents want to take away the freedom of choice from their children?

            I do not believe they have the right to force a political or religious ideology on anybody and this is when I jump on the abuse bandwagon because of terrible experiences recounted by adults who were indoctrinated as children and many who still are having to deal with psychological problems due to what can only be called mental abuse when they were young. This is unbelievable when you consider their parents were mostly responsible.

          • Jim says:


            Congratulations on submitting your manuscript!


          • Dina says:


  35. Fred says:

    Correct, Larry, my question is not an original thought. I do not have any completely original thoughts. Everything I know I learned somewhere else or by observation, and anything that is new is simply a combining of concepts and ideas I already have. Same with everyone else. Just as one cannot invent a new color that is not based on the three primaries. If someone says “the flying spaghetti monster” ( which Dawkins borrowed from South Park) they are not speaking of something made-up, but something perverted. Flying is known, spaghetti is known and monsters are known. People have commented on the originality of “Avatar”, but not a single idea , concept, character or even the plot was original in any way. It just took different things that exist and combined them with something else that already existed. You can come up with your own conclusions as to the relevance of this to the topic.

    • LarryB says:

      I’m simply trying to understand what your getting at. Why is this relevantly?

    • LarryB says:

      Basically your saying everyone is indoctrinated?

    • shields3 says:

      Let me try your challenge Fred. “Now, tell me about something that does not currently exist in any way, shape or form. Then describe it to me.”

      There once was a Wondop that was often prebbled by the people of the town. The Wondrop did a toloolo and the whole town had been jibolted.

      This is exclusively is my own work and these things do not exist today and are so original and different they cannot be described to you in words you will understand because they do not yet exist.

      I do not mean to be rude or condescending but if something is to be entirely new, unheard of and original in this day and age you have to make up imaginable rubbish that only exists inside your head. Very similar I expect to the first person’s original conception of a god.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s