Kingdom of Priests

Kingdom of Priests


Genesis and the Scandal of Jewish Indifference

posted by David Klinghoffer
A couple of weeks ago I got an email from an editor at a Jewish publication soliciting from me an article “related to creationism.” He asked that it be pegged to the coming Sabbath when Jews across the spectrum of Judaism begin a new cycle of Torah readings. That cycle begins with the account of creation in Genesis.
The editor seemingly wasn’t aware that I’m not a creationist (i.e., a naïve Biblical literalist), or he didn’t know what the word means, or who knows what. Anyway, I wrote and sent off to him the piece he seemed to urgently want, suspecting even as I did so that it would never run in this particular publication. The Jewish religious world — from Haredi to Reform and just about everything in between — is in general so scandalously indifferent and ignorant on issues relating to life’s origins and evolution that I felt there was a strong possibility whatever I wrote would never get past editorial scrutiny. Sure enough, a week and a half went by without a response from my correspondent. Finally, asked for a status update, the editor told me it likely wouldn’t be appearing in their pages.
So with the relevant Sabbath approaching this coming Saturday, I offer to you the piece I wrote:

Orthodox Jews have almost a sixth sense for feeling out of place. Many of us know this experience: On a visit to an unfamiliar city, you head into a restaurant that you have been assured is strictly kosher. On entering, you look around at the crowd of diners, expecting to see identifiably religious Jews — men wearing kippot — but there are none. Uneasy, you ask to see the establishment’s kosher certification. Maybe the place is no longer under rabbinic supervision? Maybe you’re in the wrong restaurant altogether. The manager produces a piece of paper with a rabbi’s name on it, which looks legitimate. And yet…something doesn’t sit right.

If there are no frum Jews there, could it really be kosher? That is a question I’m often asked by other Jews of all stripes, if not in exactly those words, about what I do in my professional life. And what is that? Do I work as a pork butcher? As the door attendant at a radical Muslim mosque? No, I’m a senior fellow at a think tank, the Discovery Institute, well known for supporting research in intelligent design — the scientific critique of and alternative to Darwinian evolution. 

At first glance, you might think nothing could be more Jewish. Very shortly Jews around the world will be celebrating a new yearly cycle of Torah readings, beginning with Genesis, the parsha of Bereishit, narrating God’s creation of the world. Like Shabbat, which similarly recalls the primordial sequence of divine creativity, studying Bereishit again is a time to re-center ourselves as Jews on a truth that today is widely forgotten or denied. 

That truth is that we live in a world bearing testimony to purposeful design. The very idea is under widespread, influential attack from Darwinists who insist overwhelming scientific evidence demonstrates that life originated and developed as the product of blind, churning, purposeless natural forces. Answering the challenge is a scientific pursuit, but it has spiritual implications as well, just as Darwinism has its own implications that rule out purpose, meaning or design in life’s history.

Many Jews, however, including many on the more liberal end of the Orthodox spectrum, see intelligent design as a purely Christian undertaking, with no support from Jewish tradition. The Wall Street Journal has promoted as a representative Jewish view that of Yeshiva University biologist Carl Feit “who is an ordained rabbi and Talmudic scholar…. Prof. Feit says that in nearly a quarter-century of teaching introductory biology, he has always taught evolution — supported by traditional Jewish source material — and that ‘there has never been a blip on the radar here.’ His assessment echoes the official line of the Modern Orthodox rabbinical association, which states that evolution is entirely consistent with Judaism.”

If you read the entry about me on Wikipedia, which I could never succeed in editing for accuracy because some anonymous Internet user would just change it right back, you will find it insinuated that I’m guilty of ethnic treason if not outright heresy. The entry quotes as authoritative a person whom I won’t name here but who is a writer and self-identified Orthodox Jew. He is cited as “charging,” as if it were a crime, “that Klinghoffer is paid to promote his ideas by his employer, the Discovery Institute, which [the writer] identifies as a Christian think tank that is funded by organizations that seek to promote a ‘Christian-friendly world view.'”

Imagine that. Paid by his employer. What a scandal!

Anyway, there you have it. Advocating an open attitude to finding scientific evidence of design in nature is a Christian, not a Jewish, undertaking. In a front-page news article in the New York Times, reporter Jodi Wilgoren falsely characterized the Discovery Institute as a “fundamentalist Christian” organization. The newspaper later had to publish a retraction. Intelligent design is “the hot new rebranding of Christian creationism,” as New York magazine puts it — missing the fact that between pseudo-scientific creationism and intelligent design there yawns a wide gap in thought, perspective, and intellectual credibility. For myself, I am rebuked as a “Christophile,” as one obsessive Jewish commenter on my Beliefnet blog puts it.

What is the reality? On one hand, other Discovery Institute fellows include author and radio host Michael Medved, an Orthodox Jew, and mathematician David Berlinski, a Jewish agnostic. When a popular theatrical documentary film on the suppression of intelligent design on university campuses came out last year — Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, narrated by lawyer and comedian Ben Stein — there was a memorable scene where Berlinski, Stein, and Orthodox Israeli physicist Gerald Schroeder (with a kippah) were shown touring the ruins of the Berlin Wall, a symbol of Darwinism’s authoritarian tyranny in the academic world. They were the three Darwin-doubting Jewish musketeers.

After seeing the movie, a colleague of mine half-joked, “I didn’t realize intelligent design was such a Jewish enterprise.” I savored the comment.

On the other hand, when you get out into the wider world, Jewish hostility or indifference to everything I do remains very much the rule. There’s no denying that conservative Christians for the most part understand what’s at stake in the Darwin debate. They appreciate the scientists and writers in the intelligent-design movement. Jews, whether secular or religious, do not. In many Jewish minds, there is an instinctive distrust of anything well regarded by Christians. If Christians like it, it’s got to be treif. If Christians think there’s scientific evidence of design in nature, then a Jew must believe the opposite, that there is no such evidence.

Even from the Haredi community, I regret to say, I’ve noticed little interest in or understanding of the issue. These fervently religious Jews seem to assume that since we already know God made the world, there is, in a scientific vein, hardly anything else worth saying. We have the Torah. Why do we need science?

We need it because the Torah itself instructs us that this is a subject of which we can’t afford to be ignorant. The Mishnah in Pirke Avot urges us to “Know how to answer an Apikoros” — a heretic or literally an Epicurean. Rabbi Yehudah Ha’Levi and Ibn Ezra, among other authorities, explicitly define the term as a follower of the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus who denied the existence or detectability of design in nature.  

Perhaps they were secretly closet Evangelical Christians, suborned by the Discovery Institute. Don’t forget to add other rabbinic greats, Rambam, Rabbeinu Bachya, Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, and Samson Raphael Hirsch, who similarly saw nature as the unfolding scientific evidence of God’s purpose in the world, to the list of crypto-Christians.

The deeper truth is that, in a sense, Christianity has defined certain Jewish attitudes for centuries. In his terrific new book Why Are Jews Liberals?, Norman Podhoretz traces the phenomenon of Jewish liberalism back to the Enlightenment. From ancient times to the Middle Ages, the Church had been the Jews’ great tormentor. Then came the Enlightenment philosophers who tirelessly attacked Christian teaching, while indulging in an equally spiteful anti-Semitism. Somehow the idea got lodged in the Jewish brain that “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Meanwhile Christians especially in America came to reject old beliefs about Jews and Judaism, even embracing what can only be called philo-Semitism. Yet from then on, and down to today, any idea that corrodes Christian faith, as Darwinism does, was greeted by many Jews as a friend, even if it corrodes faith in Torah to no less a degree.

The upcoming Shabbat of Bereishit is the perfect opportunity to rethink these ideas, along with the broader, practical priorities of our Jewish community. How many frum Jews today, following the advice of Pirke Avot, could intelligently answer the challenge of a Darwinist? How many are troubled that they could not? How many in the Modern Orthodox community would simply crumple, declaring preemptive surrender to Darwinian evolution? What a shame that on this point, so crucial to a Torah worldview, we have allowed Christians to take the lead.

When we stand up in our homes on Friday night to say Kiddush in testimony to God’s intelligent design of the heavens and the earth, when we read the opening chapters of Genesis the next day, there could hardly be a more powerful time to meditate on our calling as God’s witnesses not only to ourselves and our families but to the world. That world, I promise you, is waiting for us to add our voices to the most important public debate of our time.



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Philip Koplin

posted October 13, 2009 at 3:52 pm


The “rabbinic greats” could only make statements based on the science of their day, and so their judgments are irrelevant to the 20th- and 21st-century scientific evidence for a different view of life.
There is a distinction between design and meaning. A belief that one was not designed to serve a purpose assigned by a sentient designer does not logically imply that one cannot find meaning nonetheless. The believer in design might deny that the nonbeliever can actually do this, but if someone believes that he or she is leading a meaningful life, there is no objective standard by which the design advocate can reject the claim.
The supposed “truth … that we live in a world bearing testimony to purposeful design” needs to take into account not just the existence of, say, the mammalian eye, but also that of neuroblastoma; not just the existence of, say, embryologic development, but also that of pediatric leukemia. Typically, those praising the wisdom of the Creator ignore, or concoct tortuous question-begging arguments to account for, the evidence that a Creator of this world could just as likely be called an ignorant, impotent, or wicked being as an all-knowing, all-powerful, or all-loving one.



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Yessir

posted October 13, 2009 at 6:25 pm


Klinghoffer again caught in the act of peddling nonsense in the garb of Judaism.



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Dan

posted October 13, 2009 at 9:53 pm


What?
Biblical literalists are naive, yet being a member of a “think” tank that is as breathtakingly inane as the Discovery Institute, and claiming it supports “research” on ID, which is a “scientific” alternative, isn’t?
The DI is well-known? Richard Dawkins, for better or worse, is well known around the world, the DI isn’t.
Pot…kettle…black
Jewish mythology is better than Christian mythology? Of course every Darwinian knows that Norse mythology is vastly superior to both.



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Paul Burnett

posted October 13, 2009 at 11:28 pm


Klinghoffer adds one more nail to the coffin of intelligent design creationism by attempting to convince a religious group to accept his pseudoscience based on religious, not scientific, grounds.
If “cdesign proponentsists” (Google the term if you’re unfamiliar with it) put more money and effort into actual scientific research instead of printing books at religious publishing and speaking at religious conferences, they might find some actual science supporting intelligent design creationism – but so far they haven’t found any.



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Mark

posted October 14, 2009 at 8:26 am


Philip Koplin wrote: “Typically, those praising the wisdom of the Creator ignore, or concoct tortuous question-begging arguments to account for, the evidence that a Creator of this world could just as likely be called an ignorant, impotent, or wicked being as an all-knowing, all-powerful, or all-loving one.”
Philip obviously insists that whenever someone wants to call attention to the brilliance of the design in nature, he must also call attention to disease and tragedy. David, shame on you for not doing what Philip wants. (sarcasm). Meanwhile, Philip, why don’t you name a few classical Jewish books that deal with the question of why there’s suffering in the world, and fisk them for us?



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Ray Ingles

posted October 14, 2009 at 9:33 am


Darwinism has its own implications that rule out purpose, meaning or design in life’s history.
Er, well… no. The religious are in exactly the same boat as the atheists and agnostics.
http://badidea.wordpress.com/2007/09/27/the-meaning-of-meaning-why-theism-cant-make-life-matter/



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Philip Koplin

posted October 14, 2009 at 10:42 am


Mark
I was just pointing out that advocates of the Argument from Design need to take into consideration all of the evidence, not just those aspects of the world that seem to confirm what their holy books tell them the Creator must be like. An argument that ignores inconvenient evidence isn’t likely to be very convincing.
The purpose of the Comments section is to respond to what David has written, not to post independent essays analyzing, for example, classical Jewish responses to suffering, (Anyone actually interested in exploring the subject rather than issuing inappropriate challenges to other commenters can look at Oliver Leaman, Evil and Suffering in Jewish Philosophy.)
I guess it’s shame on me for not doing what you want.



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RickK

posted October 14, 2009 at 10:46 am


“That truth is that we live in a world bearing testimony to purposeful design. The very idea is under widespread, influential attack from Darwinists who insist overwhelming scientific evidence demonstrates that life originated and developed as the product of blind, churning, purposeless natural forces.”
Um, I’m sorry, but in fact we live in a world bearing testimony to the fact that natural phenomena have natural causes. Time and again, through out history, supernatural causes are replaced by natural explanations. But Mr. Klinghoffer, the opposite NEVER EVER happens.
In case you’re not that well versed in the history of methodological naturalism, allow me to point out a few examples:
The Sun – was a God, now explained by science
The Moon – was a God, now understood by science
The stars – were God, now science
The tides – were attributed to God, now science
The seasons – attributed to God, now science
Earthquakes – were God, now science
Lightning – was God, now science
Rain & drought – was God, now science
Health & disease – was God, now science
Schizophrenia – was demonic possession, now science
Epilepsy – was divine possession, now science
Origin of species – was God, now science (evolution)
Identity & personality – was the soul, now neuroscience
So you see, our universe has told us time and again that what happens in nature can be understood and explained, so long as we keep studying, keep learning, and don’t surrender to ignorance.
Tell me, Mr. Klinghoffer – when is the right time to surrender to ignorance and declare that only supernatural explanations will suffice? When does scientific investigation end?
Should we reign in science when it threatens this generation’s concept of God? That’s what the Discovery Institute stated in the Wedge Strategy – that they want to push supernatural causation back into public policy as a valid alternative to science.
And how galactically narrow-minded you are to declare that the only definition of “creationist” is Biblical literalist. What about the creation stories of the OTHER hundreds of active religions? They don’t count? They’re not relevant? Perhaps you might want to open your thinking, and your dictionary, and understand that “creationism” is the belief that life and/or the universe were created by a supernatural being or beings.
Intelligent Design and Genesis are both creationist beliefs, no different than the Bakuba belief that the Earth was vomited into existence by a giant with a stomach ache.
The only difference between Intelligent Design and literal Genesis creation is how much magic was used and when.



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ron

posted October 14, 2009 at 1:21 pm


where is the proof for the “Christophile” citation?
I could locate none; apparently- presumably, out of spite- Klinghoffer deleted all such postings!



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Your Name

posted October 14, 2009 at 2:13 pm


Philip wrote: “I was just pointing out that advocates of the Argument from Design need to take into consideration all of the evidence, not just those aspects of the world that seem to confirm what their holy books tell them the Creator must be like. An argument that ignores inconvenient evidence isn’t likely to be very convincing.”
Ahh, if only evolutionists would truly absorb that last sentence.



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Philip Koplin

posted October 14, 2009 at 3:30 pm


Your Name:
Evolutionists might not address the evidence in a way that you find agreeable, but that isn’t the same as their ignoring it, in the way that David and Mark ignore childhood cancer in judging whether the world shows purposeful, brilliant design.



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Mark

posted October 14, 2009 at 7:23 pm


“David and Mark ignore childhood cancer in judging whether the world shows purposeful, brilliant design.”
Eh, because it is reasonable to.



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Philip Koplin

posted October 14, 2009 at 11:18 pm


Mark. It’s hard to tell from a few written words whether someone is being sarcastic or means to be taken seriously, so at the risk of seeming to miss your wit, I’ll ask whether you can you expand a bit on why it’s reasonable to exclude some of the evidence in trying to decide what the world tells us about a supposed creator, and how, in particular, childhood cancer is the result of brilliant design.



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Mark

posted October 14, 2009 at 11:50 pm


Philip wrote: “why it’s reasonable to exclude some of the evidence in trying to decide what the world tells us about a supposed creator and how, in particular, childhood cancer is the result of brilliant design.”
Listen, if you woke up and found that breakfast in bed was waiting for you — even better than Rachel Ray could make — but unfortunately, the orange juice was sour, what would you conclude?
Based on the gist I’m getting from your words, you would say that the food was accidentally delivered to your bedroom, or that the person who made it for you didn’t really love you. You’d focus on the spoiled juice so much that the rest of the breakfast would be meaningless.
Myself, I would conclude that the person did really love me, but made a mistake. — But wait. I want to keep the analogy with design, so I would conclude that the person did really love me, but purposefully gave me the sour juice to teach me a lesson of some sort.
No, I don’t mean to equate spoiled juice with cancer — try not to focus on that.



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Philip Koplin

posted October 15, 2009 at 12:26 am


On your account, we would have to consider cancer a design brilliantly perfected to serve a particular purpose. And what would be the lesson that the loving Creator would be offering a child by gifting it with cancer?



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Mark

posted October 15, 2009 at 1:29 pm


Philip, is your disbelief in a designer because you don’t see any evidence of design, or because your focusing on the diseases won’t let you acknowledge any purposeful design?
(And the answer to your last question is beyond me to know, but maybe there’s a future world in which these questions can be answered.)



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Philip Koplin

posted October 15, 2009 at 2:10 pm


Mark. Your postponement of an answer to my question to maybe a future world beyond presently available knowing is an acknowledgment that belief in purposeful design is based not on scientific data or empirical observation but on faith. This is not to say that faith is an illegimate means with which to try to understand the world, just that the need to invoke it to save the purposeful-design argument shows how ultimately insupportable that argument is.



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Mark

posted October 15, 2009 at 4:28 pm


Your first sentence is wrong, Philip. Design speaks for itself. No need to look to future worlds for that. It’s only the disease and suffering aspect of (parts of) design that might require future worlds. You keep stumbling on that.



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Philip Koplin

posted October 15, 2009 at 6:07 pm


You claim that “design speaks for itself,” yet you admit that there are significant aspects of the world for which you can find no purposeful design–in other words, lack of purposeful design also seems to “speak for itself.” You say that maybe in possible future worlds we can find an answer to the evidence that rules out your hypothesis that the world–which means everything in it, not just the parts that you find acceptable–is purposely designed. If have to wait for the next world for an answer, then your argument that one can know by examining this world that it was purposively designed collapses completely.



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Mark

posted October 15, 2009 at 9:35 pm


I disagree with your logic. All it takes is ONE thing that you and I together can identify in nature that is purposefully designed, and we conclude that there’s a designer. The other stuff, diseases and other stuff that don’t look all that particularly designed, is irrelevant.



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Philip Koplin

posted October 16, 2009 at 11:22 am


First, you and I have not agreed on anything that can only be accounted for by a sentient designer.
In contrast, you insist that the world was brilliantly designed—not just that there are things here and there that are purposely designed, but that the world as a whole is. Thus, logically, all it takes is one counterexample to challenge your claim, and there are many such examples. If you believe in an error-free creation, and I assume that’s the sort of creation you ascribe to your brilliant “designer,” then to say that pediatric cancer is irrelevant “stuff” is to deny evidence bearing on whether the design really is brilliant.
In fact, the sort of logic on which your belief rests doesn’t start with a look at the world to see what kind of “designer” must have made it, but from your presupposition that there is a designer who is brilliant, from which you conclude that that the world must be. This position would logically require you to explain why the suffering of children is part of a “brilliant” design, but since you can’t, you dismiss that suffering as irrelevant “stuff.”



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RickK

posted October 17, 2009 at 1:35 pm


Mark said “Design speaks for itself.”
Mark, “Designers” don’t work through tiny changes and constant trial & error. Natural processes DO.
Let’s look at the “intelligent design” of our natural world:
Intelligent design of the universe:
– The portion of the universe that is instantly lethal to life:
99.99999999999999999999999999%
– Most planet orbits are unstable
– Star formation is inefficient – most matter never makes a star or planet
– Our galaxy will collide with Andromeda
– Our universe will wind down to cold oblivion
Intelligent design of the Earth:
– Earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunamis, hurricanes, floods, tornadoes
– Only 1/3 of surface is habitable by man, and only a tiny fraction habitable without technology
– Mass extinctions – disease / climate shift / killer asteroids
– 99% of all species of life are now extinct
– It took 3 BILLION years to make multi-cellular life – not very efficient
Intelligent design of humans:
– Horrible birth defects
– Aggressive childhood diseases: lukemia, hemophilia, sickle cell, MS, epilepsy, Parkinsons, ALS.
– Absurdly narrow vision spectrum – can’t detect dangerous things like magnetic fields, radiation, radon, carbon monoxide, etc.
– Age leads to vision loss, loss of teeth, dementia, cancer
– We exhale most of the oxygen we inhale
– Warm-blooded must eat constantly (as opposed to reptiles who can eat oncea week or less
– Practically comatose for 1/3 of our lives
– Breathe and eat through same pipe – so we choke (dolphins don’t, for example)
– Eliminate waste and breed through same pipe, leading to infection
(list courtesy of Neil deGrasse Tyson)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C1cKD93W3yg&feature=related
So if someone thinks for one moment that the universe was designed as some sort of grand plan to create humans, that person has WAAAAY too big an ego.



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Philip Koplin

posted October 17, 2009 at 3:59 pm


I don’t know why it’s poor design that humans sleep, don’t have reptilian digestive systems, and can’t survive in deep space.
Better to keep the argument focused on more clear-cut issues, such as what sort of brilliant designer would come up with birth defects and debilitating and lethal childhood disorders.



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ramanuja

posted October 18, 2009 at 10:28 am


I am not Jewish, I am a Hindu. Creationism – old or the ID kind – leaves me sniggering. I can’t imagine why orthodox adherents of any tradition would want to reduce the supreme entity to the status of a magician or conjurer. Divinity is not something to be proved.
And then, David, aggressive “soul harvesting” is a real thing. Mikey Weinstein of the MRFF has been organizing to put an end to proselytisation in the limitary. Weinstein, himself a veteran and jewish, was moved to action after he found his children were having to put up with sould harvesters at the US AF Academy.



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Your Name

posted October 19, 2009 at 9:14 am


Mr Klinghoffer,
I enjoyed your article. I know little about Jewish culture, and like you it’s a mystery to me why Jews, at least those who profess to believe and reverence the Torah and keep Sabbath, wouldn’t value the evidence that a wise Designer created our world.
The common criticism, as offered by others in response to your article, is that cancer, parasites, birth defects and similar problems imply a foolish or malevolent or nonexistent Designer. It seems to me that the very next consideration should be the also common idea that in the Designer’s beautiful (even perhaps “error free”) creation, SOMETHING HAS GONE WRONG. The Judeo-Christian concept involves a thing called “sin.” Perhaps there are less religious ways to discuss it, but it surely should be considered along with those objections.
I have one criticism of your article. That pertains to your definition of creationists as “naive Biblical literalists.” I’m sure there are such, but there are also wiser ones who realize where the boundary is between their faith and science, be they Christian, Jewish, or any other religion. I’ll bet there are also naive agnostic or atheist Intelligent Design advocates. I’d just suggest you offer the same charity toward creationists in general that you want to receive from naturalistic evolutionists.



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Philip Koplin

posted October 19, 2009 at 12:25 pm


If something goes wrong, the design wasn’t error-free.
And you still have the problem that all of the universe and everything in it was designed, created, and sustained by the Creator, and that includes cancer and birth defects.



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Mark

posted October 20, 2009 at 1:39 am


And you still have the challenge to explain away millions of things in nature that bloody well look designed.



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Mergatroid

posted October 20, 2009 at 5:34 am


RickK wrote:
“The Moon – was a God, now understood by science”
I looked up “moon” at wiki, and frankly, there are competing theories by experts about how the moon came to be.
Also, if you’re looking to include the Bible in your mockery of crazy religious beliefs, you must first recall that the ancient Israelites /rejected/ the notion that the moon was a god.



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Philip Koplin

posted October 20, 2009 at 11:00 am


Mark
You still don’t understand the logic of your own position, so I’ll remind you:
First, you and I have not agreed on anything that can only be accounted for by a sentient designer.
In contrast, you insist that the world was brilliantly designed—not just that there are things here and there that are purposely designed, but that the world as a whole is. Thus, logically, all it takes is one counterexample to challenge your claim, and there are many such examples. If you believe in an error-free creation, and I assume that’s the sort of creation you ascribe to your brilliant “designer,” then to say that pediatric cancer is irrelevant “stuff” is to deny evidence bearing on whether the design really is brilliant.
In fact, the sort of logic on which your belief rests doesn’t start with a look at the world to see what kind of “designer” must have made it, but from your presupposition that there is a designer who is brilliant, from which you conclude that that the world must be. This position would logically require you to explain why the suffering of children is part of a “brilliant” design, but since you can’t, you dismiss that suffering as irrelevant “stuff.”



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Mark

posted October 20, 2009 at 12:38 pm


“In contrast, you insist that the world was brilliantly designed—not just that there are things here and there that are purposely designed, but that the world as a whole is. ”
Actually I never intended to portray this view.
“If you believe in an error-free creation, and I assume that’s the sort of creation you ascribe to your brilliant “designer,”
You don’t seem to understand that one can believe in an error-free creation, with the errors that one sees attributable to something else.
Again, you never acknowledged that every SINGLE time you see something that looks designed, you MUST be able to explain it away, or have faith in others who explain it away. If you’re wrong just once…



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Philip Koplin

posted October 20, 2009 at 1:27 pm


Yes, I believe that biological science can explain every single item of apparent sentient design in nature, and I don’t see any scheme that invokes any creator god(s) that does a better job.
And here’s another example of your curious logic: If the creation is error-free, how can there be errors, and how can those errors be due to “something else” other than the being who created everything in the universe? If you think that childhood diseases and birth defects aren’t really errors, please explain.



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Dennis Murphy

posted October 20, 2009 at 9:53 pm


“If something goes wrong, the design wasn’t error-free.”
That’s a gratuitous assumption. Maybe you’re wrong.
“Something went wrong” possibly because one or many individuals, created with the power of free will to choose their own actions, decided to rebel against the original design.
It’s not an error that the possibility existed. Creatures could not freely associate with the Creator if they did not also have the freedom to rebel.
“you still have the problem that all of the universe
and everything in it was designed, created, and
sustained by the Creator, and that includes cancer
and birth defects.”
Yes — in spite of huge amounts of damage and abuse, the Creation still operates, but obviously with problems. There’s a lot to be said about that, and about the possibility that things will eventually be fixed, and that the compensation for having to endure the problems now may be so extravagant as to make the problems pale into insignificance later.
I admit, though, that little of that is “science.”
But what if it’s correct?



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J. Bergsma

posted October 20, 2009 at 10:34 pm


Thanks, David. As a (non-Jewish) teacher of Hebrew and longtime admirer of all things Jewish, this aspect of Jewish culture has always puzzled me, but you have explained it brilliantly.



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Philip Koplin

posted October 20, 2009 at 11:49 pm


Dennis
How does free will relate to the existence of the cancer cells that ravage the body of a child, cancer cells that could not exist unless the Creator willed them into existence and sustained them?
You might hope that somehow such a child will be compensated for the suffering that it endured, but as you acknowledge, that is not science, but faith, and an odd sort of faith at that, since it’s based on the infliction of pain on a child as part of an arrangement that the child was too young to morally undertake through the exercise of the free will that you invoke to justify the existence of the cancer.



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Mark2

posted October 21, 2009 at 8:07 am


“Yes, I believe that biological science can explain every single item of apparent sentient design in nature, and I don’t see any scheme that invokes any creator god(s) that does a better job.”
I admire your faith, Philip. It’s much stronger than mine.
However, you’re right in your implication that explaining suffering is harder for me than for you. I’ll leave it like that, and would like to end this discussion with you.



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Dennis Murphy

posted October 22, 2009 at 11:16 pm


“If something goes wrong, the design wasn’t error-free.”
That’s a gratuitous assumption. Maybe you’re wrong.
“Something went wrong” possibly because one or many individuals, created with the power of free will to choose their own actions, decided to rebel against the original design.
It’s not an error that the possibility existed. Creatures could not freely associate with the Creator if they did not also have the freedom to rebel.
“you still have the problem that all of the universe
and everything in it was designed, created, and
sustained by the Creator, and that includes cancer
and birth defects.”
Yes — in spite of huge amounts of damage and abuse, the Creation still operates, but obviously with problems. There’s a lot to be said about that, and about the possibility that things will eventually be fixed, and that the compensation for having to endure the problems now may be so extravagant as to make the problems pale into insignificance later.
I admit, though, that little of that is “science.”
But what if it’s correct?



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Dennis Murphy

posted October 23, 2009 at 1:03 am


Well, I don’t understand what glitch just happened that caused my post from 20 October to be duplicated instead of my new message appearing. Trying to compose my intended message again…
Philip,
I apologize if I gave the impression that all questions are answered in my theistic viewpoint.
But you overstate my position. I’ll grant that the reator “sustains” or in some way allows to exist the problems in His creation, such as cancer cells, parasites, and etc. It was clear in my earlier message, though, that the Creator did not will those things into existence. They have been caused by other creatures working against the Creator’s purposes, including, to some extent, you and I.
We all suffer as a result of living within this damaged creation, and experiencing the accumulated consequences of all our decisions. The Creator allows it. I try to understand it by analogy to a loving parent who wants more than anything to shield her child from any pain, but who also knows that it’s important for the child to experience the consequences of wrong actions.
That’s just an analogy. It does not explain everything, and it does not imply that the child in your example did something to deserve cancer. (Have you ever done something that caused harmful and undeserved consequences to someone else? All the regret in the world does not stop the consequences.)
You could name much worse than a child with cancer. I don’t know why problems like that seem to continue for so long. Sometimes I think that the Creator could at least intervene to mitigate, to some extent, the worst of our suffering. But then it occurs to me that perhaps He does. I just don’t know. I do believe that cancer and other scourges are bad things, and that it is good to try to remedy them as best I can, until the Creator provides a permanent remedy and extravagant compensation.
I wonder about the situation from your perspective. If I understand you correctly, you believe that undirected physical and chemical processes (i.e., surely not “biological science” alone) are sufficient to account for everything in nature, including ourselves. Then I wonder why you presume to challenge me with hard questions about cancer in children, as if that perceived injustice somehow speaks against the existence of a Creator.
Why does someone like you even care what happens to a child far enough away that it doesn’t affect you in any significant way? There is no moral aspect to a few atoms interacting. Neither does a moral component result if it is billions of billions of atoms. It’s just what they do.
According to your philosophy, there can be no “right” or “wrong,” there is only what happens according to the physical laws of nature.
Your position claims there is no design in the world, that it’s all the result of natural processes. Well, that leaves you also with only the illusion of morality. The most you can say about a situation is that you like it or you don’t, for reasons that are ultimately just your own convenience.
To me, with a theistic viewpoint, the Creator’s mind is the ultimate source and arbiter of moral rightness. Bad things really are “bad” and need to be remedied. In fact it is of moral signficance how I react to those things. But for you, with your naturalistic viewpoint, there can be no source of morality greater than the physical/chemical reactions that produced your own existence, and anything you label “bad” is just your accidental opinion, the result of the accumulated interactions of atoms in your brain.
I think we both have difficulty with issues involving evil and suffering in the world. I think a theistic worldview has fewer difficulties, and is consistent with what appears to be evidence of fantastic design in the created things all around us, even allowing for some things that don’t seem so wonderful.
For the record, I do think you sincerely care about children with cancer, and a host of other problems we endure in this world. I just don’t think that’s consistent with your philosophy.
Thanks for your comments. They were challenging and I had to think a good bit to provide this response. I hope I’ve given you some things to consider in return.



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Philip Koplin

posted October 23, 2009 at 2:09 pm


Dennis
First, I appreciate the civil tone of your comments, which is something it should be possible take for granted, but alas isn’t always the case.
Humans created baseballs, pallette knives, and electric pencil sharpeners, to name a few of my favorite things, but not the mammalian eye or retinoblastoma. If a creator brought the universe into existence out of nothing, then anything that exists that cannot be ascribed to the secondary creation by his creatures must be the direct result of his will and design. No creature designed and created the cells of pediatric cancer. No creature could sustain their being. If there is a creator, he did, and he does.
As arguments like yours often do, you move quickly from the existence of disastrous natural processes for which no human is responsible to “the accumulated consequences of all our decisions,” even though the latter are unrelated to the former. I chose pediatric cancer as an example because it is not the consequence of anyone’s wrong actions–the child’s or anyone else’s. If the world was designed, cancer is part of the design.
I can’t say much about the notion that there is “extravangant compensation” for such suffering, other than that it’s a nice hope for which there is no evidence, which I guess is a definition of faith, although, as I said, it’s based on the infliction of pain on a child as part of an arrangement that the child was too young to morally undertake.
Whether I have consistent reasons to care about children with cancer is irrelevant to whether your beliefs about a creator are coherent.
Your claim that a belief in nothing but natural processes leaves only the illusion of morality can be directed equally at your belief that there is a creator and you can know his mind. After all, people believe in different creators and understand his mind differently. Your belief that you or your tradition has it figured out correctly rests on grounds that are as subjective as those you ascribe to me.



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Dennis Murphy

posted October 23, 2009 at 8:38 pm


> “Your claim that a belief in nothing but natural processes
> leaves only the illusion of morality can be directed equally
> at your belief that there is a creator and you can know his
> mind. After all, people believe in different creators and
> understand his mind differently.”
I don’t think so. My theistic beliefs are supported by ancient writings in which people testified about their experience with the Creator. They are also in harmony with design that I perceive in abundance in the world. Granted that other cultures have had different experiences, and their beliefs about the Creator are different in some ways, yet there is also a profound commonality of morals among us all. Questions remain, to be sure, but there is a foundation and coherence to theistic belief. I don’t think there is anything comparable in a belief system that assumes everything is due to the random interactions of unintelligent matter.
I think enough has been said now.
Thanks for the exchange, and have a good day.



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Philip Koplin

posted October 24, 2009 at 2:01 am


I assume that when you say “enough has been said,” you mean that you’re done, not that I shouldn’t reply.
Many different traditions refer to the testimony of ancient writings. You offer no objective reason for believing that your tradition is right, stating only that there is basically “a theistic” position, as though there didn’t exist not only Jews, Christians, and Muslims, but also many subcategories within these groups, as well as other people who might be considered nondenominational theists. They accept different texts and testimonies, interpret them differently, and draw different conclusions about what constitutes appropriate belief and behavior appropriate to the moral life and salvation. Yet you claim that your tradition is founded on the right interpretation of the true testimonies and that every theist pretty much agrees with you not only on what issues are important, but also on what to believe with regard to them. So if theists actually do disagree on things like divorce, priestly celibacy, abortion, the use of contraceptives, capital punishment, or torture, these issues aren’t really important, and even if some theists say they are and have views on them that differ from yours, you know that those theists are referring to the wrong texts or misinterpreting them.
Your perceptions and judgments are as subjective as those of every believer who accepts a tradition different than yours. In addition, your judgment that all theists agree on what’s important and on how to evaluate those issues is your subjective opinion, and so is your judgment that your ancient testimonies are in harmony with your perception of design, which itself is subjective. Finally, your perception that your beliefs have a foundation and a coherence and mine do not is just that—your perception.
That’s quite a jumble of subjectivity.



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Dennis Murphy

posted October 24, 2009 at 3:42 pm


> “I assume that when you say “enough has been said,” you
mean that you’re done, not that I shouldn’t reply.”
You’re right. I thought we’d both made our points, and that was enough.
Thanks again.



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Your Name

posted October 25, 2009 at 12:00 pm


I think that Jews — particularly non-orthodox Jews — do have a tendency to be liberal, but there are major exceptions, and Jews should not be stereotyped or pigeon-holed as liberals. For example, the Anti-Defamation League joined in an amicus brief in a lawsuit against California’s anti-gay-marriage Proposition 8, but the ultra-orthodox Jews of Israel are among the biggest homophobes on earth and have rioted against the holding of gay pride parades in Jerusalem. The ADL called the Kitzmiller decision a “victory for students” and had Judge John E. Jones III as a guest speaker at a national meeting, and Judge Jones has bragged of the support he got from Jews (even though he claims that judges should not be influenced by public opinion) — however, many of the ultra-orthodox Jews of Israel have not studied science since elementary school and it is doubtful that they would accept a scientific idea, evolution theory, that conflicts with the Old Testament.
Also, regarding Darwinist Cafeteria Christians (those who take the gospel literally but do not take the bible’s creation story literally) —
The creation story actually makes more sense than the gospel. The creation story is fairly straightforward whereas the gospel is full of illogic, inconsistencies, ambiguities, and unintelligibility. Also, the creation story is consistent with the idea of an all-powerful god whereas the god of the gospel is a weak, limited god who must struggle against Satan for control of the world.



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Larry Fafarman

posted October 25, 2009 at 12:04 pm


Oops — “Your Name” in the preceding comment was supposed to be “Larry Fafarman.” The name was lost when the spam-block character string was refreshed.



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Mark2

posted October 26, 2009 at 6:00 am


“but THE (emphasis added) ultra-orthodox Jews of Israel are among the biggest homophobes on earth and have rioted against the holding of gay pride parades in Jerusalem.”
What percentage rioted, Larry? You simply used the word “the.”



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