Kingdom of Priests

Kingdom of Priests


With Chanukah Approaching, My Knee Hurts

posted by David Klinghoffer
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Because of my sore knee, it follows that there this is no God.

You think I’m kidding but this line of reasoning is commonly heard from devotees of evangelizing atheism like Richard Dawkins. It’s the argument from seemingly poor, botched, or suboptimal design. Yet the Hebrew Bible alerts us early on that creation is afflicted with a “lack” or “deficiency” (chesron), as Jewish philosophy terms it. The Maharal, whom we talked about recently, discussed this theme in his book on Chanukah, Ner Mitzvah, which is why I mention it now. Chanukah arrives this coming Friday night.
The human knee appears to be ill-suited to its task, hence the prevalence of knee pain, similar to that of back pain, and so on. I’ve had trouble from this recurrent minor soreness, brought on by running. So here’s a website devoted to cataloguing instances of apparently faulty designs like my knee that, so goes the argument, a creator would not allow in his creatures.
That is a theological argument, not a scientific one, based on the premise that Dawkins & Co. know what a God would or wouldn’t do if that God existed which he does not. As Dawkins writes in The Greatest Show on Earth, regarding the extravagantly lengthy and circuitous recurrent laryngeal nerve of the giraffe, “Any intelligent designer would have hived off the laryngeal nerve on its way down, replacing a journey of many meters by one of a few centimeters.” Atheists think they’ve discovered a devastating “Ah hah! Gotcha!” sort of a response to religious believers who, it’s assumed, never realized that nature has a certain painful lack of perfection built into it.

Yet writing in the 16th century, the Maharal finds evidence that the deficiency was not only intended and foreseen by God but is a necessary feature of creation, alluded to in the opening verses of Genesis:

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth, and the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. 

One particular “deficiency” that was tinkered with and corrected is the initial solitude of Adam, the first man, depicted as lonely and single:

And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.

Read that again carefully. God’s creative activity produced something that was “not good.” That it was fixed later through the creation of Eve doesn’t take away from the startling admission by the Bible itself. Dawkins again: “This pattern of major design flaws, compensated for by subsequent tinkering, is exactly what we should not expect if there really were a designer at work.” The Hebrew Bible’s reply would be, “Oh really?”
In the context of Chanukah, with its theme of the wicked Greek kingdom’s oppression of the Jews in their land and the subsequent civil war pitting religiously loyal Jews against secularist Greek-loving Jews, the theme emerges a little differently.
In the Biblical scheme of history, four kingdoms arose and sequentially divested God’s presence in the world of some of its splendor. Each did so by depriving the Jews of sovereignty in their land, where Israel was intended to carry out her mission to the fullest extent possible. One kingdom was Greece. Another was Rome, in whose exilic shadow we still live. The Maharal finds all four alluded to in the second verse in Genesis. It was foreseen, no matter of chance, a part of the pattern that God knew full well would unfold.
Woven into creation from the start was a very painful thread of “deficiency,” playing out on the historical stage. Why not, too, in nature?
It could hardly be otherwise. If a trivial example like a sore knee is “bad design” and a point scored for atheism, then any trivial lack of perfection in created reality is enough to trigger the atheist response. Any evil in nature, any suffering. Over Shabbat, a dentist friend of our family was at our home for lunch and he told about how one of his patients was up hiking on a mountain trail near Seattle and got eaten by cougar.
Pulled off the trail and eaten. They found her bones two years later.
The world can be rough and it’s obviously not all a matter of people freely choosing evil. The verse in Isaiah (45:7) says it directly:

I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things.

My apologies if this upsets any delicate sensibilities, but consider the alternative. A world without evil. What would that be like? It would be the perfect hamster cage or turtle terrarium, where all our needs are provided, there are no predators, no contagious disease, no confusion, no loneliness, no sin, no particular purpose, no growth, just spinning aimlessly on our exercise wheel or swimming idly in our calm, algaed paddling pool.

For Dawkins & Co., it’s either the turtle terrarium or a Godless universe. What an absurd false dilemma. For the God he doesn’t believe in, however, it’s easy to see why the turtle alternative would hold little charm, hardly enough to justify creating a world in the first place. Creatures that could never grow or change spiritually because they were unchallenged and therefore totally uninteresting? What’s the point? Once we admit that some lack, or anyway so we perceive it, in creation was inevitable if there was to be a creation, what extent of deficiency was going to be enough? Maybe a little, maybe a lot. You will have to ask God when you meet him.
I’m taking it for granted that part of His purpose in creating us was to relate to us, once humanity has matured to a point where that’s really possible. Who would want to have a relationship with a hamster?


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Philip Koplin

posted December 9, 2009 at 10:04 am


The problem for those who want to have a relationship with the sort of being responsible for the creation and maintenance of birth defects and devastating childhood diseases is to come to terms with what they believe these say about such a creator and his purposes, particularly with regard to characteristics generally assigned to him such as love, compassion, and concern for individuals. It is not self-evident that a world without such defects would be sufficiently lacking in charm as to bore its creator.



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Ray Ingles

posted December 9, 2009 at 10:27 am


It would be the perfect hamster cage or turtle terrarium, where all our needs are provided, there are no predators, no contagious disease, no confusion, no loneliness, no sin, no particular purpose, no growth, just spinning aimlessly on our exercise wheel or swimming idly in our calm, algaed paddling pool.
A whole lotta people believe Heaven’s like that…



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Steven J.

posted December 9, 2009 at 12:23 pm


It always seemed to me a bit disingenuous to posit God as a scientific explanation, and then insist that any discussion of God’s methods or design philosophy were off-limits. Tactically, it makes some sense: it facilitates a “god-of-the-gaps” argument, in which anything that lacks a “Darwinian” explanation can be attributed to a miracle, while refusing to countenance brining up anything that lacks an explanation in terms of sane or competent design.
On the other hand, evolutionists’ emphasis on things that don’t make sense in terms of design is not mere “naturalism of the gaps.” There are historical explanations (in terms of the ancestral structures from which present structures were derived) for many “bad” or quirky designs. The difficulties of the human back are explicable in terms of adapting something that served, for millions of centuries, for quadrupedal animals that kept the spine horizontal when walking. The circuitous path of the recurrent laryngeal nerve was a lot straighter and shorter when our ancestors were fish. And so forth and on: the point is not just that “a Designer wouldn’t do this,” but “descent with modification by natural selection of random mutations explains this; separate origins and intelligent design gives us no clue why a designer would favor this design.”
Were you suggesting that evil was part of the original creation? I’m more used to arguing with Christian creationists who assert that God originally made the world without suffering, predation, or evil, and that, as Ray Inglis notes, this condition is expected to prevail in Heaven also, and that in both cases the world had everything that God thought beings made in His image required. Indeed, one might suppose that an omnipotent God could arrange a world that had challenges, purpose, even growth, without suffering, conflict, and evil (though omnipotence is a difficult concept to make arguments about).



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Eva Galai

posted December 9, 2009 at 7:08 pm


Dear David Klinghoffer,
I would suggest you read the below 30-page study:
http://www.epjournal.net/Press_releases/index.html%3Fmodule=Articles;action=Article.publicShow;ID=256;.html
at the end you will find the link to the PDF file.
It is simply so strange that grown up and well educated , well-off people in a 1st world nation as USA are so preoccupied with studying the different garments and ornaments of the emperor, when almost everyone is by now convinced that said emperor is naked… :9
I found a partial explanation of this in the above study I recommend you to look into.
Aphrrodite be with you ,
Eva from Budapest



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Phil

posted December 9, 2009 at 7:21 pm


Ok, so the idea of a perfect god who can create perfect creations is so absurd that not even the bible can try to pass that off as true. And the author thinks that’s somehow an arguement *against* atheim? LOL. You guys kill me.



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jeff

posted December 9, 2009 at 7:40 pm


you’re using the adam & eve story to prove your point that the old-testament god is an open-minded, self-critical sort of deity?
seriously? a literal reading of the old testament????
presumably adam had testicles when originally formed by god, or were they added after god formed woman? or perhaps adam wasn’t supposed to procreate in the first place? but then, what’s the point of creation? so many questions erupt from such a postulation – it makes god seem like a maladroit deadbeat.



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ollie

posted December 9, 2009 at 8:34 pm


Dawkins was arguing against “intelligent design” and for “evolution by modification” and shows that, given the evidence, the latter is vastly more probable.
Sure, one could always posit that your deity was a bumbler; the bottom line is that belief in a deity is non-falsifiable and therefore unscientific.



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Norm

posted December 9, 2009 at 10:07 pm


“A world without evil. What would that be like? It would be the perfect hamster cage or turtle terrarium, where all our needs are provided, there are no predators, no contagious disease, no confusion, no loneliness, no sin, no particular purpose, no growth, just spinning aimlessly on our exercise wheel or swimming idly in our calm, algaed paddling pool.”
Congratulations, you’ve just described Heaven.



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Roy Sablosky

posted December 9, 2009 at 10:40 pm


“A world without evil. What would that be like?”
How on Earth can you know what a world without evil would be like? And why on Earth would you imagine it to be in some way *worse* that the world we have now? Evil MEANS the bad things in life. If we had life without them, life would be BETTER. This is true by DEFINITION. So your argument for the wonderfulness of religion depends on insisting that the ordinary words we use in English don’t have the meanings that they obviously do have. Sorry, game over.



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David Klinghoffer

posted December 9, 2009 at 10:51 pm


Norm, if I’ve “just described Heaven,” that would explain why Heaven comes after life not as a substitute for it.



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Philip Koplin

posted December 9, 2009 at 11:59 pm


But it doesn’t explain why, if Heaven is like a hamster cage, God would want to have a relationship with its inhabitants any more than he would with the inhabitants of an Earthly hamster cage.



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Josh Cohen

posted December 10, 2009 at 1:47 am


All that from one sentence?! If god intentionally designed in flaws, that makes him (her? it?) evil.
Besides, the whole point Dawkins was making is that this sort of deficiency is _predicted_ by evolution – if there were no deficiencies that can be traced to evolving body plans, we’d have to reject (or at least revise) evolution theory. Religion, on the other hand, seems to be happy with either perfection or flaws as a sign for god.
Also, you mention Chanukah and the Greeks. What makes you so sure that _your_ god is the right god? We can make the same case for Zeus or Odin.



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David Klinghoffer

posted December 10, 2009 at 2:00 am


Oh, Josh *Cohen*, you’re going to make me cry. Do you even know what your last name means?



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Nigel Cotton

posted December 10, 2009 at 2:35 am


Why did god put pseudogenes in genomes? And vestigial hind legs in whales?
This article further shows how Intelligent Design is non-scientific. Religious believers continuously move their goal post, saying “Aha, you can’t get me!”
When biological features are complicated, they say “That’s the proof of god!”
When biological features are stupid, they say “God works in mysterious way!”
This is NOT science. Creationists are extremely irresponsible in behaving this way.
There is absolutely no reason to believe in god.



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Peter

posted December 10, 2009 at 2:50 am


So, we are told that the universe couldn’t have just happened and it had to be created because there are so many variables, any one of which would have resulted in a universe incapable of supporting life and as such it is so finely tuned it proves that there has to be a creator. In other words, the perfection and improbability proves creation.
Yet this same creator cannot route the recurrent laryngeal nerve without taking in on a totally unnecessary tour of the chest. But hey, it’s not meant to be perfect you say? Well, the nerve routing has no particular disadvantage nor advantage with that routing. It’s just _wrong_. And, in terms of conscious design, it is inept.
You can’t have it both ways.



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Jon Jermey

posted December 10, 2009 at 4:05 am


“If a trivial example like a sore knee is “bad design” and a point scored for atheism, then any trivial lack of perfection in created reality is enough to trigger the atheist response. Any evil in nature, any suffering.”
Yes, exactly. You’re the people who keep telling us that your God is perfectly good. You’re the people who keep telling us that your God is all-powerful. Yet when we point out that every single niggling bit of suffering and discomfort in this world is evidence against those both being true, you ignore the point and go off on a digression into la-la-land. Just stand still for a moment and answer the question: if God is good, why does your knee hurt? And if you don’t know, then say so; don’t keep dancing around the issue, because you’re not fooling anyone. And you’re liable to damage your knee even more.



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Yair

posted December 10, 2009 at 4:22 am


Would you recommend, then, as a parenting technique, to unleash wild beasts on your children? Should a father do this, to “challenge” his children to “grow spiritually”, and one of his children will die in the ordeal – would you laud him for being a good and wise parent, looking after the spiritual well being of his children?
I hope not. Why is it then that you think our “heavenly father” has no better means at his disposal to encourage our spiritual growth? Do you think so little of him?
You are blinded by your theological presupposition that god is good. Calling evil good in an attempt to cling on to this presupposition is a moral abomination. There is no room for a benevolent powerful deity, the evidence does not bear it



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Sossijj

posted December 10, 2009 at 12:14 pm


Comparing the Bible’s account of the miraculous and magical creation of woman to the evolution of the laryngeal nerve in giraffes is an epic fail in your attempt at a rebuttal of what you call Richard Dawkins’ “a-ha, gotcha” response to the religious. The passages from the Bible you’ve quoted do not to show how God corrects the poorly designed feature found in some animals. The equivalent in nature would be for an organism to develop a feature suddenly, with no intermediary steps leading up to it. As far as I’m aware, this irreducible complexity is only found in the Discovery Institute’s pseudoscience books.
I am sorry to hear about your sore knee though. The good news is that God has already intervened to correct his bad design which causes the knee pain you suffer from when running. Why do you think he let man invent the automobile? You don’t have to run anywhere these days.



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Mark2

posted December 10, 2009 at 1:16 pm


Peter, try rewording your statement:
“So, we are told that the universe couldn’t have just happened and it had to be created because there are so many variables, any one of which would have resulted in a universe incapable of supporting life and as such it is so finely tuned it proves that there has to be a creator. In other words, the perfection and improbability proves creation.”
to this:
“So, we are told that the universe is so unlikely to have just happened and it most likely had to be created because there are so many variables, any one of which would have resulted in a universe incapable of supporting life and as such it is so finely tuned it demonstrates with high probability that there has to be a creator. In other words, the perfection and improbability implies creation.”
Sounds less forceful, and way harder for you to refute.



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Philip Koplin

posted December 10, 2009 at 2:04 pm


Mark2
If it had turned out that the universe could not support life, so what? More than once in my life, I’ve accidentally dropped a nickel or quarter and found that it landed standing up on its edge. The great improbability of such an event implies as much about the likelihood that some intelligent agent caused it to happen as does the existence of a universe with life in it. And what does the existence of life have to do with perfection?



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bilbo

posted December 10, 2009 at 2:11 pm


“For Dawkins & Co., it’s either the turtle terrarium or a Godless universe. What an absurd false dilemma.”
I noticed Jerry Coyne (part of the “& Co.” above) has added a bit to the false dilemma: it’s either the turtle terrarium or a Godless universe. And if you’re not choosing one or the other, you’re obviously lying.
Absurd, indeed. But I’ll admit, an unrealistically simplified debate is a much easier one to argue for them. When you’re arguing a false dilemma, you can just dismiss the arguments that lie in between with an ignorant wave of your hand. Ah, logical fallacies!



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Mr. Davies

posted December 10, 2009 at 3:42 pm


Actually, I thought the whole original plan WAS a perfect turtle terrerium, with no predators, disease, or sin; you know- the garden of Eden. Apparently the creator of the universe DID want this uninteresting situation. It took the walking, talking snake to introduce sin, death, all the interesting things, that resulted from the fall, the curse laid upon mankind. Maybe you should thank Satan for fixing Gods botched plan for an uninteresting turtle pond. If It wern’t for him, Adam and Eve would still be living forever, in their trutle pond, and none of us would be here.



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Notagod

posted December 10, 2009 at 10:35 pm


Well, certainly if your god-idea isn’t capable of creating something that it can relate to but, instead needs to rely on evolution to perform the task, then certainly your god-idea would find a benefit in making babies cry…and suffer..and die.
Your god-idea is simply unbelievable or disgusting or both and, definitely a very dangerous burden to a humble and peaceful society.



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Jonathan van Belle

posted December 11, 2009 at 3:57 am


I found this quote in the article pivotal:
“The world can be rough and it’s obviously not all a matter of people freely choosing evil. The verse in Isaiah (45:7) says it directly: I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things.”
The Lord “make[s] peace, and create[s] evil.” Generally speaking, believers focus on the first clause, and non-believers on the second clause. The implications of the second clause are not trivial. One might ask: Specifically, what evil incidents are attributable to the Lord? Or: Is there a limit to the kind or degree of evil that the Lord can “create” or is the Lord free to “create” any kind and any degree of evil? If there is a moral limit to the Lord’s creation of evil, where does it come from? If there is no moral limit to the Lord’s creation of evil, is it appropriate to identify the Lord as “benevolent”? The questions continue; these are only skeletal versions. For a classical discussion of this problem, I recommend Plato’s dialogue “Euthyphro” (380 B.C.E.). It is a short, but formative work. Here is the link: http://classics.mit.edu/Plato/euthyfro.html
I also found this quote from the article important:
“A world without evil. What would that be like? It would be the perfect hamster cage or turtle terrarium, where all our needs are provided, there are no predators, no contagious disease, no confusion, no loneliness, no sin, no particular purpose, no growth, just spinning aimlessly on our exercise wheel or swimming idly in our calm, algaed paddling pool.”
One might venture: What is heaven? No evil, no predators, no disease, no confusion, no loneliness, no sin, etc. Is the author attempting to devalue the heavenly state? If suffering is necessary for good, for growth, then would heaven require suffering? Is there suffering in heaven? If there is no suffering in heaven, then is there no growth and no goodness in heaven? Or, instead, do we have in heaven the example of goodness and happiness without suffering?
Finally, the last paragraph in the article seems interesting:
“I’m taking it for granted that part of His purpose in creating us was to relate to us, once humanity has matured to a point where that’s really possible. Who would want to have a relationship with a hamster?”
Is it possible for the Lord to create non-suffering human beings AND develop a “mature” relationship with human beings? If it is not possible, then what does that entail about the claim of “omnipotence”? One might ask: Where did the Lord’s maturity come from? Was suffering required to mature the Lord? I think the response might be: no. So, as a kind of corollary to the heaven case, one might suggest that there exists a kind of maturity (and the supreme maturity, for that matter) that does not require suffering. Additionally, if suffering does not continue eternally in heaven, but rather halts upon the death of the saved, then do those who “reside” in heaven stop maturing? The corollary: do those in hell mature eternally?
Anyhow, thanks for the article. I love the subject. Perhaps someday I will be persuaded



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Steve Lorimer

posted December 11, 2009 at 11:38 am


If God made man in his own image, does God have sore knees as well?



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