Kingdom of Priests

Kingdom of Priests


The Enchantment of Torah

posted by David Klinghoffer
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Let’s talk about a word I’ve been thinking about a lot lately: enchantment. As often happens to me, and probably to you too, a number of things going on in my life have converged to get me contemplating a particular idea that I hadn’t thought much about before. One is a game called Dungeons & Dragons, but more about that in a moment.
Another is reading Richard Dawkins’s bestselling The Greatest Show on Earth. The famous evangelizing atheist seeks to make the case for Darwinian evolution, defending it against the critiques of naïve creationists and other amateurs whom Dawkins cites and argues with contemptuously — for example, a lawyer who runs a conservative website, a lady who’s an anti-abortion activist, and a guy with an Internet ministry. He meanwhile ignores intelligent design theorists with their far more challenging objections and weighty science backgrounds. Cowardly and bullying, the book is an embarrassment.
But what struck me more is Dawkins’s oddly persistent cheerleading. He’s got a twitchy way with certain adjectives. He is constantly assuring us that his demonstrations of evolution’s wonders are “beautiful,” that discoveries are “exciting,” results are “startling,” Darwinian scientists are “excellent,” plants and animals provide “lovely” or “amazing” illustrations of his thesis, experiments supposedly proving Dawkins right are “almost too wonderful to bear,” and so on. After a while, you wonder what he is trying to compensate for. The unusually lush and expensive full-color plate illustrations that adorn the book raise the same question. 
It’s not as if he writes dull prose that needs sprucing up. In fact, very few science writers can match his lucidity. But you shouldn’t have to bludgeon the reader with promises that what he is reading is “exciting.” The excitement should come across from the material directly.
What Dawkins is compensating for, I think, is the dullness, the flatness, the aridity of the evolutionary picture of how the world works. It squashes everything in life flat as a lead pancake, explaining the wonder and mystery of it all in the infinitely monotonous terms of natural selection operating on random variation. This is so different from a writer like David Berlinski, who emphasizes that the more science discovers, the more we discover we don’t understand about the deepest, most interesting questions we can ask.
This brings me to enchantment. My family and I live in a Seattle suburb. We are Orthodox Jews and so on the Sabbath, instead of driving, we walk. To get to our synagogue, we take a shortcut through a densely wooded park. In the park, there’s a tree that when I walk past it with my children, I always feel a twinge of regret.
More than forty years ago — a year after I was born — someone carved a message on that tree where a thick branch had been cut off. You can still read the message, if faintly. It says, “The Enchanted Forest,” and then the date, 8/27/66. August 27, 1966. I think of it with regret because our increasingly secularized world is one where the sense of enchantment is diminishing very rapidly.
By enchantment I mean our intuitive sense that something else, something more, lies behind and somehow all around the façade of ordinary material reality. Darwinism is not just a scientific theory, with its Tree of Life and its proposed mechanism that explains how one form of life transforms unguided into another. It is that, but more importantly it is a picture of reality. It is a whole worldview that seeks to explain all the beauty and wonder of life by reference exclusively to blind, churning, purposeless, mindless, meaningless natural forces. It excludes all enchantment.
The phrase goes back to Max Weber who taught about it dispassionately: “The fate of our times is characterized by rationalization and intellectualization and, above all, by the ‘disenchantment of the world.’ Precisely the ultimate and most sublime values have retreated from public life either into the transcendental realm of mystic life or into the brotherliness of direct and personal human relations.” That was in a lecture he gave, “Science as a Vocation,” in 1918. Since then, the sense that life is pervaded by secrets has retreated even further, with heartbreaking results.
As he recalls in his memoir, Carl Jung once treated a distraught young Jewish woman. Her family had lost faith in Judaism, starting with her father though her grandfather was a rabbi and a mystic whom Jung refers to as a “tzadik,” a wonderworking saint gifted with some sort of prophetic “second sight.” As Jung tells it, the girl was pretty, chic and flirtatious besides being neurotic, “a well-adapted, Westernized Jewess, enlightened down to her bones.” Her unhappiness brought her to seek help and Jung recalls that he saw the problem and cured her swiftly.

Typically, Jung followed hunches derived from dreams he had. Sensing “the presence of the numen,” he learned from her that her father as an “apostate to the Jewish faith,” so Jung himself put it, had “betrayed the secret” by “turn[ing] his back on God.” The girl’s problem? “She knew only the intellect and lived a meaningless life. In reality she was a child of God whose destiny was to fulfill His secret will. I had to awaken mythological and religious ideas in her, for she belonged to the class of human beings of whom spiritual activity is demanded.”
Don’t be put off by the word “mythological.” It only means enchantment. If Jung’s story sounds like a too easy cure — he says it took one week — that may be because as with physical diseases, the spiritual disease of disenchantment builds in its effect. Its power is cumulative as, leech-like, it sucks the mystery out of life. Liberal religious strains seek to accommodate rather than fight it, fearing it will get worse if opposed, but that only gives the leech encouragement. This is one problem with accommodationist strategies like “theistic evolution.” In the context of alcohol or drug addiction, they would be called forms of co-dependency.
Simply revealing to a pretty young Jewish girl that she needed to repair her connection with God was enough for Jung’s patient. For us today, under the gathering influence of the leech, that’s often not enough. The solution is not so easily discerned.
Something I’ve realized recently is that seeking enchantment was a big part of the reason I myself sought out Orthodox Judaism. Oddly what prompted the thought was rediscovering a childhood pastime: the fantasy role-playing Dungeons & Dragons. You may have heard of it. I played it when I was 12 and 13 years old, not much beyond that. But when I was in Southern California last month helping my dad with a forthcoming move from the house where I grew up, I found the old fishing tackle box where I kept my D&D playing pieces — tiny lead figures of dwarfs, goblins, hobbits, and other creatures.
The game is one of group storytelling, played with various shapes of polyhedral dice, my set of which I also found in the old house. You roll dice to generate a character, who then represents you in the game while a referee, or “dungeon master,” creates the fantastic world in which you operate and fight monsters, also accomplished by dice rolls, that he represents and speaks for. I thought immediately that this would fascinate my 8-year-old son, and I was right. My old D&D rule books, three tall volumes personally autographed by the creator of the game himself, Gary Gygax, in 1979, had somehow got lost. So when I returned to Seattle, I bought a set of used copies of the same vintage. There have been subsequent editions of D&D, rather different, but at more than $30 a book, they seemed too expensive to justify purchasing.
My son is now obsessed with D&D and wants to play it every night when I get home. Richard Dawkins might call this an “exciting” development, or perhaps “almost too wonderful to bear.” It’s a lot of fun. However it has also reminded me of Judaism in some ways that surprised me.
As with Judaism, D&D involves much mastering of seemingly abstruse rules, without which there can be no fun and no game. Mastering the rules is part of the whole jazz of it. Some of the rules are even the same, as I noted when a passage from the D&D Players Handbook unexpectedly reminded me of one of the 13 laws of Scriptural exegesis of Rabbi Yishmael, included in the Jewish morning prayer liturgy. It’s rule 11, having to do with generalizations and specifications, in case you want to look it up.
As with Judaism, which begins with the Torah, explained by the Mishnah, in turn explained by the Talmud, the Zohar, and so on and on, D&D also began with fairly simple rules that in practice proved limiting and so generated an endless succession of more books that expand upon the early ones. This has been going on for upwards of thirty years. Counterintuitively, the multiplication of commentaries and elucidations is not confining but liberating. If it weren’t, the folks who write D&D books would have no work to do.
But most tellingly, it’s the feeling of enchantment that drew me to D&D and yes, to Judaism as well. Representatives of various religions often seem to squash their message into a pancake as flat as Darwinism. Some Jews will tell you it’s all about “doing mitzvot,” performing God’s commandments. Some Christians will say it’s all about “being saved,” as if God’s putting us into this world for either of these reasons would be remotely plausible. I can’t speak for Christianity, but Judaism surely is about infinitely more than can be squeezed into any brief clichéd phrase. The enigma of what Judaism is about constitutes one of the main fascinations of Torah.
Opening works of Jewish prayer or scholarship is very much like entering an alternative and enchanted world. I realize now what it is that I saw in Judaism, when I first encountered it in its authentic historical form, that rang a bell with me from my days of Dungeons & Dragons. I’m sure this is why many people who embrace traditional faiths in adulthood do so. It explains the persistent interest among Catholics in the Latin Mass, however hard Catholic liberals have tried to suppress the rite.
The alternative world of D&D emerged from the imaginations of the game’s creators, especially the aforementioned Gygax, inspired by earlier and classic pulp writers like H.P. Lovecraft (of Cthulhu mythos fame) and Robert E. Howard (creator of Conan the Barbarian). You would not confuse that world with the Middle Ages of Rashi and Nachmanides, the world of the Talmud, of 4th and 5th century rabbinic Palestine or Babylonia, or the Bronze and Iron Ages of the Bible. But for me at least, much of the charm of Judaism, the enchantment of Torah, comes from the invitation to the magical, alien world that it offers.
This is not about dusty antiquarianism but truly a different reality. The Talmud is framed as a legal text yet it deals in situations that appear surreal, always pointing to a secret, as Jung said, not immediately evident at the surface level. So too with the classical medieval commentaries on the Torah and Talmud, whether it’s Rashi with his casual references to mythological beasts or Nachmanides with his evident comfort in citing a text on black magic in an otherwise “rational” discussion on Deuteronomy. The most gifted rabbis I have personally encountered, like Daniel Lapin, would open a door, if only by a crack, on that hidden, unfamiliar world with its layers of meaning.
Am I guilty of seeing religion as escapism? I don’t think so. I know about the ways people have of finding escape from blank, mundane realities. Cocktails will do it, up to a point. I’m aware that lots of modern adults who find religion seek escape. My wife graduated from a right-wing Catholic college and keeps up with some of her classmates. They write blogs about arcane religious and philosophical topics, heavy with references to St. Augustine and Thomas Aquinas. They decorate their blogs with medieval-style graphic designs. Some of these people are clearly living in a fantasy role-playing universe where they get to pretend it’s still the Middle Ages. I’ve known Jews like this too, who enjoy too much the dress up and costume aspect of ultra-Ort
hodox Judaism.
For me, the fantastic dimension of Judaism points to another side of reality that our dry, desiccated secular age hates and denies. It reminds me that this pancake-flat world that Richard Dawkins prefers to imagine is not all there is. At least it’s not all there may be. That gives me hope, and that is why I love it.


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Ayelet

posted December 3, 2009 at 9:43 am


Explains the allure of Harry Potter.



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Ray Ingles

posted December 3, 2009 at 2:28 pm


Take a rainbow. I don’t see it as ‘flat’ that a rainbow doesn’t have a pot of gold at the end of it, or represents a holy covenant. I mean, we’re talking about an inconceivable number of tiny raindrops of just the right size, illuminated at just the right angle, so they can reflect and refract light in just the right way to reveal the amazing spectrum of colors hiding in ordinary sunbeams. Tossing a leprechaun on top of that seems… gaudy, kitschy. Certainly superfluous.
Is the Mandelbrot Set any less beautiful – literally endless, infinitely complex – because it arises from a simple, indeed trivial, mathematical definition? Even if you understand something thoroughly, it can still be marvelous, wonderful, inspiring – in a word, enchanting.
Then again, maybe I belong “to the class of human beings of whom spiritual activity is” superfluous? Or, just maybe, I express my ‘spiritual’ side in an entirely different way?



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Mark2

posted December 3, 2009 at 3:10 pm


I didn’t even notice that Klinghoffer said “Talmud” instead of “Gemara.” I guess the fact that so many, ahem, Torah-true Jews colloquially use the terms interchangeably that I didn’t feel, upon review, that the “misstatement” was that much of a big deal.
“beautiful,” “exciting,” “startling,” “excellent,” “lovely” “amazing”
I wonder if he would use the same adjectives if he were to go into Natural Museum of Rorschach Art, and then the Louvre. (Assume the inkblot paintings in the former museum /were/ amazing.)
By the way, Michael Shermer coined an expression that would likely describe Dawkin’s enchantment with nature: Sciencuality.



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Reg2000

posted December 3, 2009 at 3:38 pm


“the dullness, the flatness, the aridity of the evolutionary picture of how the world works. It squashes everything in life flat as a lead pancake”
I feel the same way about gravity. So one-directional. Why don’t we say gravity is at least partly influenced by fairies? There, that’s more interesting already.



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David Klinghoffer

posted December 3, 2009 at 3:46 pm


Incidentally, the comment by “lazerB” below is not from an occasional commenter who goes by that name but from an obsessive commenter with numerous pseudonyms. I know this from the IP address. Normally I simply unpublish his comments whatever he says because of the sheer dishonesty of using many false names, especially here where the name belongs to a real person who visits this blog! Just in case anyone is curious, however, his “scholarly” objection is as bogus as his name. The Mishnah records in brief form the oral tradition that explains and expounds on Torah law. That is why it is called Oral Torah in contradistinction to the Written Torah. The Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmuds then explain and expound upon the Mishnah, whose text they incorporate. The strictly non-Mishnah part of the Talmud is called Gemara. If, on a general interest blog, you were to refer to the Gemara, most readers wouldn’t know what you’re talking about so I see no benefit in being pedantic.



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David Klinghoffer

posted December 3, 2009 at 4:00 pm


One additional note about the phony “lazerB” comment. Because I can see the commenter’s IP address, I know it’s not the same “lazerB” who often comments here. But I also know this pseudonymous commenter’s real name. He doesn’t seem to realize that IP addresses are easily traceable in many cases. Here’s a website that’s helpful:
http://en.utrace.de/
In this obnoxious sock puppet’s case, his IP address goes straight to a particular place of employment. The same guy often accesses the Internet from his local public library system, and another IP address he uses goes there. Anyway, his place of employment has a website that includes a list of personnel. It’s not a long list, with only two Jewish-sounding names. A bit of Google-assisted cross-referencing leaves me without a doubt who he is. All this took about 60 seconds. I mention this only in passing, to emphasize that like sock puppetry in general, swiping other people’s names is unacceptable, doesn’t fool me, and I won’t let it fool other readers.



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Yirmi

posted December 3, 2009 at 4:28 pm


Nice post. One way I think about this topic is this. Liberal, atheist Jews often want nothing to do with Judaism and think it’s just one big oppressive, sexist fairy tale. But if you sat them down with a traditional Native American elder, who started talking completely unapologetically about his (to a Western atheist mind) fantastical beliefs, involving various spirit beings and creation stories and animistic and shamanistic experiences, then the Jewish atheist would often be very respectful, appreciative, and entranced. When one doesn’t try to rationalize one’s religious beliefs, but just states them confidently, and describes one’s spiritual experiences and so on, this is very powerful to the listener. This is because of the enchantment dimension you describe.
Aside from the dimension of enchantment you describe — having to do with Torah learning and such — there is also the enchantment that can come from a deep faith that G-d created, sustains, and directs the universe through divine providence. As Rabbi Gutman Locks, a unique writer and Kotel-based outreach rabbi with Chabad links who writes on Mystical Paths and has published several excellent semi-autographical books, likes to emphasize, G-d is really everywhere and in everything, and we should appreciate this in daily life. Not only that, but everything we see or hear, everyone we talk to, everything that happens to us — all of it happens precisely because a loving G-d wanted it to happen just that way, and it is up to us to recognize that and interpret the little hints and signs he sends us. (See Rabbi Shalom Arush’s writings). And many times throughout the day we should remind ourselves of G-d’s presence, feel love and yearning for Him, and pray to him for whatever we need at that moment or in life in general, physically or spiritually, because G-d wants nothing more than for us to connect to him and draw closer to him through prayer. This kind of consciousness — that G-d is everywhere and in everything, and is always doing kindnesses to us and communicating to us, and we are always talking to him and connecting ourselves to him through prayer and mitzvot — this is also a wonderfully all-encompassing way to enchant our world.



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LazerA

posted December 3, 2009 at 5:58 pm


Was “LazerB” imitating me? (Should I be sincerely flattered?) Or is there another commenter with that name? (I don’t recall seeing him.)
Whatever. Mr. Sock Puppet and I have some rather unpleasant interactions in the past. In some cases, imitation is just insulting.
Nice post, btw, Dave.



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David Klinghoffer

posted December 3, 2009 at 7:23 pm


LazerA not B! My mistake! Welcome back, and thanks.



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George Rand

posted December 3, 2009 at 11:22 pm


“What Dawkins is compensating for, I think, is the dullness, the flatness, the aridity of the evolutionary picture of how the world works. It squashes everything in life flat as a lead pancake, explaining the wonder and mystery of it all in the infinitely monotonous terms of natural selection operating on random variation.”
– David Klinghoffer, believer in an anthropomorphic and vengeful “spirit in the sky”, who needs to be endlessly appeased with ritual and worship. That is Klinghoffer’s “enchantment”.
Here is another view:
“knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate, of the manifestations of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty -it is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute the truly religious attitude; in this sense, and in this alone, I am a deeply religious man…
I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it…
I believe in Spinoza’s God who reveals himself in the orderly harmony of what exists, not in a God who concerns himself with the fates and actions of human beings.”
— Albert Einstein



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George Rand

posted December 3, 2009 at 11:24 pm


knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate, of the manifestations of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty – it is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute the truly religious attitude; in this sense, and in this alone, I am a deeply religious man. (Albert Einstein)
I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it. (Albert Einstein, 1954)
I believe in Spinoza’s God who reveals himself in the orderly harmony of what exists, not in a God who concerns himself with the fates and actions of human beings. (Albert Einstein)



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Yirmi

posted December 4, 2009 at 12:30 am


Interest in Medieval philosophers and art, and traditional Jewish dress and such does not necessarily qualify as escapism. Everyone has their own interests and preferences. Being fascinated by a particular historical period, or its thinkers, or joining a community with a particular set of minhagim (such as those related to dress), are legitimate ways to express oneself religiously, and do not necessitate ignoring and cocooning one’s self off from reality — even if this does occur. For example, R’ Slifkin focuses on medieval rationalist rabbis, and has written several books on the unusual topic of Talmudic animal lore, but I would call that escapism.



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Yirmi

posted December 4, 2009 at 12:30 am


Interest in Medieval philosophers and art, and traditional Jewish dress and such does not necessarily qualify as escapism. Everyone has their own interests and preferences. Being fascinated by a particular historical period, or its thinkers, or joining a community with a particular set of minhagim (such as those related to dress), are legitimate ways to express oneself religiously, and do not necessitate ignoring and cocooning one’s self off from reality — even if this does occur. For example, R’ Slifkin focuses on medieval rationalist rabbis, and has written several books on the unusual topic of Talmudic animal lore, but I wouldn’t call that escapism.



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Mark2

posted December 4, 2009 at 1:02 am


George Rand writes: “– David Klinghoffer, believer in an anthropomorphic and vengeful “spirit in the sky”, who needs to be endlessly appeased with ritual and worship. That is Klinghoffer’s “enchantment”.”
I see you majored in Caricature. Bachelors or Masters?



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Afred Tubble

posted December 4, 2009 at 4:20 am


“He meanwhile ignores intelligent design theorists with their far more challenging objections and weighty science backgrounds.”
I don’t agree that Dawkins ignore them. He considers them it the same as creationism. Someone said that ID is creationism dressed up in a suit or something like that.
ID isn’t science because it doesn’t make any predictions. Apart from the long ago refuted idea of ‘irreducible complexity’ there is nothing new about ID. The other argument is the argument from Design that Darwin disproved 150 years ago.



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Turmarion

posted December 4, 2009 at 11:57 am


I’ve pointed this out before, but C. S. Lewis’s book The Discarded Image is a truly excellent book about the Medieval worldview. The important thing to note is that the worldview it presents (exemplified best by Dante’s Divine Comedy) is truly cosmic, beautiful, and yes, enchanting. The Earth is at the center of the cosmos, orbited, by God’s providence, by the sun, moon, stars, and planets, each corresponding to its own choir of angels, all ordered for the good of man. In many ways, it is a more compelling view than the modern.
The problem is, the geocentric model is incorrect and the heliocentric model is true. Some historians and scholars of ideas consider the psychological shock and upheaval caused by the replacement of the geocentric cosmos by the heliocentric to be as severe as (if not more than) that caused by Darwin’s theories. Moreover, many have argued that the discarding of the Medieval image was the first step in the loss of faith and concommitant secularization of the intelligentsia and later, of society at large. The heliocentric worldview was in some sense bad for faith.
The problem is, once more, whether it is as compelling and “enchanting” as the “discarded image”, the heliocentric model is in fact the correct one. The task for those of faith was not to reject it on the grounds that the Medieval Synthesis was more enchanting, more human (and I’d be prepared to argue that it in fact was), but to find a way to integrate the new model into the Jewish or Christian worldview and to find a new way to see the glory of God in a world where Earth goes around the sun, angels are not needed to move the planets, and there is no “music of the spheres”. This in fact finally was done, and except for a few fringe nutjobs, no Jewish or Christian believer today doubts the heliocentric model.
Actually, I must be fair and urge everyone to read in full the article linked to. Sungenis is a supporter of the geocentric model–in short, he believes the Earth is the center of the cosmos and the other celestial bodies circle it. What’s fascinating in the article in question is that Sungenis uses the exact same mode of argement that IDers and David use–he tries to counter those whose ideas he opposes not by looking at actual issues but by smears, innuendo, and character assassination aimed at the personal lives of his ideological opponents. Note, for example, his implication that Kepler murdered Tycho Brahe since the data Tycho was getting didn’t fit Kepler’s theories! This is exactly like David’s tired old Darwin-as-racist-and-enabler-of-Hitler trope. Of course, the reason for such methods is simple–if you can’t defeat your opponent on factual grounds, then call him nasty names.
This is unfortunate, because on the whole this was a really good and thoughtful post. Religion, to a degree greater than many wish to admit, is about enchantment and the non-rational (as opposed to irration). The visible cosmos isn’t all there is, and science doesn’t have the last say on things. However, none of this gives us leave to reject the areas in which science does have a powerful, well-documented say (such as heliocentrism or evolution), or to ignore truths we might not like. David has a true gift for writing about the personal experience of religion and why it is important and gives meaning to life. It is sad that he uses this gift to deny reality and to fight against the science which should be an ally, not an enemy, of faith.
I would actually find David’s take on this re geocentrism and heliocentrism interesting, but I gave up hope of any kind of meaningful discussion long ago, which is why I post much less frequently, too.



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Mark2

posted December 4, 2009 at 1:34 pm


“What’s fascinating in the article in question is that Sungenis uses the exact same mode of argement that IDers and David use–he tries to counter those whose ideas he opposes not by looking at actual issues but by smears, innuendo, and character assassination aimed at the personal lives of his ideological opponents. ”
I’m sure glad Eugenie Scott and her friends (shall I use the word “ilk”?) never resort to that.
“The problem is, once more, whether it is as compelling and “enchanting” as the “discarded image”, the heliocentric model is in fact the correct one.”
I can’t tell whether or not you know about the ancient belief in heliocentrism, which was much greater than many historians like to believe it was. Or perhaps this is irrelevant to your point.



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Mark2

posted December 4, 2009 at 1:41 pm


“there is no “music of the spheres”. ”
This is not a challenge, but simply an article of interest for you, Turmarion:
http://74.125.47.132/search?q=cache:qPLv1C5u8FcJ:www.whitwellessays.com/docs/DOC_401.doc+%22really+is+music+of+the+spheres%22&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us



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Turmarion

posted December 5, 2009 at 1:17 pm


Mark2: I’m sure glad Eugenie Scott and her friends (shall I use the word “ilk”?) never resort to that.
I don’t know much about her or what she and her friends have said, but of course smears, character assassination, etc., are inappropriate whomever they come from and even if they are used in support of a legitimate cause. You are indulging in a tu quoque (“you too”) argument. Just because the side one is defending sometimes does X doesn’t mean it’s OK that the other side does X.
I might point out that this is another example of your annoying habit of appearing to argue both sides without being clear about where you come down. Later on this thread you’ll probably take a shot at someone who favors ID.
I can’t tell whether or not you know about the ancient belief in heliocentrism, which was much greater than many historians like to believe it was. Or perhaps this is irrelevant to your point.
I’m quite well aware of it: Aristarchus, Pythagoras (according to Aristotle, anyway), Martianus Capella, and others believed versions of heliocentrism. The period I spoke of was the Middle Ages, by which time the heliocentric model was mostly unknown or unaccepted. And since my point was to argue that the same logic David uses against evolution could be equally well used against heliocentrism (which, I presume, very very few moderns reject), ancient heliocentrism was indeed irrelevant to my point, which I thought was pretty clear. Guess I was wrong.



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choddie buchanan

posted December 5, 2009 at 2:25 pm


you’re jewish? i’m surprised.



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Mark2

posted December 5, 2009 at 8:31 pm


“I might point out that this is another example of your annoying habit of appearing to argue both sides without being clear about where you come down.”
I don’t want to be pigeonholed. It would make things too convenient for you.



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Dan

posted December 6, 2009 at 12:05 am


I’m afraid that in addition to being poorly educated in matters of science, you are either intentionally mis-characterizing Dawkins or simply did not understand him.
Before I go any further, a few things to clear up.
1) Evolution is a fact. No reputable scientist would disagree with that.
2) “Intelligent design” is creationism in disguise (no reputable scientist or attorney would disagree with that. (See Kitzmiller VS Dover))
In my opinion, Dawkins’ exclamations of wonderment are simply honest expressions of awe and amazement at the beauty and power of the evolutionary mechanism.
In fact, this is similar to your feelings of “enchantment” derived from religion except that Dawkins’ feelings are derived from something objectively verifiable.
The question is what you view as more important. Accepting things based on evidence (like Dawkins) OR by wallowing in a pool of fantasy based on ignorance.
You answer the question yourself when you say that Berlinski (an evolution denier) “emphasizes that the more science discovers, the more we discover we don’t understand about the deepest, most interesting questions we can ask.”
What a pathetic statement!
If all our hard work only adds to our ignorance, then what the point? Science is a struggle to understand more! In addition, the statement is even more moronic when you consider that science is reveling in and struggling to solve mysteries while religions just throw up their collective hands and say “god did it!.
Finally…..Why do you fixate on “enchantment”?
I’m sorry to say that you sound very much like a child who desperately needs to believe that the magician is really endowed with supernatural powers and is horrified that there might be a logical explanation to his tricks.
In fact, your analogy to D&D is very telling!
You say it yourself when you wrote “it’s the feeling of enchantment that drew me to D&D and yes, to Judaism as well.”
YES! Both are pleasant diversions based on fantasy!!!!!!!
And by the way, I’m sure Dawkins would much prefer your son look into a microscope, build an ant farm, or look into a telescope than waste his time with D&D.



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Mark2

posted December 6, 2009 at 4:40 pm


Dan wrote: “You answer the question yourself when you say that Berlinski (an evolution denier) “emphasizes that the more science discovers, the more we discover we don’t understand about the deepest, most interesting questions we can ask.”
What a pathetic statement! If all our hard work only adds to our ignorance, then what the point?”
Now THAT is a pathetic statement. Science indeed uncovers facts about nature, but for every fact it reveals, it reveals a couple of mysteries. So, in THAT way, their discoveries add to our ignorance. If you didn’t grasp that, I shake my head in disbelief.
“science is reveling in and struggling to solve mysteries while religions just throw up their collective hands and say “god did it!.”
Not exactly. Religions don’t throw up their hands; they decided long ago that God did it. Many of them (whether Maxwell, Faraday, Joule, etc) just want to know HOW God did it, and revel in that.



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Dan

posted December 6, 2009 at 11:43 pm


Mark,
It is NOT necessarily true that “for every fact it (science) reveals, it reveals a couple of mysteries”. Sometimes this does occur and while it is an exciting moment (as this may open up new avenues of research), it is somewhat of a failure. One of the main goals of science is to explain complex phenomenon in terms of known and (hopefully) simpler phenomenon so that we may build upon our knowledge.
I am objecting to the author’s apparent desire to remain in this state of ignorance! It’s as if he PREFERS the mysteries to knowledge.
I’m not sure what to say about your comment on religion exploring “how God did it”!
The people you reference were all scientists.
So yes… scientists are working on the problem.



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Mark2

posted December 7, 2009 at 3:17 pm


“I am objecting to the author’s apparent desire to remain in this state of ignorance! It’s as if he PREFERS the mysteries to knowledge. ”
Can you point to the statements from Klinghoffer from which you draw this (what I consider ridiculous) conclusion?



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Turmarion

posted December 7, 2009 at 7:11 pm


Me: I might point out that this is another example of your annoying habit of appearing to argue both sides without being clear about where you come down.
Mark2: I don’t want to be pigeonholed. It would make things too convenient for you.
There’s a distiction between not being pigeonholed and not taking a stand for what one believes. I would also assume that purpose of discussions like this should be to try to have dialogue or debate, not to snarkily sit around taking shots at both sides, keeping things from being “too convenient”, just for fun. The prevalence of that, David’s unwillingness to have any kind of reasoned debate, and the sheer ugliness of some of the posters here are pretty much the reason I opted out of this forum for a long time, and probably will do so again.



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David Klinghoffer

posted December 7, 2009 at 8:19 pm


About this, I have to agree with you Turmarion: “the sheer ugliness of some of the posters here are pretty much the reason I opted out of this forum for a long time, and probably will do so again.” You don’t know a fraction of what I have to unpublish daily, even if I haven’t blogged that day. It’s occurred to me that shutting down comments altogether would be a viable option. People could then email me with thoughts and comments as they like. I’m easily reachable.



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JarJam

posted December 7, 2009 at 11:29 pm


“1) Evolution is a fact. No reputable scientist would disagree with that.”
Evolution, meaning change over time, is indeed fact.
Evolution, meaning random variation filtered via natural selection resulting in pond scum morphing into all living creatures, past and present, is not only not fact, it’s also not a theory. It’s a hypothesis that’s so badly failed the test of time that not even its most devout believers will defend in public, namely Richard Dawkins. It’s kept alive only by those with an agenda, namely atheists and those with $$$ on the line (deplorable Ken Miller).
“2) “Intelligent design” is creationism in disguise (no reputable scientist or attorney would disagree with that. (See Kitzmiller VS Dover))”
Modern I.D. traces its roots back to Francis Crick and his co-discovery of the genetic code in 1953. It also borrows the idea of recognizing intelligence via C.S.I. (complex, specified information) from S.E.T.I., where the idea is completely uncontroversial. Quite the double standard.
I.D. is observable, measurable, testable, and falsifiable. It’s science. Get over it and stop crying like a little girl.
As for this article and the author’s critique of notoriously dishonest Richard Dawkins’ blandness – I’d say the fact that Dawkins’ and the like-minded’s brand of evolution glorifies ignorance is a big reason why it’s so yawn-worthy.
I.D. looks at life as a treasure hunt; the genome as a goldmine of brilliance. On the contrary, Darwinism (blind watchmaker evolution) looks at life as a rummage through the city dump; the genome being the result of millions of years worth of trial & error and full of garbage. This paradigm is not only as intellectually stimulating as watching grass grows, it’s also becoming more obviously wrong by the day.
There was no more blind chance and randomness involved in single-celled organisms becoming us than a baby becoming a child or a child becoming an adult. Both are/were the result of brilliantly designed internal processes. What’s been discovered so far is only the tip of the iceberg.
Dawkins and company would prefer to remain stuck in 1859 rather than take biology to the next level, which is what the scientific revolution of intelligent design is doing. If willful ignorance is their choice then so be it, but they must stop interfering with I.D. and the progression of science.



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Mergatroid

posted December 8, 2009 at 2:11 am


No, not another Evolution/ID debate. It just doesn’t go well with “Enchantment”. Please, lets let this diversion stop there.



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Dov

posted December 8, 2009 at 7:46 am


You might enjoy my book Harry Potter and Torah: http://qurl.com/28vwg
Enchantment and mysticism are everywhere in Torah, we just have to look!



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Sarah

posted December 8, 2009 at 9:34 am


I found this a moving little post (all evolution/Dawkins debate aside.)
I was the kind of child who attached like a barnacle to C.S. Lewis. I had the enchantment gene. All my life I’ve been drawn to science fiction, fantasy — and science. I believe fervently in a world that demands a response of wonder.
I wish I could find it in my Judaism, but I never have. To me, it’s always been a rationalist religion. Ethically correct, but emotionally arid, perhaps because it has to be, since its first opponent was paganism. Maybe that’s just the particular congregation I grew up in (Conservative, with an aging population). But I have one very strong memory — I was seven, in a cow pasture, and I saw my first rainbow on a walk with my mother. I was transfixed. I remembered a few lines of Wordsworth and knew exactly what he meant. But my mother wanted to say a brocha, and I remember being frustrated with her for ruining the moment, for wanting to take the sublime and make it dutiful.
I wish I could think of God as anything but someone whom I have disappointed so often that I can’t stand to look him in the eye. Really I do.
The only time that I can really feel the connection between enchantment and religion is when I’m doing mathematics, when I believe wholeheartedly in the God of the primes, the God of representation theory, who has allowed us to see the hem of his garment. And when I understand something, I feel — tentatively — that he may have a personal concern for me, that there may be wonders in store. But that seems so improbable that I usually dismiss it.
I like being a Jew. I miss reading Torah (it fell by the wayside in college. A casualty of factionalism, really; the Conservative kids don’t do it, and the Orthodox or Chabad kids don’t seem to want outsiders.) But if there’s wonder there, I’m blind to it. I see a lot of strictures, some with tremendous ethical force, some that seem arbitrary, some stunning in their brutality. I see flashes of poetry in the Psalms and the Song of Songs and the Song of the Sea, which my anti-aesthetic upbringing taught me to flinch from, because it wasn’t really “Jewish” to love beauty. I wish I could see wonder in Judaism. I can see it in science, in the Enlightenment values of reason and happiness and compassion, in poetry, in tacky fantasy … but I just can’t see it in my own religion.



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Dan

posted December 8, 2009 at 11:01 pm


I apologize.
It’s obvious to me now that this is not the forum for an objective scientific discussion. After all… it IS “BELIEFnet”! ;-)
I won’t be making any more posts.



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Mark2

posted December 9, 2009 at 11:00 pm


Dan wrote:
“You answer the question yourself when you say that Berlinski (an evolution denier) “emphasizes that the more science discovers, the more we discover we don’t understand about the deepest, most interesting questions we can ask.”
What a pathetic statement!
If all our hard work only adds to our ignorance, then what the point? Science is a struggle to understand more!”
I thought the following quote was so appropriate:
“Evolution answers some questions but reveals many more questions. Some of these questions at this stage appear to be unanswerable in the light of present scientific knowledge. In common parlance: ‘The more you know, the more you know you don’t know.’” (Price B., “The Creation Science Controversy,” Millennium Books: Sydney, Australia, 1990, p8
Price, Barry. Former Director, School Physics Project, Australian Academy of Science.
It looks like Berlinski has support from this Science director.



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