jesus on the waterBeing an atheist has never been this easy: more of the natural world has been brought under intellectual control than ever before. Less and less are we forced to posit a god to explain natural phenomenon. The situation has left defenders of God scurrying around for either things that science (for some reason) couldn’t explain, arguing that science and religion are consistent (sure, though one makes the other of dubious explanatory utility) or attempting to show that science actually entails that there is a God (by invoking dubious premises regarding causality and the supposed impossibility of infinite series.) Oh yeah, there is always the other technique that some American Education Boards use: simply ban or discredit the only going reasonable theories (i.e. evolution) from your high schools. There’s your rorsarch Rorschach ink blot, Ephraim. Now onto the point of the story.

One can get a little too carried away however. Researcher and Professor of Oceanology Doron Nof of Florida State University gave an explanation of the New Testament’s claim that Jesus walked on the water. According to the Mark’s gospel:

Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray. When evening came, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and he was alone on land. He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. About the fourth watch of the night he went out to them, walking on the lake. He was about to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They cried out, because they all saw him and were terrified. Immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. [Mark, 6:45-51]

According to Nof, the Kinneret underwent a period of cooler temperatures in the area between 1,500 and 2,600 years ago. Now, if the temperature dropped low enough for a while, then ice could have formed. Since ice is a form of water, the NT may be merely misleading rather than straightforwardly false on the water-walkng story.

Does Nof believe the NT story now?

If you ask me if I believe someone walked on water, no, I don’t…Maybe somebody walked on the ice, I don’t know. I believe that something natural was there that explains it…We leave to others the question of whether or not our research explains the biblical account.

In short, no. But if the story is true, it’s because Jesus was really walking on a chunk of ice. It floated and deceived observers into thinking that Jesus was a water walker.

Unlikely? Yes. But if you accept the rough description of the NT, what is the theory’s competitor? That he literally walked on water? Is that supposed to be more plausible?!?

Some years back, Nof offered a theory to explain the parting of the Red Sea via complex wind and sea interactions. Now, as then, he receives hate mail from those that wish to leave things with no naturalistic basis.

Source: CNN. Doron’s results were printed a journal of Paleolimnology. Try saying that 5 times really fast.

OOPS! Muffti forgot to mention: this story came to him from Kenny, one of his bestest buds.

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  • Muffti, thanks for the David Hume turn. That captious Scotsman penned a vigorous attack on ‘miracles’. To my knowledge, however, he never took taxpayer money as a tenured prof at FSU.

    The either-or approach will trouble Christians who are locked into a literal approach to biblical texts. Evanglicals have to sweat this sort of stuff. Good luck, guys. Catholics, on the other hand, believe that the Bible (Torah included, of course) is the divinely inspired word of G-d, but is not always and everywhere literally true.

    (btw, we should meet up with Eprhaim in Baghdad on the Bay– we can shop for the creme and the clear together. Ephraim, what’s Victor Conte’s cell number?)

  • Muffti omits the portion of the story relating that Peter tried unsuccessfully to walk on water, but fell in instead– lending more credence, perhaps, to the rogue-floe theory.

    Well, this remains perhaps the greatest of all New Testament passages (right there with the story of Jesus on the road to Emmaus). That Seminole is no semiologist, clearly.

    Attacks on faith can have the perverse result (for atheists) of justifying the need for it. Again, it’s paradoxically enough the literalists who seem keenest on enlisting science to ‘prove’ their beliefs. Faith is faith– you really have to buy into it whole-hog. (Oops, that’s not kosher!)

    I’m nonetheless relieved that ck’s proved hell exists.

  • You’re right on the Hume points: he did attack miracles on the basis of their dubiousness (in part) and he never took taxpayer money at FSU. He did seek chair position in philosophy but kept getting refused, largely for his apparent atheism.

    If the bible is not always and everywhere literally true, how does one get to rules etc. by quoting bible versus? Surely when God says he hates shrimp and we shouldn’t eat it, it’s merely a metaphor. For something. Or other.

    We should totally meet up iwth Ephraim. Muffti is moving to Northern Cali at the end of August. First round is on teh Muff.

  • Cool re the SF plan. I got a swelled head, but it ain’t as nice as Barry Bonds’.

    As for your query: that’s where intermediaries come in (the Church, ministers, rabbis etc.). Just ask ’em! We’ll sort it out for you, they’ll say. I’m not sure this is as true in Judaism (though perhaps for the ultra- or regular-strength orthodox, the views of some rabbis are viewed as definitive). In Catholicism, it’s called the “teaching authority of the Church” or magisterium. Protestants reject this, and also reject the Catholic notion that there are religious truths extrinsic to the Bible texts.

    As for Bible verses– let’s agree, any text is subject to differing interpretations. Derrida lives.

    Finally, I’ve figured out who to blame this never-ending G-d/faith mishegas on. You guessed it– the Jews! We look around, and– you’re still here. Year after year, millenia after millenia.

    Now, someone on this site explain THAT one away for me . . .

  • Great post Muffti,

    Tom Morrissey points out that:
    “Muffti omits the portion of the story relating that Peter tried unsuccessfully to walk on water, but fell in instead…”
    I believe that the most plausible explanation for Peter’s fall is that Jesus was wearing ice skates but Peter was either barefoot or at best wearing sandals.
    That reminds me of a riddle: Why did Peter fall? Oh, I-C-Y.

  • Thanks for proving my point, Atheologist. We’ll both just have to take it on faith. And who sez Unitarians lack a sense of humor?

  • Tom & Muffti: If you’re in the SF bay area, then we gots to meet up! This is my turf! 🙂

    Oh, and Muffti? The Torah says “Sea of Reeds”, not “Red Sea”. For a body of water to have reeds, it would have to be fairly shallow. Jus’ sayin’…

  • Not exactly sure what a debunking of Christian miracles is supposed to accomplish Jewliciously, Muffti, but whatever.

    Tom, since I come by my massive physique naturally (that is, by fressing) I have no need for Mr. Conte’s cell phone number.

    Also, if you’re going to quote the late great Herb Caen, it is “Baghdad by the Bay”, not “Baghdad on the Bay”. Close, but no cigar.

    But, yes, by all means, if you are around, let’s get together.

    AFAIK, Judaism doesn’t hold by the kind of intermediaries that Catholicism has, such as priests, but there is a generally accepted body of rabbininc opinion that is accepted by the Orthodox, both ultra and regular strength. However, the intricacies of which rabbi this person or that person holds by are mind-numbingly convoluted. Some people decry the fact that there is no Jewish version of the Vatican to sort everything out, others see this as Judaism’s strength. But in any case, it is quite confusing.

    Regarding evolution, I have often wondered why science and Torah are held to be mutually exclusive. If one is a Christian literalist there is definitely a problem. However, while I am not an expert, I am under the impression that there are few, if any, rabbinic authorities who take the Creation story “literally”, and that this has been so for a number of centuries.

    Regarding evolution, I think it is obvious that species do evolve. What I don’t understand is why this is assumed to necessarily contradict what the Torah says about creation. As far as I know, evolution hoilds that, based on observable evidence, that species evolve. However, AFAIK, it does not address the question of how it is possible that the world we live in today, and everything in it, somehow just haphazardly evolved from a bunch of chemicals floating around in some primordial soup. For example, just whwere did this supposed soup come from? Who, or what, put it there? Is the physical world, or some version of it, pre-existent? Is believing thatthat any sillier than believing that it was created by something or someone?

    If one assumes from the outset that there is no supernatural agency or guiding force in the universe, and that everything is a fortuitous conicidence, then one is forced to look for an alternative explanation. One can say “Well, the life force finds a way to express itself”. OK, fine, where did this life force come from? Etc. As a simple proposition, it does not seem any more outlandish to assume that there is a guiding force in the universe than to assume that everything is just one huge accident that happened by some process of serendipity. Science can show how something works. But it does not seem to address first causes. The Hubble telescope gave us the most stupendous, phenomenal, awe-inspiring pictures of whole galaxies being formed, right before our eyes. But why does this happen? How does it happen? What made it possible for such things to happen? Who, or what, made hydrogen and nitrogen act the way they do? Where does the power that sets off these galactic explosions come from? It is obvious that the universe contains some sort of animating power that gives rise to life. Why cannot this be G-d?

    You know, sort of like solving for X in an equation.

  • Who appointed you lord of the SF Bay Area manor, taltman? There are others out here, too, ya know.

  • Well, actually, the theory is that the ooze on the fairly-newly cooled earth a few billion years ago was full of carbon compounds (from magma cooling and meteor impacts) and when combined with electricity from lightning strikes which were common in early Earth’s atmosphere, the carbon compounds, together with organic compounds present in the dense proto-atmosphere, formed into amino acids which eventually grouped into cells. They’ve gotten compounds rich in amino acids in labs from stimulating non-organic carbon compounds that would have been found in abundance on early Earth with electricity, although they have not observed said amino acids forming cells – but of course, we can’t exactly sit in a lab for a couple million years.

    What nobody has done, on the other hand, is observe new lifeforms being instantly created from dust or ribs. But hey, science is limited.

    And as far as “few rabbinic authorities taking the creation story literally,” maybe that used to be the case, but it’s certainly not anymore. Standard Chabad theology is now Young Earth Creationism, a Christian Evangelical theory from the 1800s which takes a literal understanding of Genesis. Most of the New World Charedi gedolim also insist on a literal interpretation of Genesis (see the Slifkin controversy), because of course, if one admitted the existence of dinosaurs, then one’s children would invariably godforbid become secular goyish whores.

  • I’m aware of the general outlines of the theory. Lightning strikes the carbon compounds in the ooze and hey presto! a few billion years later we have people. I got it.

    Still doesn’t answer how the carbon-rich ooze got there. Where did the carbon come from? The magma? The meteors? And who told the carbon to form amino acids when it got zapped?


  • Well, the carbon came from the magma, which came from heavy volcanic activity as the earth cooled from from a superhot vaguely congealed mass of spun-together molten rock into a planet with a solid crust…the meteors came from the disk of interstellar debris around the sun that coalesced into the solar system over millions of years and most likely carried with them (and comets too) a cornucopia of various elements and compounds not present on earth, including water…the carbon formed amino acids with compounds in the air because molecules often join together in interesting ways when electricity is applied as anyone who remembers high school chemistry can attest to…I mean, really, there’s a reason for everything all the way back to the Big Bang, which is still the big question mark. So you could attribute that to God and neither I nor probably most scientists could really argue with you on account of lack of knowledge.

  • Like I said, I’m generally familiar with the outlines of the theory.

    But, yes, right, back to the Big Bang. I’m asking a general question about first causes. Your explanation just begs the question: where did all of that stuff come from and why does it act the way it does?

    Even with the Big Bang, which, as I understand it, started with some sort of super concentrated nugget of matter which, when it exploded, expanded into the universe as we know it, the question still is: where did this nugget of super concentrated matter come from and who or what programmed it to act the way that it did? Is it all really random?

    Even if science can document down to the last jot and tittle HOW this all came about, it cannot answer the question of WHY it came about. One can stop and say “I accept that this is how this stuff works. I don’t know why it works that way or where it all ultimately came from, but that really doesn’t concern me”, but that seems kinda lazy.

    But I think the mistake is assuming that science as it is commonly understood is even equipped to answer such a question.

  • I am no expert but in Bereshit (Genesis) it doesn’t say G-d made the various life forms in their final form and that they would never change or evolve. It just says He made them. Their evolving doesn’t conflict with the Torah that I can see. Does it?

    We can’t be amazed that He didn’t give us a biology textbook with every little detail to read on Friday nights. That would give new meaning to “when do we eat?”. It would be “after this lecture, which you are not historically ready to understand, about planetary formation, DNA, organic chemistry, natural selection, and a lot of other stuff. We will eat next week.”

    Six days a week, we engage the facts. Seventh day, we engage the truth. The over-arching truth. Not a problem.

  • Ephraim, I see what you’re talking about, but of course, I don’t see why religion necessarily offers the WHY. I mean, if religions are filled with demonstrable falsehoods, then logically they couldn’t be relied upon to provide the WHY anymore than science could. I mean, how do a lot of little untruths add up to a great overarching truth? Moreover, why is the WHY so important? I mean, sure, it makes people feel like life is worthwhile if they believe in some greater purpose to it all, but that in and of itself isn’t necessarily a proof of a higher power, just justification for belief in one.

    As far as laziness, I’m not sure how accepting science’s explanation of HOW while accepting its inablity to explain WHY is any more lazy than accepting WHY based upon the collected histories and mythologies of the culture you were born into. Why does there even have to be a WHY? At some point, especially in religion, you have to take for granted there there is an IS that exists independently of WHY or HOW, if you catch my drift.

    Or, to put it like a three-year-old: Why? Because. Or, more philosophically: Why? Why the hell not? Let’s go get pizza.

  • My point is that while I believe that some religions are riddled with falsehoods I don’t believe that the Torah is. If one approaches it like it is supposed to be a science textbook, then I suppose you can “prove” that it is filled with errors. However, there are many layers of interpretation and understanding. In any case, it is a demonstrable fact that many great Torah luminaries from many centuries ago did not take the Creation story in Bereshit “literally” in the way a lot of Christian fundamentalists do. That is good enough for me.

    I am not interested in “proving” that G-d exists. I don’t think it is possible, first of all, since people who are predisposed to believe in G-d will interpret the evidence in one way and people who are predisposed to not believe in G-d will interpret it another way. Believers will look at the incredible complexity of the world and how all of its systems seem to work together in incredible harmony and see the hand of G-d at work. Non-believers will look at the messiness and conclude that the whole thing is random.

    I agree that the human desire for order and meaning does not proof of a higher power but only justification for belief in one. But, yet, humans are humans precisely because they search for the why.

    At some point, especially in religion, you have to take for granted there there is an IS that exists independently of WHY or HOW, if you catch my drift.

    Well, of course. The IS that exists independently of the WHY and the HOW is G-d. If G-d is G-d, he must exist precisely in that fashion. “I Am That I Am”, or “I Will Be What I Will Be”, right?

  • Ephraim’s take on evolution recalls that of the late John Paul II, who termed it “more than a hypothesis.” Science has its sphere, and so does religion, and the two need not conflict. At least not until science answers the question, Why is there something and not nothing?

    On the issue of text: it’s thornier for Christians, because we have overlapping and, at times, competing accounts of NT events. The Torah (correct me if I’m wrong) presents an essentially linear historical narrative. And the NT accounts were written some 60-80 years after the events they describe.

    So, the Catholic Church, in the Councils of Hippo (393) and Carthage (397) determined what the Bible is for western Christians. The Torah made it in completely intact, as the OT. Some Christian writings made it in. Some (e.g., the Gospel of Thomas) did not.

    It’s always amused me that evangelicals insist on the literal meaning of texts that came together in this very human, highly discretionary process.

  • Meanwhile, Ephraim for pope! We’ll set you up in Coit Tower, how’s that? Or make the Presidio a Jewish version of Vatican City.

    The term ‘pope’ should go, however . . . What’s Hebrew for Maximum Leader, or He Who Must Be Obeyed?

    Once you’re installed, you’ll know what to do with heretics like Muffti.

  • Tom, if you’re not careful, Middle is going to think we’re in cahoots.

    And Muffti is cool. Under my administration, a sense of humor would automatically earn one a Free Pass. (Middle, since he lacks one, would be in danger, though.)

    Seriously, though, are you out in this area? Somehow I thought you were back east.

    Anyway, a theologian I’m not. Personally, I think the rebellion against religion is mainly a function of the natural desire of people to be completely autonomous. Just as children want to be free of their parents so they can blow off their homework and stay up late watching TV and eating junkfood, so people do not want to have a Super Parent telling them what to do. A created universe requires a Creator, and this, in turn, implies a cosmic order which in turn implies a specific universal morality. People do not want to be bound by anything. So they instinctively resist.

  • The atheiologist! Muffti likes your site!

    OK, many deep issues have been raised. In particular, the free pass. Thank you, Ephraim. 🙂

    OK, vis a vis the deep million dollar questions:

    For example, just whwere did this supposed soup come from? Who, or what, put it there? Is the physical world, or some version of it, pre-existent? Is believing thatthat any sillier than believing that it was created by something or someone?

    Michael answered in the basic vicinity of how Muffti wanted to answer. The question presumes that eveyrthing has a reason, ro at least a cause and Muffti is straightforwardly inclined to reject that as a question. But even if one doens’t reject it, notice that hte theist has to reject it one step up the line. i.e.
    Muffti says ‘the universe comes from a big bang or, whatever physics ends up telling us.’
    ‘ Theist: ‘oh yeha, well, the thing(s?) that banged, how did htey get there.’
    Muffti: ‘they didn’t get there, they just were there.’
    Theist: ‘Oh c’mon, don’t dodge the question. How did they GET there?!?’
    Muffti: ‘I’m not dodging. Why should they GET there as opposed to just be there?!?’
    Theist: Everything that is or was in some way or other, got to be that way somehow!’
    Muffti: ‘bullshit. But anyways, how do YOU htink they got there?’
    Theist: ‘God put it/them there, stupid! that’s how it all started’.
    Muffti (badly paraphrasing the words of previous great atheists): ‘ah, well, this God, how the fuck did HE get there?’
    Theist: ‘You can’t ask that about God, dude. HE was just there!’
    Muffti: ‘well, then why can’t I say that about the big bang particles? NOthing put them there, they just got there. They were. Period. nothing before’.
    Theist: ‘ummn….’

    Point is, everyone has to say that at some point things started (acutaly, this is false, or at best, like the torah, metaphorical! After all, amybe the universe stretches on forever. Or maybe time doesn’t begin before the big bang, etc. etc. These matters are ones we conceptually have very poor grasp over). But the point is clear: Muffti picks a starting point: big bang. Theist rejects it coz Muffti can’t tell him where it came from and Theist can. But theist then has to say it all started with God, adn god is unexplainable: he has no source. He’s the unmoved mover. the uncaused causer. blah blha. But Muffti doesn’t see why we can special plead God out of requiring an explanation but we can’t special plead any explanation that doesn’t appeal to god out of a prior explanation. make sense? Good. Now lets get drunk and do some sinning!

    And Ephraim, with all due respect, your explanation of rebelling against religion strikes me as a little bit silly and radically perspectival. Here’s the parody:

    Anyway, a theologian Muffti is not. Personally, Muffti thinks that slavishly accepting relion is mainly just a function of the natural desire of people to be completely taken care of. Jast as children want the protection and guidance of their parents so they can feel safe and have structure and stability, so peopel want to have a Super Parent telling them waht to do. A created universe doesn’t require a creator, which thus implies no consmin corder which implies no specific universal morality. People want to know how they should be have. So tehy instinctively give in.

    Dude, there are way more theists out there, and historically there have been an even bigger proportion of people that are theists than atheists. maybe its not the rebellion FROM religion we should be explaining but he bizzare tendency of people to want to acquiesce to it that is in dire need of explanation.

  • Purim, what attack? He said I have no sense of humor and I said that [that may be so] but at least I don’t have a combover.

  • Though I agree with all of your contentions against Ephraim, Mufffti, I still want to argue with your premise that religion’s purpose is to explain natural phenomenon or that religion and science are opposed. (I think this stems from Enlightenment posturing of Science against superstition and its best friend religion.) Both atheism and theism require faith and belief in basic tenets or axioms; The difference between the two is the substance of their beliefs (And how can we argue that one belief is better than another?). (Science plays no role in either of these beliefs, since it tries to avoid the Why question as Ephraim put it.)
    The conflict between religion and science comes to a head when there are these revealations of prophets who claim that they did things like “walk on water” or “split a sea” because these things go against the laws of nature. This proffessor’s attempts to explain these miracles with science is unimportant at best because they are based on unsustainable conjectures. It was colder on the Kinneret in the time of Jesus…therefore he must have been walking on ice. Why can’t this story just be a falsehood or fable like Hades capture of Persephone. Those stories still hold value even though they aren’t true. If anything, subject religion to scientific standards will only give us unsatisfying results and end up with us all as atheists (which is why it is so much fun).
    Instead, if one feels drawn to religion she should accept it as it is (without lying to herself), as faulted, untrue, and the source of much bad in this world (Inquisition, Jihad, the Jesuits) and try to find the good as well (As michael can vouch, though I don’t know with my Artscroll upbringing, the Song of Songs is really beautiful). The thing that bothers me is those who must accept all of Judaism (or all of the rabbinic teachings) as immediate fact with being able to say that things like the decision to wear Polish nobleman’s clothing were clearly arbitrary and that the Rabbis in the Talmud were occasionally wrong. Their understanding of Judaism has no nuance and allows for no scrutiny.
    Oh, and on that note. In the wonderful words of Ben Harper “Let us burn one from end to end and pass it over to me my friend”.

  • Rel, you were right on target until concluding that sciences’s “unsatisfying” scrutiny of religion will lead all of us to atheism. To belief we’ll be lead instead! Because religion confronts science with its limits. (Of course, religion too has its limits, ergo faith.)

    This discussion is ironic because the NT passage in question has to do with faith. Peter is “terrified” at the sight of Jesus, believing, reasonably enough, that one can’t walk on water. Jesus encourages him to approach, but when Peter tries to, he falls in, then cries out, “Lord, save me!”

    So we have, in Jesus and Peter, embodiments of the opposing views in our discussion.

    It’s the metaphorical power of the passage that speaks to us. No one today says, ‘wow, this guy walked on water; guess he must be God.’ Perhaps a medieval Lithuanian peasant so concluded. But that’s not why we believe, any more than Jewish belief depends on whether Noah collected exemplars of every single extant species for his voyage.

  • Muffti quotes Mark; here is Matthew’s account (Matthew 14:25 et seq.):

    “During the fourth watch of the night Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.

    But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Do not be afraid.”

    “Lord, if it is you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”

    “Come,” he said.

    Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”

    Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”

    And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down.

  • Muffti doesn’t think that religion and science are in conflict (at least, not once you back off the apparent empirical claims of religion like tha thte world was created less than 5000 years ago, and claim those are ‘metaphors’ – why isn’t ‘shrimp’ in teh bible just a metaphor for gross stuff?). He just said that science makes religion’s explanations of anything empirical superfluous. IT’s like religion tacks this thing on, calls it ‘God’ and says ‘that’s what explains all the stuff science can’t, like where hte universe came from’. Good questioning scientists will ask for some reason to think taht that explains anything whatsoever. Muffti has no problem with religion per se and neither should atheists: it’s the existence of God that is our target not the existence of nice stories or ethical codes.

  • (The human, culturally continuous world is indeed 5,000 or so years old, in the sense that we have no cultural contact with anybody before that time. We can admire Stonehenge and the cave paintings but we have no idea what they meant to their human creators, just nice fantasies. There are no texts left. PLANET EARTH can be as old as necessary. It’s all according to what you mean by ‘world’ – a word that has meant many things, universe, etc. That is my interpretation anyway.)

  • I do not think we should put Religion in science class, ask him questions about molecules and voltage, laugh at his naive answers, and give him an F. He never applied for the course.

  • As for the existence of G-d, well, we sure spend a lot of time talking about Him or his non-existence.

  • Thanks for the kudos on my blog muffti, I’m glad you like it. I think you already know this, but debating with the faithful only gives you a headache. That is why I took the satirical approach on my blog.

  • I have a question. Who is that a picture of at the top of the page in the, “I Heart Hashem”, t-shirt? (I’m a relatively new visitor to this site, but I think it’s great.)

  • Muffti’s got no headache. We’re all friends around here, even if Muffti thinks that his friends are bizarrely irrational and unresponsive to evidence while his friends think he is going to hell, ruining his people’s chance for moshiach or, well, wahtever 🙂

    Nice metaphor about religion taking a science class, JM. That was qutie apt. If only Muffti were smarter, he’d understand what you meant 🙂

    Muffti isn’t sure who the grrl is at the top. But she sure hearts hashem.

  • Muffti, if your problem’s with God, you’ve come to the right religion. Christianity, too, for that matter– both are perfect for folks with problems with God. ‘Stiff-necked people,’ Meribah/Massah, Abraham’s remonstrations etc. etc.

  • What Jewish Mother meant was, religion is not science and science is not religion, so why try to make them what they aren’t. Talking in the third person is too tiring for old ladies. Oy.

    My private opinion is that G-d is happy to see his children figuring out His creation a little bit; like a proud father when the kid learns to use his power tools in the garage. I think G-d is rooting for man. To me science’s ultimate purpose, after airconditioning, central heating and anesthesia and stuff, is increasing religious awe.

  • “Dig those cra-a-a-azy galaxies.

    Yeah mon. I mean, wow.”

    There’s a bracha for that. You learned types know it.

  • I quite agree that theists kick the can a bit further down the road than atheists. Still, the whole point about G-d is that He/She/It is the First Cause that requires no explanation. By definition, G-d is beyond the ability of humans to completely know or define. Not all things are completely knowable. I don’t have a particular problem with that. I still think that just as a matter of simple logic it makes more sense to assume the physical world was brought into existence somehow rather than assuming that it just always existed. But I suppose you can only kick the can down the road so far.

    The supposed tension between the desire to rebel against G-d/wanting to be taken care of by G-d is not a conflict at all. Never heard of ambiguity, Muffti? You’re the philosopher, you should be perfectly comfortable with the idea of mutually contradictory things coexisting. It’s not like matter and anti-matter coming into contact with each other in the core of the Enterprise engine room on an episode of Star Trek. Sometimes children want their parents to take care of them. Sometimes they want to rebel. So what’s new?

    What’s so hard to understand about the desire to believe, Mufti? People want things to make sense. Isn’t that what philosophy is all about? To try to explain things? As a philosopher, do you believe in anything even vaguly resembling Absolute Truth, at least in the realm of morality? That there are some things that are objectively true and can be proven without a doubt to be so? Or do you think everything is relative? If everything is relative, then G-d just becomes another choice which should not exercise you in the least, at least insofar as theists leave you alone.

  • i love theological discussions. as for science and religion? i think it’s just absolutely the most hilarious thing that on the Catholic U main building in Santiago Chile (where i am now), there’s a big etching with the words SCIENCE and RELIGION on top. Above which is a giant jesus with outspread arms.

    …by the way, rock on JM

  • “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.”

    Like it or not.

  • Epohraim, Muffti doesn’t see what explaining physical things in terms of non-physical things has anything to do with logic. He does have an inkling, hoewver, about how modern versions of ockhamm’s razor goes: cut out things that aren’t really adding to the explanation. And positing any god adds next to nothing to the explanation: you don’t make things clearer by positing an incomprehensible, unanalyzable, unpredictable element into your theory. You lose explanatory power, you don’t gain it.

    Muffti9 well understands contradictory desires: he misunderstood your intentions: he thought you were calling people who rebelled from religion people who needed a good reason to do so, and Muffti was trying to turn teh tables: people who find themselves turning to religions are the ones that shold need a reason to adopt a creed. but really, no one needs a reason to do anything 🙂 we ashould all just do waht makes us feel comfortable. Muffti just has trboule understanding why oine wouldn’t adopt a credo that offers freedom from the watchful eye of an invisible, unexplaining parent whose actions are bizarre at best given his supposed benevolent character.

  • In my experience, people don’t want to be free at all. It’s a hell of a lot of work. You must make your own choices and take responsibility for them. Why not simply choose not to be free, have decisions and choices made for you from on high, by religion or culture, then you never have to take responsibility for them?! To say “oh, it is commanded that we do this or its the way things are,” rather than striking it out alone and saying, “I choose to do this, if it fails I take full responsibility.” Now surely which is easier? Security, comfort and acceptance anytime over freedom and independence.

  • Do you stray into theodicy in your last sentence, Muffti? ‘I don’t think God exists, but if He does– He’s obviously crazy?’

    Freedom is just a means to an end, the capacity to make choices; it has no other substantive content. People don’t choose to be free; they use freedom (if they’re lucky enough to enjoy it) to make choices, which necessarily– limit freedom. Religion and ‘freedom’ aren’t opposites at all.

  • GM has a good point about “the watchful eye of the unexplaining parent whose actions are bizarre at best given his supposed benevolent character.” But, as is the fate of many, His nice acts get taken for granted, and not noticed. Shouldn’t we notice them, too? The answered prayers? There are lots of them. The negative is just so much more interesting to us, for evolutionary reasons. And often the hard stuff He throws at us turns out to be for a valid reason, which you only see later. Not always, I know, I know. Or, it’s too hard to see.

    “He” is a metaphor. G-d is neither a girl nor a boy and does not wear suspenders. And there is no use combing the sands of the Middle East for his dropped shirt buttons.

    Stay strong, Christian friends. You seem to be having a hard time in the papers lately, what with the walking on ice and the Judas thing. Don’t worry about it. Happy Easter.

  • Muffti never quite understood that line of thought, JM. Look, it costs God nothing whatsoever to be nice to us. It takes no more effort for an omnipotent being to do good things than bad things. Now, he presumably doesn’t owe us antyhing, but if he is benevolent and it is no more a problem for him to do nice thing than evil things, well, oughtn’t he be doing only nice htings?

  • I guess I’m just stupid, Muffti, but I don’t see how speculating on how the world got to be here and concluding that there must be something behind everything adds nothing to the explanation.
    I think that the ramifications are profound, actually.

    If the world is random, then from a moral point of view, there simply cannot be any such thing as right or wrong, or any actual, real meaning to anything at all. Against what standard should things be neasured? If there is no morality handed down by G-d, then all we have is something men made up. If that is so, all morality is completely relative and no one can say that anything, in a fundamental, objective sense, is “right” or “wrong”. Man-made legal structures may exist that compel people to act in certain ways, but you cannot say that murder is “wrong”, only that someone has the power to enforce compliance to an arbitray set of rules. Without G-d, from where does the value of a human life derive? If humans are simply the end result of a random process, what value do they have? Upon what set of values should human society be based? Is morality simply a matter of utilitarian practicality, just an institutionalization of the understanding that society breaks down if people feel they can steal each others’ stuff and that therefore it should be illegal? But if human beings have no intrinsic worth derived from their status as tselem Elokim, who cares if society breaks down?

    I never finished the book, but IIRC in the beginning of “Guns, Germs and Steel”, the author relates how the Maori people, sometime in the late 1800s, I think, invaded an island peopled by a group called the Ori-Mori, who had split off from the Maori a few centuries previosuly. Due to their environment, the Ori-Mori had developed a peaceful, cooperative society. The Maori, however, wewre still cannibals. They conquered the Ori-Mori, and in short order had killed and eaten all of them. This was justified by the Maori to a horrified European witness as “how they had always done things”.

    Without G-d, who are we to say what the Maori did was wrong?

    This is a serious question, BTW, not a joke.

  • Ephraim, Muffti never said, implied or thinks that you are stupid!

    Muffti wasn’t being very careful or clear. What Muffti meant was that throwing God into the explanation of how the world comes about adds veyr little on its own to teh epxlanation of why teh universe exists, etc. It’s just kicking the can one inexplicable step further: atheist says the world just ‘begins’ (if we can make snes of something beginning at an area where there is no time but a mere singularity: these are very deep questions) and theists say: no, it must be here for a reason. Adn that reason is God! and then deny that it makes any sense to ask why god is there or why he is like that. But since we all have to admit that there is going to be some entity that must be prior to eveything else, Muffti doesn’t see why that entity is god rather than simply teh physical universe itself. Nothing seems to be added by positing something prior to the physical world that is non-physical. (this debate is replicated about debates regarding hte soul. Descartes claimed that we couldn’t make any sense of a physical state being a belief or a pain and so concluded they must be non-physical. People puzzled over waht calling something NON-physical really added to the explanation unless we have a decent explnaation of what it is for something to be non-physical, whcih we arguably have no real sense of. VBut anywyas…)

    That isn’t to say that positing a God doens’t make a difference to ANYTHING. It just says that deducing the existence of a non-physical entity from the need to explain the phsyical is not really much of an explanation fo anything: on its own, it predicts almsot nothing at all. ONly when you ask question about what that entity is liek do you start to get a theory but all those properties you attribute to god are going to be independantly established and you already kow what muffti think sabout attempts to do that since they rely on contentious texts that are to be intrepreted ‘metaphorically’ when they make no sense like, say, the torah.

    But it’s a good question about ethics and God. You aern’t going to tlike whhat Muffti has to say but he’s going to say it anywyas. First there is a deep question: you are repeating the same strategy with ethics and morals that you did with the physical: just as you insisted that hte phsyical be explained by sometyhing non-physical, you are demnading that the moral be explained by something not itself moral (i.e. by a being that maeks things moral). So you say ‘if murder is wrong, it must be wrong for a reason‘, where the stuff in italics is intended to mean ‘because someone with the authority to do so made it that way.

    Muffti thinks that this is wrong headed. He doesn’t see why some things can’t simply be worng, other things right. So, cannibalism is wrong because it is wrong, not because there is some other reason with reference to which is is wrong (well, there is something you can say: it violates basic utilitarian principles like ‘don’t cause needless pain’ etc., but these are goig to be self justifying at the end of th eday). So the atheist, i.e. Muffti, is going to claim that the demand for explanation in these cases is wrong headed: something just are. THe universe just is and ethics just is, and the demand to based them on seommthing more primitive is just the result of believing the principle of sufficient reason: eveyrhting is like it is for a (rational?) reason of some sort, and then excusing God having the principle apply to him.

    So, Muffti in the end of hte day thinks that there are things that are right and things that are wrong, and basially thinks that utilitaritanism + details is the right theory to distinguish teh one from teh other, and that hte principle of utility just is true, not because some god made it htat way but because, well, it’s true.

    there is a bit more we can say however. Plato puzzled a great deal over whether or not it made sense to allow God to be the author and creator of what is good and hwat is bad and reasoned himself (in teh Euthyphro) into the following conundrum: if God decides what is good, so that good doesn’t predate god conceptually, then we have no explanation fo why god picked what he did to be the good things and the other things to be bad (we can’t say ‘he chose those thing to be bad because they are bad, beacuse the whole point is tha tit is god’s choice that makes something bad). The other horn of hte dillema is to say that god made the bad things bad becuase theya re bad: but that just is to admit that good and bad are conceptually prior to god’s decision. But that’s just waht Muffti says: adding God into the system doesn’t explain anything. If ther eis a right or wrong, those things are basic and God is at best a reporter on those thigns, not a creator of them.

    THat was a total mess. But do you sorta see what mUffti is getting at?

  • The Ephraim was not accusing the Muffti of accusing the Ephraim of being stupid. So the Muffti, he doesn’t have to worry. The Ephraim, he is flattered that the Muffti, he chose to post such a detailed reply, and almost practically without any snark at all. The Muffti, he must be taking the Ephraim seriously!

    But the Ephraim, he just has to ask: some things just ARE and require no explanation as to why that might be so?

    And the Muffti, he calls himself a philosopher?

    If this is so, then why cannot the Ephraim just say G-d just IS and leave it at that? If the Muffti, he can imagine in his mind the existence an objective Good and Bad, that must be accepted because “They just ARE, silly!”, what does the Muffti do when someone says to the Muffti “The Muffti, he is full of shit”? The Ephraim doesn not necessarily think that this is the condition of the Muffti’s insides, but the Ephraim, he is asking, how you say, rhetorically.

    The rest of this discussion should be had over beer when the Muffti is out here.

    The Ephraim, his head hurts. He must lie down now.

    Gut Shabbos.

  • hahaha…the Ephraim should find his own gimmick and stop stealing the Muffti’s only trick 🙂

    Philosophers are famous for admitting that justification and explanation have to come to an end somewhere. Mufftis point is not that the Good and the Bad have to be accepted: its his conjecture that somethings are good and some are bad. But his point is that it adds nothing to say ‘oh, by the way, God made them this way’ wahtsoever. The Plato dilemma in teh Euthyphro proves exactly that, so far as the Muffti can tell.

    Adn Ephraim cna say God just is: in fact, if he posits a god, he HAS to say that God just is. but the point is that everyoen has to violate something like the principle of sufficient reason: that everything that is a certain way is that way for a reason. Muffti has to say that the universe just is and doesn’t submit to further explnaation. Ephraim and co. have to say that GOD just is and doens’t submit to further explanation. So everyone is in the same camp, philospohers and other alike in admitting that justification and explanation can logically has to stop somewhere where there is no furhter level of explanation. Occham’s razor dictates that you don’t throw in things taht are extraneous and Muffti still isn’t seeing what the God hypothesis adds vis a vis explaining why teh universe is here.

  • Happy Passover, JM, and thanks for the Easter greeting! We’re not sweating the Judas thing, by the way. That text has been known and debated for many centuries.

  • Muffti, things can simply ‘just be’ wrong and right, as long as one doesn’t insist that one’s own point of view be adopted as normative by others. Once we start positing norms– morality, if you will– rules purportedly binding on others– surely there must be some metaphysical grounding for them. Or else, they amount to willful imposition of a wholly relative and subjective point of view. That’s cool, as long as it’s admitted. That would be Nietzsche’s candid view, no? The will to power and all that.

    Hey, the Aztecs were really big on sacrificing and eating people. Now, there was a stratified culture with rigid ethical norms.

    Is polygamy ‘just’ good or bad? Homosexuality? Today’s erstwhile taboo? How about tomorrow’s?

  • Muffti, things can be simply ‘good’ and ‘bad’ for you, as long as you don’t insist that such judgments are normative and binding, somehow, upon the consciences of others, or upon the culture as a whole. The latter requires some sort of metaphysical grounding, surely. And utilitarianism begs the question, doesn’t it: good for what? And for whom?

    Getting rid of God is, among other things, a pain in the ass:

    “It was the Jews who, with awe-inspiring consistency, dared to invert the aristocratic value-equation (good=noble=powerful=beautiful=happy=beloved of God) and to hang on to this inversion with their teeth, the teeth of the most abysmal hatred (the hatred of impotence), saying, ‘the wretched alone are the good; the poor, the impotent, lowly alone are the good; the suffering, deprived, sick, ugly alone are pious, alone are blessed by God, blessedness is for them alone– and you, the powerful and the noble, are on the contrary the evil, the cruel, the lustful, the insatiable, the godless to all eternity; and you shall be in all eternity the unblessed, accursed and damned! . . . One knows who inherited this Jewish revaluation.”
    (Genealogy of Morals, First Essay, 7)

  • Ugh!!! Apologies for the redundancy. I’ve got to give comments more time to post– sorry!

  • . . . I blame too much caffeine this morning, and a listen to “Congotronics 2” (Crammed Disc), a compilation of bands from Kishasa, DR Congo. Incredible stuff– urgently recommended.

  • Morrissey, Muffti was suggesting that metaphysical grounding may just amount to this; there iws a property, goodness, and it attaches to some actions and not others. and there is a property, badness, and it attaches to some actions ;and not others. Myabe there is a unified story to tell: muffti is a utilitarian basically and thinks that utility is a complex matter that we have to figure out. But to say that the ground needs to be provided by some being just makes a mysterout of things. PUt it this way: but for the fear of punishment, why should we care waht god says is good or bad? Answer: because its GOOD. But this just puts us back on teh euthyphro dilemma muffti suggested avove.

  • (Tried sending this a while ago– redundancy alert!)

    You have more courage than I do, Muffti. I don’t trust us to arrive at satisfactory results from a “complex,” utilitarian approach to moral judgments. Some outcomes seem safely predictable– incest is bad– others, perhaps not (African slavery is ok, benefiting even the slaves themselves; expropriating Jewish property is ok, at least for the “greatest number”). Ol’ Nietzsche saw the utilitarian outlook on morality as an exercise in question-begging.

    It’s very hard, I think, not to resort– sometime, somewhere in one’s analysis– to some non-utilitarian basis for ‘good’ and ‘bad.’

    To paraphrase Churchill, religion may be the worst approach to this, except for all the others.

  • It’s not you, Tom, it’s that our filter is capturing some of your comments for review because some keyword may have triggered it. It is only released when one of us goes into the filter and clears it – which can take a minute or a few hours depending on where we are…

  • No, no, there’s no need to be careful because there are some fairly common words in the filter. Post away freely…but do save the post just in case.

  • Mufti you really are a foolish person.

    Ive explained before that the very laws of nature the very fat that things fall and that the winds blow are caused at every moment.

    Nothing can happen by itself -ever.

  • Re comment # 47: GM you are entirely right. The religious thinking is that G-d only does nice things, as you say He should, to be G-d at all, as WE understand Him! That is a very serious core point of our religious vision and you are right in it.

    “It is only that sometimes He sends us difficult, unpleasant challenges. But, (this thinking says,) we are learning and strengthening as we deal with this seemingly bad stuff. But it is not really bad.” That is the theory. That G-d does not really do any evil, it just LOOKS that way.

    I have personally lived this – but who has not; you know, like, they wouldn’t let you on the Titanic, and you cried at the time. Then later you were glad.

    Or the pretty girl somebody else got – who, years later, turned out to be not so cool after all. A bad one. Ran off with the milkman.

    But you have to get old to see this. And it is never easy. Especially in the middle of a toothache.

    Happy Passover.

  • Joe, Muffti certainly is foolish but not on account of what he said here. We’ve had this discussion a long time ago and Muffti remains unconvinced: your basic premise, that everything has a cause except God, is only justified (as we said before) if you are allowed to extrapolate from your experience to facts about the origins of hte universe, which even modern physics suggests is messed up (there is no account o the laws of physics fro the first few seconds of the universes existence). ‘nothing can happen by itself-ever’…Muffti is sure you are about to cheat and say ‘except God’. Is Muffti right?

    Incidentally, Joe, Muffti would be curious to hear what you think regarding the euthyphro dillema that Muffti mentioned earlier.

    Happy passover JM.

  • Ol’ FN can be marshalled in support of almost every position, Muffti! Gotta hand it to him! The quotes involve his non-metaphysical approach to ‘good’ and ‘bad’.

    The downside of quoting him apropos Jews is leaving the unintended impression he was anti-semitic. In fact, he was a philo-Semite.

    (btw, looks like you steered clear of the great child molestation debate. Good move.)

  • Thanks! Muffti felt that Laya was well up to that challenge. It’s a bit hard to tell what FN was: as you say yourself, he can be marshalled in support of everything.

  • Yeah, Laya’s tough. The Middle-Laya wars. It’s unusual to see two people who haven’t at some point slept together go at it like that.

  • Mufti,
    Lets forget the word God for a minute – because that is just confusing the issue.

    Answer the following simple question. Try to keep your answer as brief as possible.

    If I taught 2 children or two aboriginis how to tell time from a clock. The two both marveled at this thing that was ticking and telling time- they haven’t seen such a thing before.

    One of them tells the other that one day he will study the clock and figure out how it works. Why does it tick? How can it tell time without slowing down or speeding up?

    The other one responds and says: what are going to waste your time for-it just works by itself.
    The first responds and says ‘By itself? how can it work by itself? come with me and together we will study why and how it works’; The second responds back and says ‘studying it is a waste of time because you can simply say that it works by itself’

    Which one of the two would you say is right and which one is talking foolishly and why?

  • The analogy is, unfortunately, quite flawed. Muffti isn’t saying that we shouldn’t discover the laws of nature, the basic elements of the universe, etc. Of coruse we ought to! But the point is that at some poitn the person who says ‘it just works by itself’ is going to have to have gotten things right unless you think explanation can extend for ever. You say: that is God. Muffti says: why is God any better a stopping place than the universe simply existing?

    i.e. why doesnt’ your analogy tell one to try to ask questions like ‘waht is God like? what makes him work that way? what is responsible for him?’ If you tell Muffti we can’t really ask those qustions, IMuffti will ask you why teh analogy doesn’t work on god as much as is it works on the basic elements that were aroudn when the universe began.

    The point is: at some point, given that expalnation doesn’t go on forever, the second responder who sounds foolish here has to be saying the right thing. Why is God teh right place to stop?

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