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Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Failure of Torah Codes

Torah codes or "Bible Codes" are supposedly a way to gain prophetic insight from encoding the text of the Torah. The idea is that if you skip a certain number of letter in the Torah you would form words. These words together will tell you prophetic insight. Thus, many Jewish believers say that Torah codes is the ultimate proof that the Torah must have been written by God. Because no human being has the ability to encode the Torah with so much prophecy.

Let us understand first how Torah codes work. I am no expert so I may get a few things wrong here but this is my understanding. Let us illustrate how it would work with say "Tale of Two Cities". The opening phrase is, "it was the best of times it was the worst of times". What we do next is create a 50 x 50 grid and inside this grid we put in the letter in the order of the book. So the first entry into the grid would be "i" then it would be "t", then "w" then "a" then "s", and so forth. There are no spaces. Once this grid is filled up we move to the next page and fill up the grid. We keep on doing this until the entire book is put onto these grids. The same thing with the Torah. It is just done in Hebrew rather than English. I only used "Tale of Two Cities" because I figured it might be easier to follow.

There are computer programs that do this so that people do not have to spend all that time. It does not even have to be a 50 x 50 grid it can be 100 x 100 and other sizes too. Again I am not sure about the specifics you would have to look it up if you are interested but this is basically what they do. Once a computer program is set up with these grids the next thing that people do is a word search. The way you find words is by skipping every certain number of letters. So say if you skip every 11th letter you form the word "death". The idea of Torah codes is to find words in a single grid. Once these words are found the claim is that these words represent a prophetic insight to the future.

Some Torah codes have become famous. There is one that mentions the year of holocaust, it mentions word "holocaust", it mentions Hitler's name, it may mention Germany, and other relevant things. Again I do not remember the details but it is a very impressive Torah word search. What the Jewish believer would do in such a case is say that this is so impressive that it must be the case that God is the author because he was hinting what will be the future of the Jewish people.

So are Torah codes really proof that God is the author of the Torah? I am sorry to say to any Jewish believer that may be reading this is that Torah codes do not advance the case that God is the author of the Torah. The only thing they do is nicely demonstrate the theory of probability. In probability theory there is the "infinite monkey theorem". The theorem says that if an event has positive probability then given enough time the event will happen. The way the theorem is stated is in a more humorous way. That is, a monkey randomly hitting keys on a typewriter will type out all books of Shakespeare given enough time to type. But the idea is the same, that is, if something can happen, it will happened if an experiment is preformed enough times. This may be several million times or many billion times but it is bound to happen. Now the number of possible permutations that can be formed from among the Torah codes is huge. I cannot even guess at this number. It is completely huge. So it is not a surprise at all that some words will start to appear together.

Say I took words, "Germany", "Hitler", "1942", "holocaust", "Jews" and found something I should not be surprised for the reasons explained above. In fact, let me put it this way. If Torah codes did not work then I would be far more impressed and thought it was written by God than by seeing Torah codes work. Because if Torah codes did not work then it would suggest they are not applicable to the rules of probability and so whoever wrote the Torah made sure it would not be applicable to probability theory. Consider this example. If there is a 100 multiple choice test with four choices then my expected score by pure guessing will be 25 correct answers. Now say I get two exams. One exam is by a student who got 30 correct and another exam is by a student who got 0 correct. Even though getting a mistake is more common than getting something right it turns out, if we do the math, that the chances that a student would get 30 correct is 142,659,567,330 times more likely than one who gets everything wrong. Therefore, I would see the one who got everything wrong as having some sort of magical powers that make him immune from probability. I would suspect that perhaps he knew what was wrong. The same with Torah codes. If on the contrary Torah codes did not work at all then I would suspect that something mysterious must be going on to make them unaffected by probability laws.

There are plenty of other problems wrong with Torah codes. One can find non-meaningful word searches. For example, say you consider the words "elephant", "six legs", "wings", and "human". Does that mean the Torah predicts that in the future there would be a six-legged human elephant with wings? The point is that what we do is throw away the millions and billions of non-sensical word searches and only focus on ones that actually make sense. Which again, by rules of probability, is not in any way impressive.

There are even more problems with Torah codes. One can use Torah codes to justify Jesus and Christianity. So my question is if you say Torah codes are really authentic then why do you not become Christians if you can justify Christianity through Torah codes? And to the question I raised above why do you not believe in six-legged elephant humans with wings if you accept Torah codes? The point is that you do not accept Torah codes, in truth. What you do is use your own judgement. You use your own intellect. Torah codes are just a "justification" to what your intellect already conjured instead of Torah codes of being used for illumination of the truth. Why this intellectual dishonesty?

The problems do not just stop here. There is nothing special about the Torah whatsoever. One can use the Koran and get the same results. In fact, skeptics preformed this experiment using "Moby Dick". What they found was really impressive, even more impressive than anything found in the Torah. They found the complete details and specifications to a murder case. It was a long list of details that even included that the murder was done through an axe. The question is that did Herman Melville really has prophetic powers? Or perhaps the laws of probability work wonderfully on large cases trails by the law of large numbers?

There really is nothing more to say on Torah codes except that it is just another failed attempt by the believer to try to justify his religion.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Torah is in Context

Plenty of Jewish followers complain that we "need to read the Torah in context". This is sometimes heard from the Modern-Orthodox Jews and more commonly by a "left-wing" form of Orthodox Judaism. I never heard this complaint from Orthodox Jews themselves.

What essentially "reading Torah in context" comes down to is throwing away all the embarrassing verses from the Torah. Certain Modern-Orthodox Jews and other types when come across an embarrassing verse in the Torah, like a commandment to kill those who violate Shabbos, complain that the Orthodox Jew "does not put it into context". They say that the verse seems to be talking about killing Shabbos violators but really it is saying ... (whatever they would say, I have no idea how these kinds of Jews interpret this verse). What they do is make the verse seem more reasonable. Sometimes they simply say "this is just a metaphor".

And they do the same thing with any anti-science statements in the Torah. They would say, as referring to the seven days of creation, "this is just a metaphor to how God created the world". No, it is not. The Torah is already in context. When the Torah says to kill those who violate Shabbos, or to stone those who commit adultery it really means it. It is already in context. Regarding certain issues the Torah is extremely clear in what it says. Saying "it is just a metaphor" or trying to find some made up explanation to why it is justified is taking it out of context. The anti-science statements in the Torah were believed by all the Rabbis who studied the Torah. Rashi, Ramban, ibn Ezra, so on and so forth. They all accepted those "scientific" statements which are found in the Torah. Because when the Torah says something it is clear in what it says, unless there really is a reason to say it is just an expression (for example, like, "the hand of God"). Similarly when the Torah says to kill those who transgress the Shabbos it really means it. Provided you have witnesses and a court system (as explained in Talmud Sanhedrin). All of the prohibitions the Torah says are clear. It is just the followers of Judaism who are uncomfortable with them that have to twist these prohibitions around using their wishful thinking.

This reminds me of what anti-gun rights groups do. They look at the second amendment and try to interpret it in the way to suits them. They completely avoid the obvious clear interpretation and need to confuse it with what they want it to mean. If people are not fine with the second amendment then they need to say the Founders made a mistake, not to falsely interpret it in way that suites their own views. The same criticism can be applied to Jewish followers who interpret the Torah the way they want to interpret it. The Torah is clear, in many places, in what it says. If you do not agree with it do not falsely and knowingly interpret it in the way that suites your views, rather say that it is mistaken.

This is and has been my serious criticism of any form of Judaism other than the Orthodox. The question that I have is very simple, "is the Torah the book of God?". Most other forms of Judaism would agree with that, or they may say the book was written by people but they were divinely inspired by the Torah. My major criticism of anything but Orthodox Judaism is that if you say the Torah is from God or is divinely inspired then why do you not follow it? The only people who try to be consistent in following it are the Orthodox Jews. Any other form of Judaism replaces the Torah with their own wishful thinking and then try to justify their own views by distorting what the Torah really says. Why must this distortion be done? If the Torah is really true then what is says is already moral? Why change it? It makes no sense to do that.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Purim and Chillul Hashem

It is that time of year again when a lot of Orthodox Jews will get drunk to the point of "not knowing the difference between blessing Mordecai and cursing Haman". They will end up doing a lot of stupid and dangerous things. But worse than that they would create a huge chillul hashem.

Maybe I am too harsh on Jewish people during Purim. I have always hated drinking and drugs. I have never used drugs in my life, never plan to, nor do I ever get drunk in my life. I do drink though, I drink a lot, I drink because I like the taste of pain, and the burning feeling as it goes down my throat. But that is the only reason why I drink. I even used to drink in high school. But I was always responsible. Thus, perhaps I am so anti-Purim drinking because I have always despised intoxication.

But I do not think I am being harsh on them. If Jewish people drank (or did drugs, as I am sure a lot of teenagers do on Purim) within their own community then that would be different. The problem is that this is not the case. Many of Jews, especially teenagers, do stupid things in public. This is clearly a bad image for the Jewish people. What do you think the doctors think when they get a few Jewish people called in because they drank too much?

Purim is the time of the year of huge chillul hashem. The time when we are going to see Jewish people do really dumb things. But moreover is that this is encouraged by some Rabbis. Not just Rabbis, this is encouraged by the Mishna Brura. This is just another fine example of how religion can make good people do terrible and stupid things.

Since I am talking about chillul hashem I want to mention that in general a chillul hashem is created whenever Jews follow some commandment which looks strange (or immoral) in front of people. This is often created when Jewish people try to express their Jewishness. I will give some examples of this.

I do not think that wearing your titzis out or even wearing a tallis is a chillul hashem. It looks funny, sure, but I do not imagine that people look at Jews and think something terrible of them simply because they look funny. I cannot tell how non-Jewish people look at Jews, I am Jewish myself, so I have no idea what is going through their head. However, I know what I think of Muslim girls who wear the hijab. I go to a college that has a lot of Muslims. I never think anything bad of these Muslim girls. Some of them are nice people. I had one in my topology class and we got along well. Speaking for myself I do not develop a dislike to Muslims simply because they look funny. I do see them as dressing funny and furthermore I do think that the hijab is a dress of oppression. It is there to subconsciously remind the woman that she should be subordinate to the will of the man. However, I do not develop a hatred to the Muslim girl when I see her in a hijab. This is why I think that people do not develop a hatred to the Jew simply because he dresses funny.

People develop a hatred for Jews for other reasons. For example, if a male Jew refuses to shake the hand of a female partner or co-worker because he is restricted by halacha. This is a commandment, like said above, that is perceived as immoral by the people. This is what makes many people dislike the Jews. Another example would be getting too much concerned about kosher food at some restaurant that offers kosher food. I am not talking about asking whether the food is kosher or not, but asking follow up questions, to who exactly touched the food, and which Rabbi approves of it, so on and so forth. This is something that can make the owners feel insulted and create a chillul hashem.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Epistemological Non-Sense Game

If you destroy every argument for Judaism, the believer, before admitting that he still believes in Judaism because he has faith, will likely play what I like to call the "epistemological non-sense game".

He will tell you that you cannot know everything. There is just so much we do not know. We have no idea where the universe came from. We see that the law of gravitation works but we have no idea if it will continue to work tomorrow. We cannot even know if other people exist or if they are just illusions in our head. Essentially they are imitating Descartes.

The point of this is to tell you, the skeptic, that all your rational pursuit of trying to understand the universe is meaningless because in the end none of us can really know what is true about the universe. They set up this situation because they want to show that your rational beliefs are at the same equal level as their irrational mythological beliefs. The Jewish believer (or any religion) will admit that he cannot know if Judaism is correct but neither can I know if my natural material deterministic universe is correct. This is what I call the epistemological non-sense game. This is all what this game is about. Furthermore, these religious believers may use fancy philosophical terms to make it seem as if all of that they say deserves any respect. They hide behind using fancy language and philosophical terms. But if one goes around those terms and words that they use what they say is exactly what I said in the paragraph above.

Yes I admit that I can never really know my own beliefs that I have now. However, this does not mean that your (referring to the religious Jew in second person) beliefs are on the same level as mine. Because I make an effort to come to my beliefs. I apply my reasoning skills and what we already can observe in the universe to try to come to the best possible belief that I can. As opposed to you. You make no effort to come to your beliefs. You might just as well pull your beliefs out of your anus and say that they are your beliefs. Skepticism does not mean that I know the truth. Skepticism means that I know what is not true through a rational processes. Skepticism is the rejection of false ideas through rational thinking. Religion is the acceptance of ideas without any rational thinking. So yes, I admit, I may be wrong in the end (I certainly do not think so as the chances for that happening are extremely low) but at least I was rational about it. As opposed to religion which is irrational in its beliefs. Therefore, your beliefs do not stand anywhere to the same level of respect as do mine.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Main Argument for Judaism: Refuted

Religious Jews when asked to justify their beliefs will most likely use just one argument. This is an extremely common Jewish argument. They also, not surprisingly, think it is foolproof, that this is the ultimate argument that justifies Judaism.

The argument is the following. Every religion that has existed is based on the testimony of one person. Islam is based on the testimony of Muhammad. Muhammad had his teachings, told it to his followers, and that lead to Islam. Christianity is based on the testimony of Jesus to his disciples. Buddhism is based on the testimony of Buddha. Mormonism (or like I like to call it, "moronism", but I am sure everybody already spotted this obvious pun by now) is based only on the testimony of Joseph Smith and the magic tablets that only he saw. Judaism is different. Judaism is the only religion in the entire world that has its origin in front of an entire congregation. The reason why the false (non-Jewish) religions are based on a single individual is because if a person wants to keep a lie he needs to keep it by himself. Many people cannot keep a lie. Just one person would be enough to discredit the entire lie. The revelation on Sinai happened in front of millions of people. Clearly, it must have been true. One person can make up a lie and then spread it so that others believe. But if millions of people saw revelation then it was witnessed by its followers then Judaism could have not been fabricated as a lie. If a person or people were trying to make people accept Judaism they would fail to convert the people because the people would immediately realize they were not present at the revelation. The only way that the Jews can believe in that they had a revelation at Sinai is in the case if this actually happened.

My goal here is defeat this argument completely. Instead of giving a simple refutation for it I want to approach it from many different positions so that the argument is destroyed entirely. Destroyed to the point that no Jewish person would be able to use it. I wonder what other kind of argument they would use. I never even heard any other arguments for Judaism but this one. Well, there is one more, but it is not a good argument, basically the argument is that if there is a correct religion in the world it must be Judaism. I say it is a bad argument because it does not show Judaism is correct, it only says why Judaism has to be correct provided there is a correct religion. The argument I want to see is an argument for Judaism from start, not in the middle with the assumption there is a correct religion.

To start with a simple observation is that Judaism also began with one person. It all comes down to the testimony of Avraham himself, he is the first person to live by the teachings of Judaism. But this is an irrelevant point, because the Jewish believer will still tell me that Judaism cannot be passed down to its believers if it was witnessed by so many people later in the future with Moshe. Thus what I just said is not a refutation to their argument but just an observation. My observation is that if we can show that Judaism is false, and all those witnesses never existed, then it will have to be the case that it originated by one person too (whoever Avraham even was). But my observation will only be applicable provided I can refute the argument for Judaism, as I will soon do.

There is something about this argument for Judaism that has always bothered me. Namely, just one simple argument is enough to verify all of Judaism? What about the divinity of the Tanach, and what about the divinity of the Talmud, and everything else in which Jewish people belief today? In science when one wants to verify a claim a lot of work is done to support that. It is not some simple argument contained in one paragraph, a lot of work needs to be done. So it surprises me when Jewish believers think that this one argument is enough to settle all of Judaism. It is just too simple to address everything. The most it can address is that Judaism has been taught to Moshe and to the people on Sinai. But there is still a long way to go to verify the Judaism of today. This argument is just not enough. But whatever, I will nonetheless defeat this argument.

Their argument says that there were millions of people who witnessed the great miracles of God. But how do we know that? From which source do we know that? We cannot use the Torah. If we use the Torah to show that then we are committing circular reasoning. We are saying that the Torah is true because there were millions of people who witnessed the event, we know millions of people witnessed the event because that is what the Torah says. If this is the main argument for Judaism then it is a terrible argument because it is just circular reasoning. However, the Jewish believer will object to me and say it is not a circular argument because their argument is that if Judaism was false then you cannot make its practitioners believe in Judaism if Judaism claims grand miracles in front of large congregations. So it is a sneaky argument, they almost turn it into circular reasoning.

So it is not circular reasoning, it is a different kind of fallacy, I would say that it is an argument from ignorance. The argument is that we cannot see how it is possible to make so many people believe in witnessed miracles and revelations that it must be that it was really true. I recognize that calling this argument for Judaism an argument from ignorance is not exactly an argument from ignorance but if I had to put a name on it, it would be an argument from ignorance.

I have already explained how Jewish beliefs may have developed. If you read this and this, I offer an explanation to how Judaism could have developed. Of course, the Jewish believer would object to me and say that if Judaism had no grand claims or revelations and miracles then my explanation for the development of Judaism would be fine, however, since Judaism has claims of grand revelations it must be the case that it could have not been invented by people.

Now I will get to the serious error of the argument for Judaism. This argument assumes that the Torah was written at the time of Moshe and the incident of Sinai. Refer to this to understand why the Torah could have not been written by Moshe, nor anywhere close to his time (assuming he even existed). The Jewish believer does not demonstrate that the Torah is from the time of Moshe. This is the fundamental implicit assumption in this entire argument. The argument rests on the idea that if you have people and you give them a book that talks about grand revelations and miracles then they would never accept it because these revelations were a witnessed event. However, the Torah was written a long time after. Therefore, what happened was that the Jewish believers had the beliefs and ideas that their past generations came from a time of great miracles and revelations. Then the Torah was compiled with the teachings the people already believed at that time.

It is not difficult at all to make the current generation believe in great miracles from a long time ago. This has been already done by many other religions (when Jews say that they are the only religion with witnessed great miracles they are wrong about it). For example, consider Islam. In Islam many Muslims believe in that Muhammad split the moon. Clearly, splitting the moon is a grand miracle, something that can be observed by everyone (that is not blind) in the world. How can these Muslims believe in this if it never actually happened? The answer is exactly the same as I gave above. In truth, Muhammad did not have to preform this miracle in front of people. All what had to happen was for Muhammad to have followers who believed in him and respected him. Stories developed about the great miraculous man Muhammad by the followers. Once that has happened it was easy to convince the current generation by the made up accumulated beliefs of the previous generations. The same can also be said about the Miracle of the Sun. This is something that did not happened a thousand years ago, this happened less than a hundred years ago. Many ten-thousands of people have witnessed the miracles in the sky that represented Virgin Mary. It is easy to see how that can be incorporated into their religion. These people were Christians who already believed in Christianity. They seen a natural event which they were so amazed by that they attributed it to Christianity. Then they taught their children about the great miracle that happened in front of everybody. This story was passed down from generation to generation. And if the current generation was to write down the story of this event they would attribute to it grand miracles that were witnessed by so many people. This is exactly how Judaism developed its stories of grand miracles.

Exodus does not even mention such grand miracles. Read the portion in Exodus which talks about the revelation at Sinai and the splitting of the Reed Sea. It says something about the sea splitting. The revelation at Sinai is even less miraculous, it talks about thunder and lightning. The supposed documentations of these miracles themselves in the Torah is not as glorious as believed by the Jewish people. The medreish (a Jewish book allegedly containing the oral tradition) glorifies these miracles. Much of what cannot be found in the Torah is found in the medreish. For example, there is a medreish in how the sea split and the Jewish people were able to walk through a decorated pathway in between the sea with fountain water flowing from outside the sea into their mouths. Where is that in the Torah? The interesting thing is that many medreishim contradict each other. One says one version of the story and another says another version of the story. In that case we can immediately raise a question. If one cannot make up a lie in front of many witnesses then how can a medreish be wrong if it is the supposed oral tradition? Very simple answer, as anticipated by what said above, the medreishim where not written at their time but many many years afterwords. This is why it is possible to invent a story of grand miracles.

With the argument for Judaism defeated there is absolutely no reason to believe in Judaism anymore. There is just no rational basis to accept Judaism with a complete lack of arguments for it. If the Jewish believer after reading this still believes in Judaism then it can only be because he wants to believe in Judaism. This is not how skeptical thinking works. We do not wish for something to be true and then try to find steps to justify it, we do it the other way around. We form conclusions from what we already know. Jews believe in Judaism because that is how they been brought up. Instead of coming to conclusions from what we already know in a skeptical manner they try to find whatever justification they can to believe in Judaism. These justifications are all weak (like the main argument for Judaism) because they are trying to defend something which is false but they still hold on to them. Because they already made up their mind to believe in Judaism. I am curious myself to even know if a religious Jew will still use the main argument for Judaism after reading this. He probably will. He will ignore all the problems that have been exposed with this argument and just pretend it is a satisfactory argument because he wants Judaism to be true. At least they would know on their subconscious level that they are wrong. There is just no reason to believe in Judaism anymore, free your minds from tyranny, I promise it is not bad, you would not regret it.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Biblical Exodus

The central belief of Judaism is that the Hebrews were once slaves in Egypt and were taken out under the leadership of Moshe. The obvious question to ask is whether this event really took place or not? We know that the Greek myths are all made up stories, perhaps the same can be said about this Hebrew story?

From what I have read and from what I understand I do believe that Yetzius Metzraim (Exodus from Egpyt) is based on a historical event. I imagine that some people will tell me I am even wrong about that but I do not think so. I say so because there is evidence that there was a group of people called "Hyksos" who lived in ancient Egypt around 1500 BC. These people were either slaves or of very low class who later left Egpyt. This is documented on the wall paintings in ancient Egyptian locations. These wall paintings were used to keep their history. Archaeologists and ancient historians also know that Hyksos were of semitic origin. Can these people have been the Hebrews? I think so. I do want to add that Flavius Josephus does write about the Hyksos being the Hebrew people. This is what makes me think that the Exodus story is based on historical events that took place in Egypt a long time ago.

There is no evidence however for any of the grand miraculous stories that are believed by the Jewish people today. My understanding is what I wrote about here. Namely, there was an event that taken place and the people associated with this event passed it down to their generations in a more glorious version. This continued to happen until we have the grand story of the Exodus as the Jewish people believe it today. Therefore, I think that the Exodus story is inspired by something which really happened, but it is sexed up with miracles.

There is also the story about the splitting of the sea. Another big part of Judaism. What I think, as proposed by archaeologists, is that the Hebrews passed through a sea when it was during its low-tide. Later when the high-tide came back in it covered up what they have traveled through. The Hebrews were so impressed by that, that they attached to it mythological notions. Thus, over time this story became the grand amazing story which is believed by Jewish people today.

No evidence has been presented that shows that the Hebrews were chased by the Egyptians, the sea split in half, they walked through, the Egyptians followed, then the sea closed up again killing the Egyptians. If this was the case then we should be able to find evidence in the sea that Egyptians were killed.

Some Jewish people will object to what I have just said and say, "but we have been able to find an Egyptian chariot wheel in the Red Sea, so the story is true". There is just so much that bothers me about such an objection. The main one being is the hypocrisy of the Jewish people. If you try to use archeology they will tell you, "it is unreliable because it is studying things which are long gone". Of course, the real reason why Jewish people (and religious people in general) are anti-archeology is that it challenges their religious beliefs. However, when they found a piece of archeology which they think vindicates their beliefs then they have no problem using it. You cannot have it both ways. But there is another significant problem with the chariot wheel in the Red Sea. Why do you have to assume that this chariot wheel has to do with the Exodus? There could be hundreds of other explanations for this chariot wheel. Why immediately jump and think it has to do with the Exodus? Finally, the reason why this Jewish apologetic fails miserably is because the Exodus did not take place at the Red Sea! If you are a Jewish person who believes the Exodus took place at the Red Sea then you must have been reading the King James Bible instead of the Torah. The Torah is clear, it is, "yam suf". Which means, "reed sea". If you use Artscroll they translate it as, "Sea of Reeds". Some archaeologists think they have been able to identify the actual sea. Which, by the way, is a tiny little sea, nothing in size to the Red Sea.

The point of all of this is that if you want to believe in something you need to have rational and empirical reasons to believe in it. I believe that the Exodus is based on something which happened because I can justify that. But I do not believe in anything more because it goes against Reason, and cannot be justified by any evidence whatsoever. This is why I think the Jewish story of the Exodus evolved to what it is today by glorification of stories by subsequent generations of believers.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Stories Change Over Time

I am sure you played the game "telephone" when you were a little kid. The game was fun because what the initial person said did not match what the last person said. In many cases it was way off. The same can be said about historical events that were passed down over generations. Of course, much of history we know today is accurate. But this is because it was kept and documented very carefully. If however one is not precise in documenting history then it will turn into legends and eventually legend will turn into myth.

A good example of how history turns into myth is Iliad and Odyssey by Homer. This Greek myth is surprisingly based on a historical event. The Trojan war did take place as was discovered by archeology. However, the Greek version of the Trojan war is so far removed from how it actually taken place. The Greek version (Homer) is much more glorious. It is filled with miraculous events, it is filled with the gods communicating with mortals. The Trojan war started as a historical event that taken place. Over the years people changed the details of the story. Since the Greeks believed in the gods they added to this story that the gods must have intervened with the journey of Odysseus. The Greeks continued to glorify the story from generation to generation, history turned into legend, and finally the legends turned into myths. These myths were believed and part of the Greek people, so it remained for an author, Homer, to write them down.

But that is thousands of years ago, can one point to a more recent example? Certainly, just consider George Washington. Washington was a hero of the American people. The father of America, participated in the American Revolution. The people loved Washington. Just like with Trojan war the story of Washington has turned into a legend. There are stories that glorify Washington. For example, people may say that Washington never told a lie. Or more famously the story of how Washington chopped down a cherry tree when he was a little boy and admitted that to his father. Did the cherry tree legend really happen? No. That is just something people said about Washington over the many years after his death to glorify him.

I remember watching Bill Maher's "Religulous". He had in that movie a group of people who believed a giant is buried in their mountain. They had an outline of the giant's body on the mountain and the people in that region of the world authentically believed a giant is buried there. I think the same principle that was mentioned above can be applied to this story. A long time ago people said stories about giants that lived in that region. Then some people started to believe some giant died and was buried in the mountain. The people acted as if that was true and over the years this story was passed down to their children. As a result, you have a group of people in that region of the world who believe a giant is buried in their mountain.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Did Moshe Write the Torah? Part 3

Here are some more additional problems that arise if one believes that the Torah was written by Moshe.

Eating Manna: The mun (manna) according to Judaism was a magical white substance that God gave to the Hebrews in the desert which acted as a substitute for food. It had the magical abilitiy to taste like any food you wanted it to taste as. This is how Jewish people describe the manna, there is no good explaination to what the manna is from the Torah itself. Thus, the Jewish idea of manna must be derived from oral tradition and the commentaries. This is all unimportant for us in context of deciding whether or not Moshe wrote the Torah. Go to Exodus 16:35, "The children of Israel did eat manna forty years, until they came to a land (Canaan) inhabited". There is a clear problem with such a verse as we already raised in our past analysis. Namely, how can Moshe write about how the Hebrews continue to eat manna until they arrive in the land of Canaan if Moshe died before every reaching the land of Canaan? Thus, whoever wrote this passage must have been living many years after the death of Moshe to narrate this event.

Kings from Edom: Chaphter 36 in Genesis is an interesting chapter because not only does it again challenge that Moshe is the author of the Torah but it puts a big estimate on the author who wrote this passage. In particular look at Genesis 36:31, "And these are the kings which reigned in the land of Edom, before there reigned any king over the children of Israel". Jewish history says that after Moshe died, and then Yehoshua died, the Israelites were ruled by the era of the Judges, then this era ended and Israel began to have kings. The meaning of "before any king reigned over Israel" implies that this must have been written at least two kings past. The first king was Saul. If this was written during the time of Saul then it should read "before the king reinged over Israel". Therefore, at least two kings must have past if one is to write, "before any king reinged over Israel". The second king was David. This is approximiately 400 years after the death of Moshe. Thus, we get a sense of a big estimate of years that spanned before Moshes and the authorship of this passage in Genesis.

King of Bashan: Here is another big estimate to the time between Moshe supposedly lived and the authorship of the Torah. Og, the king of Bashan, was a giant (in case you are not familar giants exist in the world of the Torah). Deuteronomy 3:11, describes his bed and how large it was. It also mentions that it is located in Rabbah. The problem here is that Moshe could not have known that it is located in Rabbah. Moshe never took the city of Rabbah. Rabbah is not conquered and taken over until Second Samuel 12: 26-29 under king David. Just like the above observation about the kings of Edom we have a similar situation with this passage in Deuteronomy. We see that the author of this passage must have lived many hundreds of years after Moshe.

These examples that have been brought forth are just a few examples of an entire myraid of examples that point to the Torah being written a long time after Moshe supposedly lived. Thus, we see that Moshe cannot be the author of the Torah. We can also ask the question of who then wrote the Torah and when it was written. This is a more difficult question to ask. No one really knows the answer to this question, but various answers have been formulated. A detailed study of this is answered by the Documentary Hypothesis. Spinoza himself has made the case that the Torah was a collection of passages written by many different authors. He even argues that only a tiny precentage of these could be assumed to have been writen by Moshe (assuming that there was such a guy that lived). Later these collections were put together between the 3rd and 2nd century BC by some Jewish scholar. Spinoza makes a guess that this may have been Ezra. Whatever the real origins of Torah really are is not as important as that it was not written by Moshe (who recieved it from God). Once we understand this we see a serious problem in Judaism.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Did Moshe Write the Torah? Part 2

In the past post we have noted that the Torah could have not been written entirely by Moshe. Perhaps, a little piece of if was written by Moshe (such as when it is accounted in first-person perspective) but nearly all of it was written by some other author. In fact, we have seen that it seems the Torah was written much after the death of Moshe. Here are additional problems with the Torah if we assume that Moshe wrote it.

Problem of Dan: Let us assume that New York City was called Jamestown one-hundred years ago. Now I know this is not true but let us just pretend it is for the sake of making a point. If a book was to be found that had a story of a guy arriving at Jamestown then one of the implications that we can get from this book is that it must have been written more than one-hundred years ago. Clearly, if it was less than one-hundred years old then it would mean that the story would be of a guy arriving at New York City not Jamestown. We will apply this simple concept to Genesis 14:14 to "Avram pursued them onto Dan". The location of Dan where Avram (Abram) pursued was not originally called Dan. It was called Leish. If we go to Judges 18:27 we read an incident of how the people of Leish were smote with the edge of a sword. Afterwards, in Judges 18:29, "And they called the name of the city Dan, after the name of Dan their father". The renaming of Leish to Dan does not take place until Judges, which is not only after the death of Moshe, it is after the death of Yehoshua (Joshua). Thus, not only does this show that Moshe cannot write the Torah because if it was written during his time then Moshe would have referred to Dan as Leish instead but it also shows a considerable amount of time must have passed after Moshe by the author who wrote this passage.

ibn Ezra Agrees: Go to Genesis 12:6 where it says, "The Canaanites was then in the land". This innocent looking statement demonstrates that Moshe is not the author of this verse. To say that "was then in the land" is to imply that there will come a time in the future when the Canaanites would not be in the land any longer. Moshe died before crossing the Jordan. It was Yehoshua (Joshua) who took lead of the Hebrew people and took them into the land of Canaan. It was under Yehoshua that the Hebrews conquered Canaan, settled there, and formed the nation of Israel. Moshe was dead during when the Canaanites will killed out from Canaan. Thus, whoever wrote "Canaanites was then in the land" would mean that this author must have lived after the supposed incident of Canaan conquest have taken place. Therefore, we see from this that not only Moshe is not the author of the Torah, but we get an idea of what time period the Torah must have been compiled under. What is surprising is that the ibn Ezra (a highly respected medievel commentary and Jewish scholar) recognized the same problem when he read the Torah. The ibn Ezra says in his commentary, "let the one who understand the mystery behind this verse be silent". What can ibn Ezra possibly be referring to? Apparently, ibn Ezra realized that this verse challenges the idea that Moshe wrote the Torah, since it was heresy to go against that notion the ibn Ezra has nothing to do but remain silent. He sees the problem with Mosaic authorship (this term means that Moshe wrote the Torah) so he hints at it but says nothing beyond it. In fact, ibn Ezra gives a few more of these hints in other locations throughout the Torah to hint at the problem with Mosaic authorship. But he does not say anything more.

This will be continued in a future post.

Did Moshe Write the Torah? Part 1

Please refer to this post to understand where this post is going.

One of the thirteen principles of faith (of Maimonides) is that we need to accept that God wrote the Torah and that Moshe (Moses) recieved it from God on Mt Sinai. This all took place supposedly 3,500 to 3,300 years ago. Let us investigate the truth of this statement using nothing other than the Torah itself. No fancy archaeological findings or anything like that. Just using the Torah itself as a guide.

The arguments that are about to be presented are standard arguments that have been noticed by past philosophers. These will be arguments that Biblical skeptics use. I wish I can get the credit for this but it has been done by other people before. In particular, you can find this in more detail by reading Spinoza's "Theological-Political Treatise" or Paine's "Age of Reason".

Our approach here will be simple. We will consider the statement, "Moshe is the author of the Torah" by seeing how consistent it is with what we find in the Torah. If this statement is consistent it does not make it true (why not? well, just take the statement "humans have 600 bones", this statement is consistent with what we have in the Torah but it does not make it true). However if this statement is inconsistent with the Torah then it does not necessary make it false, it just means that both the Torah and the statement cannot be both correct, for example, the statement "there is no God" is inconsistent with the Torah, this does not make it necessarly false, it only means that both the Torah and the statement "there is no God" cannot be true simultaenously. Thus, if we can show that "Moshe is the author of the Torah" to be inconsistent with "the Torah is true and is from God given to Moshe" then it must mean that at least one of these statement is true. Any one of these statemens would immediately falsify Judaism. To falsify Judaism it is therefore sufficient to show the inconsistency of the statement "Moshe is the author of Torah" with the Torah itself. This is my favorite approach to discredit Judaism because it uses nothing other than Judaism's inconsistency to destroy itself. There is no need to jump to the scientific knowledge we have of the world today, this simple approach of using our own reason is good enough.

Third Person Perspective: The Torah speaks of the accounts of Moshe, as if he is being discussed by some other author. This is found throughout scripture everywhere (with the exception of Genesis). Just take the first sentence of Deuteronomy 1:1, "These be the words which Moses spoke unto Israel". If Moshe was the author would it not been proper to omit that passage or else to write, "These are the words which I have spoke onto Israel"? A believer would object to me saying that Moshe was only being formal. If he wrote "me" or "I" then he would have not been formal about writing the Torah. I agree this answer to the question raised would be satisfactory. However, the answer that Moshe is written in a third-person perspective for formality does not explain everything. It would explain the above question raised, and it would explain all the numerous "And God spake onto Moshe saying" verses. But in Deuteronomy 2:1, we find, "Then we turned, and took our journey into the wilderness by the way of the Sea of Reeds, as the Lord spoke unto me". This passage is written in first-person perspective. Moshe (supposedly) is saying his own journey and how God spoke with him. Why would Moshe not be formal and account this event like all the other events? Something different must going on here. The best answer that I can think of is that the original compilers of the Torah thought this passage was actually said by Moshe, so they kept it in first-person perspective while they narrated the rest of the Torah by describing Moshe in third-perspective. More importantly consider Deuteronomy 34:5 and 34:6 where it describes the death of Moshe in the land of Moab. If we are to accept that Moshe wrote the Torah and narrates it formally by speaking of himself in third-person (ignoring an exception to this rule when Moshe speaks about himself in first-person) then we have a serious problem. How can Moshe write about his own death? Clearly, if you find an autobiography about a death of the author then it cannot be an autobiography. This passage strucks severe blows to the idea that Moshe is the author. Another troubling one to a Jewish believer is in Deuteronomy 34:10, "there arose no prophet since in Israel like Moshe". This must be talking about after the death of Moshe. If a passage says that no other prophet was an equal of Moshe, it must be referring to after his death, furthermore this must be referring to long after his death. No person would say something like that immediately after Moshe died, a considerable amount of time must take place before one can say that. So not only does the Torah internally suggest that Moshe could have not written the Torah but it also shows that the Torah, whoever the authors were, must have written it after a considerable amount of time after the death of Moshe.

Since this exposition may be long, I will break it into several parts.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Am I a Happy Skeptic?

Religious people often have told me that religious people are happier than skeptics. A good response to that which I use is, "saying that a religious person is happier than a skeptic is no different than saying a drunk man is happier than a sober man". This is not my quotation, I read it somewhere else. But it does illustrate a major flaw the religious people miss. It is not about how we feel, it is about what is true!

But that is beside the point. The other point that needs to addressed is whether or not skeptics are happier people since they embraced skepticism, science, and reason or whether they were happier being obedient religious followers? I cannot speak for other people so I will only speak for myself. I have become a happier person since I gave up Judaism. I do not believe a being watches over our lives. I do not believe there is any set goal in life. I do not believe I will live on after I die, this is the only life I have. Why am I happier since I gave up these fallacies? Because I do not have an internal conflict with myself. I do not have to battle with my own understaning of morality with the Biblical version of morality. Back when I was part of Judaism I had this inner conflict every day, I just kept on seeing how unjust the Torah really is. I also had a conflict as I tried to justify Judaism in a fair and neutral manner. Ever since I became a skeptic I have no inner conflicts with myself. I live my life with actions exactly that I think are appropriate. Back when I was religious I was not able to do that, I had to do commandments in Judaism that I thought were cruel at times. For example, if I saw an older-person trying to carry something up the stairs I could have no helped that person out, because God said that we need to preserve Shabbos.

However, I do think that a devout religious person is happier than a skeptic. This is because a devout religious person who never thinks for himself never has any sort of conflict and is given this opiate that satisfies him throughout his life. When a believer is using religion as opium then he has no conflict at all, he only has comfort forever. Thus, I think happiness can generally be divided into three categories. The first one is the happiness of an optiate-drone obedient religious follower. The second one is the happiness of an open-minded religious follower who may have a little doubt. The third one is the happiness of a skeptic. I would guess that in general the first one is the happiest, then the third one, followed by the second one.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Interpreting Scripture

Suppose I gave you a book and I told you the book is filled with deep truths and ways to live your life. How would you judge this book? Clearly, you would read the book, understand what it says and then judge it from what it says. If the book is really wise you would recognize that from studying it.

Now suppose I give you a Koran (we will assume you are not Muslim). He tells you it comes directly from God and it is filled with only truth. You start reading the book. You notice the immoral commandments, contradictions, and infactual statements. So you conclude that this book cannot be from God, it got too many problems. So you tell a Muslim that you do not accept the Koran as coming from God because you read it and realize it could have possibly not have came from God.

The Muslim tells you "there are no contradictions in this book whatsoever and all the commandments are moral teachings". You then show all examples of the problems that are present in the Koran. So he tells you that there are commentaries written on the Koran and they address all of your concerns. Thus, you show him a contradiction in numbers, but he tells you the commentaries on the Koran say that they are not really contradictions. One number is for counting one way and another number is for counting another way. You will then ask why should you trust the commentaries themselves on how they choose to interpret the Koran? The Muslim will tell you because they are divinely inspired. And so when they comment on inner mysteries of the Koran they are doing that because they have been blessed to do that directly by God himself. But then you ask the question of how do we really know these Muslim commentators have divine inspiration? The Muslim would not be able to give an answer to such a question. It all comes down to the Muslim religion. If you were born in the Muslim religion and brought up, then you would from as a kid already trust the Koran and commentators. You were taught to believe that the commentators have divine inspiration and so know the secrets of interpreting the Koran. But the fact that they were divinely inspired was never demonstrated to you.

If one wants to be intellectually honest then he should apply the same procedure to Judaism. We need to ask a very important question, "how do I know that what I know is true?". This is not just in regard to religion, but this question has to be applied everywhere in life. That is exactly what skepticism is all about. We have been taught so many things every since we have developed as little children. We need to ask how do we know what we were taught as children is true? It is certainly possible that our parents made mistakes and taught us things which were not true. If we want to be figure out what we were taught is true or false we need to apply the method of skepticism. That is, we need to reject everything and start all over again. All the science, all the math, all the history, all the religion, and so forth, that we were taught, we need to reject them. And begin with an empty slate. First, we can ask "how do I know math is true?". Well, that is the easiest one to answer. Math is proven by proposititons that stem from the definitions themselves, and if we look at the proofs we can see that mathematics is true. Or even if you hate math and do not want to prove you, you can just notice that mathematics works. It works if we want to make predictions. Because it works it is a good sign that it is based on truth. The same with science. Even though science is not as easily verified as mathematics it can still be tested by numerous experiments that show it to be true. And again if you not so much into science an easy way to see that it is true you can just see that it works when we apply our scientific knowledge. History is more difficult to verify but it proceeds by a similar process. We can see how well it explains the current situations of the world, we can look for archeological findings that are consistent with known history, we can also see that different nations have a general history - showing that historical knowledge is consistent. Of course, we do not know absolutely if that is true, and with history sometimes we make mistakes, but nonetheless this approach is quite useful to showing that general historical knowledge is true. And now you need to get to religion, in particular Judaism. We need to ask the very same question again, "how do I know that what I have been taught about Judaism to be true?".

The most important piece of Judaism, or perhaps one of the most important components to Judaism is the Torah. The book that was supposedly written by God and handed down to Moshe (Moses). Remember before you can accept Judaism you need to confirm Judaism like with all other kinds of knowledge that we have through the method of skepticism. This means you cannot accept whatever interpretation or explaination the Jewish commentators say. So you would have to reject Rashi, ibn Ezra, and all those other guys. Of course, if you can indeed show they have divine inspiration then you can use them for illumination. But because this has not been revealed to us we need to be completely neutral on accepting the interpretation of the commentators. Since we have not yet established Judaism as being true a good way to proceed and test its most important document, the Torah. We need to look into the Torah itself and in a completely neutral way and fair manner read what it says to determine whether this book came from God or not.

We would therefore have to read the Torah straight. We cannot use wishful thinking. If at any point we arrive somewhere at something we do not like, we cannot use the old excuse "well that is just being metaphorical". Because how do you know it is being metaphorical? There is not reason at all to assume that what it says is metaphorical unless you can provide an argument from within the Torah to why it should be taken as metaphorical.

For example, let us consider the passage in the Torah that tells us to kill a wayward and rebellious son. A Jewish believer who is not comfortable with such a passage may resort back to the old boring excuse, "that is just a metaphor, it is talking about killing the son spiritually". But why should we assume that is a metaphor? Unless, no reason is provided to read metaphoricaly we should read literally because that is the default. Furthermore, the Torah has some specifics to how the rebellious son must be killed. If it was only a metaphor then why would it give the specifics? Again, it does not make sense why we need to switch over to a metaphorical interpretation. However, if the Torah says that God is without form and later on in the Torah it uses the expression "the right hand of God" then we can assume that is just a metaphor for perhaps "the strength of God" because we already know from the Torah itself that God is without form. So now when it brings up his right hand it makes sense to talk about a metaphorical intepretation. In this rare case we can demonstrate that "right hand of God" is metaphorical. So the lesson here is to accept a metaphorical interpretation only when it can be demonstrated from the Torah itself that it is necessary to use such an interpretation.

This is the only fair, neutral, and skeptical way to look at Scripture. This is the approach that we will have to apply if we want to look into the Torah skeptically.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Near Death Experiences: A Common Sense Refutation

A lot of people who have been dead for a few seconds or a few minutes before being revived again to life have reported seeing visions of the after-world. They say that they see a tunnel of vision, and they go down this tunnel. They feel love and welcome. Often they see religious imagery. Then they are revived back to life.

Are these people making up these visions? No, these visions are actually true. Plently of people all over the world have reported seeing these similar type of visions when they were dead. So I do not doubt these stories. I know that even skeptics have experienced these visions also.

Does this mean that the religious people are right after all? Does this mean that there really is a God who cares about us and when we die he watches over us to be taken to the place of afterlife? If you do not like spoilers then you might want to stop reading right now, otherwise read on.

Near death experiences offer no proof that there is an afterlife. There have been scientific tests done that refute this notion. Scientists have been able to replicate the same experiences under near death conditions. Pilots who train to fly in jets have seen similar experiences during training when the blood flow stopped going to their brain. The thing with near death experiences is that the brain is not fully shut down, it is still active for a little while before it turns off completely. During that period there is no blood flow going to the brain which induces the same experience that happens under non-death conditions.

The above paragraph is a common refutation a skeptic will use to believe in afterlife through near death experiences. But I realized a much simpler explaination that does not even need to use science, it is just common sense. I am sure I am not the first one to notice this but I never heard anyone every make this point. Let us for a moment assume that near death experiences are indeed truthful indications of an afterlife. Then we have something very interesting going on. Christian people who go through near death experiences have reported seeing images of Christ. Buddhists people may report seeing images of Buddha. And this continues from religion to religion. Each religious person sees an image associated with his religion. So if near death experieces were was real afterlife then it would imply that Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, and so on, are all correct religions. But that cannot be. All these religions cannot be correct. Is it more rational to say that these religions are all correct, or to say that near death experiences are really associated with the images that the person has a care for - and so rather people see images only to which religion they belong to? If all religions saw images of Jesus, then that would be interesting, but no, religions see themselves. This is why I do not buy into the whole afterlife thing through near death experiences.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Jewish Afterlife

I have wondered where exactly the Jews get their views of afterlife. The thing is that Jewish people do not believe in heaven or hell. Heaven and hell is a Christian invention, later adopted by Muslims. I actually think that the ancient Jews might have not believed in any afterlife whatsoever. There is no evidence in the Tanach that gives a sign that there could be an afterlife. Indeed, it even says in places, "the dead know nothing" or "the dead go down in silence". This leads me to think that originally Jews had no concept of an afterlife. After they seen other religions develop afterlife they said to themselves, "wow that is a great marketing idea, we need to use that". I think it is the Rambam who says, Jews die, but in the future they get resurrested to live a second time, but he does not say anything about eternal life. Again, this makes me think that Judaism might not have an afterlife as it used to be. The Jews of today have some messed up version of afterlife that I have no idea where it came from. I actually hope that original Judaism has no afterlife, because that would be at least one thing the Jews got correct.


In my previous entry I have mentioned that I am a nihilist. This means I do not believe in any meaning in life, or any set goal, I also reject (objective) morality.

The above statement makes religious people (and sometimes even atheists who are not nihilists) ask an important question: "If there is no morality, then why be moral?". Or a similar question: "If there are no morals then why do you act the way you do?". These are important questions, the answer is actually quite simple.

I try to act with "goodness" not because I can argue from first-principles why one action is preferable to another but simply because it is in my nature to want to act with "goodness". I realize that if I act one way (like helping another person out) and a different way (such as killing a person) then these two actions have different effects on other people. Because I realize this I generally try to act in such a way to make other people better off. Thus, I view charity as "good" while theft as "evil". I project myself in place of another person. I recognize that if our positions were reversed I would also want to be helped, and I would not want to be robbed. This is why I act the way I act. Not because I think "good" and "evil" really exist but because I realize that certain actions make people better off and I would like to be better off (just like everyone else).

Therefore, I use the words "good" and "evil" eventhough these do not really exist objectively. But that is all fine, these are useful words to apply. I also use the word "moral", again because it is a useful word to have.

I also would like to add that people get thier morals from evolution. If people were unable to care for eachother then the human species would have not developed to the point it is today. Indeed, the human being is capable of being the most caring out of all animal species. Many humans go out of their way to even care for creatures lower than themselves. This is a major part of the reason why humans have developed so much over the years. The same level of caring is not present in other animal species, which is why they have more difficulty surving than the human being.

This is why I say the question of morality is a rather simple question.

Morality, from my point of view is clearly a lot simpler than the morals of a religious person. Let us use an Orthodox Jew to illustrate. For Jews, "morality" is equivalent to "obedience". Obedience to the scriptures. To be a "moral" person, according to Judaism, is to be an "obedient" person to God. So giving charity is "moral" according to Judaism not because it helps other people but because God wants people to give charity, and so giving charity is being obedient to the Lord. Killing homosexuals, or killing those to transgress the Shabbos, is not in favor of other humans, but it is still called "moral" because it is obedience to the scriptures, and so it is obedience to the Lord.

Even though I admit I have no morals, but still use "morality" as a useful tool to work with other people, I consider myself to be far less dangerous than a religious person. Even if you are an atheist and are not comfortable with my position of their being no morals you should be more uncomfortable with a religious person (in my example, an Orthodox Jew). Because for an Orthodox Jew morality is nothing other than obedience. I at least have a certain goal I try to accomplish by being "moral", the Orthodox Jew only cares about obedience. This Jewish person can therefore act in dangerous ways and insulting ways to other people to be obedient to God. Thus, even if you are not a nihilist there is no reason why you should be afraid of me more than a devout religious person.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Types of Jews

There are many different kind of Jews. The funny looking ones and the normal looking ones. In order to understand the discrepancies between different kinds of Jews it is helpful to understand what Jewish people believe first. Note, what I am about to say was not researched, this is just something that I observe, so I may be wrong on a few things.

Judaism believes that there was a follower of God called Avraham (Abraham), he was a devout and holy person. He was the first person to recognize God and live in the ways of God. He had a son called Yitzhak (Issac). This son was influenced by the father also to be a devout person. Later Yitzhak had a son called Yakkov (Jacob) who continued the tradition. But these people were not Jewish people, there was no such thing as Jewish people, you can call them the Hebrew people, but the notion of a Jew did not exist back in those days. Yakkov himself had 13 sons, one of which was Yosef. The other sons grew jealous of Yosef and eventually sold him in slavery. Yosef was taken down to Egypt, but he grew in his reputation. To the point that he became of very high status, not as high as the Pharoah though. But he was among the most powerful men in Egypt. The family of Avraham (that is, the Hebrew people) moved down to Egpyt, after all Joseph was of high status there. Over the years the Hebrews populated to high numbers (from 70 people to several million) after several generations. The Egyptians developed a deep hatred and fear for them. So the new Pharoah (this is many years after Yosef died) decided to enslave the Hebrew people and make their lives bitter. But a leader arose among the Hebrews (he was also an Egyptian, but I am trying to keep this very brief and do not want to get into the details) called Moshe (Moses). Moshe became the leader for the Hebrew people and a prophet of God, he made the Pharoah let the Hebrew people out from slavery through bringing plagues onto the Egyptians. When the Hebrews left Egypt in freedom it was not so long until the Egyptians realized they need to go back after them and bring them back. Now the Hebrews have an Egyptian army chasing them. But God brought forth a miracle, the splitting of the Sea of Reeds. The sea split in half, Hebrews pass through, but by the time the Egyptians are in the middle, the miracle ends and the Egyptians are washed away. This way the Hebrews got away from Egypt and were now freed. Moshe took them to Mount Sinai and recieved the commandments from God. This was also when the Hebrew people had the Torah (that is the Bible, given by God to the Jewish people). God promised the Hebrews that he would make them into a nation. But because they were sinful God punished them to wander in the desert for fourty years. It was during this time Moshe taught the Hebrews about the commandments of God. The commandments consisted of the "oral law" and "written law". The written law was the written Godly commandments, as expressed in the Torah. The oral law was what Moshe taught to the Hebrews. I will stop it at here, because the full story of the Jewish religion, even in compressed form is too long to say.

The important part that I want to express is what the oral law and what the written law is. Both of these laws come directly from God. Jewish people often do things not mentioned anywhere in the Torah. Why is that? This is because there is an oral commandment to follow. Take for example the yamalka. Nowhere in the Torah does it say to cover one's head. The oral law does talk about covering one's head. One also needs to understand that whereas the written law was always available in a book, the Torah, the oral law had to be passed down from generation to generation. The current Rabbis taught the current students and the students later became Rabbis themselves to teach it down to the next generation. The interpretation of the Torah (the written law) is heavily based on the proper understanding of the oral tradition of the Rabbis. This is why it is the Rabbis themselves who can interpret the commandments of the Torah because they know the oral tradition. This is what the Gemara (Talmud) is about. It is a collection of many oral traditions and how it applies to the interpretation of the Torah.

With the above background we can explain the various types of Jews.

Orthodox: This is the oldest form of Judaism. The Orthodox Jews believe in exactly what is written above. They believe it is their mission in life to follow the words of the Torah and Rabbis. Orthodox Jews also try to stay away from the outside world. They may not own any TV's. They do not listen to non-Jewish music. They do not read non-Jewish magazines. They do associate in the modern world. They can have jobs as professors or lawyers or doctors. But their identification of the modern world is limited. They often wear black suits and black hats.

Ultra-Orthodox: In case the Orthodox are not crazy enough we have another group of Jews that are even crazier. The Ultra-Orthodox Jews arose in the 1700's and 1800's. They were a reaction of the hashkalah (Jewish Enlightenment). They reacted by being more observant than they had to be. The Ultra-Orthodox Jews believe in exactly the same as the Orthodox, indeed they sometimes pray in eachother's synagogues. They differ in that the Ultra-Orthodox Jews completely seclude themselves from the outside world. Whereas, the Orthodox Jews can live in a non-Jewish area just fine, the Ultra-Orthodox make their own communities and isolate themselves entirely from the outside world. They often wear those funny looking huge fur hats, long white socks, and peious. They are also called hasidim (or Charedim).

Modern-Orthodox: The Modern-Orthodox Jews believe in what the Orthodox Jews believe as well, however they are more open to associating with the modern world. They are more liberal than the Orthodox. So they would not have a problem with going to a movie theater with a non-Jewish college classmate. These Jews dress in typical average day clothes. They may wear jeans or t-shits, nothing to formal like the Orthodox. Their yamalka is even more artistic, in contrast to the Orthodox yamalka which is a big black velvet one.

Reform: The Reform Jews actually go out of their way to reform the Torah and the lifestyle of Jewish people. This started during the hashkalah movement. Many of them do not even wear a yamalka. They (common Reform Jews, not talking about the Rabbis) are not very knowledge about as Judaism as much as the Orthodox are.

Conservative: Conservative Jews were a reaction to the Reform Jews. They saw the Reform Jews as going too far. For example, the Reform Jews actually reform the commandments of the Torah. Conservative Jews still consider the written law to be binding, for it comes from God. But they say that we need to reconsider the oral law and see how it applies to modern times. So they do not segregate men and women in synagogues because they say that is an outdated oral tradition which is not present in the Torah whatsoever.

Reconstructionist: These are basically Jewish people who realized the Torah was not written by God but by man and now they practice Judaism only as a ritual. They follow the commandments unless there is good reason not to practice them. So they may keep Shabbos to an extent or even kosher. Only because they want to hold on to the tradition and thing it is a good idea.

Humanistic: These are Jewish people that do not practive Judaism and do not believe in Judaism. They still enjoy being part of Judaism and its poeple. I think of myself as being a Humanistic Jew.

Secular: This is quite obvious. Jewish people that have nothing to do with Judaism anymore.

An easier way to classify Jewish people is from most-craziest to least-craziest, so the list would be:

Ultra-Orthodox Jews
Orthodox Jews
Modern-Orthodox Jews
Conservative Jews
Reform Jews
Reconstructionist Jews
Humanistic Jews
Secular Jews

What do I believe?

Am I an atheist? Well, it all depends on how one describes "atheist"? If one means by that someone simply who is not a theist, then yes I am. But people use "athiest" in different ways. One may say that an atheist is someone who does not believe in God. But then what does one mean by "God"? Define God and I can tell you if I believe in that. If by "God" you mean a sort of being, that is supernatural, and created the universe, then no. But if by "God" you were to say "a cause which is the reason for all that exists" then certainly, we have the Laws of Nature. I am a determinist, I believe that everything that exists is the consequence of the material universe and the natural laws that bring the universe to that order. But my problem with the "God" in such a context is that "God" is completely unnecessary. For me, the word "God" is superfluos in every way, I prefer not to use that word at all.

As I have said that I have been influenced by Spinoza. My beliefs are best closely identified with Einstein, Sagan, Hawking, and Spinoza. I do believe that the universe is arranged in a rational order. I also think that the natural laws are in harmony with one another, they work together to create the material universe that we have. However, there is nothing supernatural about this whatsoever. This is just how the universe is. I do not know why, but this is something that I can observe.

I never called myself an "atheist" because as I said it depends on how one chooses to define such a term. I also realized that most atheists do not agree with me on what I just wrote above. They think that the universe is just one big random chaotic accident.

I do not believe that there is any set goal or purpose in the universe. We can be alive at one moment and dead another. Our existence is completely meaningless. There is no meaning in life. However, this does not mean that the universe operates on with disorder and chaos. I come from a mathematical background and so I am impressed with how the natural laws are described mathematically. The outcome of the universe is based on the equations which describe these laws, there is nothing disorderly about that. Take the theory of evolution. I have noticed that many atheists make the mistake of thinking of the theory of evolution as saying that life developed by random accidents. No, that is missing the entire point! Evolution is anything but random. Evolution works by the principle of natural selection, natural selection is a mathematical optimization algorithm. It is not at all random and chaotic, if it was, evolution would not work, it works precisely because it is anything but that. Yes, evolution is a meaningless process with no goal to it, but nonetheless it is a mathematical process.

So that is what I belief. I do think if one closely studies the universe, he will come to realize that there is a rational construct that is revealed in it. However, at the same time, there is no purpose to the universe. It is neither good, nor bad, it just is. There is no goal that it has, and there is no goal that humanity has. As I said I do not call myself an atheist, but I do call myself a "nihilist".

Nihilism is essentially the logical conclusion from atheism. Atheism comes about when one has seriously thought about religion. A rational thinker will soon realize that religion has to be false. This is when he will become an atheist. A nihilist is someone who keeps on thinking about his life and its purpose without the use of religion. If the person stays rational he will eventually come to the realization that our life is without any purpose whatsoever. And value does not really exist, it exists only in our heads. We value something not because there is an objective existence for value but because our minds care for one thing over another. The same with morals. There are no morals (in an objective sense) whatsover. Nihilism is the ultimate liberation of the human mind.

Since nihilism best explains my way of thinking, I rather describe myself a "nihilist" than an "atheist". But there is another word I really like that suites me very well and that is "skeptic". A skeptic is one who comes to believe something provided there is a rational argument for it or it can be observed empirically. I try to form all of my beliefs using this approach, so I am a skeptic.

In fact, I rebuke atheists who are proud to be atheists. There is nothing to be proud of. Understand what you are saying. When you say you are proud to be an atheist you are essentially saying that you are proud that you are not a person who believes in talking snakes, giant arks, and burning bushes. This is not a big intellectual accomplishment. Atheism by itself is quite pointless. Instead, what we need to encourage is skepticism. I have heard of atheists who beleive in afterlife (not heaven or hell but reincarnation). I heard of atheists who believe in the paranormal, or ghosts. I heard of atheists who believe in astrology. This is precisely why I say that atheism is not a big accomplishment. It is a far greater accomplishment to have a population of skeptical people. People who form their ideas rationally and scientifically. One can be rational with regard to Judaism but a failed skeptic with regard to telekineses. So if you want to call me something other than a "nihilist" you can call me a "skeptic" because that word fits my description really well.

It is important for people to apply skepticism outside religion. We should be skeptical when someone tries to sell us a Prius car. We should be skeptical when someone tries to sell us organic food and claims that it is better for us. We should be skeptical when we are told that the ancient form of acupuncture is for realising the magical chi inside your body. There are plently of things to be skeptical about. Instead of teaching our kids about atheism, which is unnecessary. We should turn our children into natural skeptics. Being able to think skeptically and critically is what is important, atheism will come naturally if one developes these skills.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Yehuda Levin

I live in the New York area, yesterday as I was setting my alarm clock I ran across accidently a radio show (I never listen to radio shows) of Jewish station that had on it a Rabbi that sounded familar. I listened for a while and I realized who it was, they had Rabbi Yehuda Levin.

If you do not know who Levin is, he has a channel on YouTube called GodReignOverUs. I first learned about him a long while ago by watching YouTube videos that eventually brought me to his channel. Basically, he is a Jewish version of Pat Robertson. This is this latest video: Just like Pat Robertson he blames horrible disasters on homosexuality. He just does not get into as much as trouble because he is not as well known as Robertson.

Guess what he was talking about on the radio? Homosexuals! This is his favorite topic. I am beginning to think that perhaps he is projecting his own homosexual desires on other people so that he would not have to confront them. But anyway, I was not surprised. The moment I realized it was him I knew he was soon going to start talking about the homosexuals. I was not mistaken. He never talks about anything else.

He also brought up Joe Lieberman. Rabbi Levin said that Lieberman is a chillul hashem for the Jewish community. As much as I do not like Joe Lieberman, I have to say, no he is not! Not from what I have seen about Lieberman, granted I do not watch him but from what I seen he is not creating a chillul hashem (cleary, there is no such thing as a chillul hashem to begin with, I am using this phrase here referring to making Jewish people look bad in front of the people). And even if I am wrong and Lieberman is a chillul hashem, he is nowhere near the level of chillul hashem brought forth by you, Yehuda Levin, you are a myraid of times more numerous in your chillul hashem. It is because of people like you that many people have developed a hatred for the Jewish people. If you want to learn how to prevent chillul hashem then you should learn how to tie a noose.

There is one positive thing I have to say about Rabbi Levin. His version of Judaism is far more consistent than the version practiced by the reform, liberal, and even conservative Jews. I have no doubt that if instead of Orthodox Jews we had in the world reform and liberal Jews then it would have been much better. These kinds of Jews are nice people and show caring for their fellow man. However, their version of Judaism are not consistent. What the reform and liberal Jews do (and conservatives to an extent) is wishful thinking. They have an approach to Judaism they would like to follow and base their Judaism around that approach. This approach comes from within themselves and they try to use the Gemara or Torah to justify it. But the consistent way to practice Judaism is exactly like Rabbi Levin. Look into the Torah, read the Gemaras, read the commentaries on these books, listen to what these 'scholars' have to say, and approach Judaism that way. Yehuda Levin makes many Jews embarrased with being Jews because he presents Judaism that way it really is.

My Story

I never was really "on the derech" so it is not the best to say about me as being "off the derech". But I did believe in Judaism. I went to an Orthodox school. My family was just not religious. My mother, though a theist, was one of those theists who believed that God is just and merciful and that he does not care what religion a person has as long as they are good. My father is probably best described as an apatheist. He just could not care one way or another. Maybe he was an atheist or not, I do not know, nor did I ever even care. My family never concentrated on religious aspects of our lives. I, however, did go to an Orthodox school because my family is Jewish after all and my parents decided for me when I was a little boy that it is best for me to go to a private school than a public school.

I was never afraid of ask questions in school. I always had my own way of thinking. I remember I used to ask a lot of questions concerning God, for example, "is God able to destroy himself?". In fact, I was so happy when I realized how to solve this riddle. I also was not afraid to make comments that one is never expected to hear from a student in Orthodox Jewish school. For example, when Rabbis and classmates of mine kept on telling me how smart and wise the Rabbanan were if we read the Gemara that it must be that they had divine inspiration. I replied to this by saying, that Euclid from ancient Greece which lived a thousand years before these Rabbanan did not only knew what they knew but was able to unify his ideas into a masterpiece of mathematics. Nonetheless, even though I had my own way of thinking and not afraid to point out what I saw I still maintained a belief in Judaism.

Of course, I had a lot of questions about Judaism that I never understood. They were not even scientific issues. There were other issues that bothered me a lot more. The older I got in high-school I began to have a moral conflict with Judaism. I imagined God to be just and good, but when I looked into the Torah, Tanach, and Gemara I was surprised by some of the things it said. I always loved, and still love, my favorite verse in the Torah, Vayikra/Leviticus 19:18, "love your fellow as you love yourself". However, two verses before it says to kill homosexuals. I also always had a very individualistic way of looking at the world ever since I was a kid. Nobody ever taught me racism was a bad thing, I figured that out by myself, even as a kid I was bothered by racist ideas that I heard from people because I realized how unjust they were. Judaism is a collective, it has an 'us' and 'them' mentality. If someone is part of the Jewish people then I had to treat him one way and if he is part of the non-Jewish people then I had to treat them differently. Take for example this: I was required, as a Jew, to save a life of a Jew before that of a non-Jew. While this never actually happened in my life, the idea of a halacha that says that I must go towards Jewish people before non-Jewish people distressed me. I reasoned to myself that a person needs to be judged individually for what he did. There are bad Jews (Bernie Madoff) and great non-Jews (Bill Gates). If I ever had to choose who to save first it would be the better person, not who is part of the Jewish people. I also did not like the Orthodox view on women. It always seemed (and it is) a lowly way to look at women. The davening (prayer) portion of every day by Orthodox Jewish men has this phrase in it, "blessed be you God who did not make us a woman". And again I had this individualistic conflict. How can God be just and good if he rather us concentrate to what group a person belongs to rather on the goodness of the person himself?

I tried to solve these issues, but they were never great resolutions. Take my moral conflict of Torah's requirement to kill homosexuals. I resolved this conflict by saying that the Torah never uses "homosexual" anywhere, just like it never uses "straight" anywhere. It only talks about sins that are committed by a person. The Torah is not anti-straight just because it says we need to kill straight people who have adultery. So too the Torah is not anti-gay just because it says we need to kill two men who have sex. This view is certainly a more humane view than just being anti-gay, and this is the view which is adopted by the Modern Orthodox when they try to be reach out to gay Jews. But there is just a minor problem. It still says we need to kill other human beings! (I do not support the death penalty at all, but if there was to be a death penalty it should be for something like murdering, not something so insignificant as sleeping with another guy). Yes, of course, killing homosexuals who have sex is more moral than killing all homosexuals but it still is a repulsive idea. It is like saying "Hitler was more moral than Stalin because Hitler killed less people". Yes, maybe, Hitler was more moral but he was still a terrible person. Changing the perspective on this passage regarding gay sex does not make it much better.

After I graduated high-school I still accepted Judaism. I thought to myself that perhaps in the future my moral conflicts would be resolved. This was also the point in time when I started to become very liberal. Just a few years before that back in high-school I was very conservative. I changed because I realized my moral conflict with Judaism. I did think of Judaism as moral but I also thought that a very conservative way of thinking towards Judaism is not the correct way to proceed.

I did not go to Yeshiva after high-school (for which I am very grateful for), I went directly to college (oh no!) (I am also still in college), I was the only one in my class who did that. I got very interested at this time to study other religions. My goal was to examine my Jewish beliefs again. I started by examing the beliefs of other religions. I was skeptical to them and recognized them as all being false. But now I needed to be intellectually honest and re-examine Judaism. I listened to various atheists (in 2008) and their arguments made a lot of sense. Of course, I did not abandon Judaism immediately, I tried long and hard to justify it. But the complications I had were just too much. Not only did I have a big moral problem, I started to develop a big scientific problem. Modern science is so opposed to Judaism (and all religion for that matter). I accepted modern science because it could have been demonstrated. But now I needed a way to incorporated these scientific ideas within Judaism. I struggled and could not find it. It was not until I read Thomas Paine's, "Age of Reason", that I fully abandoned my religious beliefs. Before, Thomas Paine (1737-1809) I basically started to accept modern science and now needed ways to keep Judaism. What Paine did so well is to show how moral conflict that is present in Judaism and Christianity (they both rely on the Bible) cannot be explained because as Paine said, "it is not a God, just and good, but a Devil under a name of God that the Bible describes". I realized just how immoral the Tanach was. Ironically, it was not the Origin of Species that made me leave Judaism but it was the Tanach itself! Just do this experiment. Open a page randomly in the Tanach, can you find the word "murder", "kill", "smite" on that page? If God of the Bible could be summarized by one word that would be "smite". At that point I realized that the Torah itself is a very immoral book and one cannot expect to learn any goodness from it. I actually still remember the day when I deconverted. It was in the middle when I read Age of Reason. I remember I took up a Torah in my hands, though a little nervous at first, I said, "this book is false".

I got more interested in learning about Judaism from a skeptical point of view. I went to skeptic sites and read anything regarding religion. I also brought for myself, "Theological-Political Treatise", by Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677). Spinoza became the biggest philosophical impact on my life, and his book on the Tanach was excellent. He did a systematic study of the Tanach in a rational way to show how it is a book written by men and how it cannot have anything to do with God. He even wrote his own theory about how the Tanach was a collection of writings compiled together at around 200 BC by Ezra. I even think that Spinoza was the first person in history to do something like this (even Thomas Paine in his book when referring to contradictions in the Tanach mentions Spinoza for his influence). I find it funny how the big atheists of today, like Dawkins and Hitchens, did not make me leave Judaism, it were rather the philosophers of the past 300 and 200 years. (Though to be fair I love Hitchens.)

So this is where I am today. No flashy fireworks or Hollywood stunts. My story is not as interesting as the story of others, but I just thought that I need to share it. I am still not fully out of the closet. Some people already know. I still have a way to go, scared, but I hope I can find a good way to come out.

America is a Secular Nation

I want to address here one of the big lies that conservatives say about America, that it is a Christian nation. These people therefore think that Christianity is an important component of America while in all actuality Christianity has nothing to do with America.

The best word to use to describe the Founding Fathers is "deism". Deism is the philosophy (it is not a religion) that the harmony and well-order of the universe points to some sort of Cosmic Architect. Many deists do not even like saying "God", they might say "Nature's God" or "Creator" or even more simply "First Cause". It is not a religion because deists do not believe in miracles, they do not believe in revelations, they do not believe in the supernatural, and they do not even believe in afterlife. Deists embrace science and Reason, they also hate faith. Deists accept all science and reject ideas such as souls or creationism, so on and so forth. Deists say they do not know anything about what God (or this Architect) is. They also say that God is not a personal God, in other words, God does not intervene with the world. The universe exists by itself with no one guiding anything, it runs by itself, and that we (humanity) are just creations within the universe. Therefore, prayer is useless because God is not involved in the lives of people, rather people need to be involved with the lives of people. For these many reasons deism has absolutely no emotional satisfaction whatsoever, unlike religion. It has no meetings, Churches, or dogmas, it therefore cannot be called a religion at all, it is just a philosophy.

It is important to contrast deism with theism. Theism is the belief in a personal God, an entity that formed the entire universe, guides it, watches over it and humanity, has a plan with people, wants to send it goodness onto them, gives afterlife, ... so on and so forth. Religions (with an exception of a few like Scientology) are theistic. An "atheist" is someone who "is not a theist". Thus, if one does not believe in a personal God then he is an atheist by that definition. This means that deism is a subset of atheism.

The main Founding Fathers of America were not Christians, they were deists (and therefore atheists). These include: George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Paine. Washington is the only one that had little to do with Christianity, but still nonetheless he was not a Christian. While Jefferson was completely opposite of Christianity. Jefferson even rewrote the entire Bible in what he called "Jeffersonian Bible" because he had respect for Jesus, even though he did not believe in him. Jefferson rewrote the New Testament to remove all the miraclous stories and replace them with basic moral teachings. This just shows how un-Christian he was. But of all Thomas Paine was the most violent towards Christianity. Paine wrote in 1794 a book called "Age of Reason". It was the first open attack anyone has ever made against organized religion. During the Enlightenment philosophers were afraid of being persecuted by the Church, Paine was the first one ever to openly write a book against it.

The Declaration of Independence even does not say "God", it says "Nature's God" and then later "Laws of Nature". If these were Christians writing the Declaration of Independence we should expect "Jesus" or "Lord", but this is never used anywhere. The Constitution makes NO mention of "God" anywhere, not in the beginning, middle, or end. Christopher Hitchens said that America is actually the most secular nation in the world if we consider its founding principles. Even secular nations in Europe, England for example, are still tied with the Church. America is the only nation that has the principle that religion cannot be supported by the state. The Founders included it in the first admendment because they realized how important this seperation really is. One should also read through the quotes of the Founders to realize how they felt about making America a religious nation. America has been made into a 100% secular nation, this is not even an opinion this is a historical fact. Of course, this does not mean that religion should be banned or atheism to be imposed on the citizens, it rather means that these ideas cannot be part of government. People can believe whatever they want to believe in, they just cannot use those beliefs for justification of certain ideas about government.

Here are some additional videos supporting or adding to my point: