Yoram Hazony, writing in the Wall Street Journal, says He does! I suppose that’s good news for someone like me, but the basis for Hazony’s argument strikes me as a bit dubious. Here’s the opening:

Today’s debates over the place of religion in modern life often showcase the claim that belief in God stifles reason and science. As Richard Dawkins writes in his best-seller “The God Delusion,” religious belief “discourages questioning by its very nature.” In “The End of Faith,” his own New Atheist manifesto, Sam Harris writes that religion represents “a vanishing point beyond which rational discourse proves impossible.”

We already have some problems. Hazony started by talking about belief in God, but he then quotes Dawkins and Harris referring to “religious belief” or “religion.” Surely these terms were meant to include far more than mere belief in God. I’m sure Dawkins and Harris regard deism as a bit silly, but I doubt they consider it a great threat by itself to reason and sanity. Moreover, regardless of God’s view of the matter, it is certainly true that religion’s earthly authorities have a poor track record of encouraging openness of thought and a disposition towards challenging authority.

Let’s skip ahead to the main part of the argument:

Some will want to object that the biblical heroes exhibit such
independence of mind only with respect to other human beings, and that they become pushovers when God enters the picture. But that isn’t right either. Many biblical figures dare to extend their arguments and criticism to God himself. Abraham is famous for challenging God over the fate of Sodom: “Will not the judge of all the earth do justice?” Moses repeatedly argues against God’s intention to destroy Israel. David is outraged over what he sees as God’s unjust killing of one of his men, and similar arguments with God appear in Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Havakuk, Jonah and Job.

Nor do these biblical figures stop at just arguing with God. They also disobey God. Abel disregards God’s instructions to go work the soil, while his brother Cain obeys—yet it is Abel whom God loves, not Cain. Moses, too, directly disobeys God’s command to lead the people up to Canaan after the sin of the golden calf. Aaron refuses to conduct the sacrificial service as commanded after God kills his two sons. The daughters of Tzelofhad even demand that Moses alter God’s law because they deem it unjust. And in all these cases, the biblical narrative endorses such resistance.

This seems like a mighty selective reading of the text. Abraham did, indeed, argue with God, but he was also perfectly willing to murder his son just because God told him to. Moses was denied entry to Canaan precisely because he disobeyed God. Recall Numbers 20:9-12,

So Moses took the staff from before the Lord, as he had commanded him. Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, ‘Listen, you rebels, shall we bring water for you out of this rock?’ Then Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock twice with his staff; water came out abundantly, and the congregation and their livestock drank. But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, ‘Because you did not trust in me, to show my holiness before the eyes of the Israelites, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.’

It’s admirable that Aaron stood up to God on the subject of the sacrificial service, but let’s not forget why his sons were killed in the first place (Leviticus 10:1-3),

Now Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, each took his censer, put fire in it, and laid incense on it; and they offered unholy fire before the Lord, such as he had not commanded them. And fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. Then Moses said to Aaron, ‘This is what the Lord meant when he said,
“Through those who are near me I will show myself holy, and before all the people I will be glorified.”’ And Aaron was silent.

I’ll just bet Aaron was silent!

Perhaps we should recall what happened to Lot’s wife when, such a small thing really, she disobeyed God command about looking over her shoulder at the ruins of Sodom and Genorrah. Or what happened to Adam and Eve when they disobeyed God’s command not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge. Or, for that matter, what happened to every human being on the planet except for Noah and his family when people got a bit too rowdy for God’s liking.

This doesn’t seem like a God who appreciates disobedience.

But let’s see how far Hazony is willing to take his own argument. I have so absorbed the message that God loves independent thought, that I honor him daily by refusing to keep kosher, or to wear a yarmulke, or to study Torah, or to accept the terms of a covenant supposedly entered into with God by my forebears. Heck, I pay Him the greatest honor of all by refusing to believe He even exists.

I guess I’m a good Jew after all!

Comments

  1. #1 Neil Rickert
    August 26, 2012

    When I questioned God, I got back answers. They came through science. And they convinced me that if there is a God, that would have to be the deist’s God, and not the Christian’s God.

    Since deism is almost indistinguishable from atheism, I paid no more attention to the God question.

  2. #2 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    August 27, 2012

    Rosenhouse:

    I’m sure Dawkins and Harris regard deism as a bit silly, but I doubt they consider it a great threat by itself to reason and sanity.

    Rickert:

    deism is almost indistinguishable from atheism

    I honestly don’t see a basic difference between deism and theism since they are both examples of creationism. At least as long as you define deism as the deist creator of a clockwork universe (which has its own problem) and interventions.

    They seem to be equally intellectually unacceptable based on current knowledge.

    Theism is unnecessary and sufficiently unlikely by the discovery that known physical laws will unavoidably create the observed universe. (See Krauss et al.)

    The existence of the Coleman-De Luccia instanton is not in question as much as what the alternatives are. How do you avoid a false vacuum, it is a fundamental quantum mechanical state that however unlikely isn’t of zero likelihood to happen? Given time, it will happen.

    Similarly, deism is unnecessary and sufficiently unlikely by the discovery that known inflationary universes will unavoidably create the observed physical laws. (See Susskind et al.)

    The existence of eternal inflation is not in question as much as what the alternatives are. How do you avoid eternal inflation, according to Susskind it is a fundamental cosmological state that however unlikely isn’t of zero likelihood to happen? (“[A] low entropy initial condition is [not] necessary”, Fractal-Flows and Time’s Arrow”, 2012, p2.) Given time, it will happen.

    As Susskind puts it, he doesn’t know whether or not the concept of an initial condition is necessary. (“Is Eternal Inflation Past-Eternal? And What if It Is?”, 2012, p1.) The seeming circularity is hence broken by theory, the exact initial laws may be an inconsequential problem and time is symmetry broken by a global fractal flow.

    But circularity is also by broken by observation as always. Maybe the Planck probe will reject eternal inflation later this year. If not, I’ll believe it is safe to pronounce deism as effectively dead in the wat… in the vacuum of space.

  3. #3 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    August 27, 2012

    I should also add that the problem of initial laws are so much rendered inconsequential that the answer to the question, is eternal inflation past eternal, is “yes” according to Susskind. An observer will have zero likelihood to observe transients from an initial condition, i.e. statistically they effectively don’t exist.

    So you can as well say that the universe has always existed, another old favorite of hard atheists but this time backed up by theory and observation. (Which gets back to Susskind’s dilemma, is the concept then really necessary here?)

  4. #4 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    August 27, 2012

    D’oh! “… is the concept _of initial conditions_ then really necessary here”, I meant to write.

  5. #5 Wow
    August 27, 2012

    “I honestly don’t see a basic difference between deism and theism since they are both examples of creationism.”

    And Reikert and Dawkins do, because theists demand an interventionist and self-willed god.

    The point being the deist just says “it started with god blowing on the universe” or something. And their definition of god? “The thing that started the universe”.

    Well, that would ALSO match “the big bang”. That started the universe off, is not involved with anything else, is not a personality or self-willed and definitely not interventionist.

    Additionally deists don’t go round demanding people do insane and inane ritual or whine about how their being oppressed because they have to accept that other people may not do what their religion says is necessary.

  6. #6 MNb
    August 27, 2012

    Nice that YH’s god likes it when I question him. Know what? I don’t believe in that motherf****r either. So I don’t have anything to ask.

  7. #7 Raging Bee
    August 27, 2012

    I’ve always had a special liking for the Greek gods, because they expect and understand that people will — and should — use their own brains and question their gods as well as each other. Their stories are full of humans thinking for themselves and relentlessly pushing back all of the boundaries the gods put in their path — and earning grudging respect from their creators, not the tiresome eternal merciless punishment we see in the Bible or the Koran.

    One of the things I find most despicable about Christianity is the pathetic childlike sycophantic hatred of all questioning of their god, all human attempts to think or act for ourselves. It’s almost as if they hate themselves, and hate everyone who doesn’t hate themselves as much as they do.

    Seriously, how can anyone actually believe that a wise and compassionate god would create humans with so much capacity to reason and learn and question, and then punish us for using the gifts he gave us? That never made sense to me; and the more some Christian or other tries to rationalize it, the less sense it makes.

  8. #8 Valhar2000
    August 27, 2012

    Since deism is almost indistinguishable from atheism, I paid no more attention to the God question.

    That’s what gets me about Deism: worrying about a deist god is like getting exercised about spelling “colour” instead of “color”.

  9. #9 Blaine
    August 28, 2012

    It’s typical of a religious mentality to equate sophistry with reasoning. The stories of the O.T. are just that, stories. We now know that most of it never happened. The point of the stories is to illustrate VALUES…which is much much worse. The intention is not to describe, but get the believing community to praise, extol and emulate the actions of Moses, the Jewish Hitler. The fact that most don’t fortunately is due to sophistry…but why not take the next step and really use reason and give it all up? Besides, do you really want to base your values on the Jewish Mein Kampf?

  10. #10 eric
    August 28, 2012

    Does God Like it When You Question Him?

    He likes it ten times more than Santa does.

  11. #11 MNb
    August 28, 2012

    @Blaine: “The point of the stories is to illustrate VALUES…which is much much worse.”
    Exactly. Dissing creacrappers and other fundies is easy enough. It bugs me somewhat that we atheists way too often leave the liberals unscathed. So we agree that those OT (and many of the NT for that matter) stories are myths; that the authors wanted to pass on some deeper meaning.
    You see, way too often when I realize what that deeper meaning actually is I am filled with horror. God wanting Abraham to sacrifice his son is a classic example, but there is much more. Try Psalm 137, especially verse 9. Try the metaphorical meaning of Jesus condemning the fig tree out of season (it apparently is a metaphor for jewish religion gone stale, which is actually a sign of antisemitism).
    Of course the whole idea that I should gratefully accept a gift I never asked for (Jesus selfsacrifice on the cross to liberate me from my sins) and never wanted is sick. Somebody gives me a car I don’t want (I don’t have a drivers lesson) and in return demands me to go train with him for a marathon. Yeah, middlefinger.

  12. #12 MNb
    August 28, 2012

    Drivers licence.

  13. #13 MNb
    August 28, 2012

    Alas the Priest turned Atheist thread has been closed; I’ll neglect that creacrapper as JR doesn’t seem to like it, but I still have two points.

    @Wow: “MNb, thing is that her faith isn’t really being challenged.”
    My deceased father was gay; my girlfriend (ahem, she is 55) never thought it a problem. That’s fortunate for her, because only recently a nephew and a niece of her came out of the closet.
    So you might as well say that she doesn’t feel that her faith is being challenged.
    Btw, she is a muslima; has been a member of the board of a local mosque since several years.
    Of course this is just anecdote; I don’t mean to challenge your views. For me it’s not a good subject to get f**kwitty about. Another time.
    I only mean to say that I can think of better counterarguments than I have read until now; that doesn’t imply I want to defend them.

    @Dan L: “Show me all these cases where people act like the folks in the OP did when they are not inspired by religion.”
    OK, this I can’t resist.
    There have been a few very nasty schisms in the Dutch communist party CPN (Communist Party of The Netherlands, if you want to consult Wikipedia).

  14. #14 Wow
    August 29, 2012

    “@Wow: “MNb, thing is that her faith isn’t really being challenged.”
    My deceased father was gay; my girlfriend (ahem, she is 55) never thought it a problem.”

    Yes, that’s what I’m saying, her faith isn’t really being challenged.

    Think of this: why do *some* Islamists become suicide bombers and others don’t? Why do *some* fundie xtians shoot dead doctors and others don’t?

    Because their level of investment is much higher.

    There are also those called “cultural [religion]“, where they go solely because it’s easier to go along with it. In the UK, that’s generally most of the CofE population. It’s just easier to say you’re CofE and never once go to church or think about the religion.

  15. #15 Wow
    August 29, 2012

    “It bugs me somewhat that we atheists way too often leave the liberals unscathed.”

    The atheists who do this are the GNUatheists. They are lambasted by both the religious and the accomodationist atheists. It’s only been recently that enough atheists have existed so that those who are atheist don’t have to pretend to be religious to survive in society and not become, at best, a pariah. Therefore it’s only been recently that it’s been possible to be atheist and have enough of them that you’re not the lone voice pointing out the lack of clothes.

    But look at what happens when you do. Dawkins for example, despite being very moderately GNU is slated nearly universally in blogs and press for being extreme.

    So atheists DO take the silly and ***enabling*** concept of religion to task.

    But at the moment, they’re pretty much where atheism was about 60 years ago.

  16. #16 L JAnderson
    August 31, 2012

    Hazony’s reponse to your critique of his book (he posted his response on his FB page), is revealing but not surprising, given the fast-and-loose reasoning and cherry-picking of textual evidence that pervades the vast majority of his book. Rather than take on the very real problems that you point to in his argument, he mounts an ad hominem attack and seems to think you owe him or his book generosity (which is odd) rather than owing your readers truth or incisive analysis. I’m not quite an atheist, more of an agnostic, but this book, and Hazony’s response to your critique of it, is an embarrassment to the name of scholarship. I cannot believe Cambridge published it.

    From Hazony’s FB page:

    The Anti-Bible Guys Get Started
    Jason Rosenhouse tackles my WSJ article in his “Evolution Blog.” Not a very generous attempt to understand my point, I think. Jason, doe [sic] being “pro-science” mean that every suggestion that there might be something worthwhile in the Bible has to be greeted with sarcasm?

  17. #17 Wow
    August 31, 2012

    There might be a dollar coin in the municipal sewage treatment plant, but does it mean that we should embrace it and dive in at a moment’s notice?

    Has he identified what is good in the bible that only the bible has? If not, then the bible isn’t the source for it, and is no more responsible for it being there than ink and paper is.

  18. #18 MNb
    August 31, 2012

    “It’s only been recently that enough atheists ….. ”
    That may be true for the USA – I can’t really assess – but certainly not for Europe. In my homecountry, The Netherlands, 14% of the population is atheist. I couldn’t find numbers for agnosts, so I suppose it’s about the same. That makes at least 1/4 non-believers.

  19. #19 Wow
    August 31, 2012

    If you were to canvass what they really believed in, you’d probably find that 80% were atheist (in that they don’t believe that which is required to believe to be a member of the religion they profess to).

  20. #20 Lenoxus
    September 1, 2012

    This does raise a somewhat interesting question philosophically. If an actual “perfect” beng existed, would s/he be obligated to tolerate (or even encourage) disagreement? Or instead obligated to (in some way) discourage it, since by definition any disagreement with a perfect being would be wrongheaded?

    Of course, discouragement need not entail even the most trivial form of actual punishment; just a simple voiced displeasure should do. Then again, some apologists have argued that for God to merely make his existence obvious would constitute coercion, and hence a violation of our rights. But this is all academic since obviously no perfect deity exists anyway.

  21. #21 MarcH
    US
    September 2, 2012

    “But let’s see how far Hazony is willing to take his own argument. I have so absorbed the message that God loves independent thought, that I honor him daily by refusing to keep kosher, or to wear a yarmulke, or to study Torah, or to accept the terms of a covenant supposedly entered into with God by my forebears. Heck, I pay Him the greatest honor of all by refusing to believe He even exists”.

    Do you also murder, steal, act unkindly to the stranger, widow and orphan, etc? If not, what is your basis for condemning others who do, aside from the fact that you don’t like it?

    “I guess I’m a good Jew after all!” – What you are is a young man who lives comfortably and safely in a society whose foundation and walls are the Judeo-Christian moral tradition (and those who sacrificed to build it), while doing your modest bit to undermine that tradition in a glib and superficial way.

  22. #22 Wow
    September 2, 2012

    “If not, what is your basis for condemning others who do, aside from the fact that you don’t like it?”

    What other needs is there?

    Do you only refrain from murder, theft and rape because some Sky Daddy will hit you if you do?

    God doesn’t appear to have zapped anyone who has questioned its existence. It’s only its followers who get their knickers in a twist over it.

    Why?

  23. #23 MarcH
    September 2, 2012

    “What other needs is there?” – ask the Nazis or Commies. They were ok w/murder and robbery against race or class enemies.

    Do you only refrain from murder, theft and rape because some Sky Daddy will hit you if you do? – Yes, in the sense that I was brought up w/in a Judeo-Christian moral system to believe that some actions are objectively wrong and there is a just and loving God who will ultimately judge me.

    And do you refrain from those actions because it is a subjective matter of taste, chocolate vs. vanilla?

  24. #24 Wow
    September 2, 2012

    “ask the Nazis”

    Christians

    ” or Commies.”

    Anti-christians.

    But then again, ask the Cambodians killing gays in the name of Christ. Ask the Inquisitors.

    And this is allowing this any form of validity: IT DOES NOT.

    “Do you only refrain from murder, theft and rape because some Sky Daddy will hit you if you do? – Yes”

    So you are immoral. It’s only fear that keeps you moral.

    That is not your morality.

    “And do you refrain from those actions because it is a subjective matter of taste”

    Nope.

    Odd, though. I’d already answered. You said: “what is your basis for condemning others who do, aside from the fact that you don’t like it?”. I don’t like it.

    I.e. my morality comes from *me*.

  25. #25 MNb
    September 2, 2012

    @Wow: “you’d probably find”
    Never been in The Netherlands, have you? I was born there and have lived there for 32 years so I think I know what I’m writing about. You just made up that “probably”.

    “what they really believed”
    Ah, the no-real atheist fallacy.

  26. #26 FPB
    Chicago
    September 2, 2012

    Jason, sorry to say, an absolutely simplistic if not moronic response to Hazony’s article. You need to bone up on the Hebrew Bible, perhaps in Hebrew! and Philosophy 101…

  27. #27 Wow
    September 3, 2012

    “Never been in The Netherlands, have you?”

    No, been a few times.

    And I thought you lived somewhere else, mnb. You’d previously stated something about living on an island.

    But in any case you haven’t canvassed them as I described.

    The reason for that “probably 80%” is that this is about the level of attendance at CofE for those who profess being of that faith in the UK. People identifying themselves as christians because that’s the cultural mores they have been brought up in.

    But ask them what happens after lot’s wife was killed and they don’t know.

    Ask an RCC if they believe that the communion wine and wafer ***really*** change into the blood and flesh of Jesus Christ and probably well over 80% would say no. Except that is a required part of the RCC faith.

    You’re just taking people at their word. Guess what, people often say what is expected of them.

  28. #28 Wow
    September 3, 2012

    FPB, what, exactly, are you sorry about?

  29. #29 L J Anderson
    September 3, 2012

    FPB,
    Shy not actually *explain* what exactly you think is problematic about Jason’s response to Hazony’s article? I can see perhaps disagreeing with what Jason says at the beginning (don’t know enough about it to say one way or the other). But Jason is one of many, including believing Jews and Christians, beginning to call attention to Hazony’s cherry picking of the Tanakh for stories that support his argument. Meanwhile Hazony completely ignores the far more numerous ones that don’t support his point(s). Seems to me Hazony is being disrespectful to his own sacred text and a poor scholar to boot.

  30. #30 L J Anderson
    September 3, 2012

    Sorry–Typo. Should have been “Why” not “Shy”.

  31. #31 Wow
    September 3, 2012

    “Why not actually *explain* what exactly you think is problematic about Jason’s response to Hazony’s article?”

    The problem is that it is critical of Hazony.

  32. #32 Jason Rosenhouse
    September 3, 2012

    L. J. Anderson —

    Thank you for pointing me to Hazony’s reply. Since I am not on Facebook, I had not seen it. Of course, his reply, as you have quoted it, is ridiculous. The point of his WSJ essay was not that there is something worthwhile in the Bible, and my reply had nothing to do with being pro-science. Rather, he argued very specifically that there is a consistent theme in the Bible of God looking favorably on those who challenge Him. I thought it perfectly reasonable to point out that, actually, you have to cherry pick pretty carefully to detect that theme. The far more common theme is God punishing people, often in gruesome ways, for challenging Him.

  33. #33 Kevin
    September 4, 2012

    it is certainly true that religion’s earthly authorities have a poor track record of encouraging openness of thought and a disposition towards challenging authority.

    You write as if this is a trivial matter. Germany’s criminalization of Holocaust denial may be controversial, but the motivation behind it is understandable. Similarly, a Christian would rightly be wary of a BMJ article that discusses legalizing infanticide. There is a hierarchy of moral principles. Very often, challenging God has been accomplished by denying the importance of man.

  34. #34 Wow
    September 4, 2012

    Kevin, almost all of that post was good.

    Except this bit:

    “Very often, challenging God has been accomplished by denying the importance of man.”

    Is unsupported and appears moreover to be the reverse: elevation of God by denying the importance of Man.

    In the extreme and obvious case, you have Calvinism, but most religions have an ode to God that basically goes “Oh, Lord, without whom we are as nothing, you really are great”.

  35. #35 L J Anderson
    September 4, 2012

    Jason,
    Agreed: his response to your post is strange and ridiculous in any number of ways. I’ve read the book and his reasoning doesn’t get better, in my opinion.

    In case you want to verify (after all, you don’t really have any idea who I am…), Hazony’s response to you on his FB page is visible even if you don’t log into FB. You can view the first page of his FB page by entering “Yoram Hazony Facebook” into DDG or Google. His response to you is at the bottom so is about to drop off the first page and then would be visible only to someone logged into FB.

  36. #36 The Perfectionist | YOU DECIDE
    September 15, 2012

    [...] Does God Like it When You Question Him? [EvolutionBlog] (scienceblogs.com) Rate this:Make me FamousEmailPrintFacebookTwitterDiggLinkedInTumblrMoreStumbleUponRedditLike this:Like7 bloggers like this. This entry was posted in "tea party" protest movement, Bible, Christianity, Conservative Blogging, Iran, islam, Islam Awareness Month, Israel, religion and tagged aaron, God, Levite, Lord, Moses, Pharaoh, TGIF: Daily Workplace Inspiration, Today God Is First by wdednh. Bookmark the permalink. [...]

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