Evolving Thoughts

Why I love the Jewish point of view

Chaim Potok, I think, once wrote that people either love the Jews too much or hate them too much. I hope I do neither, but I found this particular point of view by Rabbi Lawrence Hoffman a brilliant example of why I don’t want to demonise those who are religious but accept evolution and the rest of science:

Yes, Darwinian selection explains the species, physical laws decide planetary orbits, and human ingenuity brought the Bible into being. But religionists should view them all with Heschel?s ?radical awe.? The fact that they occur is miracle enough; that natural law governs their occurrence only enhances our astonishment ? it is their very naturalness that makes the miracle.

Comments

  1. #1 Jason
    February 27, 2008

    That’s the sort of thing Peter Lipton used to say. (I hate typing “used to say”. I still can’t believe he’s gone.) He was Jewish too.

  2. #2 Brian English
    February 27, 2008

    The fact that they occur is miracle enough; that natural law governs their occurrence only enhances our astonishment it is their very naturalness that makes the miracle.
    Spinoza?

  3. #3 gyokusai
    February 27, 2008

    Nice, indeed. And I even do find his rationale for the Shabbat law inspiring (especially since it is light years apart from these lunatic creeps in Me’ah She’arim who throw stones at your car on Shabbat as if Jerusalem were their own f***ing private breeding ground). But maybe it’s just that I’ve got a soft spot for Talmudic reasoning? Well, possibly.

  4. #4 csrster
    February 28, 2008

    “the Jewish point of view” ????

    Come on, John, don’t you know “Two Jews, three opinions”?

  5. #5 csrster
    February 28, 2008

    I’ve read the article now, and if I ever get invited to celebrate shabbat chez Rabbi Hofmann then I’m accepting.

  6. #6 Graham Douglas
    February 28, 2008

    The sentiment sounds very like one of the points made by Thomas Paine in The Age of Reason, where he’s arguing against the use of “Mystery, Miracle and Prophesy” as evidence for (or points in favour of) a given religion.

  7. #7 John Farrell
    February 28, 2008

    Funny you should quote Rabbi Hoffman. On another blog, I just saw this complementary quote:

    “We cannot find in the Old Testament the fondly drawn distinction of our latter days between the natural and the supernatural, for the whole of the natural order is so directly linked with God that its conservation must be regarded as a kind of continuous creation, quite as dependent on God’s creative Word as when first the heavens and the earth were made.”

    �E. C. Rust, Nature and Man in Biblical Thought [1953]

  8. #8 Tim
    February 28, 2008

    Excellent: sounds very much like Einstein’s sentiments!

  9. #9 tinyfrog
    February 28, 2008

    Not uniquely Jewish – it sounds like something I quoted from a Christian professor recently:

    “If the scientific claim of Intelligent Design theory turns out to be false, we can be equally in awe that God designed an astonishing system of natural laws in which living organisms can self-organize out of simpler pieces.”

    http://tinyfrog.wordpress.com/2008/02/26/christian-colleges-and-evolution/

  10. #10 Wes
    February 28, 2008

    Demonize? I see no reason to call him a demon. He seems like a good human being.

    But his argument is nonsense. It boils down to, “Let’s just apply the word ‘miracle’ to natural processes, thereby making religious supernaturalism and science ‘compatible’.”

    It’s gibberish. I could harmonize evolution and creationism using exactly the same rhetorical trick. Let’s just apply the term “creation” to naturalistic evolution by natural selection. That there is any evolution at all is the real creative act! There. Now there’s no conflict. If that’s all it takes, let’s just rename atheism as “loving God”, and tell everyone that loving God means not believing in him. Now we’ve shown there’s no conflict between theism and atheism!

    But somehow I doubt that this argument will work. When you use this trick to argue for something you don’t already believe, it’s pretty easy to see the fallacy. It’s actually rather Orwellian–it proposes to save “miracles” by redefining the term to mean the opposite of what has always meant. Rather than a special supernatural act, as in the Bible, it now refers to nature as usual.

    So, demonize him? No. Why should I? But I see no reason to applaud his unreasonable argument merely because it’s convenient for ameliorating the current political disagreements over evolution. A bad argument is a bad argument regardless of whether you like the conclusion.

  11. #11 John S. Wilkins
    February 28, 2008

    This is exactly the problem with the militant atheists, the ones who call people like me Chamberlainists. This guy is not arguing. He’s not trying to convince you of anything. He’s Jewish; he isn’t proselytising. He’s telling his faith community how he sees the world, and if they like that approach they will see it that way too.

    And yes, people like this get demonised. They get called “unreasonable”, they are told they spout “gibberish” and “bad arguments” when they are making none. That’s demonising them, simply because they do not believe as the people insulting them do.

  12. #12 Wes
    February 28, 2008

    This is exactly the problem with the militant atheists, the ones who call people like me Chamberlainists. This guy is not arguing. He’s not trying to convince you of anything. He’s Jewish; he isn’t proselytising. He’s telling his faith community how he sees the world, and if they like that approach they will see it that way too.

    His article contains premises and a conclusion, and it is intended to persuade. It is an argument. Am I not permitted to disagree with it? Am I not allowed to say that I think he’s wrong, and that I find his argument fallacious? He can state what he thinks, but if I state what I think that makes me a “militant”? Nonsense.

    I have never called you or anyone else a “Chamberlainist” (I think the term is just as stupid as “militant atheist”), and I am not attacking you or anyone else personally. It was not I who injected labels such as “militant atheist” or “Chamberlainist” into this discussion.

    And yes, people like this get demonised. They get called “unreasonable”, they are told they spout “gibberish” and “bad arguments” when they are making none. That’s demonising them, simply because they do not believe as the people insulting them do.

    I said his argument was unreasonable gibberish. I said nothing about him as a person. And, yes, it is an argument. It is an attempt to persuade. As such, it is open to criticism like any other argument. In my post I specifically said that I see nothing wrong with him as a person, and was directing my comments exclusively to his comments. Why can’t you show the same respect?

    Pointing out that someone is committing a fallacy is not “demonizing”. I’m shocked that a philosopher would think that critiquing the claims and arguments of others, and pointing out fallacies, is “insulting” and “demonizing”. The entire study of philosophy would not even exist if pointing out flaws in what others claim were declared improper.

    Which is more insulting and demonizing: Calling an argument “unreasonable nonsense”, or calling a person you don’t even know anything about a “militant atheist”? The way I see it, the former is a critique directed towards ideas and arguments, while the latter is knee-jerk name-calling directed towards the arguer. I’m not the one demonising here.

  13. #13 jeff
    February 28, 2008

    I’m sure the Rabbi’s a nice guy, and if all of our fundamentalists were like him, we’d be in great shape. But this statement makes me cringe a bit:

    human ingenuity brought the Bible into being

    I’m sure I don’t have to bring up all the foul or absurd passages in the Torah to help others understand why I question such “ingenuity”.

  14. #14 windy
    February 28, 2008

    The very next sentence after the one quoted is:
    Why shouldn’t science (which studies nature) only confirm the great lessons of Judaism (which proclaims miracles)?

    The rabbi goes on to claim that anthropology somehow has confirmed something about the list of activities forbidden on the Sabbath. This is a bit more than simply saying that the natural world can be seen as a miraculous. This is claiming that science supports allegedly divinely inspired commandments from an ancient book. This particular argument is harmless, vague, and far-fetched compared to fundamentalist claims, but I don’t see a reason to applaud this type of reasoning, either.

  15. #15 Morgan-LynnGriggs Lamberth
    February 29, 2008

    And now Kennetth Miller wants to evolutionary thought to include design,saying it doesn’t presuppose God. But it presupposes a designer.Even saying the designer is natural selection plays into the hands of the creationists and ID’ers and implies purpose; rather there is the neutral term pattern. Also he himself does see God as designer. As Amiel Rossow @ Talk Reason notes how he takes design out the front door, only to put it back through the back door in his advocacy of God, for which he presents only faith in effect.
    So,no miralcles and no designers! Theistic evolution is teleological while evolution is dysteological; thus a contradiction ensues.Selection,being its own boss, does not need a super boss to override its mindless making pattterns.Contrary to Eugenie Scott, that is a scientific notion!
    And contrary to the shallow Alister McGrath the redundant God adds nothing to science! God did it is so silly.
    We don’t need the obscurantism of miralcles and designs!
    The presumption of naturalism holds that natural causes and explanations not only are efficient but also necessary, primary and sufficient. With the ignostic argument, we find God to be incoherent; with the Ockham one, we find Him redundant. God need not apply for work!
    Contrary to Richard Swinburne, God is not the simpler explanation-its not any sort of a real one- as it requirs ad hoc assumptions while natural causes and explanations don’t.They are their own “sufficient reason” contrary to Leibniz.[ The principle of sufficient reason is useless otherwise.]
    Furthermore, Hume does not beg the question against miralcles,only demanding evidence to override natural causes much as Einstein overrid Newton.

  16. #16 Susan Silberstein
    February 29, 2008

    It appears that some of you do not know anything about Torah commentary; there is no reason why you should. Unfortunately, you don’t know how to read it, so you see it as an argument meant to persuade rather than the explanation of the text that it is meant to be.

  17. #17 John S. Wilkins
    February 29, 2008

    I think the problem is that many people think that what is true of the dominant religion in their immediate vicinity is ipso facto true of all religions. In this case that fundamentalist, or at least evangelical, apologetics somehow defines any statement made by a religious person. And as you say, Susan, this is a commentary for the Jewish faithful who already accept the rules of kashrut.

  18. #18 Wes
    February 29, 2008

    I think the problem is that many people think that what is true of the dominant religion in their immediate vicinity is ipso facto true of all religions. In this case that fundamentalist, or at least evangelical, apologetics somehow defines any statement made by a religious person.

    Completely irrelevant, and untrue. No one has accused this guy of proselytizing. I and a few others have claimed that his logic in the article you posted is bad. Red herrings about those ever-hated fundamentalists and evangelicals (who are quickly becoming the go-to religious scapegoats) don’t change that.

    And as you say, Susan, this is a commentary for the Jewish faithful who already accept the rules of kashrut.

    …Therefore, it cannot be criticized…

    Nonsense. Besides, the evil dirty fundamentalist and evangelical Christians that everyone loves to blame all other religions’ problems on make statements directed solely towards the faithful as well. This does not suddenly make them beyond criticism (and such statements are often criticized), nor does the intended audience change the fact that a list of premises intended to support a conclusion is an argument subject to the rules of basic logic. Whether it’s some kind of midrashic commentary directed at followers of Judaism or not is irrelevant–it’s still poor reasoning. Bad reasoning is bad reasoning whether you agree with its conclusion or not. It’s not “demonising” to say so.

    Twice now, you’ve attacked those who disagree with the quote rather than directly address a thing anyone has said.

  19. #19 windy
    February 29, 2008

    I think the problem is that many people think that what is true of the dominant religion in their immediate vicinity is ipso facto true of all religions.

    Um, the dominant religion in my immediate vicinity is Swedish Lutheranism, and this is exactly the same kind of wishy washy feel-good ad hoc textual commentary you would expect from them.

    And Susan, my comment should make clear that I understood that it’s an explanation of the text; its target audience should not completely excuse the claims of science supporting said texts.

  20. #20 John Farrell
    February 29, 2008

    Theistic evolution is teleological while evolution is dysteological…
    Only in the sense that theistic evolution includes ‘final causality’ in its reasoning. The fact that evolution–purely in terms of efficient causality–doesn’t require teleology, doesn’t absolutely rule it out, however.

    Having said that, though, I agree that ‘theistic evolution’ is highly problematic. Which is why I like the Rabbi’s quote. I think most theists would better off just saying they accept evolution and discard the theistic evolutionism tag.

  21. #21 Susan Silberstein
    February 29, 2008

    And you are still missing the point: “making cultural sense of what nature provides.” The rabbi does not deny the evidence for evolution, but he incorporates it into his world view, which is a religious one.

    Don’t like religion, that’s your choice, stay home on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday – nobody will notice. But what is the point of arguing with someone’s religious views? Here’s a guy who is actually in our camp, and he mentions evolution in a positive way to his readers; isn’t that what is most important?

  22. #22 windy
    February 29, 2008

    Don’t like religion, that’s your choice, stay home on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday – nobody will notice. But what is the point of arguing with someone’s religious views?

    It was John who brought it up. I fail to see what’s so impressive about the rabbi’s reasoning. That’s all.

    Here’s a guy who is actually in our camp, and he mentions evolution in a positive way to his readers; isn’t that what is most important?

    The Catholic church has mentioned evolution in a positive way, but that should hardly put them above criticism in other matters.

  23. #23 Wes
    March 3, 2008

    There seems to be a general tenor to many comments in this thread that poor reasoning in acceptable so long as it is “in our camp”, and that pointing out poor reasoning is somehow a personal attack. The standards of philosophy and logic can be selectively relaxes based on whether the person committing the logical fallacy is supporting a politically convenient position.

    I have nothing at all against this rabbi as a person. He sounds like a good person to me. But regardless of his personal qualities, his reasoning in the article quoted by John is poor, and his conclusions are nonsense. Whose “camp” he’s in or whether this is part of his “worldview” is irrelevant to whether or not the logic works. Logic is not decided by who’s side you’re on.

    If saying, “I have nothing against you as a person, but your reasoning is fallacious, and I cannot agree with it” is all it takes to be smeared with labels like “militant atheist”, then why not just be up front and say that atheists aren’t permitted to express their atheism and the reasons for it openly? Why this charade of “tolerance” and “open mindedness” when that clearly is not what’s being espoused here. Bad reasoning which is “in our camp” must not be criticized, and those who do so are clearly biased atheist fundamentalists. If that’s what you people want, just say so.

    John, so far you’ve responded with nothing but name-calling against those who disagree with the rabbi’s reasoning. Should I take this as a tacit admission that you don’t buy the reasoning any more than I do, but you would rather people not criticize it because you see it as tactically advantageous?

  24. #24 paiwan
    March 5, 2008

    Wes: From reading your posts, it seemed that you disliked to be labeled as militant atheist. OK, it is very clear, since you felt that was personal attack, then I would not treat you. In fact some people would like to be purely pedigreed atheist, they are proud of it.

    But for the clarification, can I call you all-dimensions atheist? Just for the purpose of further dialogues.

    My stance is coherent atheist; I am not a creationist, nor pro-IDist, nor pro-scientism. I tend to be trans-scientific by key-in coherent reasoning from ecumenically spiritual pillimage.

    I like Rabbi Lawrence’s message very much. In fact, I have appreciated for John’s initiative in this dialogue. (I even complained lack of this kind before) Please understand I don’t specify which institutional religions, whichever good assessed.

    The followings are my reasons that I recommend John would continue this exercise for scientific people:

    1. I tend to think that science and religion are convergent, as Einstein’s words, “There is no legitimate conflict between science and religion.” Perhaps this was the reason that Tim’s post indicated. (Excellent: sounds very much like Einstein’s sentiments!
    Posted by: Tim | February 28, 2008 2:19 PM )
    It doesn’t matter Einstein or Rabbi said, but it was definitely not a poor reasoning.

    2. The main message of Rabbi for this one is ‘To take a break!’ You see now everyone in this thread have taken his advice so far. I noticed that even you took a break. Hope that now you are reinvigorated to work (discuss) again.

    As far as I am concerned, a great blog is where the participants are able to learn from mistakes; to leave the space for different viewpoints to key-in; perhaps the silence is a legitimate form of interaction. Sorry for a little preach. Forgive me, I am a coherent atheist!

  25. #25 Wes
    March 10, 2008

    Paiwan,

    I dislike ad hominem labels and empty jargon. I especially dislike the hypocritical act of pasting me with false labels while simultaneously blabbering about how mean I am for supposedly “demonising” people. Wilkins has gone on in a later post to accuse Dawkins of fomenting an “us vs. them” attitude. Wilkins needs to take some time and reflect on how he acts towards people he knee-jerkingly labels “militant atheists” and ask whether all this talk of “demonising” isn’t mostly projection. His behavior in this thread so far has been to respond with ad hominems to anyone who critiques the rabbi’s reasoning.

    I will say that I don’t care if you’re a coherent atheist, an all-dimensions atheist, a pedigree atheist, a militant atheist, a weak atheist, an agnostic, a fundamentalist atheist, or whatever other jargon people are using to describe atheists these days. I have difficulty finding any concrete meaning in most of these terms–they just sound like empty rhetoric to me. All I was commenting on in this thread was the reasoning the rabbi was using to make his point. This is the third time I’ve said this, but apparently people aren’t listening: I think it’s great that this rabbi doesn’t oppose science. He seems like a good guy, and I have no intention of demonising or attacking him. But bad reasoning is bad reasoning regardless of whether you like the viewpoint it’s supporting. Changing “miracle” to mean “natural event” is nonsense no matter how great it might be that the person who does it does so to promote reconciliation between science and religion. Whether you like his viewpoint or not is irrelevant to whether or not the reasoning works.

    How could we ever expect to achieve any real, lasting reconciliation between science and religion if it is to be based on such transparently poor reasoning? And if harmonizing religion and science means attacking and belittling those who would dare point out when an argument is fallacious, then I can guarantee you it will never happen.

  26. #26 windy
    March 10, 2008

    Changing “miracle” to mean “natural event” is nonsense no matter how great it might be that the person who does it does so to promote reconciliation between science and religion.

    I have to disagree with you a bit (after all, that’s what we militant atheists do, disagree with everyone :) Renaming natural events “miracles” is not necessarily nonsense, it’s just rather banal and meaningless (even when Einstein said it). But there’s still plenty of poor reasoning in the piece, like the expectation that science “should only confirm the great lessons of Judaism”.

  27. #27 paiwan
    March 11, 2008

    Greetings Wes: I’ve appreciated your sincerity for coming back and hopefully the continued dialogues will help you let go a bit of unnecessary conflicting reasoning, at the same time to help every one moves on to a deeper level of creative learning.

    Since Windy sent the telegram to you and me, we better take his/her humor, the message ( Einstein) reads:

    “Gravity cannot be held responsible for people falling in love.” — Albert Einstein :-) Relaxed.

    1. firstly, to respond to :
    “How could we ever expect to achieve any real, lasting reconciliation between science and religion if it is to be based on such transparently poor reasoning?”
    ————————-

    The reconciliation between science and religion IMO is in our internal world, not external world. We do this for our own survival and prosperity rather than the patronage of repairing the broken worlds. It implies that if you have reluctance, then please don’t do it.

    2. I will relinquish myself from fundamentalists and militant atheists ( windy is exception:-) ; the reasons are 1. they both exclude each others in a way of big mental sickness of transference ; 2. they both are lack of thinking capability of telling diversity and nuanced differences.

    3. Decent atheists and graceful religionists, the difference is as thin as a paper, perhaps the main issue is semantics which I think human wisdom one day would be able to bridge the gap.

    4. Let me elaborate a bit of my coherent atheist stance. ( Though I had 50+ year Presbyterian and now attend Catholic mass)
    – God as an important symbol to hold the coherent structure of our knowledge.
    –The reason to use symbol is God is not an object, no name, no image, no idol. Some atheists are able to grasp the quality in some parts than traditional believers.
    –The symbol of salvation passed from monotheism to Christianity to ecumenical has witnessed the living spirit in the past and now. Therefore, the symbol indicates that every nation, every race and every individual can come to the spirit directly. It manifests in the lab, the factory, ball room, especially for suffered people like Burmese and victims of Tien-an Meng Square died in China. The monks in Burma cried for the people late last year was the living symbol of God to me. I don’t believe the literal interpretation of some churches that salvation has to be exclusively from Christianity now. This is the main point that I define symbol, Paul Tillich had good interpretation.
    –I foresee the recovery of religion in a wholly new manner and form for the sake of better world and the ultimate manifestation of reality.

    5. The last point of my expectation for this thread: to develop a great platform of dialogue between religion and science in terms of the style of creative minority and inclusive community.
    You have complained John’s style of moderation. I can understand your feeling of being disrespected :-) Everyone has ego, we need to maintain our ego to survive as a human being; no less no more( we dislike aggrandized ego also). Therefore, I agree with you to bring your feeling up to this table, it has shown your trust in us, I mean everyone in this thread.

    IMO, I have seen John surrounded by many capable persons meaning that he has been disarming somehow to keep these talents, perhaps need cups of beers :-) So, you need to forgive and grant him the grace to lead this blog. Some day when he has clear mind, I bet that he will reciprocate, take time and space. IMHO. I can only speak for myself.

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