Thursday, July 31, 2014

8 Ways In Which Gaza is Not Like the Warsaw Ghetto

This is supposed to be a blog about theology - which is usually what's predominantly on my mind.  In the last few weeks (for obvious reasons) I've been rather distracted from that and as such have been thinking about other things.  I have seen way too many comparisons between Gaza and the Warsaw Ghetto for my liking - one that strikes me as particularly pernicious and wrong.  As such, here are the first 8 ways that came to my mind regarding the great dissimilarity of the two populations.

1.  The Warsaw Ghetto was designed to lock Jews in.  In October of 1940 the Germans ordered the Jews of Warsaw to build (at their own expense) a walled off and barb-wired section of the city.  Anyone attempting to leave could be shot on sight.  Gaza has no such features as Gazans regularly come to Israel for medical treatment. Israel never required them to live there and would not protest if a Gazan desired to emigrate. 

2.  The Jews of the Ghetto lived on a starvation diet.  The average daily amount of calories consumed in the ghetto was 184.  Consequently, many Jews, including many children, died of starvation.  Gaza, on the other hand, receives thousands of tons of food and medical supplies from Israel itself through the Kerem Shalom crossing - even in wartime.  No one is starving.

3.  The Warsaw Ghetto received no international aid.  The Jews of Warsaw were on their own - which is why most of them died.  Gaza, however, is the recipient of extremely generous amounts of money.  In 2013, the US alone allocated 440 million. Sadly, much of this assistance seems to have been used to buy rockets and build terror infrastructure. 

4.  The Warsaw Ghetto was ultimately a way station to the extermination camps.  An estimated 300,000 out of a total population of 400,000 were either gassed in Treblinka, died in the ghetto uprising or died of starvation.  While the Jews were actual victims of genocide, there is (quite obviously) no such plan for Gaza.  In fact, if the Israelis are attempting genocide on the Palestinian population they are doing a very poor job as their population has actually increased by 2 million in the last 20 years.

5.  The Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto had no state sponsor of weaponry.  They were able to fashion some simple incendiary devices and smuggled in some guns and bombs which they used to stage their well known uprising in 1943.  The Hamas rulers in Gaza receive thousands of short and long range rockets, automatic riffles, anti-tank rockets and mortars supplied by the Iranians.  Many of their fighters have undergone advanced military training.  In short, Gaza has a professional army - one that the Jews in Warsaw lacked.

6.  The Jews in the Ghetto had no diplomatic backing.  There was no UN or EU or Arab League to stand up for them and decry their inhumane treatment.  The Gazans have the ardent backing of each of these organizations and many others and are able to parlay world sympathies into leverage for more favorable cease-fire agreements, increased funding and as a tool to harm Israel's international standing.

7.  The Jews in Poland didn't do anything to the Germans or Poles.  Polish Jews had been quiet and productive members of Polish society for 1000 years.  Hamas, by contrast, was founded in 1987 for the express purpose of killing Jews as is stated in their charter in 12 places.  So whereas there was no logic to keeping the Jews separate from the Polish population, there is excellent reason for the Israelis to maintain strong and high fences between themselves and Hamas.

8.  When the Germans attacked the Ghetto, they systematically annihilated it block by block until nothing was left standing.  When the Israelis counter-attack Gaza they do it though an unprecedented series of warnings via leaflets, phone calls, text messages and the like.  So while the Germans did everything they could to raze every building, the IDF exerts the same type of effort to preserve them. 

In short, Gaza is nothing like the Warsaw Ghetto.


Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Is the Bible Literature?

A freelance designer named Adam Lewis Greene is getting a lot of attention for the publication of a new Bible that is meant to maximize readability - both in terms of its layout (which is free of all of the chapter and verse numbers, notes, etc) and its translation.  It's called Bibliotheca and you can check it out here.

Greene funded this project through Kickstarter and was surprised by the enthusiastic response - exceeding his number almost overnight.  When asked to explain the popularity of the project he mused that "readers are ready to enjoy the Bible as the great literary anthology that it is, rather than as a text book.  The idea for the Bible as story is moving and spreading rapidly."

I'm not sure why he seems to present the idea that the stories in the Bible are exciting and moving as novel. As far as I know, it's been called "the greatest story ever told" for quite some time.  He does mention biblical scholars such as Robert Alter as inspiration for this idea and I do agree that Alter has done a lot to help people appreciate the literary aspect of the Hebrew Bible but it the Bible actually a work of literature?

For starters, no one really knows what literature is.  In an essay called "What is Literature" Simon and Delyse Ryan explain that "the quest to discover a definition of 'literature' is a road that is much traveled though the point of arrival, if ever reached, is seldom satisfactory."  For instance, what are we to make of the many genealogical passages or the various censuses that are taken?  What of the extensive building instructions for the Tabernacle and its vessels or the many details regarding the laws of Kashrut or the proper performance of holiday ritual?  From the second half of the Book of Exodus on there is precious little story-telling going on.  True, Walden, despite its long lists of crops and supplies, is considered a work of literature as is Moby Dick with its arduous and lengthy exposition on the processing of whale blubber.  But just why are those stories included in Genesis and Exodus (and a few others scattered through the other books)?

There's a principle in Jewish thought called "derech eretz kodmin l'Torah" which translates as "proper behavior proceeds the Torah."  This means that before we can fully engage with the Law (the word Torah actually comes from the word "instructions") we need to learn to live in an ethical way - implying that the whole edifice of the Jewish way of life is predicated on first learning what it means to be a mensch and then getting the details of how to properly fulfill the opportunities presented by the ritual.  The purpose of the stories, therefore, is not to entertain or to chronicle the history of a people, but rather to teach that people how to conduct themselves.  The same is true for all of the works of the prophets of whom it is said that they "came only to rebuke" (the people).

So whereas I applaud Mr. Greene for a beautifully designed series and some clever thinking in terms of his content, I would humbly beg to differ regarding his characterization of the Torah as literature.  It's much more complex than that.


Sunday, July 27, 2014

Israel Haters and the Art Of Lying

Two days ago I made the mistake of responding to an anti-Israel tweet written by Glen Greenwald - a NYT's best selling author with about 63,000 Twitter followers.  I was surprised that he quickly responded - with another unreasonable tweet, but considerably more surprised by the hours long torrent of unhinged, antisemitic vitriol that landed in my Twitter notification box after that.  Here's a small sampling of what was said:

"Rabbi, one day will come we will come from Pakistan to kill your generation."

"you are a liar. Beaches and UN schools. Hospitals. Israel is targeting civilians. No weapons found."

"The reason u can justify this is because u r not a man of God, u have no soul. A disgrace to real Jews"

"U are ethnically cleansing Palestine!"

"Sorry to say this but You are no different than the Terrorists."

"No believes the thoroughly discredited shtick that "Israel kills innocent civilians by accident."


These individuals are lairs, or they have swallowed lies hook line and sinker and either lack the ability or willingness to see straight anymore.  They have had lies hammered into their heads for so long by the other side - one that is so brazen, so wholly audacious about the lies it tells - that it has managed to fully invert the truth so that good is now seen as evil and horrible, cruel and malicious depravity is seen as a reasonable response to the "crimes" of the Jews.

Hamas and their ilk are truly consummate, pathological deceivers.  If they were Pinocchio their collective schnoz would extend around the sun and back.  They would lie about the time of day.  They would happily lie to their grandmother's face if it helped "the cause."  They probably lie to themselves in order to justify their sick, repulsive and cruel barbarity.

So, sadly for anyone who values life, truth, justice or any value of the civilized world, they have managed to cause - among other things - people to believe that Israel (ie: the Jews) is guilty of:

Ethnic Cleansing


There is a cruel irony in this one in that the only people who the Jews actually did ethnically cleanse from Gaza were...Jews - uprooting each and every one of them (8,000) in 2005.  No credit of any sort is given for this intensely painful concession and strangely, despite Gaza being Judenrein for nine years, Jews are still saddled with the charge of:

Occupation

Despite the fact that Palestine was solely the name of a geographic region and one given by the Romans specifically in order to distance the Jews from the ancestral homeland and despite the fact that there has never existed a Palestinian government or leader that governed or even controlled that area, we are routinely led to believe that this people has been peacefully dwelling there for thousands of years - until the arrival of cynical, displaced Jews from Europe who stole and usurped that aboriginal people's rightful ownership.  This one sticks like Crazy Glue.  Despite the fact that there has always been a Jewish presence there, despite many cubic tons of archaeological evidence linking our presence there to three millennium ago, despite the fact that the land was largely uninhabited swamp land and sand until the Jews began reclaiming it in the 19th Century, despite our being "given" the land by the UN in 1948 and subsequently defended (and expanded) in various defensive wars we are told time and again that it is not ours and that our very presence there is a crime.

Genocide

Astounding.  The only people on this planet that have actually been the victims of a true genocide (a plan set in motion to eradicate an entire innocent nation) are now accused of perpetrating one.  Never-mind that the numbers don't come remotely close to other groups who commit "megadeath" - who kill huge numbers of people such as the Hutu's, or the Syrians or the Cambodians or the Turks, never-mind that it is abundantly obvious that the Israelis don't want to kill anyone and do everything in their power to prevent it and wring their hands over each and every death - amazingly, they are sold and the new Nazi's - a comparison so odious, so vile and so nauseating as to leave one recoiled and sputtering in shock.  And yet there it is - sold and bought by millions the world over.

It's a sad time for the Jews and for the world though I take some solace in knowing that it is our light and goodness that so incenses these people.  When pure evil points its hand and accuses others of wrong-doing, there is no better indication of the great meritoriousness of the accused.  Evil is coming for us - and no other.

"You know friends, sometimes it makes me sad, but sometimes it makes me happy; Israel has no friends in the world.  The Holy Land, the Holy People of Israel are all alone.  But you know what we have?  We have one Friend in Heaven - Yisrael B'tach BaHaShem!"

- Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach


Thursday, July 24, 2014

Tom Petty Says Religion = War

Expressing a view that is held by a lot of people, rock star Tom Petty explained that the title of one of the tunes on his new album (Hypnotic Eye) was about cover ups of child abuse scandals in the Catholic Church. I think it's safe to say that no one supports child abuse and most people don't approve of covering it up - so Tom's tune seems pretty relevant.

Unfortunately, he then went on to make a sweeping generalization about religion as a whole by saying that "religion seems to me to be at the base of all wars."  Well, whereas it certainly has been at the base of some wars it's hard to see how any war fought by communist (and atheist) Russia or China could fall into that category.

So just how many wars, historically speaking, is religion the cause of?  Political science professor John Tures (writing in the Huffington Post) says not too many.  His research found that "religion was very infrequently a source of conflict" while issues like "regimes, riches and real estate" were major culprits.  Professor Tures also points out that many wars, like the Protestants vs the Catholics in North Ireland, weren't actually religiously based but were rather over political power and governmental representation.

So while Tom may be a great musician, he may need some more rehearsals before venturing out on the theological world stage.

Read it all here.


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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Can Anything Be Proven?

I was taken to task recently for presenting what I have to say in too much of an authoritative tone.  It was suggested that I not attempt to offer my thoughts on various theological questions as "proofs" inasmuch as they may not be provable and that suggesting otherwise could compromise my credibility (assuming I have any to begin with) on these topics.  In hunting around for people who really do have the proper credentials to address this question I came across this video from another of my favorite theological philosophers William Lane Craig.  Here's what he had to say about the need/concept of proof:




I think his point is well taken.  There is no need to demonstrate an argument with mathematical precision for it to be valid and powerful.  In truth, the more you even push mathematical truths the more difficult it becomes to actually prove them.  From what I understand, though it seems pretty obvious, there isn't any actual proof for the premise that 1+1=2 inasmuch as it's based on axioms which are definitionally unprovable.  Pushing things even further, it's also not possible to prove that what we perceive with our brains is reliable and accurate - effectively calling into question (from an absolute proof perspective) all that we understand and believe - literally.

Therefore, inasmuch as we need to live and function in this world, we need to decide to be ok with our lack of proof.  When we cross the street, it's considered a reasonable precaution to look left, right and left again. No one attempts to produce a formal, mathematical demonstration before taking on the risks of the crossing. We also need not concern ourselves with wonder over whether or not the people who we believe to be our parents truly are or if the sun will rise tomorrow morning.  All that's needed is a coherent argument in its favor.

My general approach to God and Torah is the same - it's not a matter of scientific proof.  A better analogy would be that of a jury hearing the evidence from a civil trial.  No one in the jury was there.  They're doing their best, based on the cognitive skills they have and the evidence that's presented to reach the correct conclusion.  Post deliberation, a decision must be made.  I believe the the preponderance of evidence rests with the position of the classical theist - others do not.  Neither of us has (ultimate) proof but each of us must act based on the conclusions we draw and those actions have significant ramifications for us - both as individuals and societally.

"Just because an idea is true doesn't mean it can be proved.  And just because an idea can be proved doesn't mean it's true."

- Jonah Lehrer


Monday, July 21, 2014

Sartre, God and Morality

The ongoing conflict in Gaza has me (and many others) ruminating on the nature of good and evil - something that Jean-Paul Sartre had something to say about.  This is an essay by my favorite contemporary theological philosopher Edward Feser on the topic.  If you've never read him you should.  He has the rare gift of being able to articulate extremely advanced and difficult concepts in a fun and relateable style.  Here's what he says:

If God is dead, is everything permitted? Yes and no. There is a connection between the existence of God and the possibility of morality, but it is not as direct as many religious believers – and some atheists – think it is. Take Jean-Paul Sartre, about whom Bill Vallicella has been writing a series of interesting blog posts this week. Sartre was an atheist, and he held, famously, that in a Godless universe there can be no objective standards of moral value. Why did he think this? First of all, because standards of moral value presuppose, Sartre maintained (correctly, in my view), that there is such a thing as human nature. But in a Godless universe there can be no such thing as human nature. Why not? As Bill reconstructs Sartre’s argument:

The argument seems to be:

There is no God
Essences or natures are divine concepts
-----
There is no human nature.

Another argument Sartre may have in mind is this:

Man has a nature only if man is a divine artifact
There is no God and hence no divine artifacts
-----
Man has no nature.

But as Bill goes on to point out, a problem with this argument is that it is not as clear as Sartre thinks it is that there being such a thing as human nature presupposes that essences are divine concepts or that we are divine artifacts. For example, Aristotle held that there is such a thing as human nature, but (despite his belief in an Unmoved Mover of the universe) did not think of us as divine artifacts.

What is going on here, I surmise, is that Sartre has uncritically bought into the modern notion that to attribute purposes to natural objects and processes is ipso facto to commit oneself to a divine designer a la William Paley. And as I have been pointing out in a series of posts on teleology, Paley, and related matters, that is an error, at least from an Aristotelian-Thomistic (A-T) point of view. For A-T, the natures and final causes of things are immanent to them. Natural objects are not like machines, the parts of which have no inherent ordering to the end they serve, so that the parts cannot even be made sense of as serving a common end apart from a “designer” who forces them into their machine-like configuration. Rather, that a heart (for example) is “directed toward” or “ordered to” the end of pumping blood is something true of it simply by virtue of its being a heart at all, and would remain true of it whatever its cause or even if (per impossibile) it had no cause. For A-T, the natures of things can be known, at least in principle, entirely apart from questions about their origins, and human nature would still be what it is whether or not we were created by God. Sartre would need an additional argument against views like Aristotle’s, then, before he could make the case that in a Godless universe there could be no such thing as human nature and thus no objective source of value.

Does that mean that there is no connection between theism and morality? By no means. For whatever Aristotle believed, Aquinas and his followers argue (e.g. in Aquinas’s Fifth Way) that the existence of final causes, and thus of things having the natures that natural objects do in fact have, must ultimately be traced to the divine intellect. It’s just that the inference is not as direct as Paley, Sartre, and other moderns think it is. As I have pointed out before (following an observation made by Christopher Martin) modern philosophers tend to think that it is easy to get from the existence of purposes in nature to the conclusion that God exists, but frightfully difficult to show that there really are any purposes in nature. Classical philosophers, by contrast, tend to think that it is obvious that there are purposes in nature, and that where the real philosophical work comes in is in showing that these purposes entail the existence of God. It can be done, but a middle stage is required between the premise “Final causes exist” and the conclusion “God exists.” (For an exposition of how this will go, see the section on the Fifth Way in The Last Superstition, and, especially, the longer exposition in the relevant section of Aquinas.)

So, one way in which morality does depend on the existence of God is that morality presupposes (as Sartre correctly recognizes) the existence of essences and final causes, and these in turn must ultimately be explained in terms of God (but only via arguments that are less obvious and direct than Sartre supposes). That is, it depends on God in the way everything depends on God. Is there any specialdependence of morality on God, though – some way that it depends on theism in the way other aspects of the natural world do not? Yes, in two respects: First, for moral imperatives to have the force of law in the strict sense (and not merely as the course of action wisdom recommends if we seek to fulfill our nature) ultimately requires that they be understood as having in some sense been issued by an authoritative lawgiver. Since the existence of God can (according to A-T) be proved by rational arguments, so too (for that very reason) can the existence of such a lawgiver. There is no appeal here to “blind faith,” and to bring God into the picture is perfectly consistent with the imperatives of natural law being natural (as opposed to resting on special divine revelation). Still, there is an irreducible theological component to morality when it is understood in itstotality, even if much of it can be known completely apart from God. (See the “Ethics” chapter of Aquinas for the complete story.)

Second, given that the existence of God can in fact be rationally established (as, again, A-T maintains), a complete system of morality is inevitably going to make reference to our distinctively religious obligations. Furthermore, there are requirements of the natural law that would, at least as a matter of psychological fact, be very difficult for us to live up to if we had no hope of a reward in the hereafter for injustices and hardships suffered here and now. Religion thus serves as a practically indispensible aid to morality. (Again, see Aquinas, and the section in TLS on natural law, for more.)

Now if there is a sense in which morality does ultimately rest on the existence of God, does that not entail that my criticism of Sartre is mere quibbling? It does not, for this reason. If the A-T view of morality is correct, then even if morality ultimately depends on God, we could nevertheless discover a great deal about our moral obligations even if we did not know that God exists. Compare: We can discover a great deal about the way the natural world works via empirical scientific research, without making any direct reference to God and His purposes. To know about the periodic table of elements, for example, does not require that we first prove God’s existence, even if God’s existence is the ultimate explanation of the periodic table (because it is the ultimate explanation of everything). Similarly, we can to a large extent understand human nature even if we bracket off the question of God’s existence. And for that reason, we can know a great deal about what fulfills our nature – and thus about the content of our moral obligations – even if we do not think of that nature as given to us by God.

Hence when Sartre finally met his Maker and was asked to account for (say) his notorious sexual immorality, or his support for communism, we can be confident that said Maker would not have been impressed had Sartre replied: “But Lord, I honestly did not know that You existed!” We can imagine God responding: “Even if I were to grant you that dubious proposition, how is it relevant? You didn’t need Mearound to tell you that promiscuity and mass murder are evil. Your knowledge of human nature was enough to tell you that.” And were Sartre to reply: “But I honestly didn’t believe in human nature either!” perhaps God might say: “Oh, please. Next you’ll tell Me that you weren’t certain that the empirical world was anything other than a dream!” For it takes an enormous amount of self-deception to get oneself to doubt that there is such a thing as human nature, just as it would take an enormous amount of self-deception to get oneself seriously to believe that one’s entire life is only a dream. In particular, and in both cases, it takes the sort of self-deception only intellectuals are capable of – the sort embodied in bizarre revisionist systems of metaphysics of the kind rife in modern philosophy.

Be all that as it may, the point is that the A-T view of things does not, as the careless reader might have supposed, make things easier for the secularist, morally speaking. On the contrary, it makes things much harder on him. For, contra the implications of a Paley-style view of God’s relationship to the world, ignorance of the Author of nature does not excuse ignorance of the nature of things, and thus it does not excuse ignorance of the demands of the natural law. You can know that things have natures and final causes – and thus you can know what morality requires of you at least in general terms – whether or not you know that there is a God. And that is one reason why it is a more than academic matter to point out where Sartre goes wrong in his claims about the relationship between theism and morality.

Bonus observation: As Bill notes, Sartre took the bizarre view that to believe in an objective source of morality somehow entails looking for an “excuse” to avoid taking “responsibility” for one’s actions. Bill notes some of what is wrong with such a view. But why would Sartre think it at all plausible in the first place? Here, I speculate, we see the malign influence on modern moral theorizing of Kant – in particular, of all the Kantian stuff about heteronomy versus autonomy, and about how our moral dignity requires that we be conceived of as “self-legislators” and “ends in ourselves.” On this view, unless the demands of morality can be interpreted as in some sense self-imposed – as something we bind ourselves to, by virtue of being rational agents – then morality could only be a restriction on our freedom and dignity. In particular, human dignity requires (on this view) that morality not be seen as imposed on us from outside – by nature, say, or God. If you believe such blasphemous liberal modernist tosh, then perhaps Sartre’s characterization of the idea of an objective moral standard as an “excuse” to avoid taking “responsibility” for one’s freedom might seem halfway plausible. If not, then you might consider Sartre’s view as (possibly) yet one more decadent riff on this poisonous Kantian theme.

Here endeth the rant about Kant. But more later.



Sunday, July 20, 2014

Israel in Gaza: No Less Than the Battle Between Good and Evil

For many Jews and their supporters around the world, it is highly disturbing to see and hear so many clear demonstrations of near total moral befuddlement.  I'm not sure how a conflict could be any more clear - one side loves life and desires to preserve it (on both sides!) and the other openly admits that it "loves death" and is happy to bring it to both sides as well.  Despite that, millions of people around the world rally to the side of this cult of death. How can this be?


  1. The big lie still works: The most generous explanation is that these people have been duped. Decades of relentless lying have born abundant fruit for the Jihadi side as they have successfully managed to invert the perception of good and bad.  They freely tell enormous lies such as PA President's recent assertion that Israel was committing "genocide" in Gaza. Genocide is generally defined as killing a large number of people for ethnic reasons.  I very much doubt that the 400 people killed (most of whom Israel wished not to kill but who were in the wrong place at the wrong time) on their side would fall under the category of genocide but if it did then the 1137 Israelis killed by Palestinians in the Second Intifada was three times the "genocide" - and done on purpose.  Somehow I doubt that this crowd was overly concerned with that particular "genocide." So given the power of the big lie and how readily it's lapped up by various media outlets it's not hard to see how someone could walk away utterly misinformed.
  2. Morality itself has collapsed: Dennis Prager wrote an important piece a while back called "A Response to Richard Dawkins" in which he demonstrates that in the absence of a belief in God, morality shrivels up and dies on the vine leaving us with nothing more than subjective preferences in place of a true moral code.  Could it be that large swaths of humanity simply lacks the template by which to successfully adjudicate between right and wrong?  Judging by the endless stream of unhinged tweets, governmental condemnations and violent street protests it would seem so.  If someone is incapable of distinguishing between accidental deaths and those committed with intent then that person has no moral compass.  The tallies that are so often bandied about are irrelevant and even if the number of accidental deaths were extremely high and the number of purposeful deaths very low it would not vindicate the purposeful killers.  They can't even be compared.  It's evil apples vs non-evil oranges.
  3. The supporters are evil too: Israel, in all likelihood, is in the process of fighting the most morally conducted campaign in the history of warfare.  No army drops thousands of leaflets, or places cell phone calls or does "roof-knocking" to warn civilians before they attack.  No army continues to provide water, supplies and electricity to the enemy while they are in the process of attacking them. Few armies place their own soldiers at grave risk by going door to door in search of weapons caches, terror tunnels and rocket launchers when they could just carpet bomb, shut off the electricity and water or both and be done with it.  Conflicts like this one bring to a head who people really are and what they stand for.  Sides must be chosen.  One has to suspect that a good many people out there have chosen to align themselves with the forces of darkness and death.  Even if they are generally perceived as "religious" practitioners, in truth they are nihilists - people who have wholesale given up on life and who gleefully desire to take out as many as they can with them.  Their lives are without meaning and as such they have no use for them.  Anyone drawn after such people and who offer them succor or support in any fashion are of the same ilk and should be regarded as the amoral beings that they truly are. 
"If antisemitism is a form of racism, it is a most peculiar variety, with many unique characteristics.  In my view as a historian it is so peculiar that it deserves to be placed in quite a different category.  I would call it an intellectual disease, a disease of the mind, extremely infectious and massively destructive."

Paul Johnson 



Friday, July 18, 2014

Can You "Experience" God?

Monotheists have never pretended that they know (or will ever know) what exactly God is.  As Genesis 1:1 informs us, He "created the heavens and the earth."  As understood in classical Judaism - through the lens on Kaballah - this means that God created both the spiritual as well as the physical.  This would obviously imply that inasmuch as He created them, that God is neither something physical nor something spiritual and there is no way for finite, physical beings such as ourselves to wrap our heads around such a being - one Who creates, but is not bound by space, time, matter or even spirit.  As the 18th Century Kabbalist Moshe Chaim Luzzatto wrote in The Way of God, "God's true nature is beyond comprehension.  No inference can be drawn to the Creator from what we see among created things.  The nature and essence of the two are not the same at all, and it is therefore impossible to draw any parallel between them."

Rabbi Luzzatto and others would argue that there are nonetheless cogent methods of adducing the necessity of His reality through logic and through the Sinaitic revelation.  What though should we make of people who claim to have had an actual experience of the Divine?  There are a lot of them - are they all false?  What types of thoughts, feelings and experiences should be counted as "reality?"  Are there any?

There are thousands of people who have claimed to have had a near-death experience - one in which they become convinced of a parallel world in which non-physical beings (souls, angels, etc) reside.  Dr. Jeffrey Long has painstakingly cataloged these experiences and their remarkably consistent features in a fascinating work called "Evidence of the Afterlife."  Materialists (those who believe that there is no other reality aside from the physical) generally ascribe these experiences as a projection of the dying brain - a fantasy created by neurons firing wildly before they flame out.  This certainly could be the case but it wouldn't help to explain multiple, documented features of the near-death experience such as the ability to perceive what was taking place at a distance from the hospital room well after brain function ceased entirely.

Oxford University has a research center that catalogs numinous (metaphysical) experiences.  Founded in 1969 by Sir Alister Hardy, it has recorded some 6000 accounts of people who affirmatively responded to the question "have you ever had a spiritual or religious experience or felt a presence or power, whether you call it God or not, which is different from your every day life?"  Even if we assume that 90% of these people were victims of wishful thinking, confusion or neuronal hallucinations, would we be prepared to say that 600 people had an authentic transcendental experience?  Notably, those same materialists who would be wont to dismiss these claims as 100% false tend not to concede that their own experiences - including their belief in materialism - are subject to the same rejections.

If we assume that the human experience of reality can be accurate or at least partially accurate, then despite our inability to define what the Creator is, it would seem that we do have several methods available to us to appreciate, understand and experience Him nonetheless.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Smackdown of Pop Atheism Rolls On

Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, Dennett et al made a big noise and undoubtedly affected a lot of people with their brash, combative and "in your face" style writing and speaking.  They garnered a lot of attention. Unfortunately for them they also attracted the attention of some people who had a lot more training and experience with philosophy and theology (what they attempted to engage in in the first place) and who proceeded to unmask their ignorance on the topic.  My favorites are David Berlinski, Edward Feser and Moshe Averick who are all linked on the home page.

Today I came across something from Slate's Book review entitled "Know Nothing: the True History of Atheism" by Michael Robbins.  In reviewing a new book by Nick Spencer called "Atheists: the Origin of the Species" he makes several good points.  The first is that Pop Atheism generally busies itself attacking straw men - defeating arguments and concepts they invented themselves and that the other side isn't putting forward.  For instance, someone like Richard Dawkins believes that there is no way to evidence something's existence without reference to a material characteristic - we need to be able to measure it, test it, hypothesize about it, etc - and if this cannot be done then the thing does not exist.  Ironically, Dawkins's supposition is itself immaterial (impossible to measure, etc) and this subject to the same non-existence he claims for metaphysics. As Robbins comments on this point "Richard Dawkins claims that religion is a 'scientific' theory, 'a competing explanation for facts about the universe and life.'  This is - if you'll forgive my theological jargon - Bulls***."

Another popular straw man is God Himself.  Outside of being wantonly offensive to millions of people, descriptions of the Deity of classical monotheism like Dawkins's are simply not describing the one that is easily found (if you've bothered to read a bit) in classical theology.  So as he generously offered "The God of the Old Testament is a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, insecticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sado-masochistic, capriciously malevolent bully."  Uh huh.  One wonders about his relationship with his father.  In any event this is all simply absurd, inaccurate and illogical.  Robbins again - "if your idea of God is not one that most theistic traditions would recognize, you're not talking about God...but even more damning is that  such atheists appear ignorant of atheism as well."

"Atheists used to take the idea of God Seriously.  That's why they mattered."


 

Monday, July 14, 2014

Freud Liked (Some) Faith

It's well-known that Sigmund Freud was an atheist and believed that religiosity was a "neurosis" (though he held that this wasn't a pejorative word per se). Despite this, Freud believed that there were a number of tangible benefits that could be gained through engagement with theological thinking.  Lacy Cooke of Faithstreet outlines some of these benefits in a piece called "How Sigmund Freud Got Religion."

Freud was impressed by Judaism's insistence that there be no visual representation of the Divine and felt that this practice helped devotees with abstract reasoning - so much so that he believed that "Jewish thought laid the foundation for intellectual progress in the western world."  He also felt (despite his own lack of it) that a belief in a Creator helped improve the mind and that the "Jewish People were able to develop introspection through their faith in God."

It's unfortunate that so many contemporary atheists are unable to perceive and appreciate these benefits.  At very least, it would allow them to conduct themselves in a respectful manner towards people of faith and thus contribute to the general societal harmony.  In truth, there's a growing "second wave" of atheists who do just that.  Publications to date include: "An Awareness of What's Missing" by Jurgen Haberman, The Little Book of Atheist Spirituality by Andre Comte-Sponville and Alain de Botton's "Religion For Atheists."

What these atheists have come to realize is that they've thrown the baby out with the bath water and there is quite a lot that we all want and need as human beings - deep and fundamental things like meaning, ritual and community - to be found in theology.  I'm all in favor of a reformation within the cynical and acrimonious incarnation of the "new" atheism and see this explicit recognition as a good first step.  I'm hopeful that with further research and introspection that some of these folks (as many have done before them) will come to appreciate that not only was the baby worth saving but that the bath water was pretty important as well.  

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Science Lies Too!

One of the goals of this blog is to reconcile and/or defend classical theology with/from current scientific assumptions.  This forum (like classical theology itself) is not the slightest bit "anti-science" as long as science is simply understood as a methodology that builds and organizes knowledge as opposed to an infallible bastion of "enlightenment" and "reason" whose methods and results are the product of  unquestionable and superior intelligence.  The knee-jerk acceptance of anything that appears in a "study" along with tables, graphs and statistical analysis is actually unnerving considering just how frequently scientifically "proven" findings have been rejected or revised from time immemorial.  From the scientific belief in the Luminiferous Aether and the theories of Phrenology to the very often updated age of the Universe and the almost comical reversals in food science (see Time's Ending the War on Fat) it should be clear that we should take any scientific pronouncement with a pinch of salt at least.

Yesterday, Vox.com ran a story concerning what it called "one of the biggest cases of scientific misconduct in history."  Apparently, a scientific publisher called SAGE had to pull 60 peer-reviewed research papers by a researcher named Peter Chen.  It also informs us that the record for retraction is held by a anesthesiologist named Yoshitaka Fujii who fudged his work 183 times!  So how'd Dr. Chen do it?  By fabricating his own reviewers and creating a "peer review and citation ring."  The Vox piece then goes on to ask the obvious questions - "why would a journal let you pick your own reviewers?" and "is scientific misconduct becoming more common?"  Good questions.

The obvious truth is that scientists are as human as everyone else and not the nether-worldly paragons of detached reason as so many seem to think.  They get jealous, compete for funding, fudge numbers and fall victim to group-think like any other population and this article serves as an excellent reminder of that. Therefore, when some lab coat clad individual (or group) waives this or that study around and informs us that "science and theology are incompatible" bear in mind that in the world of science today's accepted fact is tomorrow's fiction.  Pass the butter...


Thursday, July 10, 2014

Science Discovers Atheists Don't Exist

I was a little surprised to come across this link today: "Scientists Discover That Atheists Might Not Exist, and That's Not a Joke."  According to the article "cognitive scientists are becoming increasingly aware that a metaphysical outlook may be so deeply ingrained in human thought processes that it cannot be expunged."  It's not new information to anyone that human beings are "hard-wired" for numinous experience - for having a specific sense or experience of something transcendent in their lives.  As a believer in spirituality I obviously have no issue with that as it would be absurd to imagine that the Creator would not have endowed us with the capability of recognizing His existence.  What I don't like so much are the "side effects" of the researchers conclusions and how they arrived at them in the first place.

The central premise of the findings is that in as much as we have no free will - we have no choice but to believe in transcendence.  As they state, "evidence from several disciplines indicates that what you actually believe is not a decision you make for yourself.  Your fundamental beliefs are decided by much deeper levels of consciousness, and some may well be more or less set in stone."  It's true that many atheists don't believe in free will but I would think that this is one of those areas for potential agreement between believers and non-believers.

If there's no free will, then naturally there is no morality and no reason to hold anyone accountable for their behavior.  Despite the obvious veracity of that idea we don't seem to find anyone, anywhere, embracing it or acting as if it's true.  To me that has always indicated that atheists actually do, deep down, believe in a transcendent morality (an absolute code of right and wrong) and they only pay a sort of intellectual lip service to the idea that there isn't and that we're truly not free.  As the article notes - people "are only aware of some of their religious ideas."  As I've noticed that atheists are (generally) uncomfortable with the idea that they are compelled into believing what they do (including their atheism), so am I, as it would make all of Jewish practice a ridiculous charade.  For a comprehensive take on the Jewish notion of free will have a look at Rabbi Akiva Tatz's new book on the subject "Will, Freedom and Destiny."

The piece then goes on to list many of the benefits that religion (which we have no choice but to embrace due to our lack of free will and which is programmed into us by evolution) that atheists knowingly or not participate in.  For instance:


  • Some sort of ritual when a loved one passes on
  • An abiding interest in morality 
  • Belief in some sort of  "supernatural surveillance" (Karma, the Universe, God, etc)  in keeping people on the straight and narrow
  • The recognition of an "unnamed, unidentified payback mechanism" that dispenses justice - and is frequently seen in books, films, etc.

In short, the piece, though I contest its free-will assumption, is making some good (and obvious) points:  A) Human beings need and depend on the transcendent, B) Atheists (being human) also depend on and function in the world of the numinous and C) "religion" is the best vehicle for meeting these fundamental needs.

As the piece correctly concludes "we might all be a little more spiritual than we think."



Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Moses Vs. Nostradamus: a Prophetic Analysis

I decided that this needs it's own post...

Most of the world's religious systems attempt to add gravitas and authenticity to their tenets by claiming them to be the products of a deeply enlightened seer or prophet. This person, by virtue of his or her advanced state of consciousness, pious life and transcendental awareness, is thought to possess the ability to tap into hidden stores of information that reside in a plane of ephemeral existence higher than our own. By and large, religions are established by a single individual claiming prophetic insight such as Jesus, Mohammed, Joseph Smith, et al. By contrast, Jewish tradition claims 1.2 million prophets throughout the approximately 900 year span of the first and second Temples. Across the board, the rabbinic authorities held that the prophecy of Moses was qualitatively unique within this huge group as Maimonides recorded in his 13 Principles of Faith: "I believe with complete faith that the prophecy of Moses, our teacher, peace be upon him, was true -- and that he was the greatest of the prophets -- both those that preceded him, and those who followed him."
Let's do a little comparison. Let's look at a few of Moses' predictions to see if we believe that they actually came to pass and then contrast them with the perennially popular 16th century French prophet Nostradamus. There are two criteria that need to be employed to authenticate a prophecy -- a true prediction must have both specificity and non-predictability to be viable. So saying something like "a great king will arise in the West" would be disqualified due to both its vagueness and relative likelihood, while something like "Dweezil Zappa will become Secretary of State in 2016" would be a home run.
Leviticus 26:33 states:
"And you, I will scatter among the nations, I will unsheathe the sword after you, leaving your country desolate and your cities in ruins."
The Torah predicts here that the Jewish people will be exiled from their land. Does the prediction seem clear? It does. And how about the likelihood factor? Interestingly, exile was a rare phenomenon in the ancient world (less than 10 in recorded history) as the conquering nations preferred to tax and work the vanquished population. In short, this prophecy is quite specific and was not likely to occur.
Here's one from Nostradamus (Prophecies 1:8):
"From the Orient will come the African heart, To trouble Hadrie and the heirs of Romulus: Accompanied by the Libyan Fleet, The Temples of Malta and nearby islands shall be deserted."
Ummmm, OK. I did my best to make sense of this but it's obviously extremely vague and to the best of my knowledge, no clear world historical event is associated with these words. As the kids say these days: fail.
Back to Moses in Deuteronomy 30:1-5:
"Then the Almighty will bring back your captivity and have mercy upon you; and He will return and gather you from among all of the nations where he has dispersed you. If your dispersed ones will be even at the ends of the heavens, from there God Almighty will gather you and from there He will take you. And God your Lord will bring you to the land that your fathers inherited and you shall inherit it."
Once again, extremely clear, and extremely unlikely to have transpired. No other people has even so much as survived an exile, let alone returned to reestablish their historical homeland. In fact, the Jewish people have done this twice -- once at the hands of the Babylonians and later by the Romans. What Average Joe author would have been dumb enough to predict an outcome that was so exceedingly unlikely to ever come about? Unlikely to be exiled and impossible to come back -- not a very good wager, especially considering the world could now easily proclaim your book worthless. Better to stick with vague and meaningless Nostradamus-type musings like:
"From the three water signs will be born a man, Who will celebrate Thursday as his holiday: His renown, praise, rule and power will grow, On land and sea, bringing trouble to the East." (Prophecies 1:50)
Ah yes, those powerful, aquatic, 5th Day People. They were always giving the East hell. I think we're all on the same page when I say: gong!
Now just permit me to pre-defend myself from the inevitable charges of "cherry picking." I have discussed here only two of many. It's important to note to that many of these Mosaic prophecies preclude the others from coming about. That is, if one happens, it makes it less likely for the others to come about. For instance, the Jews are told that they will be an eternal nation (Genesis 17:7, Leviticus 26:44 ). Already very unlikely, but all the more so considering the exile we discussed. On top of this we are told that we will always remain few in number (Deuteronomy 4:27), which is certainly a hindrance to eternality. So perhaps we'll be small but so universally loved that the world will always take good care of us? Alas no. Indeed, the Torah predicts that we will be very unpopular in our host countries (Deut. 28:65-67). And there are more.
So what say you dear reader? I can see some of you you rushing to pick up your King James's to school me with some prophecy that did not come to pass (as some of them have not yet) or others that seem vague and general to you and therefore not one iota better than our man in France. I'd love to hear it all, but let's try to focus on the ideas presented here. Were they accurate predictions or not? It's not tenable to suggest that out of hundreds of inaccurate ones, I just plucked the two or three that worked. It's not the case. If you feel yourself drawn to the "cherry picking" defense, consider that it may be because you (as of yet) have no way to logically explain it. If these examples are accurate and conform to our "likelihood index," what conclusions can be drawn about the book, its author and its information?

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Smart Money's On Isaiah - The Good Guys Will Win in the End

With the Nation of Israel under attack for the umpteenth thousandth time it is easy to lose site of the big picture - that the Jewish People are routinely reviled for their goodness and for the message of universal peace and spiritual transcendence that they have always promoted and stood for.  And the end, only these values will be left standing.

When Rabbi Akiva and his colleagues were walking past the ruins of the Second Temple, they started to weep while Akiva began to laugh.  When asked what possessed him to laugh at this terrible site of pain and devastation he replied that just as the prophecy that the Temple would be destroyed came to pass so too could they be confident that they prophecy that it would be rebuilt would come to pass as well.  They reflected on this a famously replied "you have comforted us Akiva."

As such, it seemed only fitting to boost our confidence in Toraitic prophecy at this moment of travail so that we could take comfort in the notion that some day Isaiah's vision will also be fulfilled:

"And it shall be at the end of days that the mountain of God's house will be firmly established at the top of the mountains and will be raised above the hills and all nations will stream into it.  And many people will go and say 'come, let's go up to God's mountain, to the house of the God of Jacob and let him teach us His ways and we will go in His paths' for out of Zion will the Torah come forth and the word of God from Jerusalem.  And He will judge between nations are reprove many peoples, and they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.  Nation will not lift sword against nation and they will not learn war any more."

Here's my take on prophecy:



Sunday, July 6, 2014

20 Questions For Materialists

Counterintuitively, there is a strict orthodoxy amongst contemporary scientists – one that resembles the caricatured notion that most of them hold of theology – one of a rigid and inflexible dogma that is impervious to outside forces.  To question certain assumed “facts” of science is to invite derision and disdain – even (or especially) if you happen to be a credentialed scientist.

When I was in college I noticed an interesting trend among some of my die-hard feminist friends.  Women who espoused views that were antithetical to those of these particular friends weren't only regarded as anti-feminist, they also had their femininity itself called into question with statements like “she has no womb!”  Intellectually, they knew this wasn't the case of course, but emotionally it was real to them.

So too do certain scientists, through their questioning of the materialist dogma held by the scientific majority, invite the rancor of their colleagues and the denunciation of their credentials as “real scientists.”  A case in point is Professor Jerry Coyne’s denunciation of Dr. Rupert Sheldrake.  Sheldrake is a Ph.D. is biochemistry from Cambridge (he also studied philosophy and the history of science at Harvard) who committed the ultimate sin against the materialist dogma.  The Guardian glowingly described his early work, labeling him "one of the brightest Darwinians of his generation…His development with Philip Rubery of the chemiosmotic model of polar auxin transport has been described as "astonishingly visionary."  

Unfortunately for the materialist world, Sheldrake’s research lead him in another direction entirely.  As he concluded “The system is circular, it does not explain how [differentiation is] established to start with. After nine years of intensive study, it became clear to me that biochemistry would not solve the problem of why things have the basic shape they do.”

Then came the real apostasy.  He spent some time in India with an interest in Hindu thought that ultimately lead him to re-embrace his Anglican faith.  In the eyes of the materialist this is heresy of the highest order.  Hence, despite Dr. Sheldrake's advanced training and universally acknowledged success, Dr. Coyne concludes that:

“Rupert Sheldrake is a pseudoscientist who has made his name promoting various kinds of woo, including telepathy (including in dogs!), immaterial minds, and his crazy idea of “morphic resonance,” a Jung-ian theory in which all of nature participates in some giant collective memory. (He was once a real scientist, trained in biochemistry and cell biology at Cambridge, but somewhere went off the rails.)”

Since the materialist already “knows” that everything in the universe can be explained through material means (even though it clearly can’t) then anyone who won’t agree with this core principle is not a “real scientist” and has “gone off the rails.”  

To help demonstrate how materialist philosophy is itself “off the rails” Dr. Sheldrake has written “Science Set Free: 10 Paths to New Discovery.”  In it he outlines how science is being held hostage by this dogmatic materialist position and how, as a result, it actually stymies human progress and paradoxically, science itself.

At the end of each chapter he poses a series of questions for materialists to ponder.  As I consider this questioning to be meaningful and necessary for everyone to think over (especially materialists) I am including them here.  I’d love to hear your responses to them.

  1. Is the mechanistic worldview a testable scientific theory, or a metaphor?
  2. If it’s a metaphor, why is the machine metaphor better in every respect than the organism metaphor?  If it is a scientific theory, how could it be tested or refuted?
  3. Do you think that you yourself are nothing but a complex machine?
  4. Have you been programmed to believe in materialism?
  5. Is your belief in the conservation of matter and energy an assumption, or is it based on evidence?  If so, what is the evidence?
  6. Do you think that dark matter is conserved?
  7. Can you accept that there may be a continuous creation of dark energy as the universe expands?
  8. If there is a vast amount of energy in the quantum-vacuum field, do you think that we might be able to tap it?
  9. Do you believe that your own consciousness is merely an aspect or epiphenomenon of the activity of your brain?
  10. If consciousness does nothing, why has it evolved as an evolutionary adaptation?
  11. Do you agree with the materialist philosopher Galen Strawson that materialism implies panpsychism?
  12. Is your own belief in materialism determined by unconscious processes in your brain, rather than reason, evidence and choice?
  13. How do you know that there are no purposes in nature?  Is this merely an assumption?
  14. If there are no purposes in nature, how can you have purposes yourself?
  15. Is there any evidence for the materialist belief that the entire evolutionary process is purposeless?
  16. Do you believe that memories are stored as material traces in brains?  If so, can you summarize the evidence?
  17. How do you think memory-retrieval systems recognize the memories they are trying to retrieve from memory stores?
  18. Have you ever considered the possibility that memory might depend on some kind of resonance rather than on material traces?
  19. If the trace theory of memory is a testable hypothesis, rather than a dogma, how could it be established experimentally that memory depends on traces rather than resonance?
  20. Could it be that materialism makes less sense and has less explanatory power than is generally believed?  (Mine)

 This is less than half his list.  Read the whole thing in Science Set Free.  Not too shabby a challenge for a pseudo-scientist…



Thursday, July 3, 2014

No God, No Good

In season two of Julian Fellowes' British period drama Downton Abbey, a young and earnest footman named William is sent to the front to fight the Germans. Sadly, he returns mortally wounded. William has an incurable crush on Daisy -- the scullery maid at Downton. Sadly again, Daisy does not return William's affections as she has a crush on another man. Nonetheless, Daisy, against her true wishes but with a sense of duty and mercy, allows herself to be convinced to marry William in the waning moments of his life. To the viewer, it's clear that this is an act of great benevolence. The rites are performed and poor William dies a happy man.
Acts of this sort have long stirred curiosity in me -- specifically as to how such actions would be perceived by someone who embraces a purely materialist worldview -- one that posits that the physical world and its properties are all that exist. Given that William will soon be dead, what difference would it make if Daisy instead chose to cruelly break his heart -- would it matter, and if so, how? Perhaps it could be suggested that Daisy's act of self-sacrifice served as an inspiration to those around her and in some sense improved the lives of those who were there. But, at the end of the day, isn't the reality that we are all creeping towards William's destination? He just got there a few minutes before the rest of us. Knowing that, why does it make sense for any of us to act kindly towards each other at any point, particularly when in opposition to our own desires? If we're all dead men walking, who gives a hang?
It's in this light that I find many conversations I have with materialists to be so odd. After bantering around the usually litany of grievances they have with theology I ask them what moves them to even care about what I'm saying and why they seem to possess such a cheerful attitude to (what I view as) their mirthless circumstances. The conversation might go something like this:
Me: Does it bother you that not one thought, word or deed that you ever have or ever will think, say or perform can make the slightest difference to anyone?
Materialist: What on earth are you talking about? I can write a book or feed a homeless person or tell my children that I love them. I can leave the world a better place than I found it!
Me: But the universe will eventually reach heat death. There will be no life and all that you did will long be forgotten. What tangible value does any of it really have?
Materialist: By that time we will have figured out how to preserve our consciousness in other dimensions. The heat death will not be an issue.
Me: Now you sound like a theist.
Materialist: Sophist!
Why is it that materialists frequently have such a tough time acknowledging this point? If there is no governing consciousness in the Universe -- if there is no arbiter of good and bad -- then such terms simply lose their meaning. One has no basis to declare something "good" if one sees the very concept of goodness as being arbitrary, self-invented and subject to revision according to circumstance. Nonetheless, a materialist will argue, yes, we did indeed create these concepts out of whole cloth -- and what, pray-tell, is wrong with that?
There are several answers. One is that it implies that the most heinous imaginable crimes - for example, child abuse -- are not objectively "wrong," but, rather, distasteful because of artificial social conventions. As Dr. Will Provine has said, without an "ultimate foundation for ethics," atheists "give up hope that there is an imminent morality ... you can't hope for there being any free will." Precious few materialists seem to be emotionally prepared to live with the consequences of this world view -- one that by all reason should produce only nihilism and despondence. Most parents, for instance, when confronted with the horrific prospect of having to say "goodbye" to a dying child would be wrought with indescribable pain. Yet I see newly minted materialists online making comments like "I used to be a theist but I hated it. Now I love being an atheist!" Yeah, what fun! Now everyone you know is on permanent death-watch. Your consciousness and those of everyone you know will soon and forever be irrevocably snuffed out -- and you're happy? It's one thing to stoically accept your fate and quite another to celebrate it.
One person who did seem to "get it" was Sigmund Freud. He correctly noted that "The moment a man questions the meaning and value of life, he is sick, since objectively neither has any existence." Sickness, not glee, is the logical response to meaninglessness, and make no mistake about it, the materialists peddle only a strange, happy-faced brand of despair - oddly immune to the inescapable negativity they promote.
What then to make of the odd reaction of the materialists to their materialism? It's clear that they don't believe themselves. If they did they would be have Freud's reaction. Inasmuch as so few of them can accept the truth of their own world view -- that, in theDownton Abbey scenario described above, spitting on William or marrying him are equally meaningless -- it implies that they really do, deep down, believe that there is, in some form, a true basis for good and evil. To be outraged at injustice (or even to recognize injustice), to care for the downtrodden and to oppose evil are inherently acts of belief that make zero sense in any other context. If we are nothing more than a random collection of electrons that (somehow) managed to crawl out the primordial ooze -- please spare us all the moralizing, because there is no morality, meaning, justice, beauty, hope or freedom in the absence of a Creator. A random universe means no Creator and no Creator means no purpose. No purpose means no meaning, and meaninglessness is only to be mourned.