My conversation with a Rabbi

 
tintin
 
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tintin
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20 August 2010 13:16
 

There was an interesting line of reasoning In Haught’s God and the New Atheism. He objected to Harris et. al’s characterization of faith as “belief without evidence” many times, and also said scientific objectivity requires a certain faith in objective reasoning. Then he curiously explained his position—the faithful think we *cannot understand, that the human mind is *incapable of understanding God. Scientists think the human mind has the capacity to understand the natural world.

It was the same point made by a Rabbi I spoke with yesterday, during a special office hour he set aside for me. The faithful think that humans are too “small,” he said, to *ever comprehend the transcendent aspect of God. I asked why they believe in one, then. He said there is also the worldly aspect of God, but I inquired whether there is any evidence of one, and we sort of hiccuped to the next topic.

On the topic of faith being willingness to believe without evidence, he said belief in god is also empirically sound. He likened it to breathing. I breath, so I know there is something to breath, if I don’t breath, I know it is bad for me. This is like a faith based on personal revelation, he said. But I pointed out that the importance of breathing can be objectively, scientifically, shown. Stop someone from breathing, they die. That’s not the case with faith by revelation. Studies of the efficacy of prayer, I said, come up empty-handed. Ah, he replied, some show it that prayer works. I asked for the references. He said that the results depend on who does the study. I pointed out that perhaps the best, with thousands of subjects in a triple blind test, was funded by Templeton, a religious organization. It showed no effect. And we moved on, our time was short..

One interesting thing we found substantive disagreement on was the role of fundamentalists within religious groups. He, like I, abhor them. He called them a malignant tumor. But I see fundamentalism ramping toward secularism, and different groups (reformed, etc) falling somewhere on the spectrum. He sees them as categorically different. I wondered why, if they are so different, why don’t they split apart. Why don’t the reformed Jews, for example, denounce the Orthodox as “not Jewish,” just as the Orthodox denounce the reformed Jews. Why not excise the tumor, I asked. He pointed out that there are Jewish groups which do actively oppose Israel’s policies, etc. But they don’t want to fragment the Jewish heritage. He explained that Judaism has three foundations: Culture, Heritage, and God. God, he said (of his own congregation) is not the most important.

He was a nice guy and he did his best. I’m aware that that sounds patronizing, but If he wasn’t a friend of the family I would have enjoyed hammering the topics on one topic longer, but I did want to keep it amicable and exploratory, and we parted nicely.

 
Gila Guerilla
 
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Gila Guerilla
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21 August 2010 00:58
 
tintin - 20 August 2010 11:16 AM

On the topic of faith being willingness to believe without evidence, he said belief in god is also empirically sound. He likened it to breathing. I breath, so I know there is something to breath, if I don’t breath, I know it is bad for me.

Breathing is a physical action, observable, and the consequences of not breathing are immediately apparent. If you don’t have a religious belief, you don’t KNOW that it is bad for you.

There are many beliefs in this world, and the mere property of having a belief on faith, does nothing to support the reality, (existence in reality), of what is believed. Religious believers categorise their particular brand of belief as special, and reserve the right to reject many other beliefs as unreal or unworthy. As an atheist, I reserve the right to reject religious belief, on the same grounds that religious believers reject beliefs other than their own.

Recently in Afghanistan, some aid workers were murdered on the grounds that they were, (allegedly),  preaching Christianity. This is a case where one belief rejects another, with the consequence of death for the non-Islamic actions of the alternative believers.

Making a special case for one belief or another is nothing more than mealy-mouthed preference of one fiction over another, justified by the notion that one particular brand of belief as special. Without any worthwhile evidence, faith is belief without justification, except in the mind of the believer, and not deduced from external reality.  Rather external reality is interpreted in the mind of the believer, to support their own bias, which they then claim as making their belief special, compared to alternative beliefs which are considered to be incompatible or unacceptable. In my mind, it’s all in the minds, (of us all) !

 
 
beachland
 
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beachland
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11 October 2010 14:21
 
tintin - 20 August 2010 11:16 AM

On the topic of faith being willingness to believe without evidence, he said belief in god is also empirically sound. He likened it to breathing. I breath, so I know there is something to breath, if I don’t breath, I know it is bad for me

I once had a similar conversation, where I was told that belief in god is empirically sound. If I see a chair, I can reasonably assume that somebody made that chair. Same goes for… everything… else

 
Poldano
 
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30 November 2010 06:41
 

Humans only understand reality on the basis of stuff that’s in their brains that evolved sufficiently to allow the species to survive. Abstract concepts are just metaphorical applications and combinations of the biologically evolved stuff. All of them are approximations of reality, rather than direct grasp of reality. Some of them may be exactly isomorphic to all the reality that there is, but we have no way of knowing whether that is true or, of it were true, exactly what parts would be isomorphic.

I personally think of God as equivalent to Ultimate Reality. In that sense I think Judaism dead-on. I’ve read that “Yahweh” translates “I am what am” or “I am that am”, which is pretty much what I mean by “Ultimate Reality”. Leave out all the fluffy-bunny stuff, I don’t believe it and I don’t need it, except perhaps as a metaphorical description of the state of the world I would like to help bring about. My religious belief can best be summed up as the conviction that it’s worth continuing to live and to die in the hope that good can be achieved.

In that context, I can agree with the rabbi that human minds are incapable of understanding God. I think a reasonable philosophical question is whether any possible mind is capable of understanding God.

 
 
Lapin Diabolique
 
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30 November 2010 15:04
 
Poldano - 30 November 2010 05:41 AM

Humans only understand reality on the basis of stuff that’s in their brains that evolved sufficiently to allow the species to survive.

Hey, that sounds really sciency, especially the “stuff that’s in our brains” bit.
I can tell we are in the presence of an awesome intellect, honed and polished to academic perfection by several minutes of lucubration on the complex matter of evolutionary biology.

Poldano - 30 November 2010 05:41 AM


Abstract concepts are just metaphorical applications and combinations of the biologically evolved stuff. All of them are approximations of reality, rather than direct grasp of reality. Some of them may be exactly isomorphic to all the reality that there is, but we have no way of knowing whether that is true or, of it were true, exactly what parts would be isomorphic.

Here we find the curious juxtaposition of the phrases “evolved stuff” with the more high-brow “isomorphic”.
The latter term no doubt inserted to assure us we aren’t dealing with a complete imbecile.

Poldano - 30 November 2010 05:41 AM


I personally think of God as equivalent to Ultimate Reality.

I personally think you are a pompous idiot who gets off on throwing around meaningless drivel like “Ultimate Reality”.

Poldano - 30 November 2010 05:41 AM

Leave out all the fluffy-bunny stuff,

Heretic! The fluffy-bunny stuff is by far the best bit.

Poldano - 30 November 2010 05:41 AM

In that context, I can agree with the rabbi that human minds are incapable of understanding God. I think a reasonable philosophical question is whether any possible mind is capable of understanding God.

Equally valid would be; “In that context, I can agree with the rabbit that lagomorphic minds are incapable of understanding the Great Pink Invisible Hare. I think a reasonable philosophical question is whether any possible mind is capable of understanding why His Fluffiness loves French Cheese and only shits on Tuesdays.”

By Mary’s immaculate tits, you are one pedantic git, Poldano.

 
 
Poldano
 
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30 November 2010 22:16
 
Bad Rabbit - 30 November 2010 02:04 PM
Poldano - 30 November 2010 05:41 AM

Humans only understand reality on the basis of stuff that’s in their brains that evolved sufficiently to allow the species to survive.

Hey, that sounds really sciency, especially the “stuff that’s in our brains” bit.
I can tell we are in the presence of an awesome intellect, honed and polished to academic perfection by several minutes of lucubration on the complex matter of evolutionary biology.

Poldano - 30 November 2010 05:41 AM


Abstract concepts are just metaphorical applications and combinations of the biologically evolved stuff. All of them are approximations of reality, rather than direct grasp of reality. Some of them may be exactly isomorphic to all the reality that there is, but we have no way of knowing whether that is true or, of it were true, exactly what parts would be isomorphic.

Here we find the curious juxtaposition of the phrases “evolved stuff” with the more high-brow “isomorphic”.
The latter term no doubt inserted to assure us we aren’t dealing with a complete imbecile.

Poldano - 30 November 2010 05:41 AM


I personally think of God as equivalent to Ultimate Reality.

I personally think you are a pompous idiot who gets off on throwing around meaningless drivel like “Ultimate Reality”.

Poldano - 30 November 2010 05:41 AM

Leave out all the fluffy-bunny stuff,

Heretic! The fluffy-bunny stuff is by far the best bit.

Poldano - 30 November 2010 05:41 AM

In that context, I can agree with the rabbi that human minds are incapable of understanding God. I think a reasonable philosophical question is whether any possible mind is capable of understanding God.

Equally valid would be; “In that context, I can agree with the rabbit that lagomorphic minds are incapable of understanding the Great Pink Invisible Hare. I think a reasonable philosophical question is whether any possible mind is capable of understanding why His Fluffiness loves French Cheese and only shits on Tuesdays.”

By Mary’s immaculate tits, you are one pedantic git, Poldano.

I accept the insult. You’re pretty good at it, by the way.

What, exactly, is your point?

What is your position?

You seem to be saying that only things you can perceive and conceive of can exist.

I’m saying that it’s possible for things that I cannot perceive and cannot possibly conceive of to exist. By “exist”, I mean have a cause-and-effect relationship with the things in the world I can perceive or conceive of.

I’m tempted to say more, but I cannot figure out how to do so non-pedantically.

P.S., Thanks for “lagomorphic”. I had to look it up. It’ll surely become yet another weapon in my pedantic arsenal.

[ Edited: 30 November 2010 22:21 by Poldano]
 
 
EN
 
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EN
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24 December 2010 17:18
 
sara2526 - 24 December 2010 03:19 PM

Interesting conversation!! faith is a faith because there is no tangible evidence to concept of God and the like. we can’t see the carbon dioxide but we know its in the air .
something you can’t see or touch but you still believe its there?!!

Some of us feel it. Some of us hear it inaudibly. Some of us experience it other ways. Thus, there is faith.

Merry Christmas!

 
Poldano
 
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30 December 2010 22:51
 
sara2526 - 24 December 2010 03:19 PM

Interesting conversation!! faith is a faith because there is no tangible evidence to concept of God and the like. we can’t see the carbon dioxide but we know its in the air .
something you can’t see or touch but you still believe its there?!!

I can’t see or touch freedom, but I’m supposed to know that I have it.  wink