The Huffington Post published an “Open Letter to the Atheist Community” from the Rabbi Adam Jacobs. Read it in it’s entirety HERE. Here are selected passages with my comments:
I have been actively involved in the education of Jews of all stripes (especially those with a built-in apathy or antipathy to theology) for the last 11 years. I have had a lot of time to reflect on your position and I’d like to offer a few general observations that I’ve culled from my experience over the years – not to convince you to change your mind (which, I’ve discovered, is close to impossible) and not to judge your choices, but rather so that we can understand each other better and possibly “walk back” some of the clamorous dialogue. Certainly we can open by agreeing that all human beings should be respected and, assuming no egregious misdeeds, treated with civility.
I’m often wary of people who begin by saying they aren’t trying to change my mind. Usually they’re trying to change my mind. Or worse, they’re attempting to persuade me that because of my choices, I’m somehow making my life a dismal place, or forcing other people to hate me, or something like that. (And isn’t that still a kind of passive-aggressive persuasion attempt?) So off the bat, I’m skeptical. But as to his first “premise,” I agree that in general, humans who have not committed horrible misdeeds should be treated civilly.
The first point I’d like to explore is that there really are no true atheists.
Bleh. This old dreck again? Rabbi, you should know that if we appear un-civil while listening to this argument, it’s because we’re experiencing boredom and incredulity at the same time. Is it really possible that you’re so unworldly that you’ve never heard our answer to this? Really? Or are you just trying the FOX News approach? Say it enough times and it becomes true?
It seems to me that in order to claim with certainty that there is no God you would have to have knowledge of the totality of the universe – seen and unseen – and I don’t think any of you guys are ready to make that claim. You have not observed an overarching creative force, a God … yet.
There’s a special squad of atheists you may not have heard of. There are seven of them. They wear helmets and ride the short bus to school. And they’re the ONLY atheists who claim to know with 100% certainty that there’s no god. Because they’re retarded. And they don’t know any better.
So stop with this ridiculous caricature of the rest of us.
Given this, your assumption of the title, “atheist” isn’t so much a statement of fact as it is a statement of principle, or intent — a nom de guerre.
Our assumption of the title “atheist” is a statement of belief. We believe there are no gods. You are a theist. You believe there is a god. You’re a Rabbi. Don’t you have to study linguistics? Just look up the etymology. It’s about belief or the negation thereof.
To define oneself as simply agnostic (which I believe you truly are) sounds unsatisfingly wishy-washy and degrades your ability to take a firm stand against deism, in its various forms. While this is certainly understandable, I suspect that you have traded accuracy for titular intensity.
Call me a Frog-Legged Namby-Pamby if it makes you happy. If your argument begins with “Call yourself what I like you to call yourself, not what you like,” we’re already off to a bad start. I’ll call myself whatever I please. Thank you.
You may want to counter that you have many well-regarded and brilliant personalities who have provided more than sufficient evidence to knock theism back to the Bronze Age where it belongs.
I may, but I shan’t. I will counter that the existence of “personalities” is irrelevant to either question. I can call myself an atheist or an agnostic, and Richard Dawkins has no say in the matter. And without Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris, the ideas supporting atheism would exist, in the same way that gravity exists with or without Newton’s apple-licious head butt.
Sure, modern science has given considerable support to the already strong argument against god. And I’m happy to have many of the scientists as public supporters of atheism. But I don’t think that’s what you’re getting at. I think you’re implying some sort of cult of personality.
But even if the arguments were more persuasive and comprehensive, surely you are aware that believers are ready to parry with many philosophers and scientists of our own, people like Anthony Flew, the Oxford philosopher and sparring partner of C.S. Lewis (who was a pillar of academic atheism until he reversed his position late in his life), theoretical physicist Dr. Andrew Goldfinger, and the mathematical physicist and cosmologist Frank Tipler. You will quote your expert and I will quote mine.
Perhaps you will quote your expert. I will rely on evidence independent of the personalities, and I’m quite capable of forming my own arguments. Thank you again.
Having spent a sizable portion of my life as an atheist, I understand your perspective.
Wait for it…
What I have found hard to understand from my new vantage point, however, is why so many of you spend so much time trolling around the comments section of religiously-themed blogs or spend good money to buy billboards on the Jersey Turnpike asserting a negative. Wouldn’t it make much more sense to just chuckle knowingly to yourselves and shake your heads at our folly in the way you might with children who believe they have magic powers?
Here it is! Was anyone surprised? I wasn’t. “Gee, atheists, wouldn’t my life be better if all of you just sort of… you know… kept your meddlesome opinions to yourselves and let us religious types continue to make the laws and fight the wars and dictate the content of school books?”
Yeah. Your life would be better. But not ours. So we don’t keep it to ourselves.
Yet, many of you seem to have a big axe to grind, and I only recently realized why. You believe that we are ruining the world and stunting its progress.
Yep. So sue us for trying to make the world a better place. (Wait… was that a Jewish joke? I didn’t mean it to be. I promise.)
To me, however, the crux of the matter is incontrovertible. It is not the product of rational argument, nor expression of faith, but simple historical fact. The faith to which I ascribe has brought substantial light and unique meaning to the world.
Damn, this gets tiring. This gets so very tiring. No, it hasn’t. Humanity has progressed in spite of religion. We managed to write beautiful music despite the Church’s centuries long fear of the devil incarnate in the diminished fifth. We acknowledged the heliocentric model despite the censure and worse of anyone who dared to question the interpretation of the holy books. We discovered DNA despite vehement opposition to the principle of evolution. We are reducing AIDS despite the Church’s opposition to condoms.
But you’re talking about Jews, not Christians, right? Ok… We managed to create an egalitarian culture despite your holy book’s instructions to trade slaves, rape women and then marry them, or cut off their hands for touching a man’s penis. We no longer stone children to death for disobedience. We don’t treat women as untouchables when they’re on their period. We don’t treat them as property.
And oh god, do I love bacon. And shellfish.
No, your religion is just as awful as the rest, and when you are good, you are good in spite of the fact. If you actually practiced what your holy book dictates, I’d demand severe punishment for you. Because you’d be a horrible, horrible person.
Given this historical reality, since you’re a rationalist who bases your world view on empiric evidence, could you be open to the possibility that religion isn’t inherently bad?
Yep. I’m open to the idea. But the evidence doesn’t support it, so I conditionally reject it.
As an empiricist, you are only prepared to believe in that which can be seen or measured. You don’t enjoy my conviction that there are aspects of existence that are, by their nature, beyond the reach of science. Fine. So when we Theists look carefully at the astounding complexity and improbable fine-tuning of our universe and conclude that there’s no way that this happened randomly, you then turn around and ask us to accept that it is the result of undetectable organizational forces or of an un-testable (and thus non-scientific) multiverse.
Evolution is detectable. So detectable that it takes a pretty astonishing amount of credulity not to see it. As far as multiverse theory goes… I dare say you know exactly as much about it as me, which is next to nothing. So I reject your rejection on the grounds that you have no idea what you’re talking about.
If only a complete explanation and empirical proof of a multiverse would convince you that there is no god… well… I guess it’s a good thing I’m not trying to persuade you of anything, isn’t it?
Isn’t your argument every bit an assertion of faith, rather than knowledge? Maybe we can at least agree that forces unseen, however we conceive of them, seem to be playing a major role in our lives?
No. Our argument is that when we don’t know the answer to a question, we don’t get to just make up a magical intelligence to solve the problem. We leave it unanswered, or make our best guess based on whatever evidence we have.
I do not agree that “unseen forces” appear to play a major role in our lives, if by “unseen forces,” you mean anything with an intellect. Because the universe appears non-intelligent. As does evolution.
Charles Darwin added three interesting quotes to later editions of the Origin of Species.
It’s not called “Darwinism,” Rabbi. It’s called “Evolution,” and we know a lot more about evolution today than he did. In fact, I know more about it than Darwin, and I’m not even a biologist. That’s how much our learning has advanced.
Just goes to show… trading quotes from celebrities is a bad way to settle disputes.