Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Thinking About The Watchmaker Analogy

To quote William Paley:

In crossing a heath, suppose I pitched my foot against a stone, and were asked how the stone came to be there; I might possibly answer, that, for anything I knew to the contrary, it had lain there forever: nor would it perhaps be very easy to show the absurdity of this answer. But suppose I had found a watch upon the ground, and it should be inquired how the watch happened to be in that place; I should hardly think of the answer I had before given, that for anything I knew, the watch might have always been there. (...) There must have existed, at some time, and at some place or other, an artificer or artificers, who formed [the watch] for the purpose which we find it actually to answer; who comprehended its construction, and designed its use. (...) Every indication of contrivance, every manifestation of design, which existed in the watch, exists in the works of nature; with the difference, on the side of nature, of being greater or more, and that in a degree which exceeds all computation.

I think this is the gist of it : 
1. When I see a watch I know intuitively that it was made by a human being.
2. Why do I have this intuition? The complexity of the watch is that which intuitively suggest an intelligent designer.
3. Similarly the complexity of nature should intuitively suggest to us such a designer.
4. Since this designer is clearly NOT a human therefore it must be someone else i.e. God. 

Ok now the problems:
The first proposition is sound.

The second proposition: The complexity of the watch is that which intuitively suggests an intelligent designer. Who says that it is the complexity of the watch which suggest to me that it is made by an intelligent designer. Perhaps it is my prior experience with watches and things crafted by man? Would a cave man instantly recognize the watch as intelligently and purposefully designed? Would an alien? I'm not sure...

The third proposition:  Similarly the complexity of nature should intuitively suggest to us such a designer. A few problems: Firstly if it's so intuitive why the need for the watch analogy in the first place? I should just KNOW in a flash of intuition! Maybe it's my תאוות for sex and drugs which are blinding me and the watch will knock some sense into me....

Wikipedia suggests that the watch is merely a rhetorical device in which case the argument boils down to: "You know nature is designed because it's complex. THE END" which is a blatant non-sequitir. One has to explain WHY complexity automatically suggests design...

But another question! If everything is designed either by God or Man then how is it that it is so easy for Paley, in the quote above, to distinguish between rock and watch. According to his own logic I should NOT be able to distinguish between the two because they are BOTH products of design. Either God's or man's. Have you my dear theist, ever seen an un-designed thing? You have? Then you've seen something not designed by God? A little kefira-dick don't you think?

I suppose you could say maybe that only organisms are designed. (Even though that would be kefira-dick) You have to admit they are more complex than rocks.... 

In which case the argument is I can intuitively discern watches from rocks the same way as I can discern  kangaroos from rocks....  I guess that could be sound if there weren't all the other objections...
The Fourth Proposition: Since this designer is clearly NOT a human therefore it must be someone else i.e. God. Or martians.

"Silly, atheist! Where did the martians come from!?" "hmmmm maybe from the same place God came from...."

Also -  how do we know the designer is not a human? What in our intuition allows us to discern between man-made design and God-made design? In fact if we take the analogy seriously it is actually suggesting that nature shows signs of being man-made not God made. We simply have no rock stamped MADE BY GOD to compare nature to...

I guess you could say because we know from elsewhere that man doesn't know how to manufacture orangutans... 


Intuition is sometimes rubbish. Humans see designs in french toast, clouds and ink splotches.... Wouldn't put too much faith in it...

 The watchmaker argument is an appeal to emotions, an elegant statement about the complexity of nature which some cannot but attribute to God. But it is not logic nor should it be presented as such. To stand in awe of the universe and see a maker behind it is fine. However to call that science or logic is just incorrect. 

Read the Wikipedia article for a fuller discussion....

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Why So Few Female Skeptics?

I can't say this is a fact because I have never really looked into it but the feeling I get from my personal day to day experience is that Orthopraxic girls are very rare. Maybe I'm just hanging around the wrong circles but while I know lots of Orthoprax (or virtually Orthoprax) guys I barely know any Orthoprax gals...(though I know some who I feel could be tipped over the edge with a bit of subtle encouragement - if I was so inclined - which I'm not)

So either I'm just completely wrong about this or we're dealing with a real thing in which case we have to wonder WHY?

Some purely speculative pet theories (Again: assuming I'm describing a real phenomenon which I'm not sure about) :

In the Orthodox world girls are taught much less of the fundamental texts of Orthodoxy i.e. the Talmud and Rabbinic literature... Therefore they do perhaps do not know enough about Orthodoxy to effectively criticize it.

A variant of the first theory: When immersed in "Talmudism" one begins to think of religion as a very logical methodological thing. When religion fails, under scrutiny, to stand up to this expectation one ends up being skeptical. However, women who generally do not study Talmud, or even if they do - not as much as men, perhaps (and excuse me if this sounds a little stereotypical or sexist) think of religion less logically and more emotionally. Just to clarify, I'm not saying women are inherently "emotional". All I'm saying is that study Talmud might diminish the emotional element in religion and make one perceive religion in a much more technical or logical way. Since religion is not logical the Talmudic man will find himself at a bit of a loss. Since religion IS emotional the non-Talmudic woman will not.

Orthodoxy's sexism is too much for a self-respecting female to put up with and so cruising along Orthopraxly is just too distasteful if you think it's all rubbish. According to this Orthodox women are not less skeptical than men but merely pick up and leave.

Of course all of this is meaningless speculation without proper studies, but it's fun to muse about....

Please everyone, share your theories or tell me that I'm wrong about female skeptics... 

(Oh just a clarification 'cuz I get the feeling in the comments that some people don't get this. I'm not running around rocking payos and a black hat and being Orthoprax. I associate with LWMO. So everything I describe is from my LWMO perspective. Back when I was in the Chareidi world  I did not meet one male or female Orthopraxer and literally thought I might be the only one. Only very recently did I meet a black-hat Orthopraxer)

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Orthoprax Pros and Cons


  • You don't have to break ties with your fundamentalist family and friends
  • You can continue a lifestyle you're familiar with and continue living comfortably in a community you like
  • You can continue enjoying the bits and pieces of Judaism you like


  • You have to speak with a bit of a filter in order to keep people appeased - AKA lie about your true beliefs
  • You have to feign horror when hearing that someone has angered God by eating a cheeseburger
  • You have to keep a lot of annoying and also useless things which mean nothing to you
  • You have to take part in some morally offensive things like listening attentively to a chapter of the Torah commanding genocide... 

 Is it worth it? Or should we get out while we still can?

I'm at the point where I just wanna believe so that I can stop worrying about it. The clock is ticking and I'm not gonna have the opportunity to leave forever...

Inertia is strong through.

God, I wish I knew what to do....

Thursday, 7 April 2011

On Being "Aished"

So someone Emailed me this essay he wrote about Kiruv Organizations. Scroll down for the article - but first a few words from me: 

I've said it once and I'll say it again. I hate Aish HaTorah, Ohr Samayach, Project Chazon and all sorts of Kiruv organizations.

I don't object to kiruv perse - people have the right to peddle their religion and for some people Orthodoxy may just be the right thing. Different things work for different people and I think it's more than legitimate to invite irreligious people to Shul or your Shabbat meal and give them a taste of what Orthodoxy is.

But I can't abide manipulation and I can't abide lying. Presenting Orthodox Judaism as "scientific" fact is a lie.

And that's exactly what the organized Kiruv organizations do. Rabbi Slifkin has been recently posting about the use of the Talmudic "four animal proof" which is such a blatant lie that I can't imagine that the kiruv workers using it don't know that they're bending the truth.

I can't abide the Kuzari proof which is logically unsound in countless ways. I recently sat and forced myself to listen to a Lawrence Kelleman lecture about the Kuzari proof. The way he bent facts, cleverly used logical fallacies, and used "scientific" terminology was actually sickening. I hope to God that he is just severely naive and is not doing it on purpose.

I can't stand sugar coating the truths of Orthodoxy. Yes Orthodoxy is sexist, yes the Talmud did not have a high opinion of gentiles, yes certain sects of Orthodoxy are anti-scientific. But the Kiruv organizations will never tell it's "victims" any of these things 'till they're deep in the system. And because people who are being "mekareved" have almost no knowledge about Judaism -  they have no idea that Kiruv workers are carefully leaving out the less savory bits of Orthodoxy in their presentations...

Do these organizations have no integrity? Do they believe that the ends justify the means? Or are these types of Kiruv workers just as naive as their targets?

Anyways here's  article:
On Being Aished

Monday, 4 April 2011

Jewish History as "Proof" of God

We’ve all heard the familiar refrain “Believe in Judaism because of the miraculous history of the Jews! How could such an oppressed and pursued nation have survived the tribulations of the exile if not through some sort of miracle?”

Like most attempts to base Judaism on some sort of “proof” – this one IMHO fails. At best our history can inspire but it can’t prove and can’t even point or hint to some sort of divine agent who protects Israel.
How does one go about destroying the Jewish people/religion once they’ve become a relatively large religious movement spread all over the world? Are there really so many people plotting the destruction of world Jewry? And is such a scenario even a possibility were God to leave us to the vicissitudes of the world?
The most straightforward way to rid the world of Jews is to kill them. And indeed over the years many Jews have been killed because of their religion or “race”. However, it is important to remember that despite what we say in our Passover liturgy - no government or power (AFAIK) until Hitler ever made an attempt to physically destroy the Jewish People in its entirety. (With the exception of the story of Megillat Ester which is of dubious historicity) The uniqueness of the Holocaust in the long history of anti-Semitism is that it was meant to be a “Final Solution.” Progroms, crusades, and blood libels were  not meant as a “final solution” to a “Jewish problem”. The reason that Jews physically survived the exile is actually quite simple – no one until the Holocaust ever tried to exterminate them completely.

The above is equally true when it comes to converting Jews. Although in a few cases entire countries tried to convert their Jewish populations (many times in Spain) we must keep in mind that both Christianity and Islam officially believe that forced conversions are not valid.

It is not a miracle that we survived if nobody was actually plotting to annihilate us, physically or spiritually, in the first place.

Another important factor worth considering is the dispersion of Jews. Jews are and were found in almost every corner of the Earth. Jews have lived in Europe, the Middle East, Russia, Buchara, Georgia, Britain, and even the New World and the Far East. With so many Jews living in so many places and under so many different religions and governments - it is literally impossible to convert or exterminate every last Jew in the world. The amount of organization that would be required is mind boggling and would require the most outrageous conspiracy to implement. Even if one or two anti-Semitic nations decided that a world with no Jews would be a better place, one or two nations simply do not have the power to kill/convert all the Jews spread out all over the world. It would take a veritable pandemic of universal, murderous anti-semitism for such a terrible thing to be even vaguely possible.

I think the better question to ask about Jewish History is “How couldn’t the Jews survive the Exile?” And I have to admit that I don’t find it too miraculous that we managed to survive when the entirety of our “nation” was never really in jeopardy.