Thursday, September 29, 2005

Quote of the Day 2: Chazal*

Do not seek to follow in the
footsteps of the Masters;
seek what they sought.
-- Zen saying

I've often wondered what Maimonides would have believed if he grew up in the late twentieth century. Surely, being a man inclined to science, he would have accepted evolution and the age and size of the Universe, but how would that have affected his religious views? What if he had studied the great philosophers of the last few centuries instead of those a millennium earlier? Would a post-Enlightenment Maimonides have been an atheist?

What about the writers of the Talmud? Those fine, inquisitive, argumentative minds? What would they have done with Darwin and Nietzsche?

For my Christian readers, what about St. Augustine? Wouldn't his body of work be different if he lived today. What if the authors of the Bible had known the real "Creation" story? How then would Genesis read?

Conversely, would a 12th century Richard Dawkins have been a religious fanatic? (Yes, yes, he's currently an areligious fanatic, don't comment about it.) Would I be writing seforim** like my ancestors instead of blogging as Jewish Atheist?

* "Chazal", according to Wikipedia, "stands for Chachomim Zichrono Livrocho which is Hebrew for 'our sages may their memory be blessed,'" and generally refers to the great Rabbis of the past.

** Books of Jewish learning.

Quote of the Day: Belief and Reason

"Rely not on the teacher, but on the teaching. Rely not on the words of the teaching, but on the spirit of the words. Rely not on theory, but on experience. Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. Do not believe anything because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything because it is written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and the benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it."

- the Buddha

via Metafilter

Monday, September 26, 2005

U.S. Presidents and the National Debt

It drives me crazy that fiscal conservatives still believe that the Republicans are their party. If any of my readers still believes this, please study the following graph:

(Apologies, I can't remember where I originally found this.)

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Evolution of the Horse

[E]volutionary stages of the horse (family Equidae) serve as an excellent illustration of the evolutionary process because it allows us to observe a step-by-step change in the shape of the bodies, the build of the limbs, and the structure of the teeth. In accordance with the changes in the environment, development continued from a five-toed mammal the size of a fox, to the single-hoofed, modern-sized horse we see today. --Wikipedia, Evolution of the Horse.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Bush Attorney General's Top* Priority: Pornography

Because we've won the War on Terror, the FBI has decided to form a "new anti-obscenity squad." FBI headquarters describes "the initiative as 'one of the top priorities' of [Bush's] Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales."

The new squad will divert eight agents, a supervisor and assorted support staff to gather evidence against "manufacturers and purveyors" of pornography -- not the kind exploiting children, but the kind that depicts, and is marketed to, consenting adults. (link)

Thank God for that poor, persecuted Christian Right which is running our country. They always have their priorities in order.

* Edit: To be fair, it's only "one of the top priorities."

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Is Absolute Morality Superior?

Not The Godol Hador makes another tiresome post ridiculing skeptics for not believing in absolute morality. He seems to believe that believing in one is superior because otherwise you can just make up your own morality.

Here's the big flaw:

When you claim to believe in absolute morality, you don't need to justify your moral beliefs in any way except to claim that God or some old book says so. This reasoning leads to religious wars and terrorism as well as the legal and practical enforcement of all sorts of hatred and discrimination. How does the Godol criticise a woman who kills her babies because she believes God told her to? Doesn't he believe that God commanded Abraham the same thing?

Moral relatavists, on the other hand, can make no claims of absolute morality, so their moral beliefs are open to debate. Contrary to what the Godol believes, this is a good thing, since morals can evolve and be improved by criticism and consensus.