Questions for Atheists

  1. How does nature take creative leaps? In the fossil record there are repeated gaps that no “missing link” can fill. The most glaring is the leap by which inorganic molecules turned into DNA. For billions of years after the Big Bang, no other molecule replicated itself. No other molecule was remotely as complicated. No other molecule has the capacity to string billions of pieces of information that remain self-sustaining despite countless transformations into all the life forms that DNA has produced.
  2. If mutations are random, why does the fossil record demonstrate so many positive mutations — those that lead to new species — and so few negative ones? Random chance should produce useless mutations thousands of times more often than positive ones.
  3. How does evolution know where to stop? The pressure to evolve is constant; therefore it is hard to understand why evolution isn’t a constant. Yet sharks and turtles and insects have been around for hundreds of millions of years without apparent evolution except to diversify among their kind. These species stopped in place while others, notably hominids, kept evolving with tremendous speed, even though our primate ancestors didn’t have to. The many species of monkeys which persist in original form tell us that human evolution, like the shark’s, could have ended. Why didn’t it?
  4. Evolutionary biology is stuck with regard to simultaneous mutations. One kind of primordial skin cell, for example, mutated into scales, fur, and feathers. These are hugely different adaptations, and each is tremendously complex. How could one kind of cell take three different routes purely at random?
  5. If design doesn’t imply intelligence, why are we so intelligent? The human body is composed of cells that evolved from one-celled blue-green algae, yet that algae is still around. Why did DNA pursue the path of greater and greater intelligence when it could have perfectly survived in one-celled plants and animals, as in fact it did?
  6. Why do forms replicate themselves without apparent need? The helix or spiral shape found in the shell of the chambered nautilus, the center of sunflowers, spiral galaxies, and DNA itself seems to be such a replication. It is mathematically elegant and appears to be a design that was suited for hundreds of totally unrelated functions in nature.
  7. What happens when simple molecules come into contact with life? Oxygen is a simple molecule in the atmosphere, but once it enters our lungs, it becomes part of the cellular machinery, and far from wandering about randomly, it precisely joins itself with other simple molecules, and together they perform cellular tasks, such as protein-building, whose precision is millions of times greater than anything else seen in nature. If the oxygen doesn’t change physically — and it doesn’t — what invisible change causes it to acquire intelligence the instant it contacts life?
  8. How can whole systems appear all at once? The leap from reptile to bird is proven by the fossil record. Yet this apparent step in evolution has many simultaneous parts. It would seem that Nature, to our embarrassment, simply struck upon a good idea, not a simple mutation. If you look at how a bird is constructed, with hollow bones, toes elongated into wing bones, feet adapted to clutching branches instead of running, etc., none of the mutations by themselves give an advantage to survival, but taken altogether, they are a brilliant creative leap. Nature takes such leaps all the time, and our attempt to reduce them to bits of a jigsaw puzzle that just happened to fall into place to form a beautifully designed picture seems faulty on the face of it. Why do we insist that we are allowed to have brilliant ideas while Nature isn’t?
  9. Darwin’s iron law was that evolution is linked to survival, but it was long ago pointed out that “survival of the fittest” is a tautology. Some mutations survive, and therefore we call them fittest. Yet there is no obvious reason why the dodo, kiwi, and other flightless birds are more fit; they just survived for a while. DNA itself isn’t fit at all; unlike a molecule of iron or hydrogen, DNA will blow away into dust if left outside on a sunny day or if attacked by pathogens, x-rays, solar radiation, and mutations like cancer. The key to survival is more than fighting to see which organism is fittest.
  10. Competition itself is suspect, for we see just as many examples in Nature of cooperation. Bees cooperate, obviously, to the point that when a honey bee stings an enemy, it acts to save the whole hive. At the moment of stinging, a honeybee dies. In what way is this a survival mechanism, given that the bee doesn’t survive at all? For that matter, since a mutation can only survive by breeding — “survival” is basically a simplified term for passing along gene mutations from one generation to the next — how did bees develop drones in the hive, that is, bees who cannot and never do have sex?
  11. How did symbiotic cooperation develop? Certain flowers, for example, require exactly one kind of insect to pollinate them. A flower might have a very deep calyx, or throat, for example than only an insect with a tremendously long tongue can reach. Both these adaptations are very complex, and they serve no outside use. Nature was getting along very well without this symbiosis, as evident in the thousands of flowers and insects that persist without it. So how did numerous generations pass this symbiosis along if it is so specialized?
  12. Finally, why are life forms beautiful? Beauty is everywhere in Nature, yet it serves no obvious purpose. Once a bird of paradise has evolved its incredibly gorgeous plumage, we can say that it is useful to attract mates. But doesn’t it also attract predators, for we simultaneously say that camouflaged creatures like the chameleon survive by not being conspicuous. In other words, exact opposites are rationalized by the same logic. This is no logic at all. Non-beautiful creatures have survived for millions of years, so have gorgeous ones. The notion that this is random seems weak on the face of it.

I don’t know who will bother to read all these points, which I have had to truncate. But if you think the answers are in safe hands among the ranks of evolutionary biologists, think again. No credible scientific theory has answered these dilemmas, and progress is being discouraged, I imagine, thanks to fundamentalist Christians. By hijacking the whole notion of intelligent design, they have tarred genuine scientific issues with the stain of religious prejudice.

In my next post I will offer a picture of how these questions might be answered.

Originally appeared in Huffpost:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/deepak-chopra/intelligent-design-withou_b_6105.html

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Reply letter to the Rabbi

I did not want to write this e-mail. I really didn’t. I didn’t want to upset you, or have you start some kind of investigation as to my real name and identity.
But I found the words of this e-mail going through my head for a long time now and it is actually forbidden by the Torah to “hate your friend in your heart”. So here it goes:
This did not just start a few weeks ago. It stared beforehand. It started at least during your parashas Noach drasha when you said something to the affect that “anyone that refrains from having children is like a murderer”. The negative feelings that I felt then were exacerbated a few weeks ago when you spoke about “bitachon” and “tuition”.
The reason I am writing this is because people are leaving. In one way or another people are leaving. To a large degree da’as Torah is dead. It is. And the fact that there are those like yourself that dismiss people like me and don’t really care what I think actually proves my point.
Because according to the halacha the tuition of the children of a city is actually NOT supposed to come only from the parents, but rather, the monies are to be raised BY THE RABBONIM of the city. The Rabbonim are the ones that need to approach the gevirim of the city and have THEM pay the tuition.
But they don’t.
A number of years ago, there were two different “Rabbis” in the city of Baltimore that were both involved in building campaigns for their shuls. And both of them made some sort of statement to the affect that “the majority of your ma’aser money should go to the shul” [ one of them was the same guy that told me that birth control was “assur” ] . At them same time they signed “the pledge” that says that most of a person’s ma’aser should go to the chinuch. So which one is it? You can’t have it both ways.
When Rabbanim don’t have to pay full tuition [ and they don’t – if you go into a bullshit argument to the contrary that just proves my point ] and yet they tell people to “have more kids” it, quite frankly – pisses people off.
It is this kind of bullshit that is making people leave.Sincerely,
Winston William Solomon Smith
P.S I have children already. And we send them to Torah day schools. And we can’t afford it.

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The Justification of Rejection

Like Faigy Mayer, I Was Shunned When I Needed My Community the Most :

By Chayala Freed:

Faigy Mayer’s tragic death, along with the news coverage, conjecture about what happened and whose fault it was, has brought me right back to the grief and rejection I experienced during my divorce five years ago. I did not know Faigy and I definitely don’t know why she died. But as someone raised in the Williamsburg Satmar community, what I do know and have experienced in my own life is how painful it is to be rejected by my own family, friends and community.

When I got married over two decades and a lifetime ago, I was nineteen years old and full of hopes and dreams. The world rejoiced with me. Shortly thereafter, those same dreams were shattered. Already a mother of a few children and afraid of what people would say, I believed I had no choice and stayed in a bad marriage for way too long. Finally, after eighteen years of blaming and hating myself, I was done. I rented my own apartment, talked about it with my teenage children and decided it was time to notify my parents so they don’t hear about it through the local gossip grapevine. I can still hear their voices and remember where I stood as they independently validated the dysfunction of the marriage while encouraging me to stay for the children’s sake. “Why can’t you wait for your children to get married? Who will want to marry them?”

I wish I had the courage to say “What about me? I am your child and I am in pain?” Knowing it was going to be was one of the reasons I stayed for so long, but nothing prepared me for how high the price would be. My mother wanted nothing to do with the divorce and was afraid that if she helped or supported me in any way, people might think she agreed with it. My friends stopped calling me. No one even asked what happened but everyone, including my family, had an opinion about how wrong I was and how badly I was damaging my children. They were right. My children and I were alone and broken beyond words.

I might as well have walked down 13th Avenue in Boro Park wearing a tank top and jeans with my hair uncovered while holding hands with my nonexistent boyfriend. If I broke every rule, then my family’s rejection would have made sense and be somewhat justified in my mind.

Instead, I continued following most of the rules, towing the line and raising my children in that fashion. I pleaded and negotiated with my mother. “If I had lung cancer and it was my fault, would you help me? Would you visit me? Do you understand that my children and I are hurting even while you believe that I’m wrong?” There was no one home and I was left to fend for myself and my four children in a new apartment which did not yet have a refrigerator or a stove. I hoped beyond hope that my belief that family shows up no matter what would come through but it didn’t. I waited in vain for a phone call, a meal or an invitation for Pesach but it did not happen. I kept wondering how my family was rationalizing punishing me in a way that was really breaking my children’s hearts.

We felt so isolated and rejected and were drowning in grief. It was almost like divorce was contagious and people did not want to associate with this shameful disease. My son refused to go to shul on Shabbos on his own and none of the neighbors or family members offered to take him. I walked him to shul and sang with him at the Shabbos table but it was really not enough. The despair and sadness was overwhelming at times and I’m not sure how we survived. When I look back, I recognize that it was only my desperation to get out of a bad situation along with the support of a network of friends outside the community. I like to call them my family by choice and know that I am lucky to have them in my life. We could not have done it without them.

Five years later, the pain of rejection still lingers. While we talk about how the community is responsible for Faigy’s death, I think about what would have eased my pain during those trying times. While an invitation from a neighbor or a warm meal from a friend might have alleviated some of the loneliness, it would be only a drop in the huge chasm created by the rejection from my family. That is a wound that runs very deep and is still slowly healing a day at a time even as my children and I have moved on and are happily married.

While I dream of a day when our families can accept and love us unconditionally, my hope is that every person who feels alone and is in pain can find or create a supportive and nurturing network that will show up in lieu of family.

Chayala Freed was born and bred in Hasidic Brooklyn where she still resides with her husband and children. She is an undergraduate at Touro College while figuring out what she wants to be when she grows up. Her pseudonym reminds her every day how blessed she is to enjoy a life of freedom.

Read more: http://forward.com/sisterhood/317872/like-faigy-i-was-shunned-when-i-needed-my-community-the-most/#ixzz3h1kcnav0

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Beha’alot’cha – Take one for the team

Numbers: Chapter 11

26 )      Now two men remained in the camp; the name of one was Eldad and the name of the second was Medad, and the spirit rested upon them. They were among those written, but they did not go out to the tent, but prophesied in the camp.

27)       The lad ran and told Moses, saying, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp!”

28)       Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ servant from his youth, answered and said, Moses, my master, imprison them!”

29)       Moses said to him, “Are you zealous for my sake? If only all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord would bestow His spirit upon them!”

In Parashat Beha’alot’cha Yehoshua tells Moshe Rabbeinu to punish Eldad and Medad for prophesying. It is taught that Yehoshua was punished for this. He shouldnot have asked Moshe Rabbeinu to punish Eldad and Medad. There are various reasons offered for this and I am not going to mention them all here. Rather I am going to suggest a different approach.

Often, we see talmidim, students, who become almost militantly loyal to their Rabbi or teacher. I would like to be clear; loyalty to one’s teacher is a good thing. But like many good things it can go too far. When loyalty to a teacher takes precedence to loyalty to God – that is a problem.

We see this when it comes to different Chassidic sects fighting over whose Rebbe is greater and we also see this in the rest of the Orthodox Jewish World. I thing that this is, perhaps, why Yehoshua was punished, and why Moshe Rabbeinu was quick to correct him. Moshe was telling him. “You’re not on “Team Moshe” you’re on “Team Torah” you’re on “Team God”. Don’t get confused lest you cross that thin line between spirituality and religious extremism. Sometimes, even if there is a seeming affront to your teacher’s honor, you have to take one for the “team”.

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Guest Post: A Male Apology

Kol B'Isha Erva

The day I knew would come has finally arrived. One of my dear friends, Ira Piltz, has allowed me to publish a guest post he has written. I knew this day would come because Ira is always a voice of moderation for me.

Whenever I write something that pushes the boundaries of criticizing individual behavior or harmful social constructs, and ventures into anti-religious or anti-white-Jewish-male rhetoric, I can count on a phone call from Ira to hash things out.

Let’s just say, as an attorney, a liberal bleeding heart (although I believe he refers to himself as a conservative Democrat), and a religious Jew, Ira isn’t shy about sharing his opinions. Ira also isn’t shy about rolling up his sleeves and committing his life to helping out others.

Rarely have I met a person so devoted to helping out individuals or organizations wherever he can be of service, whether in…

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The road to Egypt: job creators in the Ancient World

In a recent commentary on the Torah portion Parshat Miketz posted in The Times of Israel, Shawn Ruby presents the biblical story of Joseph in Egypt as evidence that having a government-managed economy works. Specifically, he casts Joseph as the first “Keynesian” economist, that is, the first person to realize that a powerful executive with the authority to make economic decisions on behalf of the people can plan consumption patterns more wisely than a group of disorganized individuals, and thereby become the salvation of everyone.

Mr. Ruby writes:

Whether the famine was supply-side or demand-side in origin, Joseph’s example teaches us the important role government has in smoothing out the ravages of the business cycle. Saving a surplus during the years of plenty and spending during the lean years is an ancient formula, backed by modern economics since the Great Depression. Unfortunately, it has been forgotten by too many modern-day policy makers.

Mr. Ruby is correct to realize that the story of Joseph and Pharaoh may be read, among other ways, as a brilliant treatise on political economy. In reaching the conclusion that he does, however, he fails to consider a great deal of relevant textual evidence from the story that weighs against his thesis. At the very least he might take a look at the next portion, Vayigash:

Now there was no bread in all the world, for the famine was very severe; both the land of Egypt and the land of Canaan languished because of the famine. Joseph gathered in all the money that was to be found in the land of Egypt and in the land of Canaan, as payment for the rations that were being procured, and Joseph brought the money into Pharaoh’s palace. And when the money gave out in the land of Egypt and in the land of Canaan, all the Egyptians came to Joseph and said ‘Give us bread, lest we die before your very eyes; for the money is gone!’ And Joseph said, ‘Bring your livestock, and I will sell to you against your livestock, if the money is gone.’ So they brought their livestock to Joseph, and Joseph gave them bread in exchange for horses, for the stocks of sheep and cattle, and the asses; thus he provided them with bread that year in exchange for all their livestock. And when that year was ended, they came to him the next year and said to him, ‘We cannot hide from my lord that, with all the money and animal stocks consigned to my lord, nothing is left at my lord’s disposal save our persons and our farmland. Let us not perish before your eyes, both we and our land. Take us and our land in exchange for bread, and we with our land will be serfs to Pharaoh; provide the seed, that we may live and not die, and that the land may not become a waste.’ (JPS Tanakh, 2000)

“Smoothing out the ravages of the business cycle” indeed. What Mr. Ruby ignores, and what the text devotes many verses to emphasizing, is that central planning of the kind undertaken by Joseph and Pharaoh ultimately leads down a Hayekian “road to serfdom.” Here, what starts as a grain shortage brought on by natural cycles in the east wind and the Nile’s ebb and flow is leveraged by a government with authoritarian ambitions to utterly enslave the people – better yet, to have the people beg the government to enslave them! This much is clear: the more the coercive power of the state is deployed in the name of preventing individuals from making bad decisions about how to arrange their own sustenance, the greater will be the eventual loss of individual liberty.

Of course, the state cannot give anything it does not first take by threat of force, yet when the meal comes back to us, we still often think we are getting something for nothing.

Far less clear is what the people actually gain in exchange for their freedom. Ruby writes “It is not clear what caused the famine in Egypt,” yet a close reading of the text forces us to acknowledge it may well have been Joseph himself. In the stories of the patriarchs, the Torah is clear that famine strikes every generation, and for every one of the patriarchs, the temptation is the same: to go down to Egypt to get food. This was true not only in the time of Jacob, but for Isaac and Abraham as well. The point is that Egypt’s irrigated agricultural production is so tremendous in the good years that there is always plenty of food left over for the bad years. The text does not give us a reason to suppose the average quantity of food is any different in the time of Joseph. What changes, however, is who owns it, and where it is kept. Joseph’s new policies are essentially two-fold: the seizure of grain by the state through taxation, and the relocation of the grain from the countryside to guarded stores in the cities. What we have here is the anatomy of a manufactured crisis.

In a free market economy, some farmers may store grain in years of plenty, and others may sell it to non-farmers. Enterprising individuals may even take to raising cattle, especially when the abundance of grain drives down its price and puts unskilled growers out of business. Of course, astute observers of grain futures – that is, commodities speculators like Joseph – can always dream up a plan to make timely investments in grain and turn a nice profit. But with the coercive power of government behind him, Joseph goes much further, using taxes and public “investment” to crowd out private saving so that the next crop failure will lead to a near-perfect state monopoly on food. Once the food shortage arrives, Joseph and Pharaoh are poised to “de-kulakize” the farmers, first taking their money, then their property, and finally the farmers themselves in exchange for life-giving bread. Safe and comfortable in their fortified cities (guarded, no doubt, by well-fed soldiers), Joseph and Pharaoh use a supposed concern for the well-being of the nation as a pretext to enslave it. We tend to read the biblical text in light of the eventual Exodus, and carelessly assume that Egypt was always a dictatorship which Joseph simply helped out with a few agronomical innovations. Looking more closely at the text, it becomes clear that Joseph is the one who turned Egypt into a slave society.

Mr. Ruby is right about this: the story of Joseph is very relevant to the debate over the role of government in the economy today. The relentless narrative theme at the core of the Five Books of Moses is that life in Egypt, even as a slave, offers many temptations that each generation must struggle anew to resist. The Torah points out that people are willing to sell everything they have, even their liberty, to be free from the anxiety of not knowing how they’ll put food on the table tomorrow. Indeed, the sense of gratitude that this guarantee of security produces can be so powerful that the slave may even forget the price he paid for it: “We remember the fish that we used to eat in Egypt for free,” pined the Israelites in the desert. Of course, the state cannot give anything it does not first take by threat of force, yet when the meal comes back to us, we still often think we are getting something for nothing.

The story of Joseph is no guidebook for managing the economy, but rather a sophisticated and somber warning of how free people choose to become slaves. Interestingly, many laws in the Torah seek to make this outcome a practical impossibility for the Jewish nation. The fifty-year Jubilee resets gross inequalities in land ownership that have accumulated through past transactions, and the sabbatical shmita rule forces the people to rehearse for famine every seven years by letting their fields lie fallow. Even individuals who insist on remaining slaves after their prescribed term of service are sharply rebuked. The Torah does not encourage reliance on a cadre of powerful experts to secure our future. Rather, by establishing each person (and not a Pharaoh) as the image of God, it sets forth an ideal of individual autonomy and creativity to which we all can aspire.

Viewed in light of this ideal, the political temperaments of today’s western democracies are a very sorry sight indeed. In the past several years, Europe’s ailing welfare states have witnessed ferocious demonstrations against the prospect of reducing free services provided by government, and Israelis have marched to demand that their leaders “do something” to lower the cost of everything from housing to cottage cheese. Meanwhile, in America, the recently concluded electoral contest saw both major parties promising that they knew best how to use the power of the presidency to “create jobs.” Among other things, Parshat Vayigash should remind us that the Pharaohs were some of history’s most successful job creators: as we learn in the Book of Exodus, there was always more demand for the backbreaking, menial labor needed to construct massive pyramids out of brick and stone for the glory of the god-king. Fortunately for Pharaoh, his planners had enough control over the economy to set a price for labor that was commensurate with the regime’s architectural needs. We may only hope that the free societies of the world internalize the lessons of biblical Egypt soon, reversing steps they’ve already taken down a road that always leads to the same destination.

Read more: The road to Egypt: job creators in the Ancient World | The Times of Israel http://www.timesofisrael.com/the-road-to-egypt-job-creators-in-the-ancient-world/#ixzz3MgCNXQ7x
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This post was originally posted at: http://www.timesofisrael.com/the-road-to-egypt-job-creators-in-the-ancient-world/

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The Road to Good Intentions

In Parashas Korach there is an individual that is mentioned briefly – On ben Peles. He is mentioned as one of the original members of Korach’s rebellion against Moshe Rabbeinu. Later in the parasha his name is omitted. The medrash teaches us that On’s wife [I will refer to her as “Mrs. Ben-Peles”] was the one that saved him from the fate of Korach and his cohorts. On’s wife asked him, “What benefit do you have of joining with Korach? You are going to die either way. If Moshe is correct you will die. But even if Korach is correct there can be only one Kohen Gadol [High Priest] so you will surely die either way.” On listened to his wife and, in her merit, he was saved.

The question arises, what was everyone else thinking? Were they stupid? Was On’s wife the only person that could see this logic?

I would like to suggest that everyone knew exactly what On’s wife told him. But they went ahead with their plan anyways. Why? Why would they continue with their plan even if they knew that they were going to die?

In the Parasha, subsequent to the death of the 250 followers of Korach the Torah says, “The Lord spoke to Moses saying: Say to Eleazar the son of Aaron the kohen that he should pick up the censers from the burned area (but throw the fire away), because they have become sanctified, the censers of these who sinned at the cost of their lives, and they shall make them into flattened out plates as an overlay for the altar, for they brought them before the Lord, and have [therefore] become sanctified, and they shall be as a reminder for the children of Israel. So Eleazar the kohen took the copper censers which the fire victims had brought, and they hammered them out as an overlay for the altar” [Bamidbar (17:1-4) ]

Why did the Machtos – the “censers” – become holy? – because while Korach may have sinned the 250 men that offered a korban to Hashem did not. They made a miscalculation, which is NOT the same as a sin. In their minds they saw corruption. They did not know the truth about Moshe. They honestly felt that there was corruption and that there were individuals that were misusing the Torah for their own personal gain. And they felt that it was better to die al kiddush Hashem then to live under a “bureaucracy” that used nepotism to retain power within the family, within the ruling class.

Now, they were WRONG, the Torah says that Moshe Rabbeinu was the most humble of all men. But THEY did not know that. THEY honestly felt that they were doing the correct thing. [While it may have been subconcious, Korach was aware that he was jealous and was not acting out of the correct intention].

While they may be a minority, there are those that seek to hijack Judaism for their own purposes, to further their own families be it for wealth or merely honor.

They must be stopped. The roads of America may be paved with gold and the road to Hell may be paved with good intentions BUT THE ROAD TO GOOD INTENTIONS CANNOT BE PAVED WITH GOLD!

Wherever and whenever there is corruption it must be exposed. For the sake of the Jewish people.

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