A Rational, Scientific God?


There has been a wave of  books lately intent on neutralizing the “Dawkins effect”. They are invariably books with titles like “There Is Not a God” or “God: the Proof“. At times they are written by men (why only men?) who present themselves as lifetime atheists–militant is the preferred modifier–men who suddenly stumbled upon the error of their ways and embraced, well…Jesus. Their genius is that their atheistic error is a logical error, which they put invariably in philosophical terms. It is not an error of faith, which few people would take seriously as an attempt to overturn an arch-rationalist like Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris. Because the debate over God needs to present itself in ultra-modern garb in order to separate itself from “fundamentalism”–or unequivocal, unvarnished (and untested) faith.

So these new men of faith put their faith up against the modern arsenal of logical debate. Could Jesus have been born of a virgin? Could he have risen from the dead? Could he return, even after a disappearance of such length? They put these age-old theological questions to the scientific test. Frank Tipler, a physicist, even wrote a book called The Physics of Christianity which asks these very same questions (and concludes that, according to the universal laws of physics, the answer is a resounding yes). Conclusion? Even Richard Dawkins should conclude that–from a rational, scientific approach to the question–God not only exists, but Jesus is God and Christianity is truth.

So with this in mind, I want to bookmark two new books that I will probably never get around to reading. But you should.

p.s…In an attempt to be fair-minded, some readers have misconstrued my position as being favorable to the Tiplers and contrary to the Dawkinses. Let be me clear:  this is not the case!


A Free People in Our Land

Today is my favorite Jewish holiday, Israeli Independence Day. It’s the only one that’s still controversial in much of the world, and has the dubious honor of having spawned a counter-holiday–Nakba Day. Of course, they aren’t celebrated on the same day, or even the same calendar. Yom Ha’atzmaut (יום-העצמאות) falls on the fifth of the Hebrew month of Iyar, while Nakba Day ( يوم النكبة)falls on the more conventional Gregorian date of May 15. One celebrates renewal, the other loss. That both holidays could have celebrated national independence is an irony too tragic for words.

Another thing I appreciate about Yom Ha’atzmaut is that it is the only Jewish holiday besides Purim which makes no explicit reference to God, miracles (if you go back and read the megillah you’ll see for yourself), divine intervention or any hocus-pocus. It’s all ingenuity, courage and cunning: politics, in short. Of the people, by the people and for the people. In fact, it’s not even a Jewish holiday, but an Israeli holiday. It is not lost on me that there are Jews in the world who feel only a deep sense of shame and abandonment on this day. Shame on them, I say.

The best kind of explosions
The best kind of explosions

Jews, the Ever-in-the-Way People

From Operation Shylock:

The father is superseded by the rivalrous, triumphant firstborn–rejected, suppressed, persecuted, expelled, shunned, terrorized by the firstborn and reviled as the enemy–and then, having barely escaped extinction for the crime of being the father, resuscitates himself, revives and rises up to struggle bloodily over property rights with the second-born, who is raging with envy at the grievances of usurpation, neglect and ravaged pride. 1988. 5748. 1408. The tragic story’s all in the numbers, the successor monotheists’ implacable feud with the ancient progenitor whose crime it is, whose sin it is, to have endured the most unspeakable devastation and still, somehow, to be in the way.

The Jews are always in the way.

Today, by the way, is Yom HaZikaron (Israeli Memorial Day):

The Defense Ministry said that since 1860, when the first Jewish settlers began establishing Jewish neighborhoods outside the Jerusalem city walls, 22,570 men and women have been killed in defense of the Land of Israel.

A moment of silence, if you please.

Torture, Back With a Vengeance

The debate rages. Last night we went out for Mexican food. We arrived in the middle of a conversation inspired by this article in Slate Salon. Oops. The gist of the article is this:

“No torture today, no torture tomorrow, no torture ever.”

Which really sounds great. I mean, who wants to be tortured?

But there is a philosophical debate about this. Some people, even some reasonable liberal people, are able to conceive of worst-case scenarios in which torture as a last resort might plausibly be an option. Not that it should ever be used lightly, mind you. But, philosophically (this means “in theory”), a case might be made. Of course, another case can be made that “theory” never actually translates into “reality”, and that to open the door to torture on a limited basis would only be a Pandora’s box, letting out all the demons we’ve entombed there since the Middle Ages.

I won’t bore you with my opinion. I don’t even think a perfect, logical answer exists to this question. The greater problem is one of violence, and whether it is ever justifiable. Some say no, some yes, and the world hasn’t stopped spinning yet. A perfectly non-violent world is a utopian pipe dream, which doesn’t mean it isn’t an enticing one. It simply remains inconceiveable. The only answer that history has bequeathed on us are laws that at least regulate the use of violence–and which are of course broken with impunity every day all over the world. So what have we learned? Bupkes.

Meanwhile, Roxana Saberi langishes in an Iranian prison. Perhaps she is being tortured. I wonder what people are dicussing in restaurants in downtown Teheran tonight.

The Most Serious Thing in Italy

Ruini is the other guy
Ruini is the other guy

Yesterday’s Corriere della Sera had an interview with the openly gay actor Paolo Poli, which is relatively rare in Italy. Now, I don’t know much about Poli’s acting career, nor do I think an actor’s opinions matter much. But when an openly gay communist–who also happens to be a declared atheist–tells a widely-read Italian newspaper that the only serious thing in Italy is the Catholic Church, and that Italy’s greatest politician is Camillo Ruini, I begin to have serious doubts about the future of the Italian Republic.

Yesterday was also April 25, an important holiday here in the Boot, as it commemorates the country’s liberation from Nazi-fascism. Not a minor holiday, that–somewhere between the Jewish Passover (liberation from slavery) and the 4th of July (national independence). And much more recent, too.

So let’s get this straight: Italy fought a war against the Church 150 years ago so that a secular state might be established. The Pope’s power was reduced to almost nothing, forcing him to declare his own moral infallibility that he might not be disposed of entirely by the newly-emancipated Italians. Then comes Mussolini, followed by Hitler. Pope Pius XII may not have been the devil in disguise, but he almost certainly didn’t use his influence to oppose the rising tide of fascism in his own backyard. The Church to this day claims Pius did everything he could to save the Jews–all of it in complete monastic silence, and without leaving the tiniest trace for posterity. The Vatican’s WWII archives are still off-limits to researchers and historians, which doesn’t exactly suggest transparency.

The Vatican’s positions on homosexuality, atheism and Communism are sufficiently well-known. So we’re left with this incongruous declaration by Mr. Poli–an affermation that makes no sense whatever no matter which way you look at it. Or was he being (maybe, just maybe), ironic?

Ilan Ramon and the Second Holocaust

Ilan Ramons diary
Ilan Ramon’s diary

This isn’t a new story, of course, but I’ve been intrigued by it ever since I first heard about the Ramon diary on the radio a couple of years ago. The above page was found almost two months after the Columbia disaster that killed Ramon and six other astronauts. There is not much out there on him, so I had to settle for a young reader’s biography on him.

Briefly, Ilan Ramon had been a colonel in the Israeli Air Force (IAF), the same one that is maligned day in and day out in the world media. Ramon had actually been one of the pilots on the bombing mission to take out Iraq’s nuclear reactor in 1981, Operation Opera. According to my little book, by Devra Newberger Speregen, Ramon’s bomb was one of the one’s to do in the nuclear arsenal. Speregen relates the following anecdote:

Commander Yadlin (of the IAF) later remembered something Ilan told him at the time they were preparing for the Iraqi attack: “If I can prevent a second Holocaust, I’m ready to sacrifice my life for this.”

Ramon’s words pre-date Operation Shylock, the novel by Philip Roth in which the possibility of a second Holocaust is posited rather convincingly. Ron Rosenbaum took up the theme in 2002:

The Second Holocaust. It’s a phrase we may have to begin thinking about. A possibility we may have to contemplate. A reality we may have to witness. Somebody has to think about the unthinkable, about the unbearable, and the way it looks now, it’s at least as likely to happen as not. One can imagine several ways it will happen: the current, terrible situation devolves from slow-motion mutual slaughter into instantaneous conflagration, nuclear, chemical or biological. Scenarios that remain regional. Scenarios that go global.

Can we allow ourselves the bliss of ignorance at a time like this?

Recognizing Israel

I’m already tired of quoting Ahmadinejad. He always says the same things. Ynet has two articles worthy of more attention than anything I could post. The first, by Sever Plocker, concerns lawfare and caused me to lose a bit of sleep last night:

The peace-seeking Iran pledges to accept the majority decision in the above-mentioned referendum. Therefore, this is not about nuclear sabre-rattling or a declaration of war on the Zionists, but rather, a just and democratic solution that will be achieved peacefully and with international consensus.

If, as result of the referendum, the Jewish state will be abolished, the Jews would not be threatened with extermination or a second “Holocaust.” They will be allowed to integrate into the great Palestinian state as a religious element with recognized civil rights, even beyond the rights given to Iranian Jews. The Muslims, as opposed to the Nazis, will do everything to protect the Jewish minority to be left in Palestine in the wake of the referendum results’ implementation.

All that is left is to change the UN’s voting procedures: The four billion people residing in the Middle East, Asia, Africa, and Latin America are the majority, and they deserve to be recognized as such. Iran will serve as their mouthpiece; that is, Ahmadinejad’s mouth.

Well, my allergies caused me to lose sleep. Still, this is a disturbing hypothesis.

The second article is by Yoel Meltzer, and is a wake-up call telling us that the Two State Solution is, by now, a mere relic of wishful thinking:

Please explain to them that it is nearly 100% certain that a Palestinian state in Judea and Samaria will eventually bring missiles to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Equally important, make it clear to them that this is a prediction based upon Middle Eastern reality and not some sort of “scare tactic” or “right-wing analysis.”

In addition, please remind them that suicide, in any shape or size, is forbidden in Judaism and therefore national suicide, which will be the result of a two-state solution, is clearly forbidden.

The only answer, as far as I can see, is widespread Arab-Muslim recognition of Israel. This childish,counterproductive intransigence, above and beyond all other “obstacles to peace”, is the true root of the conflict. I wish I had a t-shirt that read:






Because not everyone who might stumble upon this blog reads Israeli papers, and most of the people I know haven’t been  following the Durban 2 circus in Geneva, I’m linking to this video which I saw in Haaretz.

On the sidelines of the Durban II conference in Geneva on Tuesday, a member of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s entourage accosted Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Elie Wiesel and began screaming “Zio-Nazi” at the Holocaust survivor.

You can actually see Ahmadinejad walking by if you watch closely. Of course, we’re chumps for taking these thugs seriously, right?

“Racist! Racist!”

Empty seat at Durban 2
Empty seat at Durban 2

Things aren’t going so well after day one up in Geneva. Clowns were arrested, Ahmadinejad called Israel all sorts of bad things and was called a racist himself (but only by the clowns, mind you). There was apparently a move by the already diffident EU delegates to walk out on the Conference once his rant got underway. It isn’t clear from today’s papers whether France and England are there for day two or not. There was a “severe” condemnation from Sarkozy. The Vatican is staying put.

There was soft condemnation of Ahmadinejad’s words, but apparently the UN cannot allow itself to say anything that might be misconstrued as an opinion. They “condemned” Ahmadinejad’s choice of words, though he didn’t apparently pronounce the name “Israel.” Perhaps this means he was speaking of another country when he called it a “racist government” in the Middle East. Maybe he meant Syria, or Lebanon? Maybe he was being self-referential, post-modern, over our heads by talking about himself?

Anyway, the big news from Geneva is that there is no big news. Day one went just as most of us thought it would. Navi Pillay just doesn’t get it:

“A boycott isn’t the best response.”

Apparently this was the extent of her emotion at the hijacking of her Conference by a fanatical head of state who happens to be the world’s most visible Holocaust denier and potential genocidal maniac. Perhaps we should go back and take a look at Jeffrey Goldberg’s painstakingly compiled dossier of Ahmadinejad’s money quotes on Israel.

It’s business as usual at Durban 2.

Pope Blesses Durban 2

Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI

This morning’s Corriere della Sera, one of Italy’s leading newspapers, has a snippet article on Durban 2. Germany and Sweden have pulled out at the last minute, while France and Great Britain are attending. The Pope chimed in with a blessing over the heads of all the participants, calling for:

“strong, concrete action, on an international scale, in order to eliminate all forms of discrimination and intolerance.”

Which begs the question: is Joseph Ratzinger completely insane? Is he unaware that his own church still condemns homosexuality? Are homosexuals not deserving of the same rights as others who suffer discrimination: Jews, women, blacks and minorities of every stripe and creed? After having scandalously reinstated a Holocaust-denying bishop a few months ago, it hardly seems that Pope Benedict XVI is qualified to make such universal-sounding pronouncements.

Of course the Pope is no ignoramus. He’s just a cynic. What can a blessing from such a man possibly augur?

For a gloss on the anti-Semitic dimensions of April 20, read Yaacov Lozowick.