Knowledge Problems

Monday, March 13, 2006

Review of "Off The Derech" by Faranak Margolese

I just finished reading Off The Derech by Faranak Margolese, and I thought it was very interesting. She discusses a lot of the causes that drive people off the derech, and does so in a fairly perceptive and truthful manner. She herself appears to be quite religious, and therefore invokes God about as often and as naively as other religious authors do, frequently sounding as though she just recently chatted with Him about his views on chinuch and whatnot.

God created Adam and immediately gave him free choice, knowing full well that not one page later Adam would stumble and choose sin. But God determined that it was better to allow Adam to fall, better to have him betray His will with free choice, than not have that choice at all.

God wants us to walk in his ways, but he doesn't force us to. He leads but does not push. He gives us free will and then does what He can to preserve it by delaying punishment.

This sounds like the climax of a really bad d'var Torah, but if you can read past the midrashic drivel (which, ironically, is what probably drove me off the derech as much as anything else), you will find that most of Ms. Margolese's analyses are pretty sound. I will now discuss some of the issues she raises.

One of the author's recurring points is that Judaism must be able to compete in the free marketplace of ideas on its own merits. That is, it is no longer enough to "scare" people into remaining frum with visions of Gehinom or God's wrath, or to coerce observance through emotional manipulation (e.g., fear of losing the respect or love of one's parents). In the modern world, these classic techniques are ineffective or counterproductive, and often produce nominally Orthodox Jews whose Judaism is extremely shallow or cynical. Instead, Orthodox Judaism must prove itself to be more emotionally and intellectually rewarding than any other available option, or it will continue to lose adherents. This is especially true in the modern era, when one really doesn't have to believe anything. In earlier times, the alternatives to Judaism were largely limited to Christianity and Islam, and for a wide variety of reasons these options were never very appealing to Jews. Today, one can live a completely normal and fulfilled life without subscribing to any religious system at all. Orthodox Judaism must therefor prove that it can provide its members a better option than all the other options available:

The outside world is no longer painful or perceived as evil, but rather enjoyable, attractive and welcoming. So today, in order for observant Judaism to be chosen, it cannot merely be neutral. It must be better than the alternative.

Ms. Margolese focuses heavily in the beginning of the book on "rejection" as a cause of people leaving Yiddishkeit, and I think there's a lot of truth in that. She discusses a number of kinds of rejection, all valid, but I think she underplays the rejection felt by individuals who can't buy into the hashkafa of Orthodox Judaism. Certainly, there is more than a single legitimate Orthodox hashkafa, but it is nevertheless the case that most Orthodox Jews believe that God (literally) gave the Torah to Moses at Mount Sinai about 3300 years ago, and that this exact same Torah is the one we read today every Shabbos. Most Orthodox Jews believe that God created the universe less than 6000 years ago in pretty much the same state as we see it today, and many or most believe that this creation occurred over a literal 6-day period. These are basic aspects of Orthodox Judaism today.

Orthodox Jews (me included) who at some point discover they can no longer suspend their disbelief in such stories will undoubtedly feel rejected, regardless of whether or not they actually give voice to their discontentment. Moreover, for the most part, these discontented Jews will not give voice to their concerns, because they realize the incredible emotional and psychological pain that doing so would bring to their friends and family, and to any other true believers. (They realize this because they themselves almost certainly experienced this very same emotional anguish in the course of revising their own deepest-held beliefs about the world.)

So what recourse exists for Orthodox Jews in this situation? What they see all around them in the Orthodox world is rank intellectual dishonesty; that is, the coddling of religious beliefs, and the unwillingness to examine cherished ideas with the dispassionate scrutiny that is the hallmark of all critical reasoning and empirical investigation. How can Jewish people who also value rationality and empiricism find a place in such a culture? I don't know.

On a related note, Ms. Margolese has a chapter on Truth, and how issues related to the search for truth drive people away from Orthodoxy. Again, I agree with most of her points, but find that she underestimates the role of theology and hashkafa. For example, she writes,

So how can we strengthen belief in God? By discussing with students and children, on a level they can understand, the reasons for believing in God: why it makes sense, if it makes sense, what the alternatives are, what some of the arguments are for God's existence and against it.

This is not easy to do. In fact, it can be quite tricky for, while we can make good arguments for the rationality of God's existence, we cannot prove it.

Yes, it is tricky, isn't it? That's the problem that a lot of us have with Orthodox theology and hashkafa. We've been told from the earliest ages how obvious is the existence of God, and how foolish and ignorant are all those agnostics and atheists. (Indeed, they are considered far worse than Christians and even Reform Jews, probably because their arguments are so much harder to refute.) At some point, however, when we are able to think and read for ourselves, we come to realize that the very best arguments for the existence of God were already discredited by the 17th century. The author's position that "there are good arguments for the rationality of God's existence" is really quite weak, and it is the historical failure to honestly recognize this that bothers many of us so much. The "good arguments" that the author refers to are really just post-hoc justifications, and have only rarely convinced anyone who wasn't already a believer.

Moreover, the author's suggestion for discussing with students "what some of the arguments are for God's existence and against it" is disturbingly wishful thinking. Does she really think that a yeshiva rabbi discussing God's existence with his students would paint a fair picture of "the alternatives." Or will the yeshivas invite atheists and agnostics to present the evidence in favor of their positions? I think not. No, the "discussion" envisioned by Ms. Margolese will ultimately be nothing other than the same hashkafic brainwashing that has defined Jewish education ever since the Middle Ages. I think the following opinion from a contemporary book on off-the-derech Hasidim comes much closer to the truth of the matter:

Among people who believe that there is only one truth — and that they are in possession of it — tolerating other points of view is, by definition, impossible. (Winston, 2005)

Also, although I realize that Off The Derech is not a theological treatise, one too-often hears this "we can make good arguments" line without ever actually hearing one of these good arguments. So what's the good argument? The Argument to Design? The Ontological Argument? These arguments do not convince anyone except those who already believe. That is not what I consider a "good argument." I think it will be when Orthodoxy comes to grip with the tentativeness of the God-hypothesis — with the idea that God's existence and involvement is something we wish to be true rather than know to be true — that genuine religious inclusiveness will be possible. In the meantime, the zealous and absolute adherence to metaphysical beliefs which have zero empirical support will continue to make a mockery of the notion of religious rationality or rational religiosity.

Ms. Margolese goes on to propose that

If we succeed in intellectually establishing that there is a God, that He gave the Torah, and that rabbinic leaders have the authority to make halachah, we will have succeeded in establishing an important foundation for observance.

Well, yes, sure, but it's crucial to note that the Orthodox educational process does not actually work by establishing any of these things intellectually. If we wanted to establish these beliefs intellectually, we should wait until a person is 20 years old and has experience with the ways of world and some capacity to distinguish fact from fiction, and then we should make our best intellectual arguments about the existence of God, the authenticity of the Torah, and rabbinic authority. What we actually do is brainwash children with religious fairytales from the time they are 2 years old until the time they are 22 in the hope that it will become impossible or irrelevant for them to ever seriously entertain real hashkafic questions, either because we have made them completely ignorant of anything other than Talmud, or because we have constructed their belief systems in such a way that raising such issues would simply be too cognitively or emotionally painful. As Ms. Margolese writes,

Our parents believed, they told us we should believe, and therefore we do, without giving it the kind of thought and exploration that makes it our own. Thus belief in God begins in childhood and pervades the lives of observant people.

As an example of the Orthodox educational approach, consider this charming advice from Wagschal's Successful Chinuch:

[we] need to show children the beauty of Torah and emptiness of the secular way... [we] need to answer questions before children can ask them for themselves... [the] child must be warned not to be taken in by what he may see, read or hear and, above all, to avoid temptations.

This certainly does not sound like a recipe for an open and honest evaluation of "alternatives," and I think it unfortunately represents the typical approach to chinuch in the Orthodox community. All the talk about intellectual honesty and openness and alternative beliefs is really just hogwash, I'm sorry to say. Strictly religious parents and teachers want their children and students to believe the same things they themselves believe, and a long-term process of brainwashing is without any doubt the most reliable way to accomplish this. Individuals who ultimately reject this brainwashing may leave religion entirely, or remain within the religious world as cynics, hypocrites, and antonymous bloggers.

A couple more things I'd like to quote from the book:

Michael, who went off the derech as an adult, experienced intellectual dishonesty when observant people would engage in what he called "selective reporting" as they tried to prove that Judaism was true. He says they would "sometimes look for various scientific discoveries to prove certain age-old truisms in the Talmudic system and, at the same time, disregard scientific studies that disprove them... They don't even necessarily believe in the tools they are using to prove the Torah. They just figure, 'Hey. It's useful. Let's use it.' And when someone discovers that it's not useful, they dump it... It is not the evidence that drives the system; the system drives the evidence."

I could not have said it better myself, but there are still a couple of points to make. The first is that Ms. Margolese treats Michael's story as a "for instance," when actually the intellectual dishonesty Michael describes is completely rampant in the yeshiva world, and widely embraced by kiruv organizations. (Note the liberal use of "Torah Codes" nonsense in certain kiruv programs.) Michael's story is far from an isolated incident. But the essential problem is that it's almost inevitable. When people have a certain unassailable belief — a view of the world that cannot possibly be wrong, then all valid evidence must inevitably point to that particular conclusion, and all contrary evidence must be in error. What we therefore see in the yeshiva world is that when empirical evidence cannot be suitably twisted to fit the Jewish mythology, this evidence is then recast as the deceptive production of evil, amoral, atheistic scientists, who are worse than Nazis and would dissect their own mothers given half a chance. (If you think I am overstating things, please read Avigdor Miller.) Thus, any evidence scientists produce which does not happen to support prevailing Jewish fairytales is immediately attributed to Satan.

So the essential problem of Truth is that Judaism, like all other religions, is not about Truth at all. It's about a particular set of beliefs and traditions which come from an age of mystery and magic, long before the introduction of critical reasoning, empirical methods, and natural laws. Those who try to sell Judaism as a "quest for truth" are selling a bill of goods. The closest thing any of us have to a real "quest for truth" is the scientific method. Even with all its imperfections, the achievements of science in illuminating the workings of the natural world long ago surpassed the sum total of everything religion had ever accomplished in this capacity.

The author goes on:

So truth must be acquired truthfully. If we want to argue effectively for the truth of Torah, we must not only speak of truth, we must speak with it in the classroom, in our actions, and all our pursuits. We must be honest about ourselves and honest about Judaism. Hiding the truth undermines truth, which is one of the strongest arguments for Torah observance...

The basic problem is that true intellectual honesty would require that we modulate our belief in God and Torah in correspondence with the evidence presented in the favor of these propositions. In science and critical reasoning, hypotheses are "believed" with a strength that is largely proportional to their evidential support. For example, the causal role of smoking in cancer is strongly believed because of vast empirical findings that support this hypothesis. On the other hand, the existence of life beyond our solar system engenders more tenuous belief, because although we suspect that other habitable planets may exist and may produce life by the same mechanisms that produced life here, we thus far have no actual evidence of life outside of Earth. We also have available rational and quantitative methods for belief evaluation (Bayesian probability, for example) that are frequently used in artificial intelligence. In any case, the main point is that intellectual honesty (i.e., rational cognition) requires that the strength of beliefs be contingent on the strength of evidence. Unfortunately, the fact is that Orthodox Jews are not prepared to appropriately modulate their beliefs in God or Torah. Instead, they put God and Torah beyond the reach of evidence or argument, thereby ensuring that Orthodox Judaism cannot achieve true intellectual honesty. I think it's really that simple.

The author claims that "After all is said and done, we must take a leap if we are to believe in God." I simply ask "Why must we?" The intellectually honest approach is to attach a degree of belief to the God-hypothesis and Torah-hypothesis that reflect their evidential support. Why can't we just do the honest thing?

Omissions and Commissions

Let me now mention something that "Off The Derech" leaves out entirely, as does almost every other "frum" book on child-rearing, such as Successful Chinuch, Love is Not Enough, Timeless Parenting, Being and Becoming, More Effective Jewish Parenting, Chinuch in Turbulent Times, and so on, and so on.

That is sexuality.

From reading almost any "frum" book on child and adolescent development, you would think that nothing of any significance happens to boys and girls between the ages of 12 and 15. They just get bigger and possibly become "moody." The wholesale omission of any discussion of the sexual aspects of puberty reflects the monstrous fear of sexuality in the Orthodox world. The approach to sexuality adopted by frum authors, educators, and parents alike has been to ignore as thoroughly as possible any discussion of sexual development, and to rely on the hope that God will make it all just go away.

We can conclude, therefore, that as long as a child is sheltered, his heart will remain pure and he will be protected from sin. (Wagschal 1999)

In other words, sexuality is a kind of alien virus that is beamed in from the "outside world," a contagion that can be prevented by carefully surrounding a child with fedoras, shaitles, and rabbinical fairytales. This hear-no-evil, see-no-evil attitude toward sexuality (along with the inevitable cover-up of sexual abuse and sexual maladjustment) is one more factor that gives the lie to the notion of intellectual honesty in Orthodox Judaism. The Orthodox approach to sexuality is not honest; it is cowardly.


  • Superb post. I wish I had written it.

    By Blogger Mis-nagid, at Mar 14, 2006, 10:46:00 PM  

  • Just discovered your blog (thanks to Mis-nagid). Wonderful writing!!!! Off the Derech was begging for a good critique, and it seems your review supplants the original.

    By Blogger Enigma4U, at Mar 15, 2006, 10:36:00 AM  

  • Thanks very much, guys. I enjoyed writing it.

    By Blogger Big-S Skeptic, at Mar 15, 2006, 12:10:00 PM  

  • Your belief that atheists are open minded and honest is touchingly naive. And your impression that sexuality is handled so well in the secular community is, how shall we say, very sweet but unfortunately absurd.

    I guess the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. Just don't dispose of all your yarmulkes yet.

    By Blogger jewish philosopher, at Mar 15, 2006, 12:20:00 PM  

  • I actually know Faranak, and she is a BT (not that there is anytihg wrong with that ;)). The biggest problem for me in her book was her completely washing aside the similar explanations for people "finding the derech" (i.e. the BT). She pleads the emotional causation of those leaving the derech, which is obvious and true. But she argues that for those that find the derech - the BT - for them it is an intellectual enlightenment. It is NOT emotional. Hogwash. And that, for me, was the biggest disappointment and fallacy in her thesis. While it is true that pretty much every person I know who left the Derech does so for emotional reasons (whthere they can accept it or not), the same holds true for every BT I have ever encountered. I think Faranak needs to do some self-actualization.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mar 16, 2006, 5:43:00 PM  

  • Just discovered your blog for the first time. Great writing!

    I actually reviewed the book on my blog also. I was also somewhat critical of her approach, but overall, felt she was touching on some very valid points. I appreciate very much the points you made here (is that proper English?), and look forward to reading the rest of your writings.

    You can read my review here:

    See the comment thread too, as it had some elaboration on what I wrote in the post.

    By Anonymous The Hedyot, at Mar 16, 2006, 10:23:00 PM  

  • > ...your impression that sexuality is handled so well in the secular community is, how shall we say, very sweet but unfortunately absurd.

    Jewish philosopher:

    He never once mentioned how sexuality is handled in the secular world. All he said was that the way the frum world handles it is horrible. Your reaction is so typical of advocates of frum society: When a criticism of that world is made, just shout as loud as you can, "Yes, we may not be perfect, but the rest of the world is no better!"

    By Blogger The Hedyot, at Mar 16, 2006, 10:27:00 PM  

  • One of my biggest issues with this book is the notion that people choosing not to be religious is a "challenge," or a problem to be fixed. Of course, because the author is religious, there is no other way she could approach this phenomenon. Given this, one must be skeptical of the "reasons" or "explanations" she gives for people's decisions to "go off." This is not to say that some of what she describes is not accurate; however, for those of us who believe in choice, invoking that value should be justification enough for leaving Orthodoxy. There is no doubt that a loving environment is better that a fearful or coercive one for anybody, but the fact is that some people just do not want to live as Orthodox Jews. And that is OK. Of course, some people seem to harbor intellectual questions or doubts, where others express their discontent in more "emotional" terms. However, "knowing" why people leave is, to me at least, of interest solely for the purpose of understanding and not prevention. To focus on the latter denies people's right to make their own choices in life, and to live the lives they want to live without having to justify themselves to others.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mar 17, 2006, 5:06:00 PM  

  • >But she argues that for those that find the derech - the BT - for them it is an intellectual enlightenment. It is NOT emotional.

    She does not make the argument at all. She makes the argument that just as some BTs make an intellectual-based decision, some OTDs make an intellectual-based decision. Whether or not you agree with her implied percentaged, this is the point she made, and she made it in the context of trying to convince the (presumably 'on the derech' Orthodox) reader that people do in fact make intellectual choices to go "off the derech."

    It is sad that it has to be so, but it was BRAVE of her to make this point.

    By Blogger Mississippi Fred MacDowell, at Mar 19, 2006, 12:23:00 PM  

  • Thanks Da'as Hedyot. I read your review after I wrote my own, and I thought yours was really good. You made a bunch a points that I wish I had made.

    With regard to emotional vs. intellectual reasons for leaving or joining, it's never easy to say. Emotional reasons become intellectual reasons and intellectual reasons become emotional reasons. I'm sure my own miserable and isolating high-school experience in a famous right-wing yeshiva had consequences for my emotional attachment to Judaism. But the fact that almost all the arguments I have heard for the existence of God and the authenticity of Torah are plainly fallacious has also had a large effect on my intellectual disposition to Jewish belief. Is it possible that had I not been turned-off in high school that I would have never been troubled by the impoverishment of Orthodox theology? I don't rightly know.

    By Blogger Big-S Skeptic, at Mar 19, 2006, 4:24:00 PM  

  • > these discontented Jews will not give voice to their concerns, because they realize the incredible emotional and psychological pain that doing so would bring to their friends and family, and to any other true believers. (They realize this because they themselves almost certainly experienced this very same emotional anguish in the course of revising their own deepest-held beliefs about the world.)

    Wow, just stumbled onto your blog and that really hits the nail on the head. In my mind I've been off the derech for many years.

    I've been posting this on YFSG as the reason for my double intellectual life being a secret even from my wife, and no-one seems to get it. They think I'm not being honest with my wife. True, but it's because of the great pain coming out would inflict on her, that I live in this fog.

    By Anonymous ballhabos, at May 22, 2006, 4:56:00 PM  

  • Thanks for posting, ballhabos. It's a difficult situation, and I don't really have the right answer for you. (Also, I'm not married, so please don't take anything I say as the "voice of experience".) Perhaps in your case, though, you might find enough cover for your skeptical views in, say, Rav Kook or Rambam that you could then begin to slowly expose some of your/Rambam's ideas to your wife and gauge her reaction. Frankly, Rambam's view of God is so distant from contemporary Jewish hashkafa that you can hide some pretty serious skepticism in there without really distorting anything. I'm not saying this is the 100% honest way to proceed, but you certainly wouldn't be the first to use Rambam this way. (I think Rambam was the first person to use Rambam this way.) And again, I'm no expert, but I have heard that 100% honesty is not necessarily the optimal strategy in marriage. Maybe 99% is better. So maybe you can have your own approach to Judaism under Maimonidean guise, and let your wife stick with the approach that she is comfortable with.

    Feel free to blast me if I'm completely off base.

    By Blogger Big-S Skeptic, at May 22, 2006, 5:42:00 PM  

  • Bug-s,

    I can't help thinking that had the Rambam been around today, he'd be just as confused as us. But truthfully, I know very little about the Rambam's writings, it's not typical fare in my circles.

    At this point, with my wife, it's opening up a Pandora's box; it's just not worth putting anyone thru the turmoil.

    I was simply commenting on the truth of your observation, that the OJ system manages to perpetuate itself very well and the more RW, the better the system protects itself.

    (Another example of survival of the fittest?)

    By Anonymous Baal Habos, at May 22, 2006, 11:22:00 PM  

  • I can't help thinking that had the Rambam been around today, he'd be just as confused as us.

    Perhaps, but I don't think he would behave like the leaders we have today, who are afraid to honestly confront modern issues. The one feeling you get about the Rambam is that he wasn't frightened by ideas, as so many lesser people are.

    But anyway, best of luck to you. Maybe I'll see you on FSG sometime. You can try making yourself a blog too. It seems to help some of us blow off steam. (Others of us it just helps waste lots of time. Alas, I am in the second category.)

    By Blogger Big-S Skeptic, at May 23, 2006, 12:34:00 AM  

  • Great post. I want to go back to your statement about sexuality's being ignored by frum writers and publishers. There is one very good book on female development called, "The Wonder of Becoming You." I'm sure it can be criticized, but overall it presents the facts in a developmentally appropriate manner and tells the girls what they need to know. I plan to give it to my daughter after her 10th birthday.

    However, I don't know of anything out there for boys. Also, I wish there were a frum book to help parents tell kids the facts of life. I've been looking at secular books which do this, and find that none of them are quite to my taste. Peter Mayle's "Where do I come from?" turns me off with its illustrations and excessive detail, and I haven't found anything else which presents this information to children. I think this is a huge gap, and that we would benefit from this addition to the frum body of literature.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at Jun 7, 2006, 3:59:00 AM  

  • I agree, Anonymous. There is a huge vacuum in such parenting materials, and I think this is an artifact of the fear that surrounds sexuality in the Orthodox world. Yet while I understand that parents are very uncomfortable talking to their kids about sexuality (and there may actually be biological reasons for this discomfort), I still think it would be ideal for such important information to be transmitted by a person rather than strictly by a book. The "read this book" approach implicitly sends the message that there is something "dirty" or "embarrassing" or "unwholesome" about sexuality. It may inhibit children from asking questions that are on their minds, since it reinforces the notion that sexuality must not to be discussed, but only read about in private. When else do we just throw a book at a kid and say "here, read this."? It sends a bad message, I think.

    That's why a complete sexual education program would be the best solution. Let children be taught by an adult who has been trained in how to sensitively and accurately convey such information at the level the child requires. Let children ask their burning questions to someone who has the correct answers and won't get red in the face at each question. Then children will learn that while there is an element of privacy that accompanies matters of sexuality, sexuality should not be a cause for fear or shame or apprehension or self-loathing.

    I think that a sexual education program is ultimately the only honest and decent way to proceed. But, alas, it's hard to see how we can get there.

    By Blogger Big-S Skeptic, at Jun 7, 2006, 12:53:00 PM  

  • i was actually one of the "web cases" for this book and am really disappointed with the final result. In essence it seems to be a book for the frum community with the aim of making/keeping people frum. i wish someone could just acknowledge that you can be an emotionally healthy person -- ie not abused, not on drugs, not hate your childhood -- and still choose not to be frum. it drives me crazy that the orthodox community cannot accept this and, as with this book, always retain the ultimate aim of making people religious.

    how can you have an honest discussion with someone if you know that from the outset they don't accept your lifestyle?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at Nov 15, 2006, 4:20:00 AM  

  • Interesting question. I think that Orthodox people will always try to encourage their fellows to remain Observant, because they deeply believe (most of them, anyway, not me) that this is what God wants. Some people are indeed prepared to support or accept their fellows in the choice of a non-observant lifestyle, but usually only when it is absolutely clear that Orthodoxy is not working for that person.

    From a practical standpoint, any book that puts equal value on Observant and non-Observant lifestyle will not be bought or read by Observant people, so Margolis had little choice there (regardless of her own beliefs), since that was her target audience.

    It extremely rare to hear any kind of endorsement of non-Observance, but not unheard of. Rabbi Kook's "Pangs of Cleansing" is an obvious break from the traditional view. But I don't expect we will ever hear from Orthodox figures an admission to the effect that Observance is just a "lifestyle choice." Or if anyone did make such an admission, we would be unlikely to regard them as Orthodox themselves.

    But what you're getting at, I think, is that Margolis (and many others) make the pretense of unbiasedness and criticality — and perhaps even have themselves convinced of it — but their biases and sympathies are then so nakedly exposed. I think the best we can expect from these authors is to eliminate the pretense. Instead of making claims of scientific objectivity, let them say at the beginning of their book, "I believe Observance is right for every Jew, and my analysis follows from there." Then we can at least applaud their honestly, if not their scholarship. Alas...

    Still, I'm glad you participated in the survey. I know that a lot of people found her book very interesting (including an educator I gave it to), so you never know...

    By Blogger Big-S Skeptic, at Nov 15, 2006, 11:01:00 AM  

  • look, the whole POINT of the book is to keep people "on the derech". if it were objectively about the OTD phenomenon, we could say she was unfair to those who just "didn't want to be religious" (wasn't allowed to tag). but that's NOT the point.

    now about the sexuality issue in thee community. my friends in the community would find out info third hand (remarks overheard, books, etc), then confirm it with me. i was the "smart one" because i devour about 5 books per week, and thereby was the most reliable source of info.
    you all are acting like if you don't tell kids the "facts of life", no one will. having "Been there and done that" , i can tell you that if kids feel a strong enough desire to find out about sexuality, THEY WILL. we have to give these kids credit here. they are for the most part, bright, inquiring souls. they have a radar built in, to pick up on things they feel are related to whatever their question is.

    i think the radar is a symptom of kids evolving to the environment of not being able to ask questions. seriously, the CIA could learn from them!!!! i just love these kids!!!

    though i feel/think there is more covering of sexual abuse in the community than in the outside world, i think it is getting a little bit better. it depends where you go. like my old school totally didn't do anything when the lunchlady touched my sister, and didn't believe it at first.

    By Blogger RED!!!!, at Jul 15, 2008, 3:31:00 PM  

  • Blogger, you wrote:

    "...we come to realize that the very best arguments for the existence of God were already discredited by the 17th century."

    We had better tell all the philosophers of religion out there that they're wasting their time writing books, journals and debating- it's already been resolved!

    I certainly make no claim to be a philosopher, but it does strike me as odd that, if this were the case, we would not be seeing philosophers of religion discussing, researching and debating these issues still today if the issue were closed hundreds of years ago. And indeed, if you are so confident that the arguments have been dismissed that long ago, you are always free to enter an open debate with a knowledgeable theist philosopher on the subject and educate him as to how antiquated his arguments are.

    As I said, I do not claim to be an expert on the philosophy of religion (perhaps neither of us are?), but I would certainly not claim a case is closed on an issue which philosophers of religion are still vigorously debating today.

    Indeed, to do so would be the height of intellectual closed-mindedness.

    In fact, far from finding the theistic arguments weak, quite the opposite- although admittedly an amateur, I have done a fair amount of reading, watching debates, and have (to my surprise!) found the non-theistic side to be wanting (which, as a sidenote, can perhaps explain why atheist v. theist debates routinely show the atheist to be apparently overwhelmed by the theist arguments- almost as if he had simply written them off long ago, but is surprised at the apparent strength of them once presented to him). Not that I put much stock in public debates, but I find that it's representative of that same attitude many atheists have ("How hard can it be to beat a theist in debate? He believes the silliest things!"). Well, apparently harder than one might think.

    That is, of course, not to claim the case is closed and that the atheistic side has been proven wrong definitively. Merely to say, as far as the experts say, there indeed ARE arguments for a Creator, and they are better than one may suspect. The scholarly work is available for all to see.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at Apr 27, 2010, 9:05:00 PM  

  • Hi Anonymous. Well, clearly we have a difference of opinion. But if there is some debate you would like me to watch, I'd be happy to do so, and to compare notes with you. As for your observation that these matters are still debated, they really are not. Every now and then there will be another paper on the merits of the Ontological Argument or whatnot, but I don't think there is any genuine academic interest in these matters. You may find one or two academics who are mentally fixated on proofs for God (just like you may find one or two academics who are mentally fixated on alien invasions, or ghosts, or other wacky things). That does not mean that there is any kind of interest in the Academy. The main reason is that, as I said, the best philosophical arguments are easily seen to be deeply flawed, and the only reason they were ever swallowed at all was because they had the support of an infallible Bible. Since that support no longer exists, the arguments don't hold much water. If you'd like to run any ideas by me, I will be happy to consider and critique them. Thanks.

    By Blogger Big-S Skeptic, at Apr 28, 2010, 5:55:00 AM  

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