What is God?

 

Ludwik Kowalski (Ph.D. Nuclear Physics)

 

Professor Emeritus, Montclair State University

 

 

An interesting article, entitled "Religion without God," was published in The New York Times, on December 25, 2014. The author, T.M. Luhrmann, wrote " God-neutral faith is growing rapidly.  ..." More than 870 comments, posted on that day by readers, show that a lot of people are interested in God-related topics. The purpose of publishing this mini book is to share what I know and think about theology. it is a kind of monologue, addressing an unknown reader.

 

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Introducing Myself                                            page 1

Chapter 2: Theologians Versus Scientists                         page 2

Chapter 3: Definitions of God                                            page 3

Chapter 4: About Spinoza                                                  page 4

Chapter 5: Who Wrote God's Commandments?                page 5

Chapter 6: Kinds of Judaism                                                       page 6

Chapter 7: Literal versus Figurative                                  page 7

Chapter 8: More on Reconstructionist Judaism                 page 8

Chapter 9: More on Evolving Reform Judaism                            page 10

Chapter 10: "Bless you," she said                                              page 11

Chapter 11: Morality and Ethics                                         page 13

Chapter 12: Conflicts in Science                                        page 13

Chapter 13: On Being an American Jew                                     page 15

Chapter 14: Some Questions                                            page 16

References------>                                                              page 18

 

Chapter 1: Introducing Myself

I am an 83 year old, retired scientist, living with my wife Linda in New Jersey, USA. What motivates me to write this essay? What motivated me to write two recently published books, one dedicated to my mother [1] and another dedicated to my father [2]? What makes me weep when I think and talk about my parents, and about other victims of Stalinism? What makes me feel guilty when I do something "wrong," or makes me satisfied when I do something "right"?

According to a traditional theologian all these questions have one answer--God is responsible for everything that happens. An atheist, on the other hand, would say that human motivations and feelings must be explained scientifically, because God does not exist. The purpose of this essay is to speculate about this and related theological topics. Keep in mind that I am a scientist--not a theologian. A speculation is a debate with one's self. And, as one rabbi wrote [3], "God loves a good debate." Writing helps me to organize my thinking. This time I decided to write about God.

Chapter 2: Theologians Versus Scientists

My first theologically-oriented article was published in the journal American Atheist, in February 2012 [4]. The title was "Futile Confrontations between Theists and Atheists." Preoccupied with such dangerous confrontations, I described a theory called NOMA, formulated by an American scientist, S.J. Gould. Here is what I wrote:

"The first step toward mutual respect between theists and atheists should be the recognition that most people on earth are surrounded by material structure and by spiritual superstructure. People investigating these aspects of our environment are scientists and theologians. Methods of validation of claims made by theologians are very different from those used by scientists. God is not a material entity, and attempts to refute God's existence by performing scientific experiments are not appropriate. The same is true for attempts to refute scientific claims, such as the age of the earth, on the basis of disagreements with holy books.

Theology is like mathematics, not science. Mathematicians start with axioms (initially accepted truths) and use logical derivation to justify consecutive claims, called theorems. Once proven, a theorem cannot be rejected, unless a logical error is found in the derivation. Science is very different. Here, claims are justified, in the final analysis, by experimental observations, not by pure logic. A scientific claim becomes valid after it is confirmed in reproducible experiments. Furthermore, scientific validations are always tentative; scientists know that future experiments might result in rejection, or partial rejection, of what has already been accepted. Scientific truth is not claimed to be eternal." That is my interpretation of Gould's ideas.

As a university student in Poland from 1949 to 1957, I was an aggressive atheist and subsequently became a member of the communist party. I am now a theist, believing in God and attending a synagogue. Missing an earlier introduction to God, I am very different from other theists, and I describe my ideological evolution in my autobiography, which I've posted online [1]. Writing it was a moral obligation, to my parents, and to millions of other victims of Stalinism. The victims are dead but I was definitely with them when I was writing. What can be a better confirmation that many of us live in two different environments, material and spiritual?"

Chapter 3: Definitions of God

The famous aggressive atheist Richard Dawkins wrote [5] that a "...miracle-free religion would not be recognized by practicing theists. What is the use of God who does no miracles and answers no prayers?" This is a good question. But one can believe, as the philosopher Spinoza did, in God without believing in miracles. The idea of external God was formulated by humans. It evolved, and is still evolving, naturally. Referring to human history Dawkins names three kinds of religions: primitive, polytheistic and monotheistic. Why doesn't he recognize existence of the fourth category a -"miracle-free" religion? Because he probably thinks that an ideology without miracles is not a religion.  

In studying religion I am focusing mostly on Judaism, the religion of my ancestors, and on Christianity. I read books, visit various websites and participate in weekly Bible study meetings in our Reform synagogue.

About two months ago I discovered an interesting blog, called "Judaism and Science:"[6]. Here is my contribution on that blog: "A short description of Spinoza’s 'God-is-Nature' theology was placed on an atheistic forum in Russia. Responding to that description, one person wrote (in Russian): 'Your position–God is a spiritual entity invented by humans–is atheistic. …'

And here is my reply: 'Thank you for an interesting comment. I suspect that Judaism is not the only theology in which there are several interpretations of God, ranging from traditional to modern. Some Orthodox Jews probably also think that Reform and Conservative Jews are atheists. They believe that the Bible was written by God, rather than by ancient sages."

Most disagreements about God's existence result from the absence of a common definition of God. Suppose that X and Y have different definitions of God; X believes in his own God but not in the God of Y; and vice versa. Then they accuse each other of atheism. A feud about existence or nonexistence of God is impossible unless we agree on God's attributes. Debates between atheists and theists are usually frustrating because one side often refers to literal interpretations of the Biblical God while another side sticks to metaphorical and allegorical interpretations.

Chapter 4: About Spinoza

An interesting article about Spinoza appeared in The New York Times, written by a professor of philosophy, Steven Nadler, [7]; it generated many interesting online comments. A reader, RMC, wrote: "I know many Christians and Jews who practice their religious traditions although their own beliefs are secular. They make no secret of their sentiments. Spinoza was excommunicated during a time of religious orthodoxy and in that respect his experience is much like Galileo's. When the Catholic Church repudiated its treatment of Galileo, it was not merely saying that the earth revolves around the sun. It was saying that punishing the members of its congregation for thinking for themselves, including about church dogma, was parochial and destructive." 

Referring to theology, Albert Einstein wrote: "My views are near those of Spinoza: admiration for the beauty of and belief in the logical simplicity of the order which we can grasp humbly and only imperfectly. ..." In another reference [8], he wrote: "I cannot conceive of a personal God who would directly influence the actions of individuals, or would directly sit in judgment on creatures of his own creation. ... My religiosity consists in a humble admiration of the infinitely superior spirit that reveals itself in the little that we, with our weak and transitory understanding, can comprehend of reality. Morality is of the highest importance-but for us, not for God."[9]

Spinoza's excommunication, by his Jewish community in Amsterdam, took place at approximately the same time as Galileo was forbidden to conduct scientific research by Vatican theologians. Referring to persecution of Galileo, in 1979, Pope John Paul II said: "The collaboration between religion and modern science is to the advantage of both, without violating their respective autonomy in any way. Just as religion demands religious freedom, so science rightly claims freedom of research" [10]. As far as I know, there has been no such rehabilitation of Spinoza by Jewish authorities.

Like Spinoza, I believe that our world evolved progressively over an infinitely long time. It was not created by an external entity (traditional God), during a well-defined period, such as six days, or six billion years. Laws of Nature, which Spinoza identified with God, control evolution of the world. Do you agree that such a scientific position should be acceptable to a significant portion of today's scientists and theologians? If not, then why not?

Three months ago, I read an interesting article about Spinoza, in a theological Journal. The author wrote that Spinoza "denied almost every major tenet of traditional Jewish belief, including that God created and controls the world . Commenting on this statement, I wrote-- in a note rejected by the editor--"How would Spinoza have defended himself against such an accusation? He would probably have turned to his own definition of God. The statement 'God created the world,' he would say, does not have to be rejected if God is identified with Nature (with the entire world)." Such a philosophical approach--God is Nature--is often called pantheism. I do not know why the editor ignored my comment.

Chapter 5: Who Wrote God's Commandments?

Who is the author of God's commandments? Some answer God; others say that human beings wrote them. Are these two approaches mutually exclusive? Spinoza would probably say the two answers are not exclusive, because God and people are parts of nature. Does it mean that everything people do is actually done by God? This question is often discussed in the context of mass murders, such as those orchestrated by Hitler, Stalin and Mao. The topic of reality of evil has been addressed by many theologians, for example, in the article "How Could God Have Allowed the Holocaust?" written by Rabbi Alan Lurie [11]. Humans are responsible, say theologians (and social scientists), because "Mother Nature" provided them with free will.

Why was the authorship of commandments attributed to God, by humans who wrote them? Because authors of commandments, who can be called ancient social scientists, knew that morality based on the fear of the Biblical God would be more effective than morality imposed by human leaders. People do need an authority standing behind the "what-is-good-and-what-is-bad" rules. Are modern societies ready to replace the idea of traditional God, or gods, by the idea of God of Einstein and Spinoza?

Chapter 6: Kinds of Judaism

There are four major strains of Jewish affiliation in North America: (a) Orthodox, belief in an almighty God and strict adherence to revealed commandments, (b) Conservative, less strict in adherence, (c) Reform, and (d) Reconstructionism, less strict and less structured than Reform. I will describe the last two denominations in Chapter 8 and 9.

Along with Christianity and Islam, Judaism is generally considered a Mosaic religion. But Reconstructionists define Judaism not as a religion, but as an "evolving religious civilization." Their founder, Mordechai Kaplan, believed that "in light of advances in philosophy, science and history, it would be impossible to adhere to traditional theological claims." That is a strong indication that he was influenced by Spinoza’s definition of God.

Here is an interesting comment, found in the online magazine Tablet: "Maimonides, who lived in the Islamic world in 12th century C.E., is widely regarded as the most important thinker in Jewish history. Not only was he a master of Jewish law, writing a definitive Jewish legal code; he was also a master of the most up-to-date Aristotelian philosophy and theology. Guide for the Perplexed, written in Arabic, was his attempt to reconcile those two very different ways of thinking—Jewish and Greek, sacred and secular. In particular, Maimonides argued that much of the Bible had to be read metaphorically, not literally. The Guide was so radical that it was banned and burned by some Jewish communities, yet it remains to this day one of the greatest monuments of Jewish thought, and of the medieval mind.

I do have the pdf version of this book. But reading it is not easy. I would prefer to read a simplified version of it. Does such a version--written for high school and college students-- exist? If not then a knowledgeable educator should write it. Mishneh Torah, also written by Maimonides, is not a substitute for such a popular version of his Guide for the Perplexed. The two books are too different.

Chapter 7: Literal versus Figurative

Attempts to modify traditional Jewish theology are described by Rabbi Barry L. Schwartz [3]. Most of them are still being debated. Spinoza, excommunicated as a heretic by his contemporaries, wrote: "By God's direction I mean the fixed and unchanging order of Nature ... so it is the same thing whether we say that all things happen according to Nature's laws or that they are regulated by God's decree and direction."

Modern Reform Judaism is rooted in the nineteenth-century question-- "Is the Torah history or legend?" The German Rabbi Abraham Geiger asked: "How much longer can we continue this deceit ... presenting stories from the Bible as if they were actual historical happenings?" He was probably referring to the story of creation of the world in six days, the story of Jewish slaves in Egypt, etc. We respect such stories because they represent beliefs, and moral values, of our ancestors.

Addressing Geiger, another German rabbi, Samson Raphael Hirsch, asked, "Would you deny the Torah?" The answer was simple--"I do not deny the Torah. But ... all laws and all prayers that are unworthy or irrelevant should be eliminated [from our books]." Why do some people think that only a small fraction of contemporary theologians would be willing to follow such advice? Because biblical stories are intertwined with recommended rules of morality.  A personal God, according to most clergy, records all our transgressions, and punishes those who disobey; many Christians believe in hell and heaven, and many Jews believe in exclusion and inclusion in the "world to come."

How do Jews answer the "do you believe in God" question? Their honest answers would not be different from answers given by other people; some would say "yes," others would say "no," and the rest would say "I am an agnostic," or something equivalent. But what is God? Different theists answer this question differently. Those who belong to Reform and Conservative denominations often say "figuratively speaking" and "metaphorically speaking." But what do these phrases mean, in the context of theological debates?

Browsing the Internet, I found a good answer, given recently by a Christian physicist, Aron Wall [12]. He wrote: "when people say that they believe 'God is metaphor' ... that means that they don't really believe in God; they're actually atheists cloaking themselves in religious language. On the other hand, if there really is a Creator of infinite power and wisdom who designed the Universe, it makes sense that he would be beyond our capability to grasp. We can say what God is not, but we cannot understand him in any positive way except by making metaphors. Precisely because we Christians believe that God exists, we have to resort to metaphors in order to describe him. ... " This is not different from what Maimonides wrote in 12th century, and from what I have read in numerous books written by contemporary theologians.

According to one online reference, the words "metaphorical" and "figurative," are synonyms, while "figurative" is the opposite of "literal," which means ”actual," or "real." No wonder that some atheists say that "metaphorical" translates into "not real." According to Reform Judaism, many stories found in Torah do not describe actual historical events, as mentioned above. Can one say that these stories are only "metaphorically correct"? The common advice is "do not take them literally." The Torah was composed by people, thousands of years ago. It contains many legends, not only the story of the world's creation.

Chapter 8: More on Reconstructionist Judaism

Below is a interesting description of Reconstructionist Judaism, on their website: [13] 

"We are often challenged to explain our movement, to respond to the preconceived notions of those fellow Jews who are curious: what are we up to? What does it mean to be Reconstructionist, and how is it different from other approaches to Judaism?

Reconstructionist Judaism has its roots in the perceptions and writings of Rabbi Mordechai Kaplan. The foundations of Reconstructionism lie in the Conservative movement, but the driving concern of Reconstructionism is the creation and articulation of a Judaism that could be sustained, that could survive the 20th century, and would continue to grow as 'the evolving religious civilization of the Jewish people.' Not merely capturing the spirit of the times, Kaplan recognized the need to reconcile Judaism to modern science, the need to emphasize Jewish peoplehood, and the various ways in which Jewish tradition might be utilized or redirected in order to assure Jewish continuity.

As Reconstructionists, we at Keddem seek to study our tradition and incorporate the best of the past while not slavishly clinging to concepts and practices which make no sense to who we are and what we need to create a meaningful existence. 'The Jewish religion exists to serve the Jewish people, and not the Jewish people to serve the Jewish religion.'

We also acknowledge that Judaism has always changed with the people as they lived. Never a monolith, it is clear from the study of our history that many forms of Judaic practice existed concurrently, although geography and communications were limited. In our own time, the virtually limitless communications capability we enjoy should enable a renaissance of study and exchange of ideas.

What are some Reconstructionist ideas? Most radical, to some, is the Reconstructionist concept of God. Unlike many religions, Judaism has never demanded a rigid or proscribed faith in the Deity as a condition for belonging. Like most liberal Jews, Reconstructionists differ from the traditionalists who maintain that the Torah is the literal word of God, given to Moses on Sinai, rather believing it to be a document written by human beings. Beyond that, Reconstructionism acknowledges that as individuals we all differ somewhat in our concepts of God and our feelings about the relationship of God and the world. Neither agnostics nor atheists are excluded from our community.

... Reconstructionist thought also varies from that of other liberal movements around concepts of the 'Chosen People' and the personal relationship of God and the Jews. ... While we maintain our own uniqueness, we reject the idea that the validity of others' pathways to God and ethical behavior should be denied. Such denial leads to a form of elitism that is divisive and ultimately detracts from our humanity. The Reconstructionist liturgy reflects that rejection through appropriate alterations.

Reconstructionism is also sensitive to the idea that men and women are equal before God, and rejects patriarchal characterizations of God and prayer language that excludes both half the human population and God's own 'female' aspects. ...

Reconstructionists acknowledge diversity of thought, belief, and action. Some may struggle with different ethical dilemmas and others with the minutiae of the details of keeping kosher. But while we may differ in our individual practice of Judaism, we are always respectful of the paths of others. We do not condemn people for being more or less observant, and we discuss our ideas in an open forum."

Chapter 9: More on Evolving Reform Judaism

What is the essential difference between Reconstructivist and Reform theologies? My impression is that the first clearly accepts the "God is nature" definition while the second accepts it figuratively. A brief Internet description of the history of Reform Judaism [14] does not  mention Spinoza. But the following observation is relevant to what I wrote about this philosopher. "We hold that Judaism presents the highest concept of the God-idea as taught in our Holy Scriptures." It was reaffirmed in 1937 in the Columbus Platform: "The heart of Judaism and its chief contribution to religion is the doctrine of the One, living God, who rules the world through law and love." Spinoza's idea that Nature is "One God" is preserved when Law and Love are seen as two aspects of reality, material and spiritual.

And here is another important quote, from the same reference: " The 'Oral Law' is not seen as divinely given at Sinai, but rather as a reflection of Judaism's historic development and encounter with God in each succeeding generation. In this, Reform ...  [views] God working through human agents. Reform believes that each generation has produced capable and religiously inspired teachers (this means that Reform rejects the often expressed view that assigns greater holiness to those who lived in the past). Some individuals of our generation may equal or exceed those of the past. ..."

One current attempt to modify this theological doctrine [15] states: "The classical approach of Reform Judaism towards halakha [Jewish Law] was based on the views of Rabbi Samuel Holdheim (1806–1860), leader of Reform Judaism in Germany, and other reformers. Holdheim believed that Reform Judaism should be based solely upon monotheism and morality. Almost everything connected with Jewish ritual law and custom was of the ancient past, and thus no longer appropriate for Jews to follow in the modern era. This approach was the dominant form of Reform Judaism from its creation until the 1940s. Since the 1940s, the American Reform movement has continued to change, sometimes evolving in what appears to be a traditional direction.

Currently, some Reform rabbis promote following elements of halakha, and have developed the concept of Progressive Halakhah. ... Others actively discourage the adoption of more traditional practices or beliefs, because they believe that this is not in the ethos of the Reform movement. Both encouraging or discouraging practices stipulated by halakha are considered acceptable positions within Reform."

The Progressive Halakhah has recently been criticized [16]. According to this article, it "has an impact on how we behave in religious communities. The sociologist Rodney Stark has popularized the thesis that religious groups need a strict theology in order to make serious demands on their adherents and that these demands, in turn, make a religion more compelling. Since a liberal theology leads to an emphasis on the autonomy of the individual, personal choice is inevitably promoted at the expense of the authority of God. In the absence of a strong theological basis for making religious demands, the members lose interest and wander off. This is what has happened in American Reform Judaism and in other non-Orthodox movements as well. ... Many Reform synagogues have large numbers on the books but few active participants." This is not a unique Jewish phenomenon, as far as I know. One way to increase participation in collective activities in places of worship is to make these activities intellectually challenging, for example, by organizing theological debates, based on the content of slowly-and-clearly-read prayers.

Chapter 10: "Bless you," she said

Hearing a sneeze recently, a four-year responded, "bless you." Where did this come from? Her mother said she never told the child about God. This prompted me to do some Google searching. There were some very interesting suggestions. But they refer to situations in which parents believe in a traditional God, and in which they want to transfer that belief to their children. But suppose parents believe that God is the entire universe, as Spinoza did. In that case they are in a more difficult situation. Can they say, "God loves you" to a child? Yes, they can. But that would contradict their belief that God is not a human-like creature, with heart, brain, etc.

Reflections of this kind are useful; they make us aware of difficulties encountered when the definition of God changes suddenly, from traditional to Spinoza-like. Traditional ways of introducing children to God did not appear at once, they evolved slowly, together with languages, from one millennium to another.

Many theological contradictions would disappear if Spinoza's definition of God were universally accepted. But those who accept his definition will encounter many new difficulties. Slow transitions from one definition of God to another would not be easy; traditional almighty and all-knowing God, in whose image we are said to be created, is intuitively more acceptable than Spinoza's God. This became obvious to me recently, when I was reading the following prayer in our prayer book [17]: "We acknowledge with thanks that you are Adonai, our God and the God of our ancestors forever. You are the Rock of our lives, and the Shield of our salvation in every generation. Let us thank You and praise You--for our lives which are in Your hand, for our souls which are in Your care, for your miracles that we experience every day and for your wondrous deeds and favors at every time of day, morning and noon. O Good One, whose mercies never end, O Compassionate One whose kindness never fails, we forever put our hope in You."

We recite such prayers collectively, during weekly services in our Reform synagogue. It is clear that we are not addressing Spinoza's God; we are addressing the personal almighty God of our ancestors. It would be very difficult to modify this prayer, for those who believe in Spinoza's God. Can this be accomplished via some kind of metaphorical terminology? Most of us know that words "Shield" and "Rock", in this context," are used as metaphors. But terms: "Your hand," "our souls," "miracles,” "mercy," "Compassionate One,” and "kindness" suggest literal interpretations. How to avoid this kind of inconsistency? 

Suppose God is defined as two aspects of one entity. The first would be named "Mother Nature," the second would be named "Father Nature." In fact, the term "Mother Nature" is often used as a symbol of material reality (studied by scientists). The term "Father Nature," on the other hand," would be defined as a symbol of spiritual reality (studied by theologians). The term "symbol" would be emphasized; it would help us to avoid debatable adjectives, such as omnipotent and omniscient. All prayers would be directed to "Our Father our King." I suspect that Spinoza would object to the idea of two kinds of reality; his God-is-Nature definition probably referred to both material and spiritual aspects of human existence.

Here is another quotation that we often recite in our temple: "Pray as if everything depended on God. Act as if everything depended on you. Prayer invites God's Presence to suffuse our spirits, God's will to prevail in our lives." It seems to be a recognition of two realities, one to which we pray and another on which we act.

Chapter 11: Morality and Ethics

According to a recently found webpage [18], there are two kinds of rules related to "right" and "wrong" conduct. They are called Ethics and Morals. The first "is provided to an individual by an external source, e.g. their profession or religion." The second set of rules, by contrast, is internal, rather than external. "Morals refer to an individual's own principles regarding right and wrong." I was not aware of this linguistic distinction.

To illustrate the difference the author describes a defense attorney. "Her morals may tell her that murder is reprehensible and that murderers should be punished. But her ethics as a professional lawyer require her to defend the client to the best of her abilities, even when she knows that the client is guilty." Who decided that in a conflicting situation of that kind a lawyer should follow prevailing rules of ethics rather than rules of internal (subjective) morality? How was this decision justified?

Here is one answer, found on a different website: "Legal ethics must override personal morals for the greater good of upholding a justice system in which the accused are given a fair trial and the prosecution must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt." The same greater-good answer is probably given to soldiers, when they are ordered to annihilate enemies, to those who interrogate prisoners, to medical doctors, etc., etc. All rules of conduct are probably flexible.

P.S. Browsing the Internet I found many arbitrary descriptions of differences between the words morality and ethics. This is disappointing. For the time being I will accept the first description--morals are internal, ethics are external. It might be useful in the context the above mentioned situations.

Chapter 12: Conflicts in Science

Many people think that controversies about beliefs exist only among theologians, and among uneducated people. Controversies between highly qualified scientists, they think, are rapidly resolved by using scientific methodology of validations of claims. Here is a typical statement about scientific controversies [19], made by a well-known nuclear scientist, John Huizenga:

"... Scientists are real people and errors and mistakes do occur in science. These are usually detected either in early discussions of one's research with colleagues or in the peer review process. If mistakes escape notice prior to publication, the published work will come under close scrutiny by other scientists, especially if it disagrees with an established body of data. The greater the implication of a result, the sooner it will be reexamined. Scientific results, if valid, must be reproducible. When errors are discovered, acknowledged and corrected, the scientific process moves quickly back on track, usually without either notice or comment in the public press. 
The scientific process is self-corrective. This unique attribute sets science apart from most other activities. The scientific process may on some occasions move slowly, sometimes even along a circuitous path. The significant characteristic of the scientific method, however, is that in the end it can be relied upon to sort out the valid experimental results from background noise and error. ..."

This was written four years after the beginning of the so-called "Cold Fusion" (CF) controversy, in 1989. In that year a spectacular claim was made by two highly qualified electrochemists, Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons. They publicly announced the discovery of something that was widely believed to be impossible, a chemical process triggering a nuclear process [20]

I am a nuclear physicist and I followed this controversy with great interest. At first I was very excited by potential benefits of CF. Then I became a skeptic, like so many of my contemporaries. But two decades later I met nuclear scientists whose published experimental data seemed to confirm the initial claim. I even collaborated with some of them. I am not aware of any evidence of dishonesty or fraud, among these internationally recognized experts. Unfortunately, I was not able to confirm the reality of CF processes that we investigated. But I still think that something new and important has been discovered, but not yet understood.

Why was the CF controversy not "rapidly resolved," one way or another, in the last 25 years? In which way was Huizenga either right or wrong, in describing the "self-correcting" nature of the scientific process of discoveries? What can be learned from the still ongoing CF controversy? How to avoid similar controversies in the future? Such questions will hopefully be answered by sociologists. I made an oral presentation on that topic at a conference in Canada. After the conference the article [21] was submitted to a journal. I do not know why the editor did not accept it. Rejections of CF-related submissions are quite common; this kind of censorship interferes with the self-correctiveness of the scientific process

Chapter 13: On Being an American Jew

Google helped me to find a 2001 book, with the very attractive title: "Contemporary Debates in American Reform Judaism: Conflicting Visions." It is a collection of articles edited by Dana Evan Kaplan, Professor of Judaic and Religious Studies in the Department of History and the director of a program in Jewish Studies at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Contrary to my expectations, this book is mostly about sociology, not about theology. But the question--what does it mean to be a Jew--is worth addressing.

A similar question can be asked about Japanese-Americans, Greek-Americans, and other national groups. Members of these groups are held together by countries of origin of their ancestors, language, religions, songs, etc. They are all American citizens, or are in the process of becoming such citizens. Some of them have relatives in Japan, Greece, Italy, Poland, Russia, France, Israel, etc.

But situations are not simple. Some people have lost their national identity and are simply American, without a specific identifier. They may belong to social groups united by other factors, such as love of music, political affiliations, science, sexual orientations, etc. Some Korean-Americans are Christians, others may be Buddhists or atheists. Furthermore, what were once unifying factors may no longer apply today.

Similarities of factors unifying various national groups should not mask undeniable differences. What makes Jews unique, in terms of their national identity? This question was asked by Rabbi David B. Ruderman, a professor of Modern Jewish History (at the University of Pennsylvania). He is the author of "Jewish Intellectual History: 16th to 20th Century"--a sequence of audio lectures on CD. In the first lecture Ruderman says that "Jewish history, although interwoven with the history of world civilization, is unique in one respect: its landlessness.

This uncommon aspect begins in 586 B.C.E. with the Babylonian exile. In 70 C.E., it becomes more uncommon with the destruction of Jerusalem by Rome. ... Without a common government, language, or land, how do Jews have history? Is there really a communality between the United Monarchy of Israel in its biblical setting and the contemporary United Jewish Communities of the United States of America?"

Religion is certainly the most important unifier, for those who believe in the personal God of our ancestors. But is it also a unifier for those who define God metaphorically, and for those whose God is Nature?

This question has already been asked in a slightly different context. Can people behave morally without believing in God's punishments and rewards? I think they can. Addressing open-minded scientists and theologians, Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth in the United Kingdom, wrote: "Science fulfils three functions that I see as central to the Abrahamic faith. It diminishes human ignorance. It increases human power. And it exemplifies the fact that we are in God's image. God wants us to know and understand. He wants us to exercise responsible freedom. And he wants us to use the intellectual gifts he gave us. These are not reasons why scientists should become religious. They are reasons why religious people should respect scientists."

Chapter 14: Some questions

The primary cause of everything, according to most theologians, is God. But what is the cause of God's existence? The term "everything" refers not only to material reality but also to spiritual reality (God, angels, paradise, etc.) Several weeks ago, a rabbi asked me: "who created material reality?" This question, I responded, is as unanswerable as the question: "who created spiritual reality, infinitely long ago." The mathematical concept of infinity is very useful in dealing with this kind of scientific and theological questions.

The book I am reading [22] is loaded with topics of great importance. It also begins with a question about God's existence. The authors state that this question should be "confined to theologians and philosophers." I tend to disagree. Responding to this question they write that obeying God's commandments is more important than believing in God, because "Judaism emphasizes deed over creed." Why does "emphasizing deed" make the "does-God-exist" question less important? Creed is the most important part in every religion. Am I wrong in thinking that those who believe in heaven and paradise are more likely than other people to obey God's commandments?

And here is another questionable statement: "When Moses confronted God, he asked Him His name. 'I am what I am,' God replied. The Jew cannot know what God is, only that God is and what God wants." This seems to contain a contradiction. To believe that God spoke to Moses means to know that God is a human-like creature, who confronts, replies, thinks, speaks and wants.

And here is another question. Why should doubts about God's existence be an obstacle to being a good Jew? The answer is: "If we knew God existed and would punish us for evil acts, then good acts would be much less freely chosen. An element of unknowability about God is necessary so as to allow us to choose good. In order to choose good, we must feel free to do bad, and we would not feel this way if we had definite knowledge that God was present and recording our every action." Once again I disagree; I think that a person believing in a personal God is more likely than a nonbeliever to follow His moral principles. Atheistic morality is not based on God's commandments.

At the end of the section I see the following statement: "Atheism, then, is rationally no more (and apparently a good deal less) convincing an answer to the mysteries of human existence and the universe than belief in God." I think that the authors did not properly validate this claim. Scientists, both theists and atheists, have successfully studied many mysteries of the universe, and of human existence. Why is the role of science not even mentioned in the context of rational analysis of mysteries? Some theologians are scientists and some scientists are theologians, at least to some extent.

Ideological differences between believers and nonbelievers, like those between different kinds of believers, should not interfere with mutual tolerance and respect. People should not try to convert other people, claiming that their ideas are the best. How can this be accomplished? The only answer to this question, in my opinion, is to follow the so-called "Non Overlapping MAgisteria" approach, (NOMA), described in Chapter 2.

 

References

 

[1] Ludwik. Kowalski, "Diary of a Former Communist: Thoughts, Feelings, Reality‚" Wasteland Press, 2009   

         Also freely availableonline,  at:  http://csam.montclair.edu/~kowalski/life/intro.html )

[2] L. Kowalski, "Hell on Earth: Brutality and Violence under the Stalinist Regime,"  Wasteland Press, 2008

       Also freely available online, at: http://csam.montclair.edu/~kowalski/father2/introduction.html 

 

[3] Barry L. Schwartz, «Judaism's Great Debates: Timeless Controversies from Abraham to Herzl» The Jewish Publication Society, Philadelphia, 2012 (Part 3, Modern Judaism).

 

[4] Ludwik Kowalski "Futile Confrontations, American Atheist, Vol50, No.1, p28

     Also freely available online, at: http://pages.csam.montclair.edu/~kowalski/theo/atheist.html

 

[5] Richard Dawkins, «The God Delusion» Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 2006

 

[6] http://www.judaismandscience.com/   inserted later

 

[7] Steven Nadler, "Judging Spinoza," The New York Times, Opinion Pages, May 25 2014.

Also in http://opinionator blogs.nytimes.com/2014/05/25/judging-spinoza/

 

[8] Walter Isaacson, "Einstein: His Life and Universe." New York: Simon and Schuster, 2008.

Also in http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religious_views_of_Albert_Einstein

 

[9] Helen Dukas, "Albert Einstein, The Human Side." Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1981, p. 66.

 

[10] John Paul II, “Address to the Plenary Session (Commemoration of Albert Einstein) - 10 November 1979, in:

Papal Addresses to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences 1917-2002 and to the Pontifical Academy

of Social Sciences 1994-2002, Pontificiae Academiae Scientiarum Scripta Varia, vol. 100, Ex Aedibus Academicis

In Civitate Vaticana 2003, p. 241 [239-244]

 

[11] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rabbi-alan-lurie/

 

[12] http://www.wall.org/~aron/blog/metaphors-in-theology/

 

[13] http://www.keddem.org/foot/99-04.html

[14] [20] http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Judaism/reform_practices.html

 

[15] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reform_Judaism_(North_America)#Reform_Jewish_theology

 

[16] http://forward.com/articles/135476/the-theological-roots-of-reform-judaism-s-woes/

 

[17] Mishkan T'Filah: A Reform Siddur. Central Conference of American Rabbis, New York, 2007.

[18] http://www.diffen.com/difference/Ethics_vs_Morals ,

 

[19]  J. Huizenga, "Cold Fusion; The Scientific Fiasco of the Century,"

Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1993.

 

also quoted in: <  http://csam.montclair.edu/~kowalski/cf/05aber1.html  >

 

[20] L. Kowalski, webpage : <  http://csam.montclair.edu/~kowalski/cf/  >

 

[21] L. Kowalski, webpage: < http://csam.montclair.edu/~kowalski/cf/413montreal.html 

 

[22] Denis Prager and Joseph Telushkin, " The Nine Questions People Ask About Judaism," Simon&Schuster, 1975.

 

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Book profile (FOR KINDLE)

The author of this "What is God?" mini book is a retired nuclear scientist, not a theologian. He wries about conflicts between atheists and theists, different kinds of Judaism, interpretations of God's commandments, and about other Bible-related topics.

The author, educated in the USSR, Poland, France and The USA, used to be an atheist; now he is a practicing Jew, participating in weekly services, at an American Reform synagogue. His evolution from one extreme to another is described in his autobiography "Tyranny to Freedom," available at Amazon.