I’ve developed a much thicker skin over the 3.5 years I’ve been posting here, so it no longer bothers me when the faithful, or faithesits, go after me in print. And so I look on with equanimity as the Wacko Rabbi takes me on. Yes, Alan Lurie, real-estate manager and part-time rabbi, has taken umbrage at a two-part post I wrote about him (here and here). You’ll remember Lurie: he’s the guy who argued (at PuffHo, of course) that atheists need psychoanalysis for not believing in God “in the face of much blatant evidence.” The “evidence” was, to Lurie, the signs of a beneficent and ingenious creator that we see all around us. Shades of frozen waterfalls!
Apparently the good rabbi was stung by my critique, for in the hours when he wasn’t selling property he’s penned a PuffHo response, “‘Crazy wacko rabbi’ responds to biology professor.”
His response is pretty much of a mess, and I don’t want to waste precious electrons reiterating arguments I’ve made previously, for I stand by what I said. On issues of physics and fine-tuning, Lurie goes after me instead of Sean Carroll, whose critique of Lurie I simply inserted into my post. Carroll saw Lurie’s claims as not only wrong, but incoherent. Lurie further argues that he never proposed a God of the gaps, when in fact he did (read his original post). Check out this cognitive dissonance:
And we are still left with such clearly designed, and incredibly complex, mechanisms as DNA and the brain.
This is not a “God of the Gaps” explanation, any more than looking under the hood of a car and deducing a designer is “Engineer of the Gaps.” To postulate a random, undirected, meaningless, existence in the face of this unbelievable complexity and purpose of life is, in actuality, the much more irrational, and less logical, conclusion. This has been compared to proposing that a hurricane whipped through a junkyard and randomly assembled a jet plane.
If that’s not saying that things are too complex to have evolved, ergo Yahweh, I don’t know what is.
In his response, Lurie once again insists that the concept of an anthropomorphic god is childish:
Finally, again Coyne’s vision of a “bearded God” tells us of his literalistic view. I personally do not know a single believer (over the age of 5) who thinks of God in such childish terms. If that’s how Coyne thinks that all believers experience God — and that this is the ONLY way to conceive of God — then no wonder he cannot see that science and faith are partners. As his blog clearly demonstrates, though, this is his limitation, not religion’s or faith’s.
For the rabbi’s information, I never described the Abrahamic god as “bearded”—I referred to Freud as a misguided, “bearded God.” But that is beside the point. The point is that many believers see God as anthropomorphic, and not just stupid believers, either. They include “sophisticated” theologians like Alvin Plantinga, as well the many liberal believers who think that God has human qualities like benevolence and knowledge. Here, for example—and I’m indebted to reader Myron for finding it—is a quote from Plantinga on the nature of God. It comes from his “Religion and Science” entry in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:
“[T]heism is the belief that there is an all-powerful, all-knowing perfectly good immaterial person who has created the world, has created human beings ‘in his own image,’ and to whom we owe worship, obedience and allegiance. …God, according to theistic belief, is a person: a being who has knowledge, affection (likes and dislikes), and executive will, and who can act on his beliefs in order to achieve his ends.”
Tell me, Rabbi Lurie, do you consider Plantinga’s beliefs childish and immature? Remember that he’s a respected theologian who was once president of the American Philosophical Association. And he’s well over the age of five. I’ve love to see Lurie and Plantinga go mano a mano about whose belief is more “mature”!
In my first post I asked Lurie how he could be so sure about the nature of God given the lack of evidence for Him (i.e., I asked whether Lurie had “a pipeline to the divine?”). His response is just this:
First of all, this is logically inconsistent. If Coyne does not believe in the Divine, how can a pipeline exist? Second, there are in fact immature and mature levels of spirituality, just as there are for emotions and intellect. To conceive of God, the Creator and Sustainer of Everything, as only a physical being that is fully described in a human document and that exists completely outside ourselves is in fact immature — like a child thinking that electrons are little spinning balls. Those who have directly experienced a hint of the spiritual realm (which is all we can glimpse) across many traditions share remarkably similar understandings. I’ve seen this in numerous interfaith dialogues and by writers from around the world across thousands of years.
“Logically inconsistent”? I was asking Lurie how he is so certain about the nature of God, and how he knows that God isn’t anthropomorphic (after all, He made us in His image!). My query was bout evidence. Lurie’s assertion that I have no right to query because I’m an atheist is totally irrelevant.
And his response is the one the faithful always give: we just know how God is, because lots of people concur: “Those who have experienced a hint of the spiritual realm. . . share remarkably similar understandings.” Really? Try telling Muslims, devout Catholics, and evangelical Protestants that their God is “immature.” Is the God of the Bible not anthropomorphic? He’s jealous, angry, vindictive, sometimes loving, egomaniacal, and fond of people kissing his rump—all the emotions we think of as human. And I shouldn’t have to point out to Lurie that agreement among people is not itself evidence of truth, particularly when it’s a agreement among revelations.
Two more points. Lurie, who claims to know something about science, says this:
. . . yet when I suggest that someone who adamantly refuses to even consider the hypothesis of a Designer in the face of what certainly appears to be deliberate design is in need of psychological help, the same person is offended. It is cowardly to throw a punch and then whine when hit back. Plus, note Coyne’s blanket dismissal of psychoanalysis and Freud, ignoring the shelves of evidence that psychoanalysis works.
May I suggest to the good rabbi that scientists now reject the idea of a designer not because we deliberately ignore the possibility, but—shades of Laplace—because we no longer need that hypothesis. Scientists once did consider the hypothesis of God—He was supposed to be responsible for organic design, for instance, as well as for keeping the planets in orbit—but we’ve since found that natural processes are actually responsible for these things. Over time, scientists have found that considering the God Hypothesis doesn’t advance our understanding of nature one bit, no more so than considering the Leprechaun Hypothesis. So we don’t consider it any longer.
As for psychoanalysis, there’s tons of evidence that it doesn’t work (Freud’s famous cases, for instance, produced no cures), or at least doesn’t work any better than any other interaction in which one pays to talk to people about one’s problems. Other forms of therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), have been shown to have better results, and they last a much shorter time and cost a lot less. Psychoanalysis is based on a flimsy edifice of lies and unsubstantiated claims, and, as everyone knows, it’s beginning to fall apart. There are few analyists left, and Freud’s theories are much in disrepute.
But I digress. This is about science, and psychoanalysis isn’t science. (If the rabbi was really interested in curing atheists of our delusions, he’d recommend CBT.) It’s about whether the idea of God enhances our understanding of nature, and it doesn’t. It’s also about whether Lurie is the one anointed person who truly understands what God is like, and that’s just hubris and nonsense. There is no argument he can offer to show that his understanding of God is better than, say, William Lane Craig’s.
I needn’t address Lurie’s other points because his piece, at least to anyone with two neurons to rub together, is self-refuting. Besides, Lurie’s commenters are, as usual, taking him apart.
But reader Sigmund has provided a humorous PhotoShop take on the kerfuffle. Recall that Lurie sells real estate, and you might recognize the building:
“If you believe what I said, then I have an Atheist Temple I’d like to sell you.”