The wacko rabbi piles on

March 22, 2012 • 4:18 am

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.”

20 thoughts on “The wacko rabbi piles on

  1. I may have missed a pertinent post or two about Lurie, but…

    I have read the blogs of theologians & philosophers & they can get annoyingly sniffy about intrusions into ‘their’ field by people they regard as mere amateurs [scientists & the like], so why does it matter that silly Lurie sells real estate? Isn’t it sufficient to show that his reasoning is poor & that he misrepresents the statements of others?

    1. On one hand, it doesn’t matter, we should focus purely on his arguments as you say. He has bad arguments, let’s just debunk them. I think Jerry has done quite a bit of debunking the arguments.

      On another hand, it is all in good fun. We have this jerk Rabbi talking trash including junk science and intolerant psychoanalysis of us atheists. Frankly this is depressing. It is horrible that anyone like this exists and yet many do exist and some of them have blogs. Without some humor like Sigmund’s picture, I think this situation would be intolerable. It’s just a laugh, all in good fun.

      On one final hand, perhaps most important, we basically have a scientifically-illiterate architect telling a bioligist how the universe works and who created things. Lurie doesn’t know what he is talking about. Biology is not his field of expertise and yet he is spouting off anti-science online. Jerry has every right to say “Alan, dude, you are an architect, not a biologist. I’m a biologist and what you are saying is wrong. You don’t know what you are talking about, stick to real estate.” And Jerry has ever right to call out Huff Po for given a real estate agent a Religion and Science blog.

      As for the philosophers and theologians getting sniffy, they usually do so in the way of saying “You atheists are so philosophically illiterate or spiritually immature that you can’t possibly understand what we are talking about.” and fail to try to explain themselves clearly. Which suggests that it is the philosophers and theologians who don’t know their stuff, as otherwise why not just explain it. It is also ad hominem, you can’t say “What you propose is fail because you are an ignorant person.” Jerry Coyne in his blogs and books has gone out of his way to explain biology to laymen, has taken a fair bit of time explaining to Lurie why he is wrong. Jerry never once said Lurie is wrong because he was an architect, rather he pointed out how badly Lurie got it wrong and mocked him for being an ignorant architect who blogged all this wrong stuff.

      Atheists shouldn’t use the ad hominem fallacy of “There is no god because theists are stupid.” or whatever. But when a theist says stupid stuff, we CAN call a spade a spade and criticize his ignorance.

  2. Sigmund’s picture is hilarious!

    Oh, goodness, you have no idea of the (very high) level of cognitive dissonance of Lurie. He once wrote a blog at Huff Po called “Anatomy of an Angry Atheist” where he pulled the same exact psychoanalysis crap with atheists, only to apologize for it with a follow up “Reframe the Conversation blog where he apologized and called it atypical. He fancies himself a nice, tolerance, civil liberal. Clearly psychoanalyzing atheists is quite typical for him! He also once wrote in “Can the Existence of God Ever Be Proven?” that God is not a hypothesis. And here he is recently claiming that atheists won’t even consider the God hypothesis. The guy is all over the place.

    I think there is a serious misconception about atheists and evolution that needs addressed: people think we atheist believe the universe was created randomly because we deny intelligent design. I think it should be obvious to ever atheist here that that’s just a false dichotomy. We don’t believe the universe is purely random but rather governed by non-purely-random natural processes. But for whatever reason a LOT of believers think that is precisely what atheists think. If that (the universe is random) was what atheists though, theism would be far more rational! But atheists don’t think that. We need to do a better job of explaining this. I think Dawkins explanation from The Blind Watchmaker video is the best explanation I’ve seen.

  3. The Rabbi should be careful about his use of “mature” science versue “immature” science in his arguements. On one hand, he states that viewing electrons as a little spinning ball is a childish view of science. Elsewhere, he compares biological “machines” that are capable of self-replication-with-variation to man-made vehicles with no reproduction capability. That is a rather immature view of evolution. Funny how that poor, worn-out analogy is used to bolster his beleif in fairy tales.

  4. This has probably been mentioned before in all the discussion, but I thought of the tactic used in the old Soviet Union against dissidents. Anyone who doubted the superiority of the soviet system was obviously mentally ill. Similarly, anyone who expresses doubt about the existence of a cosmic designer who is benevolent, omniscient, etc. needs to have his head examined, according to the good rabbi. Sorry, I’m not buying it.

  5. How can the good rabbi call us ridiculous? An atheist will consider the evidence for any god but we will not worship a god without evidence. We do not agree that the absolute proof for god is that people proclaim that they feel transcendent when they are in the grip of the god delusion.

  6. On the other hand, “rabbi” is just such a great word. I suspect I think this partly due to early exposure to Woody Allen films and partly due to The Underwater Rabbi Syndrome.

    This is in The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin (3rd TV series) where a comedy scriptwriter explains that The Underwater Rabbi Syndrome is the inability of comedy writers to find anything funny any more.

  7. In this post, Lurie points to a previous HuffPo bleargh of his for those wishing to know who / what “God” is and the evidence to support said claims. The relevant paragraph:

    So now we can look again at the question “Who created God?” The answer is “Nothing created God.” God is, by definition, uncreated, just as any hypothesis must ultimately conclude an uncaused and uncreated “something.” For some it was the original Consciousness that deliberately brought physicality in to being for a purpose, the Creator and most basic component of existence, the “power plant” that provides the energy of life itself to Whom we are radically connected. This I call God. For others, it was mute matter that, undirected and without having been created itself, suddenly burst out, and over time randomly gave way to universal constants and life.

    I am most impressed to see so much fail compressed into so few words.

    If his god (confusingly named, “God”) was uncreated, then it is (duh!) possible for things to not have a creator. Since he repeatedly elsewhere indicates that his god is the necessary creator of various things, his very definition invalidates the logic he was attempting to use.

    Further, unless one wishes to do away with Church-Turing, consciousness is a property of the cognition that happens in the brain. If Lurie wishes to dispose of Church-Turing, then he’s nothing more than a perpetual motion crank; if not, then this “God” of his has a brain somewhere — and, if a brain, why not a beard?

    Or, for that matter, an ass?

    Exodus 33:21 And the LORD said [unto Moses], Behold, there is a place by me, and thou shalt stand upon a rock:

    22 And it shall come to pass, while my glory passeth by, that I will put thee in a clift of the rock, and will cover thee with my hand while I pass by:

    23 And I will take away mine hand, and thou shalt see my back parts: but my face shall not be seen.



    1. “… the original Consciousness that deliberately brought physicality in to being for a purpose, the Creator and most basic component of existence, the “power plant” that provides the energy of life itself to Whom we are radically connected. This I call God.

      That’s an anthropomorphic God. An anthropomorphic God doesn’t have to have a beard: it only need have at least one attribute of the human mind. A creative intentional ‘consciousness’ qualifies.

      They so love to think we don’t agree with them because we don’t understand them. On the contrary. We understand them and that is WHY we disagree.

      1. I’m also left wondering: is there anybody who can truly be said to believe in a non-anthropomorphic god?

        Take even the Ground Round of All Boring. For it to even come close to being a coherent concept, about the best you can do is say it’s a synonym for Sagan’s Cosmos, or perhaps quantum relativity or some such. And you can certainly reasonably think that those things are real and feel awe and wonder as you contemplate them…but to also think that they’re somehow worthy of apotheosis without adding on a little something extra like Woo-Powered Consciousness? Really?

        Of course, once you get to any of the “omni-” properties, you’re now squarely not only into the realm of anthropomorphism, but regular and unabashed garden variety superhero worship. Jesus’s superpower is that he has everybody else’s superpowers plus every other superpower you can think of! And he has the superbrain to think of even more superpowers that you can’t even think of!


  8. Mr. Hebrew Pastor – Your arrogance and infallibility amazes me beyond words (almost). Are you able to question your most cherished and long held beliefs as true wise men do?

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