Sunday, August 21, 2011

My latest thoughts on faith

V: Do you believe in G-d?

G: Yes I do but it is a belief that I have had to work on for most of my life. It’s a struggle. A frustrating one at times but certainly a necessary initiative.

V: In what way?

G: I am by nature a scientific rationalist and consequently seek proof for my beliefs and avoid as much as possible any leaps of faith. However I am also aware that science is bound to the material world and consequently has a limited realm through which it can access knowledge. I have dedicated much of my life to science but I am consciously aware of its constraints. Having said this though, I will exhaust all scientific explanations before deferring to an extra-material analysis in grasping the phenomenology of events. I owe this to myself. In a sense I am a skeptic, not a logical positivist, but a realist armed with Occam’s Razor but cognizant at the same time of the extra-material universe. My belief is similar to that of the scholar Martin Gardiner. I could be described as a soft theist but even this label falls short of what I believe I am. In short I ‘feel’ G-d’s presence – as a magnificent spark - but I am loathe to let it override my rationalism unless I have an excellent reason to do so.

V: What is your opinion on Judaism?

G: I consider myself Jewish in the cultural and historical sense and celebrate many of its traditions. I see Judaism, as Mordechai Kaplan did, in being indicative of a civilization. Religion is one facet of the civilization, but does not comprise its entirety.
I cannot take seriously the revealed nature argument for the religion (including of course the revelation at Sinai) as it does not stand up to rational scrutiny. However the richness of the biblical tradition, the emphasis on ethics and justice, as epitomized in the Tanakh and the Talmud, provide valuable insight into the human condition.

V: Have you always held this position?

G: No. I haven’t. Indeed I have fluctuated at times from strong theism to agnostic theism/deism. I have rejected non-interventionist deism as it does not seem rational that a creator would completely divorce himself from its creation. I am not an atheist as I have yet to see a convincing argument as to why something exists as opposed to nothing (despite the trials and tribulations of Victor Stenger). This something-nothing standoff is the kink in natural philosophy which of course underpins the argument of rational atheism.

V: What do you think G-d is?

G: This is a tough one which no human is truly qualified to answer. However we are all able to speculate. The definition of G-d that makes sense to me is that of the Kabbalistic Ein Sof which I have written at length on this board. In a way it is similar to the Uppanishad definition of the Infinite Soul - Brahman. I am actually very much taken by the Hindu understanding of our individual soul, - the Athman - being in its essence a derivative of the Brahman. I believe we can approach the Ein Sof/Brahman by performing meaningful acts of goodness which I take as the Spark of G-d referred to earlier.

V: You are critical of organized religion. Why is this?

G: Organized religion is generally driven by supernatural revelation which by its very nature counteracts science in emphasizing the concept of ‘miracles’. I don’t believe G-d acts this way. I believe that we all have within ourselves an ability to understand G-d and nobody is privileged in this regard. Strict revelation argues for the privileged position. Furthermore I believe that belief in G-d is a private initiative and should not be dominated by ritual which is very much a feature of organized religion.

V: Yet you still believe G-d can if he wants to perform miracles.

G: Yes I do but he doesn’t have to. There is enough reason to believe in G-d without him having to resort to this device. Also its very clear that he has structured the physicality to make miracles unnecessary.

V: How does one leverage the spark?

G: Meaningful acts are tantamount to acts of kindness – an extension of one’s sense of self to include the other. Marin Buber wrote about this in the I and Thou. These bring one closer to G-d and allow us to appreciate his magnificence. Life also has to be lived with purpose. In doing so we discover the G-d Spark.

V: Is prayer important?

G: Yes it is. However it must come from the heart. I prefer to produce my own prayer words that are of a personal nature. I realize others prefer pre-written templates or established prayer. It is their choice as long as the lines of communication are maintained with G-d.

V: Do you believe in Angels?

G: No I don’t these are manifestations of the ancient mythology (largely Babylonian).
G-d is all powerful and does not need a messenger system.

V: What other aspects are important with your belief?

G: Questioning G-d. Reflecting on the G-d presence and always using critical thought and reason where possible to evaluate a situation.

V: But is not Belief or Faith inconsistent with reason?

G: All systems of reason and logic are built on the a priori. Everyone takes a leap of faith at some point otherwise logic systems would not get off the ground. Godel showed this with his incompleteness theorem in Mathematics for example. I have yet to see a convincing proof that shows how our logical framework breaks down as a result of the G-d assumption that I have outlined.

V: But if it did break down. Would you be forced to reconsider the G-d assumption?

G: Definitely. It would be intellectually dishonest not to. However I very much doubt that it would.

The One Hundred Greatest Sportsmen of All-Time

Here is my latest attempt at this list:

1. Jim Thorpe
2. Pele
3. Michael Jordan
4. Muhammad Ali
5. Michael Phelps
6. Lance Armstrong
7. Jack Nicklaus
8. Paarvo Nurmi
9. Joe Louis
10. Jesse Owens
11. Roger Federer
12. Donald Bradman
13. Babe Ruth
14. Michael Schumacher
15. Tiger Woods
16. Jim Brown
17. Diego Maradonna
18. Mark Spitz
19. Usain Bolt
20. Magic Johnson
21. Sachin Tendulker
22. Carl Lewis
23. Sugar Ray Leonard
24. Wilt Chaimberlain
25. Lionel Messi
26. Rocky Marciano
27. Pete Sampras
28. Hank Aaron
29. Johan Cruyff
30. Jahangir Khan
31. Jean Claude Killy
32. Bjorn Borg
33. Alfredo di Stefano
34. Joe Montana
35. Steve Redgrave
36. Rafael Nadal
37. Tom Watson
38. Matt Biondi
39. Ronaldo
40. Garfield Sobers
41. Gary Player
42. Kobie Bryant
43. Jerry Rice
44. Ferenc Puskas
45. Jimmy Connors
46. Julio Cesar Chavez
47. Miguel Indurain
48. Walter Johnson
49. Willie Mays
50. Barry Sanders
51. Bobby Jones
52. Franz Beckenbauer
53. Warren Spahn
54. Eddy Choong
55. Lester Piggott
56. Muttiah Muralitharan
57. Aryton Senna
58. Eddie Merckx
59. Bill Shoemaker
60. Ed Moses
61. Jansher Khan
62. Alain Prost
63. Ferenc Puskas
64. Viv Richards
65. Bill Tilden
66. Arnold Palmer
67. Eusebio
68. Emil Zatopek
69. Johnny Weismuller
70. Al Oerter
71. Bernard Hinault
72. Shane Warne
73. Nikki Lauda
74. Jackie Robinson
75. Said Aouita
76. Joe DiMaggio
77. Ivan Lendl
78. Geoff Hunt
79. Hicham El Guerrouj
80. George Best
81. Ted Williams
82. Henry Rono
83. Nolan Ryan
84. Nick Faldo
85. Henry Armstrong
86. Pete Rose
87. Haile Gebrselaissie
88. Jan Zelezny
89. Ian Thorpe
90. Viktor Barna
91. Satchel Paige
92. Gerd Muller
93. Jacques Anquetil
94. Sandy Koufax
95. Michael Johnson
96. Eddie Arcaro
97. Sebastian Coe
98. Larry Bird
99. Lasse Viren
100. Sergei Bubka