10 February 2009

Teachings from the Old Testament

If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them:
21:19 Then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place;
21:20 And they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard.
21:21 And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die: so shalt thou put evil away from among you; and all Israel shall hear, and fear.

This is what the Torah teaches. Now, both Jews and Christians (and, I think, Muslims, too) accept the Torah (or whatever they call it) as one of their religious texts. Stoning in Judaism has been abandoned. But stoning in Islam is still practiced, but only for adultery. The question that arises, if one thinks rationally, is:

Why do religious texts remain unaltered if their teachings are considered dangerous (stoning, hanging) or obsolete (eating certain foods)? Every Jew and Christian, despite the fact they do not (hopefully) still practice stoning, will tell you that the Torah (almost identical to the so-called Old Testament) shall remain unaltered. Why? How can they explain the numerous stupidities, brutalities, nonsense written in it?

Many will maintain that religion and science can be reconciled (and even certain scientists--see, e.g., John Lennox--will tell you that religion is compatible with science) . Wrong! In science, everything is put to test. A theory is tested with experiment, an experiment gives rise to a new theory and hypothesis. Logic is applied. Science never considers anything settled. It constantly rejuvenates itself. This is not the case with religion, as the example above shows: irrelevant, dangerous and obsolete texts will be held as authoritative forever. No questions asked.


  1. Hi Takis. As per my stoning in Judaism post, the way Judaism got around the stoning laws is effectively legislating them out of existence.

    The rebellious son (Deut 21) is a special case in Judaism, the Talmud devotes an entire chapter to discussing the laws of the rebellious son, restricting the scope of the law so that it's for all practical purposes impossible to execute anyone under the law. (Example: from memory to be eligible for the death penalty he must consume outside his father's property a certain quantity of meat and wine with money stolen from his father). It even goes beyond that: one of the rabbis says there never was a [person executed for being a] rebellious son, it was just a law given by God for the sake of Torah learning.

    So I guess the ways religions have dealt with such passages are:
    - delay moral development (for those who still execute people) or
    - obfuscate or restrict the law's application or
    - interpret the entire thing as a metaphor or as an intellectual exercise only

    [This comment cross-posted at your site and mine]

  2. Michael, thank you for your comment and explanatory remarks. I can certainly appreciate the fact that judaism (and christianity) has pushed these brutalities away by means of deflection, obfuscation etc. (In theory, at least, but not in practice: whereas a christian, like George Bush, will not conduct wars or order an execution in the name of Deuteronomy, he does so through his self-righteous ways of acting.)

    What you say only confirms my point: that religion cannot deal with a problem like science does. Religion accepts things at face value and, for hundreds/thousands of years, it has to strive to correct blatant falsities, immoralities, etc, contained in its sacred texts; not by deleting them, but by re-interpreting them, by diffusing their meaning. I don't think (and I think you don't either) this is acceptable or rational.

    [cross-posted as well :-)]

  3. I do agree that rationalising brutality away is only rational given the assumption that your scripture IS truth (and since there's no reason for the assumption it's not rational).

    1 point I should have made in the post is that Islam rationalises it away too -- I linked to Wikipedia articles of Islamic countries where you can get stoned but this is a minority. Most countries with a majority Muslim population do NOT follow the sharia law (especially in terms of an Islamic death penalty) -- they have some sort of integration of a secular system with a religious one (different depending on the country). So of the Abrahamic faiths, 3 out of 3 employ rationalisation for moral progress.

    As for GWB, I'm reluctant to try psychoanalyse leaders. A speculation on my part is that whatever role Christianity played in his war decisions it was more likely Revelations and its description of end times rather than Deutoronomy or any latent desire to impose some sort of death penalty on Saddam & co for breaking Biblical law.



What measure theory is about

It's about counting, but when things get too large.
Put otherwise, it's about addition of positive numbers, but when these numbers are far too many.

The principle of dynamic programming

max_{x,y} [f(x) + g(x,y)] = max_x [f(x) + max_y g(x,y)]

The bottom line

Nuestras horas son minutos cuando esperamos saber y siglos cuando sabemos lo que se puede aprender.
(Our hours are minutes when we wait to learn and centuries when we know what is to be learnt.) --António Machado

Αγεωμέτρητος μηδείς εισίτω.
(Those who do not know geometry may not enter.) --Plato

Sapere Aude! Habe Muth, dich deines eigenen Verstandes zu bedienen!
(Dare to know! Have courage to use your own reason!) --Kant