In his article Jews, Christians,
and Civil Society (February), David Novak categorically
states that the religious beliefs of an individual Jew have
no effect on whether or not that individual is indeed a
Professor Novak writes: Even nonreligious Jews, even atheistic Jews, are part
of the Jewish people because to be a Jew is to be a member of a community
elected by God . . . . It is God who makes a Jew a Jew. It is not a human
choice . . . . Thus those who repudiate their obligation to keep the Torah”that
is Judaism”may have left Judaism in practice but they are still part of Judaism
by their very existence . . . . Election begins at birth; it thus precedes any
choice on the part of the Jew . . . . It is only a modern voluntaristic view
. . . that supposes that being a Jew . . . is an individual option that is initiated
or terminated by human will.This argument appears to put Prof. Novak at odds
with essentially all of Orthodox Judaism relative to Messianic Jews. According
to his argument, the acceptance of Jesus as the Messiah (an act of human will)
by individual Jews does not terminate their Judaism. Every Orthodox Jewish writer
I have read denies that Messianic Jews are Jews. Although Messianic Jews claim
to still be Jews, Orthodox Jews categorically reject this, saying that their
acceptance of Jesus as the Messiah makes them non“Jews.
Have I missed something, or is Prof. Novaks thinking relatively unique in
the Jewish community?
Forrest H. Scott
David Novak replies:
Mr. Scott has read my article with great care, for which I thank him. Nevertheless,
he misunderstands the stance of Orthodox Judaism regarding Jews who convert
to any other religion, including Christianity. (And since the second century,
Christianity has been another religion for all orthodox Jews.) By orthodox
Judaism, I mean the Judaism of those Jews, whether or not they are formally
affiliated with Orthodox Judaism as a particular denomination (mostly in North
America), which affirms that the Torah is the revealed word of God and whose
normative interpretation is found in the rulings of the rabbis of the Talmud
as determined by the classical rabbinic codes.
Although there were some rabbinic opinions after the closing of the text of
the Talmud that suggested that a Jew who converts to another religion does remove
himself or herself from the Jewish people altogether, since the eleventh century
all rabbinic decisors have followed the opinion of the great French authority
Rashi of Troyes, who ruled that the talmudic dictum, even when she sins Israel
is still Israel (Sanhedrin 44a), applies not only to the Jewish people as a
whole (contrary to Christian supersessionism), but also to every individual
That is the case even when an individual Jew commits one of the worst sins
possible: apostasy. That is why even today no formal rite of reconversion is
required, or even allowed, in the case of an apostate Jew returning to the traditional
Jewish community of belief and practice. Such a person has never really left
the community existentially. (That persons status in the world“to“come, though,
might well be different.) As I pointed out in my article, such Jews have gone
AWOL, but they may not be court“martialed.
Not only are Jewish apostates still part of the Jewish people, they are also
still part of Judaism (i.e., the Torah and Jewish tradition) inasmuch as their
apostasy does not alleviate them of their obligation to observe all the commandments,
especially the commandment to repent of their sins. Jewish apostates are not,
of course, acting in accordance with normative Judaism when they, say, practice
Christianity. But they are still part of the Jewish people. This is no different
in principle from saying that a Jew who violates the Sabbath is not practicing
Judaism, but this violation of the Torah and its tradition does not thereby
remove one from the Jewish people and from the obligation of all Jews to keep
the Sabbath. The specific practical difference is that even most orthodox Jewish
communities would not deny certain Jewish privileges to a Sabbath violator,
such as the privilege of being buried in a Jewish cemetery, privileges they
would deny to an apostate.
On the other hand, I agree with those rabbinic decisors who acknowledge Christianity
to be a legitimate service of the One True God for gentiles . This is
no different than the recognition of the validity of Jewish service of this
same God by Vatican Council II, something that could not be permitted to baptized
Christians. In other words, even though Jews happily accept Christians (and
any other gentiles) who sincerely choose to convert to Judaism and become part
of the Jewish people, there is no explicit obligation, either theological or
moral, for them to do so.
I suspect that Mr. Scott may have been misled by a certain hyperbole often
used by orthodox Jews when speaking against Jews who have become Christians,
especially those Jewish Christians who think they can practice both Christianity
and Judaism in tandem. Such hyperbole can be explained, even if not justified,
by painful Jewish experiences of Christian proselytizing efforts that have,
and in some cases still do, target Jews, telling them that Christianity is completed
Judaism. Moreover, Mr. Scott may have also been misled by recent statements
of some Orthodox rabbis in North America saying that Reform, Conservative, and
Reconstructionist Jews are not practicing Judaism. While I agree with the criticism
of the essentially antinomian stand of these three Jewish denominations, not
only are most of their members Jews by the traditional definition of birth to
a Jewish mother, they can hardly be said to be practicing another religion,
as are Jewish Christians. One can only say that their interpretation of the
Torah and its tradition is both incoherent and inadequate to the data these
non“orthodox Jews appropriate. (They would probably say much the same about
the more orthodox appropriation of the Jewish tradition.) In both these cases,
some modern Jewish spokespersons have not sufficiently heeded the dicta of the
ancient rabbis, who warned their students and successors, Be deliberate in
judgment, and Be careful with your words lest one derive falsehood from them.
I suppose I should appreciate much of Stephen M. Barrs largely favorable review
of my book The
Quantum Brain (November 2001). But, in truth, Id
have preferred a scathing denunciation, were it of what
I actually wrote. The argument he lavishly praises as both
ingenious yet also totally fallacious”indeed, the very
book he characterizes as both audacious and wrong, implausible,
or unpersuasive”is not a book I would be willing to write,
Professor Barr complains that nowhere in [the] book is a single word of argumentation
to be found for or against the proposition that man is a machine. My responses
are these: 1) Using the arguments of science, that man can be shown not to
be a machine is the entire book. 2) Nowhere in Prof. Barrs review is to
be found a single fact (nor arrangement of facts) to refute anything I actually
wrote, merely flat assertion of praise or condemnation. 3) Prof. Barr puts his
argument against the proposition that man is a machine in the form of a question:
Why not simply start with the evident fact of free will? Start? That finishes
the argument, too, most ineffectively.
Prof. Barr further writes: As we have seen, Satinover arrive[s] at the . .
. conclusion that man is a machine. What? We have seen no such thing
because I never wrote any such thing; indeed, I took up the entire text arguing
the opposite. Prof. Barr attributes the argument to me by quoting and bracketing
and eliding my quotes of others I argue against . For readers who might
be interested, let me summarize what The Quantum Brain actually says;
they may then judge for themselves. Id rather my actual arguments turn out
wrong than imagined ones attributed to me turn out right.
First, I lay out in detail the scientific arguments that allow the vast majority
of scientists to conclude that, in the words of Jacques Monod, the father of
modern molecular biology, man is a machine. As with Greshams law (good money
and bad cannot circulate together”the latter invariably displaces the former),
these bad arguments have trickled down to displace the earlier ones that said
man is, in fact, not a machine. But however bad, the machine argument is extremely
clever”far more clever than its detractors usually take account of or appreciate.
Prof. Barr complains that in Satinovers view atoms are definitely free,
but it remains to be seen whether we are. But I was quoting Henri Poincaré
and Frederick Belinzano, and the point I was making is that most physicists
and mathematicians find it a great deal easier to imagine atoms as truly free
than people. I did not say that I do.
Second, I pointed out that it is worthless these days merely to assert, as
does Prof. Barr, that free will is self“evident. More exactly, it does no good
to attack scientific reductionism”from whose material successes its enemies
have benefited as much as its allies”with weapons that convince precisely no
one save those to whom the anti“reductionist position is a priori self“evident.
So I make the man“is“machine argument as forcefully as possible. I daresay that
I make it a good deal better than do the vast majority of its defenders ,
so as to defeat it at its strengths, not merely at its weaknesses. (Thats why
I had no trouble gaining endorsements from outstanding and accomplished scientists.)
But what really galls me is that Prof. Barr does much more mind reading than
reviewing: [Satinover] believes that he has found . . . ; Satinover believes
he has succeeded . . . ; He is convinced . . . ; He finds this . . . ; He
does not want . . . ; He wants . . . ; Satinover feels he has to resort .
. .; The reason Satinover does not . . . ; he is not quite sure . . . ; he
is sure . . . ; He believes . . . ; he appears to doubt . . . ; Satinover
seems to appreciate . . . .
Allow me to indulge in a bit of the same nonsense. At the outset Prof. Barr
states: Although a psychoanalyst by profession, [Satinover] writes with an
impressive level of knowledge and sophistication about all these disciplines
[neuroscience, computer science and physics]. Okay, thanks. That I have been
a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst by profession is true; the rest may or may
not be. But Prof. Barr goes on: Satinover is a psychiatrist, so I presume that
he believes in the Unconscious. It is the existence of the Conscious he appears
to doubt. Prof. Barr doesnt have the foggiest notion of what I believe in.
But if he is determined to display clairvoyance, why doesnt he become a genuine
psychiatrist instead of practicing armchair psychoanalysis in the guise of a
book review? Believe me, becoming a professional in the field should swiftly
disabuse him of the need to capitalize any of its ever“metamorphosing
concepts, no matter how fashionable”and it will also teach him that mind reading
is at once impossible and ill“mannered.
And yes, whats good for the goose is good for the gander. After four years
of preparation, I am now a full“time graduate student in physics at Yale, pursuing
a Ph.D. and actually involved in the research I write about. Why Prof. Barr
would construct such a misrepresentation is wholly beyond me as a doctoral student
of physics, though it might not have been beyond me as a psychiatrist.
At the center of the book, just as materialism, reductionism, and mechanistic
analysis appear to have won, I offer an analogy with military science.
Nearly all the battles which are regarded as the masterpieces of the military
art . . . have been battles of maneuver in which very often the enemy has found
himself defeated by some novel expedient or device, some queer, swift, unexpected
thrust or stratagem . . . an element of legerdemain, an original and sinister
touch, which leaves the enemy puzzled as well as beaten . . . . The object .
. . is to find easier ways, other than sheer slaughter, of achieving the main
My variation of the argument goes as follows: let us examine mankind from a
distance, as wholly admixed with and indistinguishable from the thin veneer
of biological slime that coats the planet Earth. (Please, Prof. Barr, this is
a debating tactic. Dont henceforth quote me as believing that mankind is bioslime.)
We observers note that as a product of laboratory experiments in quantum mechanics”if
nothing else”this bioslime has irrefutably generated actions on a visible scale
that are wholly indeterminate. Nothing in the physical universe has caused them,
though they proceed to generate effects (themselves therefore being uncaused
causes, their effects being wholly unpredicated by any antecedent physical
events). The argument as to whether free will on an everyday scale can possibly
exist has been demonstrated”and thats exactly what scientists have long argued
is either utterly impossible or fundamentally beyond demonstration. Its been
sitting there right under our noses ever since quantum theory became quantum
Now, this argument Prof. Barr characterizes as very original, highly ingenious,
and totally fallacious. Conceding for the moment its originality and ingeniousness,
just what is it thats totally fallacious? According to Prof. Barr, it is
the conclusion that, since human brains concocted quantum theory and experiment,
therefore human brains are quantum amplifiers and operate according to quantum
principles. A brain may make use of telephones, Barr objects, without being
But I agree, of course. That human brains are themselves quantum devices does
not follow from the observation that human brains use quantum devices;
nor even from the fact that human brains alone are, in all the universe so far
as we know, the only large“scale physical systems that do so; nor even from
the further fact that human brains alone have created such devices. Nor did
I make such a claim based on mere cleverness. The entire second half of the
book, rather, is devoted to making that argument on the facts and evidence
and reasoning, as well as on meticulously documented research experiments .
But on the flaws or merits of this effort Barr is utterly silent.
Why did I place this little bit of ingeniousness where I did? Because, once
you understand (on rational grounds, not merely because it feels like it must
be so) that bioslime is in fact capable of freedom, and that this freedom is
quantum in nature, a critical battle has been won: for life, freedom is real.
All thats left to debate is at what scale of biological organization this freedom
arises, and how. The debate is not only intrinsically fascinating, both philosophically
and theologically. From the specifics of the how, I show (in detail utterly
disregarded by Prof. Barr) the technologies of our future that are now emerging,
for good and ill. Traditionalists argue fiercely as to whether Harry Potters
entirely imagined ability to teleport broomsticks is a sufficiently wholesome
fantasy for modern children to daydream about. Hogwarts, as everyone knows,
doesnt exist, and cant. So the children daydream about attending Hogwarts
and the adults debate their dreams.
Meanwhile, my colleagues and I, and others in increasing numbers, are, for
example, forcing dust“sized bits of matter to exist in two places at once, and
using such impossibilities to create computers that seem to exist simultaneously
in 2, 4, 6, 8, 16 . . . universes at once, each playing out a different expression
of the possibilities of free will.
I find myself wishing that Prof. Barr had deemed The Quantum Brain not
merely fallacious, but nutty. That, at least, would have captured the spirit
of whats actually happening these days, as corporations of nerds quietly set
about causing hardware to evolve solutions neither dreamed of nor comprehensible
by the humans who set the process going.
Stephen M. Barr replies:
Placing the tips of my fingers on Dr. Satinovers letter and closing my eyes,
I summon all my quantum clairvoyant powers. Yes, I now begin to sense something,
very faintly, in the vibrations of the ether. What is it? Dissatisfaction? Displeasure?
Perhaps annoyance? My fingertips begin to burn; I withdraw them hastily from
All right, as First Things readers will have begun to suspect, my mind“reading
powers are a fraud. They are not based upon some peculiarity of my brain, able
to exist in 2, 4, 8, or 16 universes at once. No, they are based upon a cheap
trick, and a very old one at that. The way I find out a persons beliefs, attitudes,
and opinions is by reading what he himself says about them.
In the interests of brevity I will give just one example of how I work this
trick. The fourth in Dr. Satinovers list of my clairvoyant utterances is the
phrase, he finds this. The whole sentence as it appeared in my review was,
And yet he finds this idea disquieting. I was saying that Dr. Satinover was
disquieted by the idea that man is a machine. Now it happens that on page 99
of his book, Dr. Satinover writes, In showing that he [i.e., man] is more particularly
a computing machine, science has taken an enormous and exciting step
forward . . . . But as exciting as such developments are to most scientists,
and to most people with a scientific bent, they are also disconcerting. Perhaps
I did take some liberty in using the word disquieting instead of disconcerting,
but if this is mindreading it is mindreading of a very low order.
The much more serious accusation made by Dr. Satinover is that I fundamentally
misrepresented his book. In particular, I am supposed to have attributed to
him the view that man is a machine when it was the whole purpose of his book
to attack that idea. This misrepresentation I am supposed to have achieved by
quoting and bracketing and eliding his quotes of others whom he is in reality
arguing against. Exhibit A for the case against me is this statement from my
review: As we have seen, Satinover arrive[s] at the . . . conclusion that
man is a machine. To which, Dr. Satinover replies, What? We have seen
no such thing because I never wrote any such thing. Well, let us see.
As exhibit A for the defense I enter this statement of Dr. Satinovers, to
be found on page 98 of his book, which I now quote without any brackets or elisions:
Looking back at the territory weve covered, we will therefore arrive at the
following conclusion: Man is a machine. Is Dr. Satinover here quoting others?
No, neither directly nor indirectly. He makes this statement in propria persona .
Did I take his statement out of context? No, for in my review I explained the
context. After quoting this statement of his, I immediately made the
comment that Dr. Satinover is disquieted by such an idea, and that he is not
satisfied with the conclusion that man is just a machine in part because
it seems to leave no room for human free will. I then went on to say, This
is where the second key idea of the book, quantum indeterminacy, comes into
play. Quantum theory, Satinover suggests, will rescue us from mere mechanism.
After explaining why many people say that quantum indeterminacy cannot rescue
us from mere mechanism or allow any scope for free will, I said, It is this
well“known argument that Satinover attempts to overcome in the second half of
his book. It seems to me, therefore, that very few readers of my review are
likely to miss the point that a main purpose of Dr. Satinovers book is to argue
for the possibility of human freedom and to argue against mere mechanism and
the notion that man is just a machine.
However, there is a point in all this that really is subtle and likely to cause
confusion. As I understand Dr. Satinovers book, his answer to the conclusion
that man is a machine is not simply to negate it, but to qualify it. It is not
simply to say that man is not a machine, but to suggest that man is a
very peculiar kind of machine, namely a quantum machine, and as such
able to act in ways that one does not think of as machinelike. In particular,
man can act non“deterministically, so that he is not a mere mechanistic machine,
to use a phrase that appears in the book. In fact, Dr. Satinover refers at one
point to possible future artificial quantum brains as machines that are not
Thus, it is not at all clear (at least to me) where Dr. Satinovers picture
of the human brain really leaves us with regard to the question whether man
is a machine. The dust jacket of The Quantum Brain says, Satinover also
makes two predictions: We will soon construct artificial devices as free and
aware as we are; and we will likewise soon begin a startling reevaluation of
just who and what we are, of our place in the universe, and, perhaps, even of
God. If machines can be artificially constructed that have superhuman intelligence
and freedom, as Dr. Satinover suggests in many passages of his book may be possible
and even likely, then where is this line between man and machine?
This brings me to another of my supposed misrepresentations. I attributed to
Dr. Satinover the idea that atoms are free, whereas (according to his letter)
he was only quoting Poincaré and Belinzano. However, the words I cited in my
review, which included the phrase the freedom that quantum systems alone appear
to possess, were not quotes from Poincaré, Belinzano, or anybody else.
In fact, Dr. Satinover makes quite a number of statements throughout his book
that appear to attribute freedom to matter. For instance, on page 174 he writes,
The only known source of perfect freedom of action resides in the quantum nature
of matter. The ideas of indeterminacy and freedom tend to be conflated
in many passages. What he means by freedom, and whether or how it should be
distinguished from mere indeterminacy, is left very murky.
Dr. Satinover would have preferred me”oh, there I go again!”to have found his
book nutty. I did not find it nutty. However, I do find his letter attacking
my review a bit obscure. Anyway, I can make little of it.
Thank you to Richard John Neuhaus for writing about his
encounter with the bioethicist Peter Singer at a university“sponsored
debate ( A Curious
Encounter With a Philosopher from Nowhere, Public Square ,
February). I noted with disgust that, as he always does,
Singer wrapped himself in his Jewish heritage as a defense
against his advocacy of infanticide being labeled Nazi“like.
In actuality, the comparison to his thinking and that which
led to the euthanasia Holocaust circa 1939“1945 is entirely
The first officially sanctioned infanticide in Germany occurred in 1939 after
the father of a disabled baby, Baby Knauer, wrote to Chancellor Hitler seeking
permission to have his son euthanized. Hitler, believing the time was ripe to
begin eradicating the defectives, sent his physician, Dr. Karl Brandt, to
inform Baby Knauers doctors that there would be no legal consequence for killing
the infant. This was done, so pleasing Hitler that he issued a secret directive
licensing doctors to kill disabled infants.
In The Nazi Doctors , Robert J. Lifton quotes a 1973 interview in which
the father of Baby Knauer recalled the reasons Brandt and Hitler agreed to the
killing of his son:
He [Brandt] explained to me that the Führer had personally
sent him, and that my sons case interested him very much. The Führer wanted
to explore the problem of people who had no future”whose [lives were] worthless.
From then on, we wouldnt have to suffer from this terrible misfortune, because
the Führer had granted us the mercy killing of our son. Later, we could have
other children, handsome and healthy, of whom the Reich could be proud.
Peter Singers philosophical rationale for infanticide is indistinguishable
from that stated by Brandt to Baby Knauers father. Writing in his book Practical
Ethics about the rightness of killing a hemophiliac infant, Singer states:
When the death of a disabled infant will lead to the birth
of another infant with better prospects for a happy life, the total amount of
happiness will be greater if the disabled infant is killed. The loss of a happy
life for the first infant is outweighed by the gain of a happier life for the
second [even if not yet born]. Therefore, if killing the hemophiliac infant
has no adverse effect on others, according to the total view, it would be right
to kill him.
What a difference fifty years makes: Brandt was hanged after the Nuremberg
Trials. Peter Singer holds a prestigious tenured chair in bio ethics at Princeton
Wesley J. Smith
Thank you for a superb February issue .
A number of years ago, while teaching at a university in Vermont, I was invited
to join a public affairs panel to discuss just war issues. I soon discovered
that I was the sole supporter of that notion, and I was getting much more than
I was giving. Indeed, the audience seemed hostile, not only to the concept of
just war, but also to me. An elderly man in the rear of the audience stood and
said something to the effect that he wanted to support my views on just war;
he added that he was a classical musician. I remember thinking to myself that
there was one person in the room who agreed with me”and that he was probably
a nut. I want to tell you, the man continued, what is the sweetest music
I have ever heard. I was still mentally cringing. Although I have heard wonderful
music thousands of times, the most beautiful was the sound of U.S. Army tanks.
You see, they were coming to [the death camp which then held him as a young
man], and that sound meant that I would be able to grow up. The audience and
I had the grace to sit in silent reflection for a few moments, and I felt rather
like Edward Everett must have at Gettysburg.
Those tanks resisted Nazi evil”and saved thousands, perhaps even hundreds of
thousands. Father Neuhaus resisted Peter Singers evil”and, by his continuing
example and eloquence, saves, we pray, thousands more. But there is the rub:
Jacques Maritain, in The Peasant of the Garonne , tells us that Teilhard
could not discern evil. Neither, we know, could Heidegger. We may, in fact,
have come finally to the point where we find the secular state peremptorily
saying, as did Miltons devil: Evil, be thou my good.
And so the admonition of Isaiah returns to us (5:20“21), and light is become
darkness and darkness, light. For if there is no evil, there is no need of debates
between Fr. Neuhaus and Professor Hauerwas, let alone with Prof. Singer. Indeed,
as Prof. Alschuler unapprovingly quotes Holmes as saying, moral judgments are
more or less arbitrary. There is no truth, so there are no lies. There is
no sacred, so there is no profane. There is, after all, no purpose, so the idea
of life unworthy of life is not an unspeakable obscenity. Ultimately, you
see, there is no ultimate. But a voice cries in the wilderness.
The root of modern totalitarianism, Pope John Paul II has written, is to
be found in the denial of the transcendent dignity of the human person who,
as the visible image of the invisible God, is therefore by his very nature the
subject of rights which no one may violate. When they tell you that you have
no soul, debate them; when they tell you that others have no purpose, deny them;
when they come to take you to the concentration camps, defeat them. And, in
doing those things, as we resist the truth“vandals (Fernandez“Armestos term)
and the terrorists and we ponder and pray (as we must) about Romans 3:8, I remember
my musician in Vermont, and I remember that I must do my best always to have
a clear conscience toward God and all people (Acts 24:16). And I think, to
have that clear conscience, we must resist Singer with words and terrorists
James H. Toner
Professor of International Relations and Military Ethics
U.S. Air War College
Maxwell AFB, Alabama