Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Moses on High

And now for the latest in craziness:

'...High on Mount Sinai, Moses was on psychedelic drugs when he heard God deliver the Ten Commandments, an Israeli researcher claimed in a study published this week.

Such mind-altering substances formed an integral part of the religious rites of Israelites in biblical times, Benny Shanon, a professor of cognitive psychology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem wrote in the Time and Mind journal of philosophy.

"As far Moses on Mount Sinai is concerned, it was either a supernatural cosmic event, which I don't believe, or a legend, which I don't believe either, or finally, and this is very probable, an event that joined Moses and the people of Israel under the effect of narcotics," Shanon told Israeli public radio on Tuesday.

Moses was probably also on drugs when he saw the "burning bush," suggested Shanon, who said he himself has dabbled with such substances.

"The Bible says people see sounds, and that is a classic phenomenon," he said citing the example of religious ceremonies in the Amazon in which drugs are used that induce people to "see music."

He mentioned his own experience when he used ayahuasca, a powerful psychotropic plant, during a religious ceremony in Brazil's Amazon forest in 1991. "I experienced visions that had spiritual-religious connotations," Shanon said.

He said the psychedelic effects of ayahuasca were comparable to those produced by concoctions based on bark of the acacia tree, that is frequently mentioned in the Bible.'

This represents a problem I have with a lot of journalism covering 'scientific studies.' To start with, the 'study' isn't linked to, so I have no idea where Mr. Shanon is coming from. As a result, it sounds like idle cocktail party chatter, but being reported as the result of a 'researcher's study.'

So while articles like this make for fun coffee room humor, they actually bother me. If you're going to claim some pedantic reasons for unexplained historical phenomena (such as the appearance of the ten commandments on a hill in the Sinai, or a star in the sky over Bethlehem,) you'd best actually provide some valid evidence behind your theory. Billions of people have believed in divine reasons for these events; to pull a theory with no backing out of your ass (they were all stoned) to account for them goes beyond the point of disrespect.

The parts of the Hebrew Bible that cover the events of Moses were written in a period between 1000 BC and 700 BC, but we have no manuscript copies that date from anywhere near that far back. So these events are lost to time, both from a literary standpoint as well as an archaeological one. Anyone who comes up with definitive 'rational' explanations for such events is actually more of a moron than someone who believes in them being the result of divine intervention; a belief in divine intervention requires both faith, and a belief that faith trumps 'rationality,' so it isn't moronic to believe in the divinity of such events when you believe in the supremacy of faith.

However a need to come up with 'rational' explanations requires a belief in the supremacy of rationality over faith; but to believe that you can rationally come up with good explanations for events without evidence is in itself irrational. Someone who is irrational and who values the supremacy of rationality is therefore a complete idiot.