Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Permission to Misconceive

I actually wrote this awhile ago but I pulled it up for another reason. Fixed it up a little bit for this venue.


In "Permission to Believe" Rabbi Lawrence Keleman breaks it down into four basic arguments.

1. Arguing against the alternative: Atheism is irrational because it would necessarily imply that one knows all that exists. As long as you don't know everything, it is possible God exists.

2. Teleological: There must be a God because the Universe is way too complex for there not to be.

3. Moralistic: We all have morality, what can it be based on except for an almighty moral being who created us?

4. Historical: Jews have an amazing history and beat all the odds, thus God must exist because he must have helped them.

My problems against number one is that there is no reason to assume there is a God anymore than we should assume an invisible dragon is living on the Moon. Atheism is logical as long as you take in all the information obtained as of yet. It's true that we cannot rule out conclusively the existence of a transcendent superbeing, but that doesn't justify the belief that one does exist. Atheism is not necessarily saying that God definitely does not exist but that the individual is believing in accordance with the available evidence. We cannot speak about what we don't know. Maybe there really is an invisible dragon on the Moon.

Number two - Science has discovered more and more about nature and more and more has lost deification. We no longer assume the weather is controlled directly by supernatural beings, but that cascading competitive temperatures are the direct cause. The evidence for evolution is mountainous and now the realm which God touches directly is confined to what science has not yet been able to explain. It is a weak argument based on what we don't have information about. God of the gaps is a weak thesis indeed. Complexity in the universe is being explained more and more by science without positing God. When the French physicist Pierre Simon de Laplace explained his theory of the universe to Napoleon, Napoleon is said to have asked, "Where does God fit into your theory?" to which Laplace replied, "I have no need of that hypothesis."

Three - Morality is a curious thing, but I don't see why it necessitates a God. Fundamentally, morality is based on the Golden Rule. Something any society would understand as basic for civilized living. Indeed, any society which did not have a basic standard for living would be self-destructive. Why would people create anything if theft was acceptable? Who would feel safe walking around if they could be murdered freely? Societies encourage the formation of moralities for their collective well being.

Four - Jewish history is remarkable, true. But I don't think one needs a God to be involved to explain it. The Jewish ability to retain unity can be explained in terms of strong common faith, communal resistance to outside forces that try to force Jews apart (Jewish identity is strongest in the most antisemtitic places), strong extensive dictates on lifestyle (read: social controls from things like kashrut which prevent "intermingling") and "approved" reading material, etc. The restoration of a Jewish state is the reaction of a self-fulfilling prophecy. You can follow the origins of Zionism and history all the way to the culmination of the formation of the State of Israel. But nowhere in it do you need to posit divine intervention.

45 comments:

David said...

I don't know if R. Keleman would agree with me, but I think it's possible (and useful) to marshal these so-called proofs in support of theism, even while acknowledging their logical fallibility. I recently posted on a related issue. I think R. Walter Wurzburger says it really well in God is Proof Enough (I highly recommend it):

"Although the limitations of the human mind may prevent us from proving rationally the validity of our belief system, we nonethless must aspire to relate our theistic beliefs to the entire gamuit of our beliefs about the world. This is why the proofs... retain significance even for those who are persuaded... that they are not cogent. What we can learn from the various proofs is how to relate our theistic beliefs to our experiences of the world, be they the realm of nature, ethics or aesthetics."

The rest of the chapter goes through the various arguments individually.

Anonymous said...

How do you explain A. Flew's change of heart (which I read was based on arguments for design)? Age?

Orthoprax said...

David,

"I think it's possible (and useful) to marshal these so-called proofs in support of theism, even while acknowledging their logical fallibility."

You might be able to do so - and for those who already want to believe that's usually enough - but a common problem with all these arguments is that there is no positive evidence anywhere. There isn't we know this and that, so this is true and therefore God exists.

It's always like...well, we see all this wierd, amazing, surprising, unexpected, whatever stuff and the best explanation we have for it is God. But "God" is not an explanation, it's looking to magic to explain what we don't understand.

Is there any argument out there that operates basing itself on the positive evidence and not lack of evidence? That's a big sign towards the unrealisitic notion of supernaturalism.

Orthoprax said...

Anon,

"How do you explain A. Flew's change of heart (which I read was based on arguments for design)? Age?"

It's my job to explain his views? I don't even know the guy except from some bare reputation.

I suspect though that he truly was convinced that complexity in nature is incapable of being explained naturally.

Though if you see here: http://www.secweb.org/asset.asp?AssetID=369 it appears as if age and simply a reluctance to perform vigorous investigations is what led him to his non-non-belief.

I actually think that he's been waiting 70 years for a naturalistic explanation for the origins of life, saw that it was still a mystery and somewhat gave up the fight.

David said...

"a common problem with all these arguments is that there is no positive evidence anywhere. There isn't we know this and that, so this is true and therefore God exists."

You're confusing "positive evidence" with conclusively deductive reasoning. There is evidence, i.e. the complexity of the world. But you're right, it's not deductive. R. Wurzburger deals with the implications of these issues more fully.

I don't think that this is so different from any important life decision (who to marry, what career to pursue, how to balance your personal goals with your familial obligations, moral crisis, etc). Would you really be satisfied with a formal deductive argument about who you should marry? Would it be at all compelling? Of course, this doesn't mean you shouldn't think about it with all the logical rigor you can muster. But it's a very different kind of decision.

Orthoprax said...

David,

I don't need a deductive argument, a good solid inference would be enough for me. That's why I said "positive evidence" and not deductive arguments. We have evidence for something, but is it evidence for God? Not really. The things we know would be helpful accessories for a robust theory of God, but they don't prop it up by themselves.

"Would you really be satisfied with a formal deductive argument about who you should marry?"

Depends what kind.

"Of course, this doesn't mean you shouldn't think about it with all the logical rigor you can muster. But it's a very different kind of decision."

Seriously though, choosing a course of action is not the same as "choosing" a belief, since that's hardly even possible. You can choose what you believe the same way you decide what kind of ice cream you like. It's not a decision you are in control of.

David said...

The things we know would be helpful accessories for a robust theory of God, but they don't prop it up by themselves.

I agree with you, in part. I think that one of the reasons why traditional texts tend not to emphasize abstract thinking about God's existence is because it's not particularly useful. It seems, at least from Tanakh, that God is a being to be encountered by those searching for Him. "From there you will seek the Lord, your God, and you shall find Him, if you search after Him with all your heart and all your soul" (Deut. 4:29).

It's true that we can explain the complexity of nature without appealing to God. The same is true for moral intutitons, ontology, etc. But positing God's existence is helpful in understanding how these things relate to each other. Scientists are not interested in understanding the relationship between the origins of the universe and ethical dilemnas. But the Torah is. It asks very different kinds of questions, such as "What does bad things happening to good people have to do with the creation of the world" and it answers them by appealing to God. It's not deductive to be sure, and it's not even conclusive. But it's a very useful way of think about it. In terms of accounting for the entirety of existence, the Torah provides tremendous explaining power.

satyaman said...

>>>>>Atheism is not necessarily saying that God definitely does not exist but that the individual is believing in accordance with the available evidence.>>>>>

satyaman said...

>>>>>Atheism is not necessarily saying that God definitely does not exist but that the individual is believing in accordance with the available evidence.>>>>>

satyaman said...

>>>Atheism is not necessarily saying that God definitely does not exist but that the individual is believing in accordance with the available evidence>>>

I thought it was Atheism that says G,d definately does not exist and that it was Agnosticism that "is not necessarily saying that God definitely does not exist but that the individual is believing in accordance with the available evidence"

Doesn't Atheism posit that evidence against G,d is as iron clad as a syllogism
I am not sure if I have my definitions correct but if they are defined as I state above then only agnosticism could be logically valid as it is clear that evidence against G,d is not as iron clad as a syllogism. Also much of atheistic argument is based on the false premise that transcendent reality is equivalent to physical reality. By definition one can never apply the scientific method to a reality that transcends the laws that govern the physical world. This is not proof that G,d exists only that it is pointless to approach the issue in terms of evidence.

S said...

here's a great video that i saw.
http://www.hidabroot.org/en/Site/ProDetile.asp?id=852

Orthoprax said...

David,

"It seems, at least from Tanakh, that God is a being to be encountered by those searching for Him."

That's curious. Because it seems that it was my search for God which brought me farther from such belief. What do you make of that?

"But it's a very useful way of think about it. In terms of accounting for the entirety of existence, the Torah provides tremendous explaining power."

Is it also useful if it is wrong? Almost every religion on Earth has amazing "explaining power" but that has no bearing on the question of whether their explanations are in any way close to reality.

Orthoprax said...

Satyaman,

"I thought it was Atheism that says G,d definately does not exist and that it was Agnosticism that "is not necessarily saying that God definitely does not exist but that the individual is believing in accordance with the available evidence""

The term "atheist" simply and directly means "one without theism." Theism is the idea of a God which is directly involved in human affairs. "Agnostic" means simply and directly "one without knowledge." An agnostic can also be an atheist. An agnostic can also be a theist.

Some atheists may claim to not be agnostics i.e. they claim knowledge that God does not exist. But most are not. Most atheists are also agnostics who if presented with conclusive and convincing evidence of God's existence would gladly switch to the other side.

"This is not proof that G,d exists only that it is pointless to approach the issue in terms of evidence."

That's just a bunch of busy words which act to hide the actual issue at hand. Yes, we may never know if some transcendent being in an impenetrable separate dimension exists, so you can say (and I would agree) that gnosticism is impossible. We'll never _know_ for sure.

But the point of the issue is whether you as individual believe that such a being exists. If you do not then you are without belief in such a deity and you are an atheist.

Non-belief in the impossible to prove would seem to be the standard form, wouldn't it? Why is it logical for one to assume something exists for which no evidence and no understanding is possible?

I could say to you that an invisible, intangible dragon lives in your bathtub. Impossible to prove and impossible to disprove. But are you now going to take on the belief that such a dragon exists? Come on.

I don't try to prove God's non-existence. It's an impossible task filled with a million "mysterious ways" answers and "transcendent" possibilities. I only suggest to people to structure their beliefs of the world on a preponderance of the evidence. I mean, really, what else do we have to go by?

Orthoprax said...

S,

"here's a great video that i saw.
http://www.hidabroot.org/en/Site/ProDetile.asp?id=852"

Please don't post kiruv bullshit here. I watched through the video for about 5 minutes until it got to the tired old argument about how all the fish which have scales must also have fins. I suggest you do some research on Monopterus cuchia, an example of a fish with scales but no fins. Scandalous!

I also suggest you see:

http://wolfishmusings.blogspot.com/2005_06_01_wolfishmusings_archive.html

Scroll down to the post aptly titled "On More Bad Reasoning and Bad Proofs..."


Kiruv nonsense. That I _don't_ need.

David said...

Is it also useful if it is wrong? Almost every religion on Earth has amazing "explaining power" but that has no bearing on the question of whether their explanations are in any way close to reality.

Generally, a good theory is one that accounts for the relevant data. This true in any discipline. If you think that "every religion on earth has amazing 'explaining power'" then you should take them seriously. I happen not to think that's true for "every religion on earth". My encounters with Jewish tradition, though, have provided me with a compelling worldview.

Orthoprax said...

David,

The only way theistic (and many religious) worldviews come about to their amazing explanations is through positing a bunch of things we don't see and have no evidence for.

Ok, so God created the universe. Got that question solved. But what is God? Where did he come from? Oh, always existed..uh huh. It replaces one mystery with a dozen others.

It explains the evidence of this world through positing the existence of entire super-orders of existence for which there is zero evidence. What is a soul? Afterlife, eh? Sure.

Go ahead, ask me anything. I could easily make up a fictional super-order of the universe which answers so many existential and mysterious questions, but that doesn't actually give us any real answers.

"If you think that "every religion on earth has amazing 'explaining power'" then you should take them seriously."

Even if they are all different and mutually exclusive to one another? Makes sense.

"My encounters with Jewish tradition, though, have provided me with a compelling worldview."

Have you studied other religious world views? What makes the Jewish worldview (which one?) more convincing than say... Christianity's or Hinduism's or Scientology's?

David said...

"If you think that "every religion on earth has amazing 'explaining power'" then you should take them seriously."
Even if they are all different and mutually exclusive to one another? Makes sense.


I didn't say believe them all. I meant you should consider a theory that you come across depending on it's explaining power.

Go ahead, ask me anything. I could easily make up a fictional super-order of the universe which answers so many existential and mysterious questions.

Do you think your "fictional super-order" would be compelling to anybody? Would it really account for the entirely existence in a consistant and cogent manner? If it would, then you would have a theory. I doubt it, though. The Jewish tradition, compounded by centuries of brilliant scholarship and commentary, is not exactly a "fictional super-order". It's a serious attempt to explain the world and Man's role in it. Amazingly, the Halakhah provides insight into every little detail of daily life. If you think you can come up with some "fictional super-order" with the same explaining power, then go ahead. I'm interested to see what you come up with.

Orthoprax said...

David,

"I didn't say believe them all. I meant you should consider a theory that you come across depending on it's explaining power."

Listen, "explaining power" is a tool of limited utility. Some of the greatest scientific theories had amazing explaining power but have been left behind because they have been proven wrong. They may explain a lot of the facts in a nice little bundle but there are a few things where the real world simply contradicts the theory.

Geocentrism, a flat earth, the universal ether, Catastrophism, Phrenology, Lamarckian evolution, Humoralism, etc etc, they have all been left behind in the dust of scientific progress.

This may sound shocking, but much of what we know about the world contradicts the traditional Jewish world view (as well as many other religious world views). Through scientific exploration, through physics, through archeology, through paleontology - it very much appears that the Torah has lost it's historical basis.

Argue on that, if you wish, but in the face of such strong negative evidence, the concept of "explaining power" is very weak.

"Do you think your "fictional super-order" would be compelling to anybody?"

No, because I'm obviously making it up as I go along. Religion, on the other hand, has the authority of the ages and great personalities. But that doesn't mean those guys weren't being inventive either.

"If you think you can come up with some "fictional super-order" with the same explaining power, then go ahead. I'm interested to see what you come up with."

If you gave me a few hundred years and a bunch of invigorated intellectuals willing to spend their lives for the cause, I'm sure I could deliver. Just because religion is extensive and ubiquitous doesn't mean it has any validity.

Are you familiar with Star Wars? It's an amazing fictional world which has a number of "great explanations" for the universe as it exists. There are real people who will put hours and hours into contemplating and understanding the vagaries of the Force and how it relates to our world. Their Jedi world view also touches upon every aspect of life and gives meaning to everything. It is very well internally consistent and it makes these superfans happy.

It only has one problem: it's fiction!

satyaman said...

>>I only suggest to people to structure their beliefs of the world on a preponderance of the evidence. I mean, really, what else do we have to go by?>>>

I agree that this is the appropriate approach when investigating the veracity of religious doctrines and dogmas that make historical or scientific claims (the flood, etc). But again when it comes to the existence of G,d dismissing the scientific method is not intellectually dishonest or an attempt to evade a real answer. Intrinsically the whole topic of metaphysical reality does not belong in the realm of science at all. It belongs in the realm of philosophy or theology. As such you don’t look for physical quantifiable evidence of G,d’s existence –that is pointless and irrelevant. Part of the misunderstanding (if there is one) is related to a failure to define terms i.e. how do you define G,d? One of the elements of my definition is that G,d is noncorporeal. Given this definition it is impossible to look for evidence.

Is important to note that discussion of G,d or a transcendent reality need not take place in the context of organized religion. Often times many people can not separate the two issues (G,d on the one hand and religion on the other) because they so often go hand and hand and this interrelatedness evokes much emotional and intellectual baggage.

It would be logical from a philosophical perspective to posit the existence of a Creator when contemplating questions like What is man? How should one live his life? What should one value? What is one’s purpose?, etc. Having a philosophical discussion on dragons isn’t relevant to the deeper mysteries of our personal and collective experience; therefore one never considers posting their existence when discussing these questions.

I have no agenda here and I am not attempting to prove or advocate G,d’s existence or nonexistence.

satyaman said...

>>>Go ahead, ask me anything. I could easily make up a fictional super-order of the universe which answers so many existential and mysterious questions, but that doesn't actually give us any real answers.>>>>

What kind of real answers are you looking for?

David said...

Geocentrism, a flat earth, the universal ether, Catastrophism, Phrenology, Lamarckian evolution, Humoralism, etc etc, they have all been left behind in the dust of scientific progress.

Those theories have been left behind because of their inability to stand up to overwhelming empirical evidence. Thus, we conclude that they are false.

Yes, Star Wars as a world-view is fiction. But suppose for a moment that the world-view advanced in the films actually did explain just as much about the world as modern physics. Would you take notice then? In that situation, it wouldn't be fiction. It would be the most plausible theory about the world.

We accept or reject theories based on their ability to account for data. That's the best tool we have for determining facts about the world.

Orthoprax said...

Satyaman,

"Intrinsically the whole topic of metaphysical reality does not belong in the realm of science at all. It belongs in the realm of philosophy or theology."

Then answer this: what basis does transcendentalism have at all? Why should we even begin to posit such a thing? You can defend belief in the transcendent, but why start?

"One of the elements of my definition is that G,d is noncorporeal. Given this definition it is impossible to look for evidence."

Any evidence at all? Does that mean that there are no signs whatsoever of God's interaction with the universe or humanity? You've just pulled rug out from under the teleological and cosmological arguments. Was this intentional?

"Is important to note that discussion of G,d or a transcendent reality need not take place in the context of organized religion."

Ok, cool. I know this and I wasn't assuming that you were doing so.

"It would be logical from a philosophical perspective to posit the existence of a Creator when contemplating questions like What is man?"

Sure, most of philosophy is interesting speculation. That's what they do. To take it seriously, though, is another jump.



"What kind of real answers are you looking for?"

Answers with bases in reality. It sounds redundant only because it's so straightforward.

Orthoprax said...

David,

"Those theories have been left behind because of their inability to stand up to overwhelming empirical evidence. Thus, we conclude that they are false."

Yes...like Orthodox Judaism. That's my point.

"Yes, Star Wars as a world-view is fiction. But suppose for a moment that the world-view advanced in the films actually did explain just as much about the world as modern physics. Would you take notice then? In that situation, it wouldn't be fiction. It would be the most plausible theory about the world."

A) Even the most plausible theory can also be fiction as well.
B) As I've been trying to explain to you - anybody can come up with meta-explanations of the universe. But explanations without support are called speculations. Theories are those special creatures with evidence backing them up.

Wanna hear some speculation? Why did I stub my toe? Well...
...maybe God is punishing me for something I did.
...maybe my karma is catching up to me.
...maybe the devil is angry at me.
...maybe there are poltergeists in the house being sneaky and made me do it.

But why posit all that other junk and just come to the least assumptive explanation of "accidents happen." There is no "reasons" why people stub their toes.

"We accept or reject theories based on their ability to account for data. That's the best tool we have for determining facts about the world."

Nope, sorry, you're wrong. Facts tell us whether something is or is not. Facts are based on evidence. We should accept or reject proposed facts based on the evidence backing them.

Theories are those things which explain the facts. A useful theory is predictive and goes beyond just explaining the facts but can be tested and passes the tests. Just because something fits the data does not mean it is correct. And the "world view theory" found in Jewish Orthodoxy does not pass many tests.

David said...

Yes...like Orthodox Judaism. That's my point.

What direct empirical evidence do you have in mind?

Even the most plausible theory can also be fiction as well.

I agree. But if it's the most plausible theory, then it's the best we can do.

Facts tell us whether something is or is not. Facts are based on evidence. We should accept or reject proposed facts based on the evidence backing them.

Again, I agree. But I was talking about theories, not facts. According to webster.com, a theory is "the analysis of a set of facts in their relation to one another". In judging theories, you look for an explanation that best accounts for the available evidence. It's not definite; I never said it was and it should be carefully scrutinized. You're looking for absolute evidence and you won't find it, at least when it comes to God. As for the Jewish Orthodox worldview, you also won't find absolute evidence. But neither will you find absolute evidence against it. I find it compelling and believe it as a result of thinking about it: considering my intuitions, looking at the world around me, and thinking critically. That's the best I can do.

satyaman said...

Let me first say that I very much enjoy you blog . It is refreshing to read intellectually honest material from a good critical thinker. In the interest of time I am going to provide very brief and incomplete answers to only a few points below. Hopefully I will have time on Sunday or Monday to more fully address your points. Nonetheless it is important to note that a real and fair development of these kind of ideas (the metaphysical as opposed to specific doctrines, dogmas, facts, etc) is probably beyond the scope of a forum such as a blog and also requires all parties to the dialogue to be familiar with a similar body of material and ideas.. For me a good portion of the relevant material concerns neuroscience as well as principles in philosophy, especially Greek, Indian and Buddhist thought etc.

"Intrinsically the whole topic of metaphysical reality does not belong in the realm of science at all. It belongs in the realm of philosophy or theology."

>>>>Then answer this: what basis does transcendentalism have at all? Why should we even begin to posit such a thing? You can defend belief in the transcendent, but why start?>>>>

The question -why speculate on metaphysical reality?- is separate and unrelated to the issue of whether the scientific method is the appropriate method to discern what that metaphysical reality is. Both ideas need to be discussed separately even though they can sometimes cross paths.


"One of the elements of my definition is that G,d is noncorporeal. Given this definition it is impossible to look for evidence."

>>>>Any evidence at all? Does that mean that there are no signs whatsoever of God's interaction with the universe or humanity? >>>

There could be signs of G,d’s interaction with the universe and humanity but these signs are not quantifiable in a scientific sense and as such can never be more then opinion. To say other wise is either wishful thinking or dishonesty.

>>>You've just pulled rug out from under the teleological and cosmological arguments. Was this intentional?>>>

Yes. I find all 4 of these classic arguments are week and unconvincing. As a side note I find “Permission to believe” and Kelman’s other book to be not only week and unconvincing but also intellectually dishonest.


"What kind of real answers are you looking for?"
>>Answers with bases in reality. It sounds redundant only because it's so straightforward.>>>

That’s where neuroscience, especially the study of consciousness comes in but note this is not proof. It just provides something substantive to the discussion that has “some basis in reality”it is very important to note that the amount of material written about consciousness is huge and the complexity can not be captured by a few sentences in a blog.

Orthoprax said...

David,

"What direct empirical evidence do you have in mind?"

Oh, things dealing with when the books of the Bible were written, who wrote them, the "logic" in Talmud, what rabbis have claimed throughout history...all these things tend to make Judaism seem less divinely inspired than how it is reported.

"But I was talking about theories, not facts."

Maybe that's what you meant, but that's not what you said. Quote: "That's the best tool we have for determining facts about the world."

"You're looking for absolute evidence and you won't find it, at least when it comes to God."

Of course I'm looking for evidence, everyone should be if they care about the issue, but I don't know what "absolute evidence" is.

"As for the Jewish Orthodox worldview, you also won't find absolute evidence. But neither will you find absolute evidence against it."

Again, "absolute evidence"? There is much evidence against Orthodox Judaism. There is a wealth of information on the internet.

"I find it compelling and believe it as a result of thinking about it: considering my intuitions, looking at the world around me, and thinking critically. That's the best I can do."

So...you believe it is intuitive to believe the many fantastic stories throughout the Bible? A global flood, miracles upon miracles and millions exodusing from Egypt, an Ark that kills by sight alone, that Samson killed thousands with the jawbone of an ass, that Elijah flew to heaven, etc etc.

You have a very curious kind of intuition.

David said...

Of course I'm looking for evidence, everyone should be if they care about the issue, but I don't know what "absolute evidence" is.

I guess I should've said "conclusive" rather than "absolute".

you believe it is intuitive to believe the many fantastic stories throughout the Bible? A global flood, miracles upon miracles and millions exodusing from Egypt, an Ark that kills by sight alone, that Samson killed thousands with the jawbone of an ass, that Elijah flew to heaven, etc etc.

I didn't say any of those things. This isn't the space to discuss biblical hermeneutics in terms of which biblical episodes to read as literal historic events and so on. That said, if you begin with the assumption that miracles don't happen, then yes, miracles will seem hard to believe. If, on the other hand, you entertain the possibility of God interacting with the world, then you're in a better position to appreciate it.

Orthoprax said...

Satyaman,

"Let me first say that I very much enjoy you blog . It is refreshing to read intellectually honest material from a good critical thinker."

Ah, thanks. Unlike a lot of other things I read online, I really don't have an agenda to push here except that people think about things. Think about why they believe what they believe. I don't have a preference of atheism or theism, just what is true. I can live comfortably in either conception of the universe. But I really don't think theism has much going for it.

"For me a good portion of the relevant material concerns neuroscience as well as principles in philosophy, especially Greek, Indian and Buddhist thought etc."

I'm a quick study. Point me out what ideas you find important and I'll track 'em down. ;-)

"The question -why speculate on metaphysical reality?- is separate and unrelated to the issue of whether the scientific method is the appropriate method to discern what that metaphysical reality is. Both ideas need to be discussed separately even though they can sometimes cross paths."

No, the question to "why speculate?" is easy. It's fun. And if you're lucky, you might hit on something really profound.

My question goes beyond speculation, but comes to the point of taking speculation as fact.

"There could be signs of G,d’s interaction with the universe and humanity but these signs are not quantifiable in a scientific sense and as such can never be more then opinion. To say other wise is either wishful thinking or dishonesty."

So what signs do you mean? Can you give me some example of what it could be?

"That’s where neuroscience, especially the study of consciousness comes in but note this is not proof."

What specifically are you referring to? Arguing mind/body dualism to promote the conception of the non-matter mind, thus leaving the door open for further non-matter transcendent things and beings?

Orthoprax said...

David,

"I didn't say any of those things. This isn't the space to discuss biblical hermeneutics in terms of which biblical episodes to read as literal historic events and so on."

You were discussing Jewish Orthodoxy, that's pretty much the territory. Maybe you have a bare bones type of metaphysical Judaism
but is it truly Orthodox? What would a rabbi say?

"That said, if you begin with the assumption that miracles don't happen, then yes, miracles will seem hard to believe. If, on the other hand, you entertain the possibility of God interacting with the world, then you're in a better position to appreciate it."

So, if you believe then you will believe. If you are skeptical then you will be skeptical. Wowzers.

I see the world as it is today. I don't see water splitting into walls, I don't see chariots of fire in the sky, I don't see the sun stopping in its movement, I don't see giants or witches or angels anywhere (well, in movies I suppose). I don't see any miracles in life. Do you?

And if you don't see such obvious interventions today, why should we assume such magics went on years ago. Since it's so easy to make a fantastic claim as compared to such events actually happening, I am severely skeptical when such claims are made.

David said...

See my comments on my blog.

Orthoprax said...

David,

Ok..

"I'm looking at the world through halakhic lenses so the miraculous means something very different to me."

Is the splitting of the sea not a miracle? Or any of the other things I mentioned?

If you agree that they are miraculous then your claim of miraculous meaning something different to you is undermined. Maybe "miraculous" to you is the stuff I mentioned plus DNA, the orbit of the Earth and fireworks, but it is still inclusive of that first category.

"If you open yourself up to the possiblity of God in a sincere and diligent way, then you may recognize Him the next time you see the sunrise."

I know the feelings of awe when I see an amazing sight. But they are all the more awesome because they were formed through the blind forces of cosmological and biological evolution.

I have been religious and I used to infer God's activities everywhere. But that was before I had really thought about what I was seeing. I already believed and so I saw what I believed in.

""We must begin with refusing to let familiarity dull our sense of wonder." Of course, though, this only makes sense if you are looking for God. You won't find what you're not looking for."

Maybe this may surprise you, but whenever I'm walking down the street and I see a sparrow or a starling walking or eating or just being a bird, I stop for a moment and reflect on the truly awesome sight I am witnessing. Such a complex organic machine built up by blind forces! Seems impossible. But that's what the evidence leads me to believe. That's the best theory out there.

I do not have a dulled sense of wonder. What I have is a dulled sense of credulity.

"If you want a neat logical demonstration of why it is reasonable to believe in God before doing all of the heavy lifting that Halakhah requires, you won't get it."

I already do the "heavy lifting." I am mostly observant. And before I was really skeptical, I only began study in earnest to understand God and Judaism better. It's not as if I haven't looked, I'm a guy who has looked, has come back empty handed and still continues to look but with more realistic expectations.

David said...

I already do the "heavy lifting." I am mostly observant.

You have to decide, from the outset, to look for God. That's the heavy lifting. It doesn't mean jump blindly off the bridge of reason. It means muster all of your spiritual energy and cognitive faculties and go looking. If what you say is true, that you're "a guy who has looked... and still continues to look," then you have as a good a chance as anybody.

(Can I cut-and-paste your comment into my blog?)

Orthoprax said...

David,

"You have to decide, from the outset, to look for God."

I look for Truth. If true reality is God then alls well, if not then that's just way the cookie crumbles. I can't decide a conclusion before I start searching and remain intellectually honest.

"(Can I cut-and-paste your comment into my blog?)"

Sure. Go right ahead.

David said...

I can't decide a conclusion before I start searching and remain intellectually honest.

I didn't say decide on what to believe. I said decide to look.

Orthoprax said...

David,

I know what you said, but when one says to "look for God," that's like saying that I'm going to look for my keys. It assumes that the keys exist.

David said...

but when one says to "look for God," that's like saying that I'm going to look for my keys. It assumes that the keys exist.

Your analogy is imprecise. Researchers looking for a cure for cancer don't assume it exists as much as they hope it does. You don't have to assume God exists to make a sincere effort in order to look for Him.

Orthoprax said...

David,

The cure for cancer does not exist. It may exist one day but what researchers are doing is working to create a cure. They're not trying to "find" it, they're trying to make it.

If I'm "looking" for a way to get to the Moon, I'm not expecting to find a magic tunnel. I'm poetically saying how I'm thinking about how I'm going to create a way to get there.

Unless you're saying that "looking for God" is like creating God, then such a search assumes the object is findable.

What I could do is search for God like SETI is searching for aliens. I'll keep my eyes open and wait for the signs.

David said...

We're going off topic. I have to think about it more but I'm inclined to stand by what I said. Cures for diseases are discovered, not created. There must exist some combination of chemicals capable of destroying cancer cells without killing the host. If not, nobody could create it.

Anonymous said...

If you want to find truth you have to keep searching. you won't find it unless you want to and keep looking.

Orthoprax said...

David,

"We're going off topic."

I also think this is getting absurd. We're arguing about grammar now...

But yes, you're right. All inventions are partially discoveries too.

Orthoprax said...

Anon,

"If you want to find truth you have to keep searching. you won't find it unless you want to and keep looking."

That's very profound, but is it possible in your view of the world that the truth does not involve a deity? And if so - have you stopped looking? Do you believe that you have already found the truth?

avian30 said...

"You have to decide, from the outset, to look for fairies. That's the heavy lifting. It doesn't mean jump blindly off the bridge of reason. It means muster all of your spiritual energy and cognitive faculties and go looking. If what you say is true, that you're 'a guy who has looked... and still continues to look,' then you have as a good a chance as anybody."

This is not much of an argument for the existence of fairies, now is it?

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Anonymous said...

How would the folks that don't believe in the diviniy of the Torah explain the statement that all fish with scales must have fins?

And please don't say "what about the Monopterus cuchia" see the following link that responds to all of your "unbiased and scholarly" claims against Judaism and shows how they are a clever fabrication to deceive the general public:
http://www.thesanhedrin.org/en/d...daat/ daat2.html

Orthoprax said...

Anon,

"How would the folks that don't believe in the diviniy of the Torah explain the statement that all fish with scales must have fins?"

It's simply a good generalization. Kinda like all land animals with hair must have legs. Do you know of any exceptions? Fish need a mechanism for directing their locomotion and generally they use fins. And since the rabbis from the Talmud had never seen a finless fish, they probably figured it was a safe assumption.

But be that as it may, the rudimentary dorsal fin of Monopterus is unclear as whether it actually counts as a fin at all as far as Halacha is concerned - since it doesn't help in locomotion. And Rabbi Slifkin in "The Camel, etc." makes issue with sea snakes which have no fins at all.

Might the Talmud be right in this point after all? Could be, but it would require an asterisk, which is hardly a selling point for kiruv folks.

In any case, I'm not going to go out of my way to defend Daat Emet, since I think it does sometimes overstep, but it's really just generic, run of the mill scholarship which undermines the claims of Orthodoxy. It's not some great attempt at deception.


Also, just for the record, kangaroos chew their 'cud.'