Sunday, November 06, 2005

My Views on the 13

1. Belief in the existence of a Creator and of providence

Well, I don't believe the Universe has existed eternally, nor do I think it likely that the whole complexity and highly ordered nature of our world was merely an accident. But on that same token, the idea that an eternal, intelligent superbeing wished it all into existence also strikes me as absurd.

What I can believe is that there is some creative force on which our world's existence depends on. That force may or may not have any sort of consciousness or intelligence or be a "person" in any sense, though I think it is more likely impersonal. Its "providence" can only be summed up as far as the qualities that the reasoned order of our universe supplied to life and living beings so prodigiously that they could survive and prosper through their own activities.

2. Belief in His unity

To term this force "His" is pushing it, but that's likely just metaphorical. Though I also have no problem in believing that there is only one fundamental creative/maintaining force on which the world depends.

3. Belief in His incorporeality

I also have no issue in understanding this force to be without material form.

4. Belief in His eternity

As far as the universe is inclusive to "all of time," since time itself is a product of our universe, this force would exist as long as the universe would - which would be "for all time." Essentially eternal since time is likely illusory anyway.

5. Belief that worship is due to Him alone

If there's anything that deserves worship it would be this force. Though I'm not thrilled with "worshiping" anything. I like to think more along the lines of feeling in awe and having deep respect for all that I see in the natural world. This is akin to the views of Einstein.

6. Belief that G-d communicates with man through prophecy

What is "prophecy" exactly? If it is understood in the sense that "prophecy" is man's connection with a new idea, where he might find a muse hiding in the regularity of everyday life, that I can understand. Since "God" is really the sum of all that is in existence, these new ideas and abilities to learn and to understand can only come from God. "Prophecy" is the point at which one can say, "Eureka!" or come to some deep emotional understanding where some connection is made through our mental powers which, along with all other things, from some creative force which underlies the whole. In this sense I can believe in prophecy.

7. Belief that Moses was the greatest of all the prophets

In following the Jewish tradition, Moses (assuming he existed, though even if he didn't and things were just attributed to him) was the one who set the basic foundations for what Judaism is and how it would be forevermore. He surely had great insights to produce such a solid basis from which Judaism has maintained itself for so many millennia and from which so many other people of the world through Christianity and Islam find meaning. In this sense, whether in history or in legend, Moses was the greatest prophet.

8. Belief in the revelation of the Torah to Moses at Sinai

What does it mean to be a revelation? Ultimately, all things come from this creative force so how can the Torah not be? Does this mean it is divine in origin? Not really. But we must hold strong meaning for it anyway because we have given it meaning through so many years of tradition and history that now the Torah is (and has been) an integral part of Judaism and what it means to be a Jew.

Do I think a personal, intelligent superbeing gave Moses the Torah word for word? No. But I do think Moses (or whoever wrote it and later attributed to Moses) hit on some great ideas and in this sense we ought to hold it in high regard. Especially since the Torah has such deep meaning in Judaism and to the Jewish understanding of identity that it cannot really be separated from what it is to be a Jew.

9. Belief in the unchangeable nature of the revealed Law

Even the Mishnah and Talmud don't really hold by this as they create so many new ideas and sometimes controvert the basic meaning of the scriptural text. What is a prozbul exactly? And how come an "eye for an eye" isn't taken literally? We can thank our forward-thinking Jewish ancestors for that. I think Halachah is of vital importance to Jewish identity and Judaism's longevity, but that it is of divine origin or forever unchangeable, that I do not agree with.

The basic foundations of the Law, however, respect for human life, compassion for your fellow human beings, maintaining the environment, etc. These I do see as incontrovertible and fundamental. The technical laws themselves can and should change as the social situations change (for example how women are viewed and treated in Orthodoxy today) but the fundamental _spirit_ of the laws must be maintained.

10. Belief that G-d is omniscient

Since I don't believe that "God" is even conscious or capable of "knowing" anything, it makes it incredibly difficult to imagine this apersonal force being omniscient, i.e. all knowing. Though, again, if all things are inclusive within "God" then the sum of all that is known must be what God knows. Thus God knows all that is known - all knowing.

11. Belief in divine reward & retribution in this world and in the hereafter

Perhaps in the sense of strict rationality, one can find that generally you will live a happier and healthier life if you are a good person, are friendly and cooperative with others, etc. People who are mean and uncooperative will often live poor lonely lives. There is some balance here. If you are a rotten person, people will generally not want to be your friend. Also, if you break the law, perhaps you'll get away with it, but many other times you will get caught. The world is not perfect and there are countless examples of injustice, but there is also some justice to be found. I believe it is humanity's responsibility to bring as much justice as can be brought into the world.

In the sense that humanity is derived from the creative force and concepts like justice and right and wrong are also from this source, reward and punishment become possible in human experience. Were the universe mindlessly random, these concepts would have no meaning. These things do exist, but I think only to the extent that human beings bring them into existence.

In the "afterlife," I can only say that justice is done on the individual through how he is remembered by the people that knew him and what kind of reputation he held. Do you wish to be remembered as an asshole or a great contributor to the betterment of humanity? That choice is up to you. I don't think, however, that really any part of us as a conscious mind survives the body in death. What survives us is our works, our name, and our reputation.

12. Belief in the coming of the Messiah

I believe that humanity can improve itself. That we can all be better people. That we can invent new technologies to make our quality of life better. That we can discover new philosophies and new ideas with which to give our lives more meaning. In this sense I believe that we, as a species of moral, intelligent consciousnesses, are capable of progress on all fronts and may one day reach a "Messianic" age where all of humanity lives in peace with one another and where each individual's life is free from fear, hunger, pain, and need.

I don't believe that one man will ride up on a donkey and then see to the conquest of the whole world which will lead to Israel's ascendency on the world stage. As Gersonides once said, "a peace that comes from fear and not from the heart is the opposite of peace." I do think that one day the world will find peace through mutual respect and brotherhood and not through fear of the sword.

13. Belief in the resurrection of the dead

This "ikkar" has always confused scholars. The afterlife, in Judaism, is never the central feature of any theological theory and really holds little place in general Jewish metaphysics. Although it was standard fare to believe in an afterlife, what that afterlife would be like was freely speculated on and to this day there is no "Orthodox" view on the afterlife. Why then did Maimonides focus on this and make it a _fundamental_ of the Jewish faith?

I don't think resurrection of the dead is going to happen. And although you may read possible science fiction considerations of such a human project to reanimate all the dead human consciousnesses in the future (e.g. 3001 The Final Odyssey), I just don't think it is very likely or even possible. I think we get one shot at life and there is no "reset" button. Let's make the best of what we've got.

10 comments:

Monkey P said...

Now you're gonna have to wait a while before I have time to read the three new ones...they are tooo long!! I'm jj.

Shtern_Zeyer said...

Too long my foot, this one is simply awesome.
Nevertheless I'll agree that it will take me long to respond because I'm reading and rereading this post (I'm also writing and rewriting my comment...)
Thanks for this post

Shtern_Zeyer said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Rabbi Seinfeld said...

Though I also have no problem in believing that there is only one fundamental creative/maintaining force on which the world depends.

It seems to me that what is meant by "unity" is that there is nothing else that exists besides this Infinite creative force. "Bayom ha-hu yiyeh H' echad u'shmo echad" - that can't mean that Hashem's essence is going to change; it must therefore mean that our perception is going to change. Right now we perceive duality - a finite world. The perception of unity - of Infiniteness - escapes us. And since we cannot see it nor even grasp it mentally, it is easy to shrug it off as unreal or metaphorical. Therfore, the Rambam comes to tell us, one of the essential foundational concepts to Judaism is that our perception of reality is ultimately false and we are working towards building a world where everyone has clear perception.

Speaking of which, regarding Moses's prophetic vision, the Talmud uses this metaphor: compared to other prophets, they were looking through foggy glass and Moses was looking through a clear glass. I'm reminded of the difference between the Hubble telescope and other telescopes that preceded it - astronomers said that ground-based telescopes were akin to birdwatching underwater, in contrast to the clarity of the Hubble. Moses had as full clarity of reality as a person could (and even his vision was not complete - see Exodus end of Ch. 33); in contrast, the greatest of the seers - Ezekiel, for instance - had a cloudy vision. Where does that leave those of us who are nowhere near the spiritual clarity of Ezekiel and his ilk? In my mind, at best we're looking at the shadows on the wall of Plato's cave, at worst we have our eyes closed altogether, and are trying to discuss what the world looks like! Talk about absurd!

(PS - I found your blog bcs this is s subject of great personal interest to me - I even wrote a book about it).

Kol tuv,
AS
www.rabbiseinfeld.blogspot.com

Anonymous said...

For a second i thought the blog named above was a joke.

Maybe he should call it nonotthatseinfeld.blogspot.com

Im wondering,
couldnt there be a concept that the torah is msinai, yet the copying of it over the generations introduced mistakes.
There was a churban, etc...
The nach says they found a torah etc....
And our mesorah had the definitive oral tradition but some were forgotten and what reemerged is that generations understanding of it. And then they argued. They were in the best postion to discuss it, so we respect them, and we innovate with heavy trepidation.
So we undersand science as what is science today. But dont have a need to attack the torah, since the torah is eternal. Meaning that what science understood 300 years ago was quite different. And im sure there were proofs based on that science that the torah was incorrect. Now there seems to be impressive proof that is totally different from 300 years ago.
Why do i need to reconcile it now.
Also,
scientist understand time based upon the big bang. They have no idea what came before the big bang, and how much time that is. So a atom or whatever, may have been around for eternity -1. So how can we really know that the world is 15b. yrs.
its 15b since big bang.
If so, maybe it was 1 day before the big bang. Or the big bang and everything since then was 1 day, and everything before the big bang was 15b years.
Can this maybe answer all the carbon dating issues?

Orthoprax said...

Rabbi Seinfeld,

The discoveries of science surely imply that the plain world we see is not the world as it really is. However, whether there is anything outside of the universe that we know about, that may either be possible, necessary, or nonsense - depending on who you ask.

Furthermore, whether this anything is even close to the idea of God that is presented by classical religions is entirely speculative.

Too many people seem way too sure about reality and higher metaphysics. It's all so speculative.

Anon,

"For a second i thought the blog named above was a joke."

Ha, yeah. It took me a second too.

"They were in the best postion to discuss it, so we respect them, and we innovate with heavy trepidation."

Perhaps, but even so, why should we be so scared? And why should we not trust our own observations and reason? Surely we can say that we know more about the world than they did, right?

"So we undersand science as what is science today. But dont have a need to attack the torah, since the torah is eternal."

One can understand the Torah very figuratively and fit it with science that way. That can work. But one can also take a more honest methodology and view the Torah respectfully but not really give it any credence as science or the actual word of the unerring God. It isn't the Torah which science battles, but fundamentalists that cannot see the evidence on the wall.

"They have no idea what came before the big bang, and how much time that is. So a atom or whatever, may have been around for eternity -1. So how can we really know that the world is 15b. yrs.
its 15b since big bang."

Well, actually, by what we know so far, time itself (whatever it is exactly) began when the universe itself began. It is part of our universe, not external to it. So counting time "from the big bang" is the same as counting time "from the beginning of time." There was no time before the universe existed.

Keep in mind, however, that that in no way implies there was nothing at all in existence before the big bang. But whatever it was, it wasn't part of our universe.

"Can this maybe answer all the carbon dating issues?"

Not really. Carbon dating itself is a very limited dating method useful only for once living materials from the past few thousand years. Radiometric dating in general though has forms which are useful for billions of years and has been used to date the earth and solar system. But even so, the age of the whole universe is not based on radiometric dating, but is based on models for universal expansion and time needed for stars to develop and mature, etc. Universal time is based on universal models.

If time has any meaning, the planet and universe in any real literal sense is much older than 5766 years.

Anonymous said...

can you please point to a website that shows that scientist have proved that time begins with the big bang, and they know for a fact that it cant possibly have started before the big bang.
If there is no proof, then could the torah version work, since all assumptions about time are false?
again, you refer to "time needed", all based on our understanding of time.
What if that understanding is incorrect?
And wha if, tomorrow scientist discover time didnt start with big bang. how would you feel then?

Orthoprax said...

Anon,

No one has proven that time began with the big bang, but if you look at it logically, what is time? Can time flow if there is no movement? How could you tell?

If there is nothing to change then time has no meaning. Thus time can only exist within the universe, with matter and energy, and after the big bang.

Furthermore, are you familiar with relativity? The relative pace of time _changes_ given an object's rate of acceleration or proximity to a gravity well. Time is an integral aspect of our universe and there is no reason to suppose that it exists external to it.

http://homepages.wmich.edu/~korista/hawking-time.html

"If there is no proof, then could the torah version work, since all assumptions about time are false?"

Even if the time issue was completely solved, there still remain dozens (hundreds) of other issues in which the literal meaning of the text contradicts basic science. The order of creation is one significant example.

"What if that understanding is incorrect?"

Then I would be wrong. But I can "what if" on all things forever. What if you're not real? What if I am an elephant? The best we can do is find a good understanding based on the best evidence available and work through that. There is no other rational course of action.

"And wha if, tomorrow scientist discover time didnt start with big bang. how would you feel then?"

I would feel like I was wrong and I'd be interested to find out more to correct my views of the universe. This is something you will never hear a fundamentalist say.

Rabbi Seinfeld said...

Orthoprax said: "The discoveries of science surely imply that the plain world we see is not the world as it really is. However, whether there is anything outside of the universe that we know about, that may either be possible, necessary, or nonsense - depending on who you ask."

I agree that there are many opinions out there, but that plurality of course just means that there are many mistaken people. Surely no one believes that it is possible for there to be an Infinite creator and for there not to be an Infinite creator. Either one view or the other is true, the other is false.

Indeed, in Jewish thought, the Creator's existence is axiomatic. But it is not a leap, neither of faith nor logic; on the contrary, it is possibly the most logical conclusion (following Ocaam's razor) AND rational conclusion from the evidence of existence. See Ch 2 of my book. I could summarize the thesis here but that risks misunderstanding, and this is one area of life where I believe that misunderstanding is worse than ignorance.

Orthoprax said...

Rabbi Seinfeld,

I'm willing to hear your thesis but I think it is quite a leap to suppose an infinite, non-corporeal, intelligent, superbeing is the creator of our universe.

The origin of our universe was a one time event and any analogues you can make with events within the universe must be flawed.