Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Deus Ex Machina's Inferiority Complex

FKM and I have been having a little debate on the leftover remains of Godol Hador's megapost. We get into it down by comment number 680 or so. We've covered a number of issues, but there is one outstanding claim that needs to be openly considered and I think it warrants a post of its own. Please understand that we're cutting into the middle of an ongoing discussion here.

I had said: "Those 13 ikkarim, or ideas like them, may have been the stable bedrock of Judaism for 2000 (or so) years, but the needs for contemporary times and the challenge put to them by modernityseems to indicate that they are no longer the de facto paramount bedrock for Judaism or for Jewish life."

He responded: "Okay, here it comes.You seem to be assuming Kaplan's hierarchy of Modern Philosophy first, Modern Science second, (or the reverse, I forget) and whatever is left can stay as Judaism for third place.

Needless to say, Judaism in the past 2,000 years has already clashed with both before and has never folded so obsequeously as the reformers and conservatives (and lehavdil, Slifkin) have.

Once you posit the power of divine providence to periodically interfere with the rules of history (read "His" story) and nature, this inferiority complex has no basis."

In response to his reference to Kaplan and my "assumptions," I replied: "Not quite. I am not assuming anything here in terms of philosophical arguments. My contention is a sociological one. Judaism as it exists today for most people is not really a series of dogmas, but a way of life and a heritage. Modern realities meaning historical events and researched discoveries put traditional dogmas on the extreme defensive."

But what this post is really about is my response to his last contention regarding the plausibility of a miracle maker: "So, essentially, only if you posit that no form of evidence is reliable can Orthodoxy feel secure. Wonderful."

He claimed that such an answer was a straw man, but to explain further, the reason FKM doesn't feel threatened by science's or history scholarship's findings is because he posits a deux ex machina which can change the rules of reality at a whim, thus undermining any conclusions derived from the assumption of the constancy of such rules. Only by destroying those fields of evidence's reliability can the ontic claims of Orthodoxy be secure.

The basic assumptions of science and history are valid ones because in all of our experience we don't see the rules of reality changing. And indeed, with the assumption that the laws stay basically the same allows us to create theories about how the universe has worked and will work in the future and such abilities gives us the power to make predictions that are often quite accurate. To assume a freewheeling, rule-breaking anamoly is a ghost needed to orient incongruent beliefs with the data. Such an assumption has good reason to feel inferior indeed.


happywithhislot said...

wierd coming from me, but im not sure you should be debating someone who believes in mermaids.
Yes, mermaids.
See his blog, and the comments on that first post about finding "mysterious creatures" in indonesia.

Orthoprax said...


Eizehu chacham? Halomed mikol adam.

I don't necessarily agree with him, but he made some valid points and it helps my understand his mentality and where he's coming from.

happywithhislot said...

good point.