Monday, 19 March 2012

The Smart Folks Who DON'T Believe It

Chaim Sofek asked:

i would like to like at the other side why did only we (otd, undercovered) came to this conclusion that its not true are we more educated or smarter then everyone who stays jewish? 

In other words why were we not smart enough to defend Judaism to ourselves? Why can James Kugel believe in the DH buy still remain Orthodox while we can't? Are we smarter than him? Do we know something he doesn't know? 

I can't speak for other people but I can speak for myself. It is my belief that the reason this stuff got to me was not because of the content of it but rather because of the way I found out.

In other words a bunch of coincidental factors contributed to it:

1. No one ever told me that there was a DH. I'd heard of this vague thing called Bible Criticism but I didn't realize how developed it was. Similarly I found out that Karaites exist nowadays and reject the Talmud! Something else I had not been aware of. I began realizing that a lot of very normal people simply rejected things I had always taken for granted. 

In contrast, learning about evolution never phased me because I'd grown up with the proper defenses. I had been openly taught about evolution and it had been explained to me that God guided evolution, that 6 days of creation were not literal etc. In other words I'd incorporated the problem into my personal theology and didn't think of it as a problem because, in my mind, תשובתו בצדו - the answer was always there. I could only think of the problem of evolution and the answer to that problem as one thing, and to me the problem never stood by itself. 

If I'd been raised fully knowing what the DH said but at the same time been raised with the solution, even a lame solution, I doubt that it would have gotten to me at all. 

2. I was very scared of the consequences of learning these things and therefore instead of facing them head on  I tried to ignore them (like good Jews should!) and let them simmer for about 6 years in my head until they effectively eroded my faith. Had I been mature enough at the time to face these problems I might have built up some sort of intellectual defense before my faith was gone.

3. Once your faith is gone its gone. And therefore when I was older and learned new and ingenious defenses of Judaism it did not matter because the faith was gone. I could intellectually defend Judaism but I could not rebuild a childhood feeling which had slowly disappeared. 

This is my own theory about myself and I wrote about this a bit on the interview on Coin Laundry's blog: 

So if I had to sum it up I'd say a series of coincidences led me down the path I did, and if a few things had been different I might be learning in Kollel in Bnei Brak today. 

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

All the Smart Folks Believe It

E said...

One thing I will say about my statement that there is reason to believe is that ultimately there are a number of intelligent people out there that have read everything you have read, know everything you know and still believe in the Torah. I am aware that there aren't that many people that fit this description. I am also aware that not all of them are intellectually honest. But, I hope we can agree on this, these people do exist. (That doesn't mean they're right. There are lots of very clever and knowledgable atheists and I'm not an atheist.) I presume these people have a reason for believing the Torah is more than just an interesting ANE text. I think you'd do better asking people that fit the above description rather than me why they believe. Reasons for believing exist, whether you find them convincing or not.

Before people jump on him, I want to say that E brings up a very important point. I personally have met people who know everything I do and have read everything I read and YET still believe in Judaism. I'll go one step further I personally know people who believe in the Documentary Hypothesis, agree that you can't prove God exists and STILL believe in Judaism (and keep it devoutly!). This is an extremely interesting phenomenon and seeing this phenomenon has led me to the conclusion that believing in Judaism or not believing in Judaism has very little to do with intelligence. Some people out there would expect there to be a direct correlation between intelligence and NOT believing in Judaism but that's simply not true, as we know some of the greatest Rabbis were simply geniuses, and STILL believed this stuff. And we're not just talking about brainwashed uneducated Rabbis, even Rabbis who knew all the facts and read all the literature buy Judaism.

So what's it all about?

Firstly I have to quote Michael Shermer on this one. In his book Why People Believe Weird Things: He makes a bold but insightful statement: "Smart people believe weird things because they are skilled at defending beliefs they arrived at for non smart reasons."

Michael Shermer in this pithy little statement has summed up a whole lot of human psychology. Generally speaking people arrive at their beliefs for non-intelligent reasons. Once they already have a belief they will prop it up with "explanations", "justifications".

Now, I'm not saying this is inconceivable, but I would be extremely interested to meet someone who grew up an atheist or agnostic, learned everything about the DH and proofs of God and everything us skeptics know, and then in spite of all this decided Judaism was correct. Now THAT would be a person worth talking too, because as far as I know most intelligent informed people who believe in Judaism despite knowing about skepticism and Biblical criticism etc. are Frum From Birth. (e.g. Louis Jacobs, James Kugel, etc.) In other words they believed in Judaism from the beginning, faced some challenges to it, and then summarily solved these problems with a bit of ingenuity.

This is important because it would add a degree of objectivity to the question. If Judaism was logically sound, as opposed to merely logically defensible, we would expect people to flock to it the way they do to Science and mathematics and other objective things. The fact that people don't, in my mind, shows that Judaism is defensible, but not justifiable, from a logical perspective.

More about this in another post...

Sunday, 11 March 2012

No Proof

Just want to follow up on my post from the other day about Torah and Science etc.

A lot of discussion went into the comments about science and Torah and all that and I just want to stress again, that even though it's interesting to discuss, its really irrelevant, because there is no proof that the Torah is anything more than an interesting ANE book. 

You can say the Torah doesn't contradict Science. You can say that it alludes to scientific ideas, but ultimately expecting to find science in the Torah is like expecting to find science in the Epic of Gilgamesh or in the Iliad. (I'm pretty sure that someone could read one of these ANE god-stories as alluding to different elements combining to create different parts of the universe, someone with enough time on their hands should give it a try.)

Once again, it all boils down to proof, can anyone prove that the Torah is anything more than an ANE religious text? I personally don't think so.

Friday, 9 March 2012

It's not Just Torah It's Science!

Nathan Aviezer wrote a book called In the Beginning: Biblical Creation and Science

Then Mark Perach from talk reason wrote a critique of the book on talk reason.

Now on Hirhurim Aviezer wrote a response to Perach. (Only took him about 12 years...)

Ok now that you're all caught up let me say a few thoughts.

Aviezer's book has a lot of different things in it but one that really get on my nerves is the assertion that there is correspondence between the scientific theory of the Big Bang and the Biblical account of Creation. (i.e. the universe has a beginning in both accounts) This is a silly assertion not because the Big Bang isn't true (which seemed to be Perach's assertion, strangely enough...) even if its proven beyond a doubt its correspondence with the Genesis story is completely irrelevant. Because:

What about all the things in the Torah that do not correspond with science? Like men living for thousands of years? Global floods? Oh yeah what about the world and everything in it being created in six days! I'm sure there are explanations for these things, maybe they're allegorical etc. but it seems weird to boldly claim that the Torah corresponds with science because the first verse - sorry, the first verse and nothing else - corresponds with science.

This is classic sharpshooter fallacy. 

Any man could have sat in the ANE and written a book about demons and goblins and wars between Gods. And maybe this man would have written about big dragons with long necks. And then suddenly a bunch of idiots would be claiming that this is an account of dinosaurs! Oh the correspondence with science! How edifying!

Anyone writing a long fanciful account about creation and giants and who knows what else has a chance of saying something true. This does not mean the author knew that he was saying something true.

It's essentially a win win for adherents to these types of books.

If something in the holy book does not correspond with science: then it's an allegory or a moshol or who knows.

If something in the holy book DOES correspond with science: then we win! Our book knew science before science new science. Hurray!

You simply cannot write a holy book that doesn't correspond with science because there's always the allegory technique and every now and then you might stumble upon a bit of science and just make people believe.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

God vs. Religion

Ultimately I think the question of whether God exists is irrelevant to religion.

God = a creator, an infinite being, a first cause, etc. None of these understandings of God say anything about religion.

It is possible that God exist? I have no idea, maybe he does maybe he doesn't. However let's say he exists. Let's say one accepts proofs of a first cause or something to create ex nihilo. What have you gained? Nothing about these proofs tells you that God has an interest in men or in giving a strict law code. None of these proofs tell us that God cares about men and most importantly none of these proofs have anything to do with Judaism. You can firmly believe in God but deny Judaism.

Ultimately the only important proof in Judaism is that God revealed himself at some point. Certain thinkers understood this, notably the Kuzari who doesn't base Judaism on a philosophical proof of God but rather on a "historical proof" of the "Kuzari proof".

So why do kiruv agencies and speakers etc. bother "proving God"? Why is it important to them?

I think this is just evidence of the way many of these proofs are formulated. What I mean is that proofs of God are generally made as post-hoc justifications of one's religious beliefs. People believe something and then try to look back at their rather irrational beliefs and try justifying it.

However since these people firmly believe anyways its not so important that the proof exactly match up with the belief.

As long as rational activity about one aspect of the religion can be demonstrated a believer can reflect upon his/her religion and say "hey this religion isn't irrational it's rather clever and it can be proven".

What's important to the believer is the activity of making rational justification not the actual thing proven. Because ultimately the believer doesn't need the proof. The proof is just a way of showing that religion in general is rational. And once God can be proven rationally we make a la pligi and say that all of religion is rational even if we can't quite show how....