Wednesday, April 11, 2007

In a nutshell: 15 months of blogging


I’ve been trying to take stock a little and sum up what I’ve learned from blogging so far, over the past 15 months.

What I have concluded is that there are two primary arguments in favor of Orthodox Judaism: The watchmaker principle and the Kuzari principle.

Atheists refute them with Darwinian evolution and the Graf-Wellhausen documentary hypothesis. [The two fundamental anti-Jewish texts are “Origin of Species” by Charles Darwin (published 1859 in England) and “Prolegomena” by Julius Wellhausen (published 1878 in German). Nothing very signifigant has been added since.]

I realize that there are virtually endless additional arguments on both sides; however the above arguments appear to be the most fundamental. If one accepts Watchmaker and Kuzari, then one is an Orthodox Jew. If one accepts Darwin and Wellhausen, then he is an atheist. Other issues are not crucial.

Whether a person will choose to believe the Jewish arguments or the atheistic counterarguments seems to depend primarily on:

- What his peers and teachers believed during his high school and college years.

- To what degree he feels a need for spirituality, as opposed to personal freedom, at this time in his life.

I am personally convinced that if an impartial judge (something which does not exist) would weigh the evidence, he would decided firmly in favor of Orthodox Judaism.

40 comments:

"Rich Perkins" said...

how can i get in touch with you through e-mail?

jewish philosopher said...

I've now added my email to my profile. Let me know if you have a problem using it.

zal said...

The watchmaker principle is not an argument in favor of Orthodox Judaism; it is an argument used to prove God independent of any particular religion.

jewish philosopher said...

But accepting watchmaker makes Kuzari much more plausible. A creator would want to communicate to his creations.

Baal Habos said...

The Kuzari principle is not refuted by DH. The Kuzari Principle is refuted by this:

http://groups.google.com/group/soc.culture.jewish/msg/d94826c6e2485b5c?dmode=source and this:

http://www.talkreason.org/articles/kuzariflaws.cfm

>I am personally convinced that if an impartial judge (something which does not exist) would weigh the evidence, he would decided firmly in favor of Orthodox Judaism.


There are thousands of non religious Christians that you can use to test your theory on.

Just try to explain rabbinic Judaism to a Gentile. Ha.

jewish philosopher said...

"The Kuzari principle is not refuted by DH."

I am trying to simplify the debate as much as possible. My feeling is that, putting it in a nutshell, Orthodox Judaism says "Watchmaker!". Atheism answers "No, no - Darwin!". Orthodox Judaism says "Kuzari!" Atheism answers "No, no - Wellhausen!" That's what it boils down to.

"There are thousands of non religious Christians that you can use to test your theory on."

That's what I did. I tested it on myself and see what happened.

Baal Habos said...

>>"There are thousands of non religious Christians that you can use to test your theory on."

>That's what I did. I tested it on myself and see what happened.

I'm sure you see the fallacy of that logic.

jewish philosopher said...

And I'm sure you see the fallacy of your own as well. Who can vouch for the fact that anyone, "non religious" Christian or otherwise, is an impartial judge? Does he not have personal biases for or against Judaism?

avrum68 said...

"Does he not have personal biases for or against Judaism?"

This is an excellent point. It would seem to me, that most atheists - for all their hyperbole of rational/scientific methods - become full of emotional and subjective bias when discussing religion.

Adin Stienzaltz is 100% correct when he states that we often confuse theological issues for psychological ones. And I've yet to meet an atheist who debunks Orthodox Judaism who has:
a) lived as an Orthodox Jew
b) lived as an Orthodox Jew within a caring, warm and spiritually engaging enviornment.

"Rich Perkins" said...

So let's say that the Watchmaker & Kuzari principles are correct . . .

That proves that there is a G-d and he likes the Jews. It doesn't compel anyone else to be Jewish.

personally, i have an issue with the fact that, according to orthodoxy, Jews are born Jews and do not have a choice in the matter.

avrum68 said...

"personally, i have an issue with the fact that, according to orthodoxy, Jews are born Jews and do not have a choice in the matter."

Sign of the times. "I" seems to have trumped almost any virtue or moral imperative. Somehow when "I" is offended by something, that "thing" should be removed, deleted, replaced, improved.

Halacha stands for something. If you're not a fan, there's tons of other 'isms to try on for size.

"Rich Perkins" said...

avrum68 - perhaps I should have phrased it as such . . .

It is very hypocritical to tell everyone they have free will and make it a cornerstone of the religion, but then tell yout hat you don't have a choice whether to follow the rules of the religion.

When someone robs you by gunpoint, you theoretically have a choice not to give the guy your wallet, but is that really a choice?

avrum68 said...

Rick...take it from a Jew who does some stuff, ignores most stuff, on and on and on. I have total free will with respect to what I do, and what I don't do. On Weds, I might meditate a la mindfullness. On Thursdays, I'll some chumash. On Saturdays...in the middle of the Amidah...I wonder if the whole things a crock. On and on. It sure feels like a choice to me. And if it's not, and something's pulling the strings to gude me towards this hodge podge Judaism I practice, I don't notice it one bit.

jewish philosopher said...

The Kuzari principle would imply that Jews must observe the Torah or suffer consequences.

littlefoxling said...

JP,

This post is surprisingly insightful, fair, and balanced for you. I'm surprised and impressed.

Kudos

littlefoxling said...

JP,

You seem to be framing this as arguments pro OJ and then there counter arguments. Why? Since you admit that none of the proofs pro OJ are conclusive, any negative evidence against OJ should be admisable evidence. You seem to be ignording them.

littlefoxling said...

BHB,

There are thousands of non religious Christians that you can use to test your theory on.

People obviously have many biases. The most pronounced one is the bias to follow parents. But, there clearly are others. Societial influences etc. Christians may, for example, relate to Judiasm different than Hinduis do because of the different roles of the Jew in Indian and Western cultural. But, I think to some extent, people that change beliefs from their parents are the most ineresting evidence. While we can't rule out the possibility that JP is Jewish because of some cultural baggage, it is far more likely that his choice to be Jewish is based on a real opion to that effect than someone like RJM or XGH who were born with that opinion (this might explain why JP seems to be the blogger who actualy has the most level of conviction)

I'd be fascinated to see statistics about, for people that change relegions, which relegions are the biggest loosers, biggest winners, and who goes to what. But, I'd suspect OJ does very badly considering that 300 years ago all Jew were frum and now (in America at least) only around 10% are. For all the other 90%, at some point in the past 300 year ago, someone made a decision to leave the fold. And, since the OJ's have a hire birth rate, this is even more incredible. Despite having more kids, the OJ's still lost huge numbers to the non OJ's

littlefoxling said...

That's what I did. I tested it on myself and see what happened.

JP,

This may be a valid data point for you but not for us. If you were to randomly select one Christian and do this experement, it would be a valid experement. If you select the Christian who you know will answer that Judiasm is right. It is not a valid experiment. In your case, you picked yourself because you are you and so it is valid. In our case, we picked you because you have a Jewish blog and we only read Jewish blogs. Let's assume 10,000 Christians leave Christianity 9,000 go to Athiesim/secularism etc, 900 go to Islam, 99 to Hindusim and 1 to OJ. The only one we will ever talk to is the one who goes to OJ and opens a blog. Thus, it is not a random sample and not relevant evidence.

jewish philosopher said...

I don't believe that atheists really have that much evidence against Orthodox Judaism. Primarily they are content to debunk religion, at least in their minds, and then say "There is no proof".

I think the biggest movement today is from liberal Christian to either the right, conservative Christian, or the left, no religion.

Even someone who is agnostic or non-religious, having no interest in or opinion about religion, may be far from unbiased. He may be so ferociously biased against spirituality that he doesn't want to even think about or discuss the issue at all.

Henry said...

Surely you can find better arguments than the Watchmaker principle (from design) and the Kuzari principle? Both would be valid for many religions.

How about "the world and my place in it do not make sense in any other terms than those put forward by my religion"?

How about "it is true but can only be proved by faith"?

"Rich Perkins" said...

JP said I think the biggest movement today is from liberal Christian to either the right, conservative Christian, or the left, no religion.

I think you see the same thing in orthodox judaism. i see the middle ground and modern orthodoxy struggling, while the extremes are growing.

jewish philosopher said...

Henry, I've amended my post a little and I hope I've made myself a little clearer. These points seem to be the most the fundamental.

Henry said...

Rich - interesting point. Catholic Christianity is a very different animal from the Protestant version, as the "extreme" is a centre path - notice how the moderate tone of the Pope's pronouncements are quite different from what he was saying as Cardinal Ratzinger when head of the Congregation for the Faith, responsible for defining doctrine. The extreme is to go cautiously with the Pope. So liberal Catholic is merely dilution, and the movement is dying as it has nowhere to go.

jewish philosopher said...

Moderate religion always seems to be just a transit area to something else.

Henry said...

There is a difference between a lukewarm moderation and the moderation of taking a central and balanced position.

badrabbi said...

Ok, so suppose I have accepted the ‘Watchmaker principle’. That means I think there are one or more gods that have made this universe.
Suppose I also accept the ‘Kuzari principle’, which means that I believe that a God gave the Jews 10 commandments.

But even if I accepted these two principles, I have trouble arriving at the following conclusions that orthodox Jews take for granted:
1. What principle tells us that God is one? Where is the proof for monotheism?
2. What principle tells us that the 5 books of the Torah (as opposed to the 10 commandments) are part of the transmission by God to the Jewish people?
3. What principle tells us that the Talmud is part of the Torah?
4. What principle tells us that all the others books that make up the Tenakh (ie., the Naviim and Ketobeem) are authentic.

Judaism and its traditions and superstitions depend on much more than the two principles JP mentions. Even if one were to accept these principles, one has a very long way to go to arrive at the position that an orthodox Jew finds himself.

Of course, it goes without saying that the two principles are highly questionable and are logically flawed.

jewish philosopher said...

The "Thou shalt have no other gods before Me." seems to imply that only He is legitimate.

Since Moses was an intermediary for the Ten Commandments, then I would assume that the remainder of the Pentateuch, which he wrote, is legitimate.

Regarding the Talmud, has any community succeeded in observing the Mosaic law without it?

Regarding the remainder of Tanach, there aren't any new beliefs or commandments included in it.

badrabbi said...

"The 'Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.' seems to imply that only He is legitimate."

Yes, JP, I think it implies that God wishes to be above other Gods, and as you say, be legitimate. But read the quote you have supplied: In it, it is implied that other Gods also exist. It is true that God wants the Jews to serve only him, but the implication is that there are other Gods as well. In fact, throughout the bible, there are many such implications. Take, for example, Adam and Eve’s eating from the forbidden tree; God’s reaction was one of alarm. He wondered what would happen if they ate of the other tree and became “Like US”. The ‘us’, is an explicitly plural term and appears again and again throughout the Torah. The ‘us’ suggests that there may be other Gods.
Now I know that rabbis try to white wash this as they do many other things, stating that by ‘us’ God means angels. I do not wish to get into that argument for now. The point I am making is that in the Torah, there are many suggestions, if not overt hints, that there is more than one God.

So again, I ask, how do you know that there is only one God?

badrabbi said...

"Since Moses was an intermediary for the Ten Commandments, then I would assume that the remainder of the Pentateuch, which he wrote, is legitimate."

Moses' writing the entire Torah is an assumption that you are making. In this assumption, you can no longer use the Kuzari as your basis, as the latter is not related to this topic.

The question, then, is what is the basis of your assertion that the Torah is written entirely by Moses?

badrabbi said...

"Regarding the Talmud, has any community succeeded in observing the Mosaic law without it?"

I do not know the answer. Your question is irrelevant to the initial question I have asked. I will ask again: What is your basis for stating that the Talmud is part of the Torah? Again, recall that the Kuzari argument can not possibly help with the answer here, as it is not related to the question.

badrabbi said...

"Regarding the remainder of Tanach, there aren't any new beliefs or commandments included in it.”

Once again, your answer is irrelevant to the question I have asked. Once again, my question to you is: What is your basis that the Tenach, with the naviim and ketubim, are true inspired holy works? (again, recall that your Kuzari argument is not related to this question)

jewish philosopher said...

I think that if we accept that the Exodus, the Sinai Revelation and the 40 years in the wilderness, complete with manna from heaven, did really happen [the Kuzari Principle], then we can assume that the mainstream of Jewish tradition is authentic. After having experienced such a huge spiritual enlightenment, it seems unlikely that the majority of the Jewish people would have accepted any falsification of the tradition from Sinai.

It certainly seems more probably that the thriving rabbinical tradition is the authentic one, rather than the nearly extinct Samaritan and Karaite traditions.

badrabbi said...

Perhaps I am not making myself absolutely clear, so let me try again:
Suppose I accept the 'Kuzari Principle', ie., that there was a Jewish exodus from Eygypt, that there was a Sinai revelation (with the caveat that 3 million people heard the ten commandements but not necessarily other things), and that there came manna from heaven. Let me stipulate that the above is true. My questions still remain as follows:
1. Tell me how you know God is one
2. Tell me how you know Moses wrote all 5 books without blemish
3. Tell me how you know God transmitted the Talmud as the oral Torah

Please, if you will, assume that I am a 'tam', a simple child as it were, and explain to me how you get from the Kuzari to answering the above questions.

jewish philosopher said...

The answer is, most simply, because Jewish tradition says so.

It seems incredible that Moses did all the miracles and then fabricated a bogus Pentateuch, not based on what God told him. And it seems incredible that Moses taught the Jews something but then at some later date in history another leader came along and misled them and convinced the mainstream of the Jewish people of something else.

The idea of such a falsification seems unlikely and it’s unsupported by any evidence.

badrabbi said...

First of all, it was not Moses who as you write "did all the miracles". Rather, it was God who did so. Second, I am not saying that Moses 'fabricated a bogus pentateuch'. I am asking how do you know that he was the one who wrote it in whole.

Third, you say 'the answer is simple...Jewish tradition says so'. Do you understand that you now have fallen victim to circular reasoning? I ask you how you know that Jewish tradition in correct, and you reply 'simple - Jewish tradition says so!'

Note that my point was - and I think you have made it - that the Kuzari principle is insufficient to make your assertions. But just in case an additional nail was needed for this coufin, I will in the coming comments show the fallacy of the Kuzari...

jewish philosopher said...

I think the belief in the Oral Law, Written Law, one God, etc. is all basically part of the Kuzari package. Kuzari validates Jewish tradition, not just one chapter in Exodus.

badrabbi said...

You pin too much on the Kuzari. In the other forum I tried to show the weakness of the Kuzari, which, of course, you ignored.

The trouble with the "kuzari package" justifying more than one chapter is that 3 million people were present only in the case of the particular chapter. 3 million people were not present for most other events chronicaled in the Torah. I am not saying that the Torah is false. I am just saying Kuzari, at best, is employed only for events that had plenty of witnesses.

jewish philosopher said...

The Kuzari principle means that Jewish tradition is authentic, not a national conspiracy to fabricate a new religion. That's how I understand it.

badrabbi said...

JP, Kuzari makes the point from collective witnesses. The Kuzari makes the point that the presence of witnesses, many of them, distinguishes Judaism from other religions. Thus, Kuzari can only be emplyed in situations where there are a lot of witnesses. The revelation at Sinai is such a situation. I can not think of any other. What I am saying, then, is you can not take Kuzari as a principle and have it validate EVERYTHING. That would be an overuse of this principle.

jewish philosopher said...

Following Mt. Sinai, Moses taught the Torah, oral and written law, to the Jewish people in the wilderness for 40 years so this also falls under Kuzari.