Friday, January 11, 2008

The Genius of Judaism: One God


[scroll from the mezuzah]

Perhaps the most striking and original concept of Judaism is monotheism – the belief in one God.

Looking at the world around us, there seem to be endless separate and even conflicting forces – rain, wind, fire, the sun, the moon, plants, animals, disease, birth, death, etc. The conclusion drawn by most people in earlier times was that each of these forces was controlled by a superhuman, but not supremely powerful, being and these beings were constantly interacting with each other and even fighting with each other. Humans might hope to appease these gods through sacrificial offerings or various rituals. This was the early paganism still practiced in some places today.

Modern man laughs at this; however actually, modern science is not much different. The modern scientist still believes that the universe is controlled by laws of nature. If you ask a scientist, what causes lightening, he will not reply “Thor did it”, but rather he will reply that the laws of physics cause a lighting flash, however he will still be at a loss to explain where these laws come from and why they exist. Some laws of nature seem to be contradictory, such as the laws of quantum mechanics and general relativity. The attempt to create one theory of everything is still very elusive. So instead of gods who must be appeased with sacrifices, we have today laws of nature, which we must simply try to understand and cope with as best we can. That may be a step in the right direction, however it still has its limits.

Judaism from day one has taken an entirely different approach: “Know this day, and lay it to thy heart, that the LORD, He is God in heaven above and upon the earth beneath; there is none else.” Deuteronomy 4:39. We are not at the hands of bizarre superheroes or mysterious forces of nature. Rather, behind the scenes, there is one lord and master who is orchestrating everything. Furthermore, he is a judge and a lawgiver. Mere sacrifice is not enough; he demands obedience, as the next verse states “And thou shalt keep His statutes, and His commandments, which I command thee this day, that it may go well with thee, and with thy children after thee, and that thou mayest prolong thy days upon the land, which the LORD thy God giveth thee, for ever.”

This is truly the theory of everything and it greatly simplifies our understanding of the universe. Yes, there are many forces of nature, however one Creator made them and one divine Ruler established them and manipulates them according to His wishes. He is the one God whom we must serve and the one Lawgiver whom we must obey. This is an amazing example of Occam’s Razor. This idea is so sensible, that the majority of mankind now accepts it. But it all began with a few Jews in the Middle East several thousand years ago.

35 comments:

DrJ said...

JP Shavua Tov,

Let's say one accepts the one-God model of the universe. You say it simplifies things, like a unified theory. The difference is that a unified theory adequately explains events past and predicts future events or phenomena. The problem I see is that the one-God theory explains evil unsatisfactorily, paradoxically even more poorly than a multiple god theory (Multiple "gods" just slug it out, different ones prevailing different times, and thus explaining the apparent randomness and arbitrariness of suffering). I know its been said here before, but when confronted with evil and suffering, with one God, either you have to say he is sadistic, impotent or just doesn't care. How does this simplify things? If your answer is justice in world to come, is that a simplification? That is not consistent with Occam's razor. I agree that the one-God explanation is psychologically satisfying in that it gives meaning to good and evil, but that doesn't make it true...

jewish philosopher said...

Monotheism suggests that there is one force behind all the other forces and one creator behind all creatures. I think this is the simplest explanation for our universe and therefore the best explanation, according to the concept of Occam’s razor. It does raise a question about apparent conflicts in nature, between good and evil, life and death, construction and destruction, however that can be resolved by assuming that God can have reasons for creating apparent conflicts, for example he wants man to freely earn merit, etc.

badrabbi said...

Is there any evidence whatsoever that there is one rather than multiple gods?

jewish philosopher said...

Well, in this post, I argue that's it's really common sense. Why believe in mulitiple gods if one is enough to explain everything?

Beyond that there is the revelation at Mount Sinai.

Referring back to DrJ's question, the classic example of God simulating a conflict is the Book of Job. The righteous man, Job, is afflicted by Satan, seemingly contradicting divine justice. However in fact, this is merely a test orchestrated behind the scenes by God.

natschuster said...

Before the Jews came along, the gods of the various nations lived inside the universe. The universe preceded them in time. The universe was bigger than the gods. The idea of a transcendent G-d, who is bigger than the Universe, who preceded the Universe, started with the Jews. If G-d is infinite, then He has to be a perfect unity.

badrabbi said...

"Well, in this post, I argue that's it's really common sense."

No, in this post, you SAY it is common sense that there is only one god, but you do not argue for it. What is the argument? You have yet to explain why it is common sense to assume that all that is created must be done by one entity.

If you say that the argument amounts to Occam's razor, then let us see:

Let us say that you have the following competing theories:

1. All things in this world came about as a result of natural processes.

2. Things in this world came about miraculously or supernaturally.

To which of these Occam's razor better applies?

badrabbi said...

Also, if God made man in his image, who is to say that he doesn't have a wife and kids?

How does Occam's razor apply to God having a family?

badrabbi said...

The Torah so much as admits that God has children:

Genesis6: "1Now it came about, when men began to multiply on the face of the land, and daughters were born to them,
2that the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves, whomever they chose.
4The (C)Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men, and they bore children to them. Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown."

"Son's of God"... Very interesting!

הצעיר שלמה בן רפאל לבית שריקי ס"ט said...

why would the 'first g-d' start creating more gods? There has to be one first creator of something. So what then? He created the entire universe, but rainfall, war, and child-bearing in the middle east is too much for Him?

הצעיר שלמה בן רפאל לבית שריקי ס"ט said...

adressed to 'my ni-er, the bad a-- rabbi; yo whatup. Job 38:7 "בְּרָן-יַחַד כּוֹכְבֵי בֹקֶר וַיָּרִיעוּ כָּל-בְּנֵי אֱלֹהִים" seems to give an implication that ALL PEOPLE are called 'the sons (um, or 'daughters') of G-d'. ודו"ק

jewish philosopher said...

Bad, how did natural processes create nature?

We are all children of God.

badrabbi said...

"Bad, how did natural processes create nature?"

I do not know. I was addressing your Occam's razor 'argument'. Note that just as I do not have an idea of how the universe came about naturally, you do not know how the universe was created by Hashem.

badrabbi said...

"We are all children of God."

Yes, but that is a deliberate misinterpretation of the passage.

"the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves"

How exactly are you interpreting this passage?

jewish philosopher said...

Something cannot create itself so that idea is clear wrong.

About Genesis 6:2, the correct translation is "The sons of the rulers saw that the daughters of man were fair and they took for themselves wives from whomever they chose."

natschuster said...

Badrabbi:

Naturalistic explanations for the Universe can wind up being quit4e complicated. First of all, you have to explain what caused the Big Bang. Then you have to explain why the laws of nature are the way they are, exquisitley fined tund to accomodate life. Then you have to explain certain facts about the universe that aren't laws, e.g. why does the Universe consist of only matter, and no antimatter. Then you have to explain the oirgin of life. Then you have to explain the developemnt of life. Then you have to account for things like Human culture, altruism etc. Like how complicated this brief summary is. "G-d did it" is a simpler.

DrJ said...

Nat,

And you have to explain the origin of God. If you can't or simply say, "he always was", than you are evading, and its easier to say that the universe always was, than an infinitely complicated god always was. If you say, "I don't know" you're not being honest because what you're really saying is that it unknowable, and there's no point to trying to figure it out. This in contrast to scientists who don't apriori say something is unknowable. We may not have an answer at a point in time, but we can study and try to get the answer. (not so with God, because the books say he's unknowable....)

badrabbi said...

"G-d did it" is a simpler."

Nat,

For once, I couldn't agree with you more. 'God did it' is indeed simpler.

I am calling the universities and labs to send their researchers home!

jewish philosopher said...

The universe cannot be infinitely because of entropy.

On the other hand, we can speculate that a non-material being could be of infinite age.

jewish philosopher said...

When it comes to the origins of the universe, by all means, send the researchers home. They are speculating about things they know nothing about.

badrabbi said...

JP,

You descredit yourself once more when you provide the translation of the verse in question. You know that there are many translations of the Torah. But as a rabbi, you should know the meaning of בְנֵי-הָאֱלֹהִים('sons of Elohim'). Furthermore, you are very fond of often quoting the Torah from this site (http://www.mechon-mamre.org/p/pt/pt0.htm). Why I wonder you have chosen to render a different translation when on this occasion it seems to have suited your needs?


If this is not a blatant example of a rabbi trying to slip wool over someone’s eyes, I do not know what is!

jewish philosopher said...

Elohim literally means master or ruler. You have to look at the context.

jewish philosopher said...

See here for more detail.

natschuster said...

DrJ:

We know empirically that the Universe had a beginning. That's what the Big Bang is all about. There is no reason to assume that the same applies to G-d.

badrabbi said...

LOL, I looked at your link of the wikipedia for Eloheem. It says: "The most likely derivation comes from the word Elohim ('lhm) found in the Ugarit archives, meaning the family or pantheon associated with the Canaanite father God El."

LOL.

Now, tell me the context that you are referring to.

jewish philosopher said...

In still other cases, the meaning is not clear from the text, but may refer to powerful beings (e.g. Genesis 6:2, "... the sons of Elohim saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them for wives... ,"


LOL LOL

badrabbi said...

"LOL LOL"

This is the laughter of the village idiot who blithly walks around laughing at people, all the while not realizing that mirth is at his expense.

badrabbi said...

Nat,

Do you understand why 'God did it' is not a satisfactory answer?

Suppose as you say there is God and he gave rise to laws of universe. Say god created gravity. Of what utility is it, regarding gravity, to say that 'god did it' and wash our hands from it? Is it not better to study gravity, to construct laws of gravity in order to be able to make predictions in the observable universe? To understand it so that one day we can learn to defy gravity or to manipulate it in the laboratory?

What good is it to just say "god did it"?

For that matter, why don't we simply stipulate that "god did it" and get on with our lives? Does that statement in any way alter our moral and physical existence?

jewish philosopher said...

"This is the laughter of the village idiot who blithly walks around laughing at people"

The dozens of my fans who visit this blog daily can decide who is the idiot. LOL.

jewish philosopher said...

Personally, I feel that when it comes to how the universe functions, looking for “laws of nature” (meaning more consistent patterns of God’s will) can be extremely useful. The Talmudic sages constantly referred to the science of their day. However regarding origins of the universe, or the occurrence of other miracles, “God did it” is the only good answer. Everything else is just nonsense.

natschuster said...

Badrabbi:

Whether an answer is unsatisfactory or not is a subjective judgemnt.

Many scientists are also thiests who study science as a means of learning about G-d. I find learning about science increases my emuna. Francis Collins writesthat he feels that he is serving G-d by doing medical research and finding cures for diseases.

Lastly, I do believe that "G-d did it" has a profound effect on moral existance. If for no other reason, than it is only fair to acknowledge G-d as the creator. Fi someone gave you a house, you would owe him a debt of gratitude. G-d gave us a universe to live in. He should be entitled to the same courtesy.

badrabbi said...

The dozens of my fans who visit this blog daily can decide who is the idiot. LOL.

True that. People can look at the arguments put forward and decide for themselves.

DrJ said...

Nat said:
"We know empirically that the Universe had a beginning. That's what the Big Bang is all about. There is no reason to assume that the same applies to G-d."

Yes, but you have to be consistent with your standards of evidence. Most scientific conclusions are based on INDUCTIVE reasoning based on the evidence. We can't directly observe everything, we can only gather the evidence and build a theory to explain it. This is true with the big bang, and its true with evolution as well. I suspect that your are likely to accept "empircal" observations if they agree with your theology (big bang), but not if they contradict it (evolution).

In contrast the God theory isn't a theory at all (because you can't even begin to attempt to explain many things that we observe based on this theory), its just a statement, an assertion, that satisfies the need to explain something that we can't understand without really explaining it.

הצעיר שלמה בן רפאל לבית שריקי ס"ט said...

The universe is evidence.

[Also; a universe (first matter) cannot put itself into existance. A 'first cause' can be infinite bacause it couldnt be created, because what 'first cause' would put it into existance?

The modern scientific method, for good or for worse deviates from the more logic oriented Greek system].

natschuster said...

DrJ:

I do believe that the evidence for evolution is much spottier than the evidence for the Big Bang. I find it much esier to reject.

The fact that the Big Bang happened doesn't explain why it happened. Science still can't answer what caused the Big Bang.

Moreover, even if evolution is true, evolution doesn't explain how life got started.

FACTSANDFACTS said...

Today's physicists are a tad bit slow. They have no explanation for the Particle/Wave phenomenon, or Action at a Distance, etc. The reality that we see before us is based upon the principle of Relativity. This relativistic plane resides within a Holistic plane which extends across all time. With there being two planes of different construct, there are two unique kinds of events, and thus they bring forth two different kinds of results. Thus if we watch an experiment such a the two slit light experiment, we see a wave like interference behavior of the photons. This is due to it being a holistically controlled event. If we monitor the photons passing through the two slits, the we create real time relativistic events, which then replace any furthering of the holistic event, and thus it causes what is referred to as the collapse of the Quantum wave.

What's my point ?

My point is that there are two planes of reality that intersect, and that the events that occur at that point of intersection can be governed from either of the two sides, thus giving G-d the power to control as he looks across time itself. A massive mind indeed.