Monday, March 23, 2009

Do You Really Require Proof?

Back in November, I posted about some Torah proofs that were in a lecture given by Rabbi Yossi Mizrachi. In my post, I presented the "proofs" offered by Rabbi Mizrachi and why I felt the "proofs" were flawed.

A commentator on the post, going by the moniker "Champ" posted some interesting questions and comments on my original post. I'm going to address one of his questions here, and then probably follow up with some of his other questions/comments later this week.

One of the questions that Champ asked of me is as follows:

Wolf,

I'd like to know why you "believe" in Judaism and not some other religion? Also, what proofs do you go by that convince you that the torah is divine? ...or do you just believe it is???

When it comes to religion and living a religious lifestyle for a purpose - believing is just not good enough...and for me, i need to KNOW...not just believe....

regards,

Champ

Later on, Champ follows up with another similar statement:

if i didn't get solid proof that Judiasm was true, i'd have an incredibly hard time living such a restrictive lifestyle - i can't live on what ppl think, theories, and maybes... i need solid proof.....you?


So, Champ, here's my response to you:

On the surface, Champ, I suppose it's a good question. Why do I believe? What proofs do I have that Judaism is the "one true religion?" How do I know that the Torah is divine?

As I've stated on this blog often enough, I have no proof -- or, at least nothing that I would consider an iron-clad proof. Heck, I don't even think that the existence of God Himself is scientifically or logically provable*. If it were provable, I don't think you'd have so many atheists today. If there were logical proof that Judaism is the "one true religion," I don't think that over 75% of the world would be Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, etc. I certainly could be wrong -- maybe there is a proof out there that God exists and that Judaism is the one true religion -- but so far I've been able to poke a hole in every argument I've heard.

In addition, Champ, I think you're being somewhat naive about the need for absolute proof. After all, what proof do you have that you're not going to get hit by a car the next time you cross the street (God forbid)? None. And yet, I'll venture that you're going to do so at some point in the near future. You'll probably sit under a tree someday even though it might get struck by lightning or fall over and you'll probably swim at some point in your life even though there is a risk of drowning. You're going to get into a car even though thousands of people die every year in car crashes in the United States. If you're a woman, you'll probably give birth someday, an activity which carries a risk of death even today (although thankfully at a much lower rate than in years past). You have no proof that any of these activities are safe and yet you engage in some (and possibly all) of them on a regular basis.

The answer is that, whether or you admit to it or not, you (and I) live life playing the odds. You know that 99.999999% of street crossings end with no one being hurt, so you figure it's safe. You know that the vast majority of swimmers leave the water in safety, so you jump in the pool without a second thought. If you truly lived your life by an "absolute proof" standard, Champ, you'd never get anything done. You'd sit in your house, paralyzed by fear, refusing to go anywhere or do anything.

The answer, Champ, in every activity you perform, whether you realize it or not, you assess the chances of success and then make a decision based on those chances. Can I cross the street even though there is a car coming two blocks away? You quickly make a reckoning and then go or don't go. Are the rapids too strong to swim in? Again, you make a quick "back of the envelope" calculation in your brain (should it be called a "back of the medula" calculation?) and then decide whether or not to go.

In other words, you don't really live your life on an absolute proof basis. Virtually no one outside of a sanitarium does.

The same applies to my belief in Judaism and God. I don't have any absolute proof, and, truth be told, I don't need any. Just by looking at the wonderfulness of nature, from the macroscopic to the microscopic, I am convinced that God exists. When I look at the universe and consider the possibilities that it either sprung into existence by itself or had help, I take "had help." Yes, it's only a gut feeling and yes, it falls far short of proof, but that's all I need to live my life. But I'm also honest about it. I know that it's not proof, and I state the same up front to anyone who asks. I don't require "solid proof" for my beliefs -- and, if you seriously consider what I said, neither do you.

The Wolf

16 comments:

Off the Derech said...

Do you really think you can compare crossing the street to believing in God? Do you really think the odds in favor of God's existence are 99%? Isn't it the opposite?

BrooklynWolf said...

I don't know if I can quantify the percentage, OTD.

The point that I was trying to make was that absolute proof is not required to make a decision on how to live one's life. I wasn't making the argument for or against God at that point. I was simply trying to show that Champ doesn't *really* believe that absolute proof is required.

The Wolf

Champ said...

Wolf, thanks for your response.

So based on what you wrote you haven't really given any justification except that you have a gut feeling that g-d exists and that seems to be the reason as to why you practice Judiasm. But maybe it's because you were born into it and haven't practiced any other religion.......

So, back to my original comment, why don't you follow christianity, islam, or any other of the many religions that believe in g-d?

here is my backing as to why i don't agree with you (or anyone) on just "believing" there is a g-d. This is an excerpt taken from an article written by Rabbi Noah Weinberg ZT"L.

The first of the Ten Commandments declares: "I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt" (Exodus 20:2). This is the mitzvah to "Know there is a God."
The logic underlying this commandment seems difficult to understand. Someone who already observe God's commandments obviously believes in His existence -- so what need is there for a new command to do so? And if someone doesn't know that God exists, why should he listen to this command?! So exactly who is this mitzvah for? The answer is that we should not believe in God "on faith" alone. Investigate the evidence. Get knowledge. Research. Study. Analyze. It is a fundamental principle of Judaism: You have to know, not just believe.

"You shall know this day, and understand it in your heart, that the Almighty is God" (Deut. 4:39, the "Aleynu" prayer).

Sam said...

I understand the reason to follow Judaism as opposed to other religions to be based on a tradition of experienced revelation passed down from one generation to another. This obviously raises the points that a) the testimony is not certain evidence, and b)other religions also have traditions.

To a), one could respond in a similar vein to Wolf--the point about lack of epistemological certainty can be embraced as in other areas of life, instead of serving as a cause for rejection here. For example, I vote for a president largely based in on the attitudes I was taught by my parents growing up, and on testimony I have heard from others on a variety of matters (often including bias and editorializing). This decision can truly affect lives in a huge way--high stakes, in other words--yet I still go through with it despite the lack of "certainty" in any decision of that sort, since that's what life requires (certainty is never possible, after all).

B) is a fair point, but one could argue for a difference between a tradition of experienced revelation that is passed down and a tradition of testimony of revelation passed down (i.e. am I teaching my kids that I experienced revelation, or that someone else told me he did). I'm not trying to make the argument well-known as (erroneously, in my opinion) the "Kuzari argument," but it's related.

Now, I don't think either of these points are unassailable--one could decide based on the epistemological uncertainty in A) to always and consistently take a skeptical attitude towards all judgments. But I think it's defensible--if not convincing--to argue as above.

Anonymous said...

Wolf,

Actually I think the reason you believe in Judaism is your own business, as long as you're not trying to convert people,or doing kiruv, which I don't see this blog doing.
After reading on different J-blogs how scientifically literate people try to justify saying birchat hachamah, I've been tempted to call them out, but then I thought what's the point? (We won't mention your difference of opinion with the Gemorrah on just what planets are made of gas.) If someone is getting enough out of Judaism that he sticks with it and is willing to accept some cognitive dissonance in his life, and it's not hurting anyone else, then it's his business, and no one else's.

Ichabod Chrain

triLcat said...

I personally feel that the lifestyle of Judaism has a lot to offer me, so I don't need absolute proof to follow it.

I would actually say that philosophically, I'm solidly agnostic. Sometimes I feel a connection to a higher being, and sometimes I think it's illogical to assume that a world in which such awful things happen could really be guided by a higher being...

Garnel Ironheart said...

1) Proof is inimical to faith. In the presence of proof, there's nothing left to believe in. And believing in God is fundamental to our relationship with Him. That's why any proof can be disproved. But that in itself is proof of God's existence.
2) Why Judaism? Because the other two major Western religions require you to believe in individual revelation while Judaism asks you to believe in a public one. Now, if you are the kind of person lacking belief and requiring proof, you have no stake in this discussion. But amongst believers, the question is which kind of revelation carries more authenticity? And we say a public one does.

BrooklynWolf said...

Champ,

You asked:
So based on what you wrote you haven't really given any justification except that you have a gut feeling that g-d exists and that seems to be the reason as to why you practice Judiasm. But maybe it's because you were born into it and haven't practiced any other religion.......

So, back to my original comment, why don't you follow christianity, islam, or any other of the many religions that believe in g-d?


Well, to be blunt, I'm not certain that I'm required to justify to you why I believe in God and Judaism, but we'll leave that aside for the moment. :)

It's more than a gut feeling. It's me looking at the "odds" (it's not a great term to use, but probably the best one that I have at the moment) and concluding that God (in all probability) does exist and that if He does, Judaism seems to be the most correct to me among the Abrahamic religions. Yes, I've studied others (although, to be fair, never with the real possibility of converting to one of them) and found that, of them, Judaism is the most logical. Does that mean that I have *no* questions about Judaism? Of course not.

I'm curious about something you said, however. You said that there is a commandment to "know God." Unless God provides direct evidence for His existence*, it's impossible to *know* that He exists. I'm assuming that God hasn't personally appeared to you -- so how do you *know* he exists?

The Wolf


* Of course, if there is direct evidence, then you can know He exists. But that was the whole point of this argument in the first place, right? I'm still waiting for a iron-clad proof.

The Wolf

BrooklynWolf said...

as long as you're not trying to convert people,or doing kiruv, which I don't see this blog doing.

Ichabod,

I'm sorry to disappoint you, but if you read my blog, you'll see that I am heavily in favor of kiruv and promoting observance of the mitzvos -- as long as it's done honestly and responsibly. No phony proofs, no faulty logic, no lies.

The Wolf

BrooklynWolf said...

1) Proof is inimical to faith. In the presence of proof, there's nothing left to believe in. And believing in God is fundamental to our relationship with Him.

Garnel,

I'm not certain that I buy that argument. If you posit that proof destroys faith, which is essential to our relationship with God, then does that mean that people who have witnessed miracles (i.e. those at Mt. Sinai, for example) could no longer have a complete relationship with God?

The Wolf

Anonymous said...

"You'll see that I am heavily in favor of kiruv and promoting observance of the mitzvos -- as long as it's done honestly and responsibly. No phony proofs, no faulty logic, no lies."

You misunderstand. I've been reading your blog for a while and it's clear that you're in favor of being frum, observing mitzvos and yeshiva education. On the same token the tenor of this blog is very different from that of overtly kiruv blogs and blogs like, for example, Hirhurim. Also you sometimes raise issues that the Kiruv blogs and similar blogs would feel uncomfortable with and wouldn't touch. That was what I meant.

Ichabod Chrain

Jewish Atheist said...

"Proof" is the wrong word. What people need are reasons. For some people, the fact that they like Orthodox Judaism is reason enough to believe. For others, the fact that their parents and ancestors believe is reason enough.

And then some people just want to know what's TRUE, period. We want to avoid the traps other minds fall into: denial, logical fallacies, and sheltering ourselves from people and ideas that might destroy our beliefs.

We see that people with Muslim parents tend to believe in Allah and people with Jewish parents tend to believe in YHWH and we realize that people who believe for the kinds of reasons that we believed basically believe whatever they want to believe.

So we become skeptics. We set out to find what's true. And we steel ourselves to face the truth even if we have to give up some cherished beliefs and even if accepting the truth means that our families and friends and communities might reject us.

I'm not saying this makes us better people, or more healthy psychologically. The brain's defense mechanisms exist for a reason. What I am saying is that we're more likely to believe in what's true.

If you'd rather believe what your loved ones believe and what your parents believed and what lets you live in an Orthodox community, you should probably stick with whatever it is that lets you do that. If you want to know what's true, become a skeptic.

Jewish Atheist said...

FYI, I turned my response into a post at my place.

eli said...

wolf, can I ask you if you are ever bothered by the fact that rabbinical Judaism requires that you believe in falsehoods? (mainly that the 5 books of moses were authored by God)

The Leader, Garnel Ironheart said...

Wolf, your point is a good one but there's a decent response to it. The generation at Sinai saw God, therefore they needed neither proof nor belief. They had living experience. Therefore the whole conflict of reason vs faith did not apply to them.

E-Man said...

I think this is an interesting idea, that one need not have any type of reason to believe in Judaism other than faith. I, however, disagree and believe in the Rambam approach of using science and reasoning as a basis. On my blog I bring up a slew of ideas why I believe in G-D. PLease, feel free to check the blog out at http://markset565.blogspot.com/2009/03/why-do-we-believe-judaism-is-correct.html