Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Kuzari and Science Fiction

A while ago, I read Off Armageddon Reef, a science fiction novel by David Weber. In this novel (no spoilers here), set a few hundred years in the future, humanity is hunted to near extinction by an alien race known as the Gbaba. Even hidden colonies in distant star systems were discovered and destroyed by the Gbaba. Eventually, the remaining humans realize that the reason the Gbaba were able to find the hidden colonies was because of the radio emissions that they emitted. If any future colonies were to survive, they reasoned, they would have to be radio-silent to the extreme.

As a result, a new colony was set up on a planet that they named Safehold. The eight million colonists of Safehold agreed to have their memories wiped and to live a life without advanced technology. The colonists wake up one morning on Safehold, believing they've been created by a god. The "archangels" (the planners/administrators of the colonization fleet who still used the advanced technology) set up a new religion which proscribed the use of advanced technology as a safeguard against the last remnants of humanity ever achieving the technology that would alert the Gbaba to their presence.

The colonists on this planet have a bible -- the books given to them by the archangels. They also have the Testimonies, which are the writings of the eight million Adams and Eves who kept journals of their new lives on Safehold, including their first awakening and the subsequent visits of the archangels who flew through the air in glowing chairs and could perform "miracles." As a result, even hundreds of years later, after the "archangels" are all dead, the Church of God Awaiting is very strong and believed throughout Safehold.

Without intending to, David Weber constructed a form "Kuzari scenario" in this novel. There are a number of reasons why the church on Safehold is still very strong even hundreds of years after the last visit from an archangel, but one of the main reasons is because of the Testimonies. It's very difficult to say a religion is false when eight million people woke up together on the first day of creation, saw the wonders performed by the archangels and left behind written journals for their descendants. And, yet, ultimately, the religion of Safehold was a lie -- a fabrication designed of a mix between the megalomania of some of the colony administrators and a desire to forever retard human technological progress.

I'm not suggesting that Judaism is a deliberate hoax planted by people with or without advanced technology thousands of years ago. There are enough differences between what happened at Sinai and what is described in the novel to scuttle any serious comparison. Nonetheless, I did find it interesting how a "Kuzari"-type scenario could be both true in some respects and false in others at the same time.

The Wolf

Note: As an aside, if you're a sci-fi fan, the book was pretty good. The second book, By Schism Rent Asunder, was even better.


Sharon E. Dreyer said...

This is a great site and article! Guess I'll have to check out this novel. Glad I found this blog. For a change of pace, check out my recently released novel, Long Journey to Rneadal. This novel is a romantic action adventure in space and is more about the characters than the technology. Thanks, Wolf! GRRRRRRR!

Larry Lennhoff said...

And in fact, for hundreds of years no one disbelieves the religion. Even the people who opposed the church did so primarily from the perspective that the church in the present day was corrupt, and that the restrictions the archangels brought down were being misinterpreted.

[Spoiler warning]

It is interesting to extend your parallel. If the revealed church is in a simiar position as Judaism l'havdil, one of the things that starts the opposition is a revelation to a much smaller group of people - similarly to what stared the other two Abrahamic faiths.

E-Man said...

The only problem with the comparison is it is impossible to completely brainwash 8 million people. Otherwise, you could be right. But if you were right and there was no brainwashing then that means Judaism would have to be 100% correct.

Also, in the world of science fiction, we could be in the matrix. We could all have superpowers, etc etc. I don't really see the point you are trying to make other than Judaism could be false if the original 3 million people were all brainwashed. If there is some other point please let me know.

David said...

"I don't really see the point you are trying to make other than Judaism could be false if the original 3 million people were all brainwashed."

So, we know that the Torah is true because you can't brainwash 3 million people. And we know that there were 3 million people because the Torah says so.

E-Man said...

We know there were three million people because of tradition. I don't think anywhere in the torah does it use the number three million. That comes from the oral tradition.

Also, David that idea had nothing to do with his argument.

Joshua said...

Presumably a proponent of a Kuzari style argument would then invoke some sort of variant of Hume's Razor.

mlevin said...

E-man, Torah says there were 603,550 men between the ages of 18 and 60. The 3 million number is estimated based on this number. Because besides these men there were women and children and elders.

Anonymous said...

in the book, does it make any mention of how the original world, the one that developed the advanced technology, supposedly came into existence?

Anonymous said...

i am so depressed at the idea that the rabbaim of today and sages of old are just "pretending" to have a true, ancient, torah. it makes me feel very detached from all doctrine and all religion.

it amazes me that people can say "yes" to torah. I can only manage a "yes, but..." sometimes.


Anonymous said...

Actually it says "m'ben esrim shana v'malah"--from 20 years and up. And besides the women and children, it says the Levites were not counted either.
Oral tradition says 3 million people.
Population genetics says otherwise.
Your call.

Jewish Atheist said...

I would wager that at no point in Jewish history did a majority of Jewish people believe in the Sinai story.

E-Man said...

JA- Then you are being foolish. During the second temple period there were essenes, tzedukim and pharisees. Which ones did not believe? I am only mentioning them since we have historical proof of them, other than just the Tanach.

mlevin said...
E-man, Torah says there were 603,550 men between the ages of 18 and 60. The 3 million number is estimated based on this number. Because besides these men there were women and children and elders.

I believe it is a midrash, several of them actually. I will look them up and get back to you. That is what I meant by tradition, non written torah sources had the tradition of 3 million.

how many people should have there been?

Anonymous said...

Shalmo said...

As far as proofs for Judaism are concerned, the kuzari principle is as bad as they come.

The Aztecs, for example, had a mass revelation story. They believed that their god, Huitzilopochtli, led them (in person) to the site of present-day Mexico City.

If anything the mass revelation / kuzari tidbit provides us with insight to just how pagan Judaism is, because it’s a common feature of pagan religions to have mass revelation stories where a god reveals himself, leads people on vast journeys, etc etc