Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Do proofs (for or against) matter?

I was reading an article the other day about that was advising Jews on how to properly combat Christian missionaries on college campuses. It said that the best thing to do is avoid getting into the conversation at all since it is fruitless. It stated that you can discredit one of their proofs and they will say something along the lines of "well, that may not be true, but what about . . . " and then move on to the next proof.

Is that really any different than Orthodox Judaism? Take the following issues the trouble many skeptics; Creation, The Exodus, The Flood. You have scientific/geological issues with 6 days of creation. You have archeological/historical issues with The Exodus. You have geological/zoological issues with The Flood. So how does OJ answer? Well it says so in the torah and therefore it must be true.

So in the end, it doesn't really matter how you argue against anything in the Torah if you believe in the divinity of the Torah because it can't be wrong . On the flip side, is there hope of convincing an affirmed athiest (or skeptic) that the Torah is indeed divine?

While it is possible to convince people to move from one camp to the other, I think that once we are educated enough to make these arguments and back them up, we are pretty entrenched in our ways.

I would like to think that if someone showed me a side of Judaism that actually spoke to me that I would be open to it, but I just don't know that I am. I openly admit that I am looking harder for the proofs to back up my skeptic thoughts than ones that support the opposing view.

13 comments:

jewish philosopher said...

Of course you are, because you're a sex addict.

Rich Perkins said...

Seriously JP, the whole sex addict thing is getting old. I am happily married and have no intentions of leaving my wife in search of uninhibited sexual romps that you think all atheists/skeptics desire.

Garnel Ironheart said...

First of all, despite the attempts made in certain quarters, there is no one unifed "Orthodox" response to anything save for the most fundamental questions: Is there a God? Did He create everything? Did He give us the Torah?
Petty much everything else is negotiable within certain limits.
For example, the world was created in 6 days. But unless your head is stuck in the ghetto, you can no longer simply believe, in light of scientific proof, that the six days a literally days, 144 hours long and all that. It is not against Jewish principles to say "Hey, the Torah was written for people living 3000 years ago and for us too. For them, an understanding of the six days literally was fine. For us, it's not sufficient and perhaps we should understand the text as discussing six eras."
Certainly there's enough use of the word "day" in Tanach in the non-literal sense to allow that supposition.
For another example, the Exodus from Egypt. Atheists love to jump up and down and shout how there's no archeological proof for it or for our ancestors ever having been in Egypt.
Except there is, but because it disagrees with the non-believers, its ignored or discounted. Archeology is, at the best of times, an inexact science which unfortunately leaves open a lot of room for people to inset their beliefs where gaps in the knowledge base are.
Same thing with "the flood". Now, the first thing you should realize is that we call it "the flood" because that's how almost everyone translated "mabul". But that interpretation isn't universally held. For example, Rav Hirsch, in his Chumash, shows how the entymology of the word actually implies "destruction." You could say that floods are destructive, hence the connection, but on the other hand, if you are prepared to accept the looser "destruction" instead, you have a totally different way of understanding the event. Yes, the Torah says there was water but consider the source: the "deep" and "the windows of Heaven". What kind of water would come out of those two areas? Must we assume it's good ol' H2O?

Another point: forget the proofs that Jews for Judaism use against the missionaries. As the line in the Gemara goes, "you convinced him but what are you going to tell US?" Proofs against missionaries aren't sufficient for Jewish doubters but then, they weren't designed for you either.

Does that help?

rebecca said...
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Rich Perkins said...

Garnel . . .

This post is not about whether the 3 issues I raised happened or not. I was merely commenting on the fact that most OJ look at missionaries (like Jews for Jesus) as irrational for continuing to believe something with contradicting evidence. Yet, OJ have no problem brushing aside any evidence contradicting their beliefs. I also believe that this is the case to varying degrees with atheists and skeptics where no argument will really sway them from their stance.

Regarding your point that there are no unifying stance for OJ, I have to agree to a point. However, do you really think it is ok for some OJ to believe the torah as literal and some to believe it as allegorical? And who makes that decision? Can i decide something is allegorical because it doesn't make sense to me? Doesn't that strike you as intellectually dishonest that the torah can be literal or allegorical based on MY opinion and the fact that something doesn't jive for me?

For example, as an engineer, I don't believe the boat described in the torah for Noach would be see-worthy. So can I allegorize that section?

Garnel Ironheart said...

> that most OJ look at missionaries (like Jews for Jesus) as irrational for continuing to believe something with contradicting evidence.

The difference is that you are inside the system. The assumption when dealing with a missionary is "Yes, there's a God, and yes he chose someone. We say it's us and here's why it can't be you."

When challenged by someone outside the system, the dynamics of the argument are different because the very legitimacy of the assumption that God chose anyone at all is up for debate.

>However, do you really think it is ok for some OJ to believe the torah as literal and some to believe it as allegorical?

Who cares what I think? Go peruse the various commentators over the last 1000 years and you'll quickly see that they already accept this as okay.

For example, the Malbim was initially villified by his opponents for his "rational" approach to the Torah. The Tiferes Yisrael, in early editions of his work, mentioned dinosaurs and how this would cause one to not be able to take the first chapter of Bereshis on a strictly literal basis. What about Ramban vs Rambam? There is, in fact, a lively history of debate within Judaism that only recently has been stifled.

> And who makes that decision? Can i decide something is allegorical because it doesn't make sense to me?

The question is: who is qualified to make that decision. For example, using medicine as an allegory, who decides what anitbiotic is best for that skin infection? You or the trained MD? The MD, of course, but you have to hope that the MD has been keeping up with his education, knows the prescribing guidelines and is open to suggestions of alternative courses of action. And none of those things is against his standards as a doctor.
It is supposed to be the same with rabbonim. Look around at the various authorities and you'll see your concerns reflected and answered in lots of places. You can't just make up interpretations, of course, that's what non-Jews do with the Bible as they lack any Oral tradition but there's plenty of room inside the walls of halacha for it.

> For example, as an engineer, I don't believe the boat described in the torah for Noach would be see-worthy. So can I allegorize that section

Well duh! Of course you can. How else to explain how two of every single animal in the world fit in there along with enough food and space for waste for an entire year? Even superficially it's clear you have to look deeper than the words of the text to fully understand what the Flood was.

David said...

Wow, JP-- didn't see that witty response coming! He's a skeptic because he's a sex addict! You slay me, dude!

Anyhow, FOJ, I found myself drawn to OJ in part because of the effective refutation of the Christian missionaries' so-called "proofs." What I didn't think about, of course, was that even if you assume that the Christians use a "wrong" interpretation of a text and the Jews use a "correct" interpretation, this does not prove that the text itself is true.

For that, most "proofs" go no further than re-hashing the Kuzari. Some of them are more persuasive than others, but none of them is ever going to amount to "proof."

Unfortunately, the kiruv people (and imbeciles like Jacob Stein) tend to oversell these "proofs," and this often works against them.

If you ever have a chance to read the first couple of chapters of C.S. Lewis' "Mere Christianity," you'll notice that his "proofs" of Christianity sound suspiciously like kiruv "proofs" of Judaism. I'd bet you'd find the same stuff in Islam, if you looked.

Bottom line: religion either works for you, or it doesn't. If it doesn't, pseudo-proofs won't make it work. If it does, then refutations won't convince you.

Anonymous said...

In general, proofs matter, and are in fact 100% binding, if they are correct. The problem is, most proofs of things are contrived sophistry. Deductive logic is not the best possible tool to answer questions about matters in the real world (inductive logic is).

you absolutely should be reading www.overcomingbias.com if you aren't already.

Joodah said...

Personally, I would love to pick a fight with a christian missionary. All you have to do is know the hebrew language and half their proofs go out the window because they're mistranslations...

IMHO, Belief goes only so far without personal experience. If a person does not have a personal experience in their religion, one that gives fulfillment, They probably won't be that committed.

If a person has a personal experience, you can disprove them from here to saskatchewan; They're not going to change their toon.

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