Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The DovBear Dialogues Part 2

The DovBear Dialogues continue

Part 1

Dear Bray,

Thank you for your letter. Your words clearly come from your heart and they have entered mine. I found your letter, both its content and style, to be deeply moving.

But, I don't care. As far as I am concerned, emotions have no place in evaluating the truth of Judaism. The huge and undeniable biases that plague all religious people renders any attempt to give an emotional argument for OJ completely absurd. I will therefore reply to your letter on a purely rational plane.

To me, it seems, that your letter can essentially be broken into three parts.
Point 1 – Strong and incontrovertible evidence for TMS does not exist, nor is not needed.
Point 2 – Judaism demonstrates a higher moral ethic than other faiths or atheism.
Point 3 – The higher ethical standard of Jews suggests TMS.

Space prohibits a thorough analysis of all these points, so I will limit myself to a brief sketch of what obstacles I believe your approach needs to overcome.

Point 1 – I must confess that to me the opposite of what you write seems true. I suggest that, for any given hypothesis, the standard of evidence we demand is dependent on three things:

i. how remarkable, a priori, the claim is. Every single observation we have ever recorded supports the supremacy of natural law, and so your hypothesis, which rejects natural law, is by definition the most remarkable claim possible.

ii. how much evidence, a priori, we expect the hypothesis to generate. To this your argument of "bechirah" is pertinent. You claim that the God hypothesis shouldn't produce evidence since God chooses to conceal himself. But, this runs entirely contrary to the OJ tradition which is of a God who seeks to reveal himself whenever possible. See for example Ex 7:5, 9:16, 14:4, 14:18, 16:6, 16:7, Nu 14:34, 16:30 Judges 6:17-19, 6:36-40, 7:14 I Kings 18:37 Ezekiel 6:13, 7:4, 7:9, 11:10, 11:12, 12:20, 13:9, 13:14. But, I must emphasize that the above is really a very very small subset of the these type of verses. Space & my time prevents a complete list. There are certainly hundreds of such verses in the O.T.

But, beyond that, the picture OJ paints is one of a God who interacts with the world in a way that should leave much evidence. He freely violates nature (I counted 38 times in Kings alone). He has many prophets (over 100 prophets in the generation of Elijah alone). He performed 10 miracles, some of them daily, in the temple in Jerusalem. He rewards the righteous, punishes the wicked and responds to prayer. He involves himself in nature in ways that should leave physical, geological, cosmological, chemical, biological, archeological, and historical evidence. All of the above suggests a God who leaves much evidence.

iii. I demand a higher standard of evidence when I am wary of trusting someone. All of us, myself included, have intense psychological, sociological, and emotional investments in OJ. We should thus be wary of trusting ourselves and demand a higher standard of evidence. The high correlation between religion of birth and chosen religion highlights the great need for evidence skepticism here.

Point 2 –Jews are morally superior to the other nations. To this you offer two proofs:
i. nationally, we are superior – no programs or genocide.
ii. the common folk are morally superior – they engage in tzedakah.

To i: As you yourself note, that the Jews didn't engage in genocide in the middle ages proves nothing since they had not the means to do so. That they didn't engage in genocide in the Biblical era isn't remotely true, at least according to the Bible (e.g. Deut 2:34 Josh 6:21 I Samuel 15:8 I Kings 11:15 and countless other verses). It is true that modern Israel has an exemplary human rights record, but so do most western liberal democracies since 1948. Moreover, Israel is a secular country and its human rights record has nothing to do with Judaism. The human rights record of the religious Zionist movement is appalling (at least in terms of what they advocate, thankfully, they don't have the political power to carry out what they advocate).

To ii: (and this applies to i as well). I won't disagree with you that the frum community has done some pretty remarkable things. But, so have many other faith communities. On what basis did you conclude that Jews are better than non Jews? Did you go around visiting all the Christian charities?

Point 3 – the moral superiority of the Jews implies the truth of OJ.

This is a total non sequitur. The truth of OJ is neither necessary nor sufficient to explain the behavior of OJ's. Suppose I tell you that there's a diamond buried in your backyard and you go dig for the diamond. Does your digging imply that the diamond exists? Of course not. Your actions are dictated by what you think is real, not by reality itself.

Ocher Yisrael

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