Friday, May 12, 2006

Intellectual Honesty, Truth and Despair.

Godol has been posting about intellectual honesty here
http://godolhador.blogspot.com/2006/05/intellectual-honesty-and-orthodoxy.html
And a quite desperate sounding post about orthodox thinking here:
http://godolhador.blogspot.com/2006/05/life-is-beautiful-or-not.html

I do not accept, and in fact protest, orthodoxy being described with acronyms, LW,MO,UO,LW and so on, I also have problems with the Orthodox word itself, because I believe it conveys an impression of there being more than one religion and goal. There is one goal in Judaism, and one only, succinctly laid out in Moreh 3:32:

Now God sent Moses to make [the Israelites] a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Exod. xix. 6) by means of the knowledge of God.." Unto thee it was showed that thou mightest know that the Lord is God (Deut. iv. 35):" Know therefore this day, and consider it in thine heart, that the Lord is God" (ibid. v. 39). The Israelites were commanded to devote themselves to His service;." and to serve him with all your heart" (ibid. xi. 13):" and you shall serve the Lord your God" (Exod. xxiii. 25);" and ye shall serve him" (Dent. xiii. 5).”

The purpose is to understand as much as it is possible about God by searching for Him, which as we have already spoken about many times, is only possible by knowing His actions, how He runs the Universe, in other words science. The ultimate goal is that once we have developed an understanding of His actions, we are to serve Him. That is done through emulating God and collaborating with Him in doing “Chesed Mishpat and Tzedakah“(see Moreh 3:54). Everything else a Jew does, Mitzvos, self-improvement, discipline and meditation are all for that ultimate purpose, knowledge of God and emulating His actions.

The problem is that to understand the universe and find God is a very difficult thing. It took mankind many millenniums of trial and error to arrive at the science we have today, which ultimately tells us that we still know very little – we have just scratched the surface of scientific knowledge. That acknowledgement is an accomplishment in itself. Medieval thinkers thought that with Aristotles the world and its workings were known and with a few adjustments the limits of human knowledge would be attained. Thank God for the men who were not so confident! How then can one expect for a human being, in a lifespan, to arrive at all this a priori? Even when building on humankind’s developed knowledge so far, trying to understand and discover the next step in scientific knowledge requires full concentration and focus. In the process one loses sight of the ultimate goal which is finding and emulating the Creator. Science for its own sake is a good endeavor but fraught with danger. Much evil has come from science. Without looking beyond the physical, without trying to understand and see the long-term development of the universe and humankind within it, science is mechanical. That is the Torah’s goal, to bring the search for God into play so that man can emulate him.

The only way this can work successfully is to establish clear goals. Just like a good businessman will develop a business plan, setting clear objectives first and then develop a strategy how to attain them, so the Torah established a clear objective, finding and emulating God. Unlike a business plan the Torah plan is for the long term. It is a plan for humanity to arrive at the end to knowledge of God and to emulate Him thus creating a perfect world. The strategy is for one people to accept this as a goal, a national goal. The Torah set down certain parameters, God exists, He is perfect, He is transcendental and can only be found through his actions. It is now Judaism’s goal to find Him, learn His ways and emulate them. It may take millenniums, but the step-by-step process brings us one step closer, and as we get closer the world follows us and as it does it gets better.

Coming back to GH and his dilemmas. Intellectual honesty is necessary, and proving God’s existence empirically with scientific tools is impossible, nor is it possible to prove that He created the world ex-nihilo, but we can infer much from looking at the world and trying to understand what is behind it. Following that path and looking out for it we will see the traces of God in the physical reality. For if there is truth there can only be one, a transcendental God. Ultimate truth cannot be contingent, everything in our reality is contingent, therefore a unique God is the only being that is by definition not contingent, thus the truth. Here is Hil. Yesodei Hatorah 1:2

ב לפיכך אין אמיתתו כאמיתת אחד מהם [ד] הוא שהנביא אומר "וה' אלוהים אמת--הוא לבדו האמת, ואין לאחר אמת כאמיתו
והוא שהתורה אומרת "אין עוד, מלבדו" , כלומר אין שם מצוי אמת מלבדו כמותו

One cannot start with an a priori approach and say wherever the search will take me I will go. It is like looking for the unknown in a haystack. Even looking for a needle in it is near impossible how much more looking for something unknown. We accept the Torah’s statement that God exists, we accept the Torah statement that God created the world, and we accept that God prophesizes man and so goes for the other Ikarim Rambam lays out. They are the ultimate goal of where our search is to lead us to. The strategy is now to go and prove them. That process is the responsibility of the Jewish people as the leaders of humankind, the pioneers in the search for God. We need to be confident that revelation is true and that at the end we will find God. We will stumble on the way, be sidetracked (Kabbalah?) even lose our way, have to contend with skepticism and despair, sometimes suffer for our beliefs but ultimately we believe we will get there. That last belief, ultimate success, is the only thing a Jew has to accept on faith.

Gut Shabbos.

8 comments:

  1. Except for the Kabbalah dig, great post. ;)

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  2. Chardal, I thought you'd miss it! (Smiles doesn't work on this comment thing.)

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  3. No way, I am a kabbalah-defense vigilante :)

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  4. David, a nice sermon, but you don't address any of the hard issues GH is struggling with here. Torah min hashamayim and the historicity of the Torah are central tenets of Orthodoxy but are totally incompatible with modern science. Sure there are other forms of judaism in which torah min hashamayim and the historicity of the Torah are not critical to the faith. Personally, there is much in Conservative theology that I find attractive. But the Torah leaders of our generation insist that these views are heretical and outside of the scope of authentic orthodox judaism. To pretend otherwise, is it's own kind of intellectual dishonesty.

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  5. Mike,

    You are right there are many issues that need to be addressed and our leadership is sorely wanting in dealing with them. Many of the problems have to do with self inflicted wounds. Thay define things incorrectly because of ignorance and are faced with unanswerable questions. I am trying to address the areas I know and have studied. So far each one, when properly understood and translated from medieval presentation to contemporary language, I have found to be solid and credible. In light of that I believe all will follow as i tackles each. I am right now trying to follow Rambam in Moreh and just started seriously looking at providence. Each subject takes a very long time so it would behoove someone else to pick another one such as Torah Min Hashamayim, and see if he can make sense of it. I suspect that it will become credible once definition of the concept is understood.I have some ideas but I want to make sure i know what I am talking about before writting about it.

    I like your pseudonym but i suspect you are less a skeptic than you think. The Rishonim were intellectually honest and much more skeptical but still great Ma'aminim!

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  6. >Each subject takes a very long time so it would behoove someone else to pick another one such as Torah Min Hashamayim, and see if he can make sense of it.I suspect that it will become credible once definition of the concept is understood.

    It's not my place to tell you how to spend your intellectual capital, but to me there is really only one issue that matters in assessing the value of orthodoxy versus the other branches of judaism. Namely, the historicity of the Torah and, in particular, the account of Matan Torah. If that account is really not historical then orthodoxy is fatally flawed.

    >I like your pseudonym but i suspect you are less a skeptic than you think. The Rishonim were intellectually honest and much more skeptical but still great Ma'aminim!

    I share your suspicion that our views are not really so far apart. We both know the claims made by orthodoxy are false. We just use different terminology. You say, no, orthodoxy is true but the gedolim are making false claims regarding the nature of orthodoxy. I say, I don't see any point in arguing with the gedolim over how to define orthodoxy or heresy. I know that my grandfathers and their teachers would have considered me a blatant apikores. I know how the gedolim of the previous generations looked at Conservative theology. So I'm prepared to call a spade a spade. I am a skeptic. Sure, if the rambam had lived in modern times he might composed different (or fewer) ikrim of emunah, and if the ramban had lived in modern times he would have been a skeptic too. They just lived in an age when emunah was rational. Orthodox emunah is no longer rational. That is the real reason there are no gedolim left today.

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  7. >Namely, the historicity of the Torah and, in particular, the account of Matan Torah. If that account is really not historical then orthodoxy is fatally flawed.

    I disagree. I believe in Torah Min Hashamayim, I believe ma'amad har sinai happened. What happened and what torah min hashamayim means is something else. Depending on how you understand that, your question may be moot. Again the Rishonim have shown us the way and we need to go back and work it out. I wrote a paper for Hakirah on Prophecy two yeras ago, I just submitted one on on miracles, i have notes on one for ma'amad har sinai. I need to pull myself together to write it up.

    I don't get it but it seems that the current Torah leaders set themselves up for failure with their stupidity and fundamental views.

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