Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Foundation by Rambam -

I have been having an ongoing debate with Jewish Skeptic about my understanding of the proof for God’s existence. JS claims that Torah min Hashamayim (TMS) is a necessary belief without which God’s existence is not provable. Thus if someone questions TMS, God’s existence falls to the wayside. My position however is quite different. I argue that we have to prove each issue separately and individually. First we have to prove that there is such an entity that we call God without describing Him or appending any attributes to Him. That is done in a simple argument which I have posted several times but will do so again here in this particular context. Isaac Franck expressed it very succinctly:

Without knowing the nature or essence of G-d, we know that G-d exists because we know from our experience that things, contingent things exist. If anything exists, and obviously finite, contingent things, such as you and I, do exist, then it cannot be the case that everything that exists is contingent. To be contingent means that the existence of the contingent thing is contingent upon, depends upon, some other thing or being. But not everything can be dependent on something else, i.e., not everything can have been caused by, or brought into being by, something else. At least one entity must be in existence by itself, independent of anything else, must have come into being (if it did not exist eternally) by itself, must be its own cause, i.e. must exist necessarily not contingently, and its non - existence is inconceivable. This necessarily existent being is what we call God...”

Rambam makes that point very clearly in Mishne Torah where he presents Avodah Zara in a historical context where first man knew that there is only a Unique God – implying that it is an obvious conclusion that did not require an evolved human being. Because man could not relate to such an unknowable God, he slowly started to worship what he perceived as God’s agents, the stars and other heavenly bodies, as intermediaries at first and subsequently as gods in their own right. With time the Unique God was forgotten until Avrohom, on his own, concluded again that there is a Unique God using the argument I describe above. In Hilchot Avodah Zara 1:3 Rambam says as follows:
כיון שנגמל איתן זה, התחיל לשוטט בדעתו והוא קטן, ולחשוב ביום ובלילה, והיה תמיה: היאך אפשר שיהיה הגלגל הזה נוהג תמיד, ולא יהיה לו מנהיג; ומי יסבב אותו, לפי שאי אפשר שיסבב את עצמו. ולא היה לו לא מלמד ולא מודיע דבר, אלא מושקע באור כשדים בין עובדי עבודה זרה הטיפשים.
י ואביו ואימו וכל העם עובדים עבודה זרה, והוא היה עובד עימהן. וליבו משוטט ומבין, עד שהשיג דרך האמת, והבין קו הצדק, מדעתו הנכונה; וידע שיש שם אלוה אחד, והוא מנהיג הגלגל, והוא ברא הכול, ואין בכל הנמצא אלוה חוץ ממנו.
יא וידע שכל העם טועים, ודבר שגרם להם לטעות, זה שעובדים את הכוכבים ואת הצורות, עד שאבד האמת מדעתם; ובן ארבעים שנה, הכיר אברהם את בוראו.

Rambam emphasizes that Avrohom arrived at this conclusion without any revelatory support, purely on his own through logical deduction. This God has no attributes yet nor is He described in any way. All we know is that there is such an entity referred to by the philosophers as First Cause. Rambam maintains this throughout his writings explaining the first two commandments, Anochi and Lo Y’heyeh Lecha as non-revelatory but arrived at by the people through their own logical deduction (of course with some coaching by Moshe). (See my earlier post on the subject here - http://yediah.blogspot.com/2006/05/did-it-rain-during-matan-torah.html )

It is only after this idea has been assimilated properly that the other questions can be addressed. Providence, revelation, freedom of choice, man’s relationship to God and all the other existential questions must now be addressed individually. The process is arduous because the God we know exists, is elusive (by definition) and can only be perceived through the result of His actions. Of course those results or effects must be analyzed and seen if they are sensible or not, is this God a good God or not and so on. All we have in this quest are our senses and intelligence. It takes generations building upon the knowledge of past generations, perseverance and discipline of not only the individual but also the public and a lot of time and hard work. The Torah is the guidebook that proposes a way of life that promises to, when observed and understood correctly, to help man to develop in such a way that humankind will eventually know as much as humans can about God. We hopefully will then get a good understanding of our existential puzzle. We Jews have accepted the Torah as our guide at Sinai and we view it as the only guidebook for humankind. There may be individuals, and there were some in history, who can go on a parallel path successfully but we do not know of another successful system for a whole population. The issue of revelation which includes TMS as well as the other theological issues can only be discussed in this context. I propose to address many of these issues in future posts. Some of these I believe I have a good handle on, others I am still a work in progress. Even the ones I think that I have understood I find that every time I revisit or try to write about, I discover new insights.

It is important to keep each issue separate because there is only one goal – Yedias Hashem – and everything else is a tool to help us get there. The goal of Yedias Hashem is predicated on the conviction brought about by deductive logic that God exists. Rambam starts the Yad:
יסוד היסודות ועמוד החכמות, לידע שיש שם מצוי ראשון

That statement is the key to all religion (not only Judaism) - The foundation of all foundations and the supporting pillar of all knowledge is to KNOW that there is a First Cause.

20 comments:

  1. I was just reading Strauss' intro to the Guide last night, and I could have sworn that he stated the first two dibros were arrived at by revelation/exegesis (revelation for those at Sinai, exegesis for those reading the Moreh who had not been exposed to natural science, but only some divine science).

    I personally am more comfortable with these being considered revelatory, as I think an honest assesment of the Cosmological argument (which is what you are presenting here) is inconclusive (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cosmological_argument#Criticisms_and_objections - let's not get into a discussion debating the finer points of this or any other proof for God's existence; I'm sure you're aware of these arguments and have answers for them). What's more, I think Rambam would have felt this way were he alive today.

    But I agree that TMS is in no way a requirement for arriving at your conclusion of God's existence, and Rambam does not treat it as such.

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  2. If I understand this post correctly (and also your 'rain on Har Sinai' post) you seem to be saying the following:

    The Bnai Yisrael only ever 'heard' the first two commandments. And in fact this hearing was really them realizing through rationality that God exists. So in fact the BY heard nothing from God at all at Sinai. Only Moshe 'heard' or 'received' anything, and all of that could have been through Moshe's divine intuition?

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  3. GH that is correct. They 'heard" no words as Rambam in 2:33 points out:
    Furthermore, the words," In order that the people hear when I speak with thee" (Exod. xix. 9), show that God spoke to Moses, and the people only heard the mighty sound, not distinct words"

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  4. As Rambam says in his introduction to Pereq Cheleq, as far as the concept of "Torah is from Heaven" goes, the emphasis is on the point that it was not developed through Man's intellect or after his subjective perception; it was an objective phenomenon that overwhelmed the mind.

    I'm unsure from where the desire to conclusive prove anything historical beyond a shadow of a doubt comes.

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  5. >I'm unsure from where the desire to conclusive prove anything historical beyond a shadow of a doubt comes

    I have the same problem and I have argued this to GH several times also in a comment earlier today. It has not yet dawned on him.

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  6. At least one entity must be in existence by itself, independent of anything else, must have come into being (if it did not exist eternally) by itself, must be its own cause, i.e. must exist necessarily not contingently, and its non - existence is inconceivable. This necessarily existent being is what we call God

    Do you really find this argument so compelling? I just don't see much in it. It seems to offer so little.

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  7. Do you really find this argument so compelling? I just don't see much in it. It seems to offer so little.

    What exactly is your argument against the existence of an absolute form of existence?

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  8. Some Guy,

    It is a simple and elegant argument and I have not found anything that refutes it. Maybe you can enlighten me with your objection.

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  9. Some Guy,

    It is a simple and elegant argument and I have not found anything that refutes it. Maybe you can enlighten me with your objection.

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  10. Some Guy,

    It is a simple and elegant argument and I have not found anything that refutes it. Maybe you can enlighten me with your objection.

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  11. jewishskeptic6/06/2006 7:02 PM

    DG
    You write-
    "JS claims that Torah min Hashamayim (TMS) is a necessary belief without which God’s existence is not provable. Thus if someone questions TMS, God’s existence falls to the wayside. My position however is quite different. I argue that we have to prove each issue separately and individually. First we have to prove that there is such an entity that we call God without describing Him or appending any attributes to Him."
    That's not exactly what I said.
    I wrote that talking about God does'nt lead anywhere.
    God can not be defined in any way.(yes,according to the the Rambam!)
    So how can you talk about 'something'that you don't anything about it?
    Is this God male or female or both?
    (yes,I too read the Moreh..)
    Is He wholly transcendental or is He also part of the Universe,like in Kabbalah & Chasidism?

    What kind of God are you talking about?
    Or better still,what at all are you taking about?!
    You wrote me :we can learn from His actions. But the actions are violent,galaxies smashing into each other & in the living world,as I wrote you 'nature is red in tooth & claw'.
    Ah,there is beauty in all this-so you wrote(in different words).
    Well,beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. A tiger is beautiful but very vicious. There were beatiful
    blond German women in concentration camps who delighted in torturing litle Jewish children...
    But ,you say,the world coudn't have just popped out of nothing!
    Something must have caused it! & this 'something'we call God & is uncaused.
    This is the First Cause argument.
    But it has been demolished by many.
    Just because everything we experience in the 'set'(universe)has a cause
    doesn't necessarly mean that the set has a cause. Let me give you a simple example that comes to my mind:
    Let's imagine 5 people made aliyah(I am at present in Israel).
    a) because he is a Zionist b)is an archelogist & came to dig c)is an Eskimo who can't stand the cold in Alaska & was 'megayer'in order to get some sun in the Holy Land d)is a Chareidi who had a lifelong dream of stoning police cars in Geulah or Bnei-Brak e) is a writer who came to write a book about the 4 above.,

    Now you can say,there is specific cause for each one of the above making aliyah but you can't find a cause for the group(=set=Universe)as wholle>
    that's just an example for a set being without a cause!
    It's very late here,so finally I want to point out that your long qoute of the Rambam saying what avrohom was saying or thinking,is the Rambam speaking,NOT AVROHOM!
    It reminds me of the Greek historians who made up speeches that they thought it was proper for their heroes.Josephus did the same thing.

    To recap:absolutely nothing can be said about something which is unknowable.

    Lets assume that something caused it all & it's some kind of mathematical law or whatever,does that make you happy,if not personal,what good is it to you?
    That why I say : YOU HAVE TO START WITH TORAH MI HA'SHAMYIM.
    & PROVE IT!!!

    With regards to all the quotes from the Rambam etc. I can only quote:-
    ערביך ערבא צריך - סוכות כו

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  12. >that's just an example for a set being without a cause!

    I don't get the analogy. Each member of the set had a cause which in turn had a cause that caused it e.g. the cold in Alaska made him convert, the cold was caused by the sun being far from that location, and so on ad infinitum. The set has no cause but each individual has a cause until we reach the First Cause. (Read Chad Gadya)

    >Is He wholly transcendental

    Of course.

    > But the actions are violent,galaxies smashing into each other & in the living world,as I wrote you 'nature is red in tooth & claw'.

    They are but you are putting your value judgement to them without deeper research. Possibly it is viewed from a macro perspective as constuctive. The female tarantula that gobbles up the male sees it as part of the reproductive cycle which is constructive and is probably seen the same way by the male victim.

    TMS may be or not be a fact. It is a value judgement that the Torah was revelatory to Moshe only.Some Maimonedean medieval scholars held that it was a belief required so that the masses kept the Torah. I don't necessarily agree with that and have my own take, but it clearly is not a foundation of Religion but rather a foundation of the law. (Note Rambam starts here with Yesod hayesodos while when he talks about revelation he starts Mi'yesodei Hadas le'idah...clearly there are different types of foundations)

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  13. >To recap:absolutely nothing can be said about something which is unknowable.

    That is correct but much can be said about the results of His actions.

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  14. >"I don't get the analogy. Each member of the set had a cause which in turn had a cause that caused it e.g. the cold in Alaska made him convert, the cold was caused by the sun being far from that location, and so on ad infinitum. The set has no cause but each individual has a cause until we reach the First Cause. (Read Chad Gadya)"

    The analogy is simple.I am talking from a logical point of view.
    Here you have a reason- cause for each member of the set making aliyah.I am talking ONLY ABOUT THE CAUSE FOR MAKING ALIYAH & not for the cause of his birth & his parents' birth ad infinitum going back to the 1st atom.
    Again, I am ONLY talking about the cause for making aliyah of this group.
    Logically,each member of the set has a cause why he made aliyah,but you can't ask why did the group as a wholle make aliyah.Because you have to break up the group into its individual parts.
    Similarly,in the Universe,you can ask what is the cause of the sun,or the moon,or the milky way galaxy or about any INDIVIDUAL part of the universe.There is a cause,as far as we know,for each one.From this DOESN'T NECESSARLY follow that the WHOLE UNIVERSE has a cause,just as can't ask what is thecause the whole group made aliyah.

    We don't know of any other universes that are caused to be able to say: look,all the other universes are caused,so ours must be too.

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  15. jewishskeptic6/07/2006 4:15 AM

    The above was witten me.

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  16. jewishskeptic6/07/2006 4:35 AM

    The way I wrote the sentence above I shouhld have my eyes checked!
    Sorry.

    >"TMS may be or not be a fact. It is a value judgement that the Torah was revelatory to Moshe only"

    Well, was it a fact or not?
    THIS IS THE ISSUE & you are EVADING it! as you are evading my questions on how satisfying you find an impersonal God.If He does not relate to you,why should you care about Him?
    You avoid specific questions asked by me & that makes the all discussion go around in circles.

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  17. >We don't know of any other universes that are caused to be able to say: look,all the other universes are caused,so ours must be too.

    True, but at some point it all started with one single universe which started with a single mass especially if you espouse the Big Bang theory, so ultimately there was a First Cause for that single and only matter and event.

    I understand that we can argue for an eternal (static) state as is but it would be counterintuitive based on our perception that everything is a result of infinite sequences of events. I also understand that we don't have absolute empirical proof for that argument of causation and it is possible that we never will although as science advances it is probable that we will. I guess it is part of unknowability and transcendence we talk about as just the idea of an entity for whom the word existence is equivocal when applied to it as is the word entity is ultimately unknowable.

    That is why ultimately the only thing we humans can do is try to understand how this entity we can know, namely the universe or universes, which we assume was caused by this *** we cannot know, functions. As rational beings we will append moral judgements to it but what we do know is that it has existed for a very long time without self destructing. It is expected to do so for eternity. Therefore morally it is ultimately good. As part of that infinite chain of events we as rational and sentient beings have a choice to partake and be constructive playing a minute part in that enormous enterprise. Rambam ends the Moreh with that calling it Chesed Mishpat Utzedakah as per Yirmyahu.

    It does not necessarily translate into a religious necessity that is why Torah is a choice and why non religious people (of any culture) who look at things from a philosophical/ scientific point of view, are closer to god according to Rambam than religious halachik experts who have no insight about the why and how. However we as Jews have accepted the Torah way at Sinai, acceptance is really the whole point of it, not the supposed miraculous events, which should work to foster thinking within a large population (although sometimes one wonders).

    For the system to work a framework needs to be established so that masses, children, adults, men and women all follow a set of rules and goals that will allow each to his ability to partake in this enterprise of partaking creatively and constructively creating a collective of committed individuals. Hence TMS and all the other beliefs that we work with.

    I realize I just wrote a post which I might just do so to get more feedback.

    Thanks for starting my day with good thoughts.

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  18. >Well, was it a fact or not?
    THIS IS THE ISSUE & you are EVADING it! as you are evading my questions on how satisfying you find an impersonal God.If He does not relate to you,why should you care about Him?
    You avoid specific questions asked by me & that makes the all discussion go around in circles

    I think that I did not evade the question. I think that my last comment should cover most of the things you discuss head on. Re TMS and Sinai the way I understand it, it is depicted as a physical happening"Kolot Uberakim etc..." Rambam indicates that every one of them is a metaphor and he focusses totally on the intellectual and the bond between the people, God and Moshe. RMS (ohr Sameach)sees the Kafah aleihem har kegigis as a metaphor for conviction. There was an experience, an intellectual one, that convinced the people to commit to Torah for ever. My view on Moshe's prophecy and its uniqueness you can see here http://hakirah.org/Vol%201%20Guttman.pdf .

    If you assume that the order Rambam gives to Ikarim is by significance and importnce TMS is further down then those that deal with God and His existence. It is a dogma that is expedient rather than one that has to be proven.

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  19. Isaac Franck's statement is simply a variant of one of Aquinas'. This is not the proof of God, it is the proof of a concept that existed and was not created. There is nothing about this that suggests omnipotence, or uniqueness, or even sentience for that matter.

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  20. >omnipotence, or uniqueness, or even sentience for that matter

    Correct.

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