Thursday, August 10, 2006

Believing in God: not for the fainthearted - A response to Godol Hador.

Believing in God is indeed not for the fainthearted, as GH so eloquently put it. It is for the thoughtful and discerning individual or on the other hand for the Jew who believes in God because of tradition and faith. GH is advocating the latter position and he has on whom to rely on. R.Nachman of Breslav was one proponent of that school and he has followed many earlier Rabbis. It is however not the understanding of Rambam nor of the Mekubalim. They believe that the existence of God has to be proven to each person according to his capacity. It is their understanding of the Mitzvah of Yediat Hashem, with varying degrees of obligation, depending on each position.

The existence of God has to be proven without Him being the Creator or the universe ever having been created. As GH put it so succinctly, why would it be better to believe in an infinite (in time) God than in an infinite universe?

Rambam states this very clearly in Moreh 1:71:

My method, as far as I now can explain it in general terms, is as follows. The universe is either eternal or has had a beginning: if it had a beginning, there must necessarily exist a being which caused the beginning; this is clear to common sense; for a thing that has had a beginning, cannot be the cause of its own beginning, another must have caused it. The universe was, therefore, created by God. If on the other hand the universe were eternal, it could in various ways be proved that apart from the things which constitute the universe, there exists a being which is neither body nor a force in a body, and which is one, eternal, not preceded by any cause, and immutable. That being is God. You see that the proofs for the Existence, the Unity and the Incorporeality of God must vary according to the propositions admitted by us. Only in this way can we succeed in obtaining a perfect proof, whether we assume the eternity or the creation of the universe. For this reason you will find in my works on the Talmud, whenever I have to speak of the fundamental principles of our religion, or to prove the existence of God, that I employ arguments which imply the eternity of the universe. I do not believe in that eternity, but I wish to establish the principle of the existence of God by an indisputable proof, and should not like to see this most important principle founded on a basis which every one could shake or attempt to demolish, and which others might consider as not being established at all.”

Rambam sets out various arguments proving that there is an entity we call God that is the non-physical part, or for lack of better words, the conceptual part (the Form) of the universe. He exists parallel with the universe eternally or for as long as it exists. The most compelling argument to me is the one he lays out in 2:4. He argues that as we know the physical world, motion is what brings about change. We also know that motion is not spontaneous. Things do not start moving on their own without there being something that moves them. In the Aristotelian concept, the spheres have a mind that urges them to emulate God, who they perceive as perfection. Thus they initiate a circular movement that is perfect. Of course this sounds fantastic to our contemporary ears, but the basic premise that there has to be a cause for movement remains. It is also clear that that entity cannot be one that is subject to the laws of physics that we know, because GH’s argument would stand – why is this more comprehensible than infinite causes in the physical realm? God is therefore non-physical and not constrained by the laws of physics. We are not proving, as GH erroneously understands, that there is a First Cause in time that created everything. All we are saying is that there is a non-physical entity that exists parallel with the universe possibly eternally.

As to God being the Creator, that is a completely different story. Once we accept that there is an entity such as God, we now are left with the question of did He create the world in time? The key word here is “in time”. That already is a religious belief. One cannot prove that logically or empirically, it is only a choice of how one looks ontologically at existence. That was the point of my post http://yediah.blogspot.com/2006/06/professor-stephen-hawking-and-rambam.html . That is Rambam’s point in Moreh 2:25:

If we were to accept the Eternity of the Universe as taught by Aristotle, that everything in the Universe is the result of fixed laws, that Nature does not change, and that the customary course of events cannot be modified with regard to anything, we should necessarily be in opposition to the foundation of our religion, we should disbelieve all miracles and signs, and certainly reject all hopes and fears derived from Scripture, unless the miracles are also explained figuratively.”

I do not want to come across as critical, but anyone who really wants to understand how Judaism understands God at the philosophical and theological level, must take the time and effort, it requires a lot of it, to read the sources. It is not enough to read the scholarly works and the classical interpretations of R.Sa'adyah Gaon, Kuzari, Rambam and Ramban. They have to be studied in their own words, worked at constantly. It is incredible the depth and insight these giants had.

13 comments:

  1. Sorry, I don't see how the Rambam's proofs work in any way, nor how any of this is a response to my post. You seem to have just repeated the standard 'proofs', perhaps phrasing them a little different. The most you can say is that it seems reasonable to assume something other than our universe caused our universe. Fine. But that *something* could be absolutely anything, we have no data, nor do we have ability to comprehend it in any way. You either need faith, or revelation. (Or more likely faith in a revelation).

    Ex GH.

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  2. >But that *something* could be absolutely anything,

    No it could not be anything. It would have to be *something* that contained in it all the information necessary for the universe to exist for it to be the cause for its existence. That 8something* by definition is hierarchically higher than everything else.

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  3. > That 8something* by definition is hierarchically higher than everything else.

    OK, I can agree to that. But that's still a long way from knowing anything else about the *something*.

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  4. But ultimately you are right, defining what that entity *is* for example does it have will, if it is perfect, for one,is ontological and religious. It falls under the rubric of accepting the system laid out by the Torah.

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  5. >But that's still a long way from knowing anything else about the *something*.

    That is correct. It is a lifetime work to try to know the most knowing one can never reach the goal. That is the deeper meaning of the Mishna "Lo aleicha hamelacha ligmor".

    Read Moreh 3:51 through the end for a great read on the subject.

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  6. You make a good point.

    People seem to think that you can understand something from outside of our universe in a month or two by reading "the right book"

    It does sound absurd when put into that light.

    I just found this fascinating book callded god Theory, by an astrophysist. I found it amazing for two reasons. 1. It was sitting next "a brief histoy of time" in the book store. 2. It was written by a scientist raised catholic, who rejected catholism for all the evils that religion is, and then became a christian again, when he discovered a book oh Haggadah that explains Genesis through the eyes of the Kabbalists, while working at lockhead martin and browsing a bookstore.

    I didn't read the actual contents of the book, but I found the connetion very peculiar. The book is presented as a means for Science and Religion to live peacefully together.

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  7. a skeptics skeptic8/10/2006 10:00 PM

    No it could not be anything. It would have to be *something* that contained in it all the information necessary for the universe to exist for it to be the cause for its existence. That 8something* by definition is hierarchically higher than everything else.

    Is this not all belief? You can't prove that "something" exists that contains all the information for the universe to exist and therefore hierarchically higher.

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  8. >s this not all belief? You can't prove that "something" exists that contains all the information for the universe to exist and therefore hierarchically higher.

    It is proveable the same way that any math equation is proveable.

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  9. a skeptics skeptic8/11/2006 2:43 PM

    >It is proveable the same way that any math equation is proveable.

    So whats the equation that proves the existence of G-D

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  10. Sorry..
    I left out the subset thing, but I can't remember the symbol, I think its { } So...

    Universe = everything
    The universe originates from G-d.
    everything must originate from something.
    G-d must contain the subset of everything.

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  11. >Is this not all belief? You can't prove that "something" exists that contains all the information for the universe to exist and therefore hierarchically higher

    It is hierarchically higher because it has no cause, being the First Cause. The fact that it contains all the information is a separate isssue and I will be posting about it soon. The question is excellent and I am glad you posed it.

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  12. I know you've visited my blog, but I'm not sure if you went back through the bits and found some of my posts about non-evidentialism, the fallacy of 'faith v. fact' etc.

    harherem.blogspot.com

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