Saturday, October 28, 2006

Existence of God and Objective Morality

It seems that the greatest criticism to my post about objective morality was the idea of emulating God. God’s existence was questioned consequently the quest to find God was seen as empty. Even assuming we accept God’s existence, how do I see emulating His actions as good? Isn’t nature neutral?

Physicists have been struggling to find the Unified Law of Physics. What makes them think there is one? Maybe they will find out that there is no such thing and they were wasting their time. But they persist. Why? Because the Universe is so elegant that it makes sense that a perfect system should be underlying it. What is more elegant and perfect than one single law for all of physics? That gives the intellectually curious enough impetus to pursue a lifelong search passing the baton from generation to generation of researchers. And as long as no one will prove that such a law cannot exist, man will continue the search.

The search for God is a similar endeavor. It makes sense that our existence which we are trying to understand has a First Cause. I personally think that the argument that there must be a First Cause is irrefutable. I will however concede for argument sake, that at most we cannot prove that there is no First Cause. And as long as that does not happen, and it will not because it cannot, as Stephen Hawking says (in a different context) it is like asking for north of the North Pole, man will continue that search.

The key point is that God is unknowable, He is transcendent. If someone thinks he found Him he can rest assured that his imagination took over and he is looking at a false god. Spinoza thought he found God in nature and we can rest assured that whatever he found is not God.

If ultimately God is unknowable what then is the search for Him all about? It is looking for His traces, His footprints in the universe He caused to exist. The universe has many attributes. It is eternal, it has a built in mechanism that allows it to survive, adjust and flourish. I happen to enjoy the Gaia Hypotheses as an interesting way of looking at things. I am not well informed enough to either criticize it or defend it. It fits though nicely with my idea of how well the universe self regulates. Be it as it may, the universe seems to thrive and is to all appearances eternal. If one assumes that it is the result of God’s original will, one can extrapolate that seeing to it that things that are under our control survive and flourish is equivalent to emulating God and doing His will.

Rambam in MN 3:53 explains the meaning of the three words חםד משפט צדקה in this context.

“In discussing the impropriety of admitting attributes of God we stated that the divine attributes which occur in Scripture are attributes of His actions; thus He is called Hasid," kind," because He created the Universe; Tzaddik," righteous," on account of His mercy with the weak, in providing for every living being according to its powers; and Shofet," judge," on account of the relative good and the great relative evils ( I will discuss this in a separate post – there is much meaning in the word ‘relative” used here – DG) that are decreed by God's justice as directed by His wisdom.”

Objective morality thus is emulating God and acting accordingly. MN 3:54, the penultimate paragraph in the Moreh reads:

The object of the above passage is therefore to declare, that the perfection, in which man can truly glory, is attained by him when he has acquired-as far as this is possible for man-the knowledge of God, the knowledge of His Providence, and of the manner in which it influences His creatures in their production and continued existence. Having acquired this knowledge he will then be determined always to seek loving-kindness, (Chesed) judgment, (Mishpat) and righteousness, (Tzedakah) and thus to imitate the ways of God”.

Shavuah Tov.

15 comments:

  1. Nice post, but you didn't actually say anything. How do you know a first cause is some deliberate, moral actor? You don't know, it could be anything. Maybe the first cause is some hyper-intelligent scientists from anothe dimension? Or maybe its an evil God? Or maybe not a God at all, but something we just don't understand? Bottom line: You need some faith that there is a good God at the root of it all. Your entire 'rational' search is based on faith. Which is not neccesarily a bad thing, but it's time you admitted it.

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  2. >How do you know a first cause is some deliberate, moral actor? You don't know, it could be anything. Maybe the first cause is some hyper-intelligent scientists from anothe dimension? Or maybe its an evil God? Or maybe not a God at all, but something we just don't understand

    Is it not worthwhile to find out? Is that not a very worthwhile search? As Rambam says learn everything about physics and metaphysics and know that whatever you have found is not the First Cause just a trace of Him. This may give you a clue of who He is, how He acts and so on.

    I used to be involved in a Biotech company. I was always amazed how the scientists identified a bacteria by what it did not react to in a petri dish.They never saw the bacteria they just knew what category it was and how it behaved. The same can be said about the search for God.

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  3. Dawith:

    Is it not worthwhile to find out? Is that not a very worthwhile search? As Rambam says learn everything about physics and metaphysics and know that whatever you have found is not the First Cause just a trace of Him. This may give you a clue of who He is, how He acts and so on.

    Don't forget Astronomy too. If you are speaking of ma'aseh bereshith, we might learn a TINY bit about how things came to be. But your usage of the word CLUE (of who he is) says it all. Ultimately, we can not understand the "why" part of "who he is" or why he did/does things. Perhaps we can gain an appreciation of the Creator, in terms of the magnificence of His creation.

    "Do you really think you can reach the final understanding of G-D?" (Job 11,7)

    I am sure (from what you wrote) that you do not, thank the G-D.

    It is the mistake of many Qabbalists, who think they can actually bridge the gap between the finite and the infinite (if I may analogize with Math for a sec: which may or may not be appropriate). At the end of the day, we'll always be infinitely far (if I may lean on the inappropriate comparison with distance) from understanding Him. Although (as you said), we may gain a clue of how things came to be, and gain an appreciation of Him.

    XGH: Although magnitude or even greatness does not necessarily prove a moral Creator, it certainly shows a Creator that put an unfathomable amount of detail into the complexities of His Creation (clearly creating forces of Good and Evil to exist). And if you will not accept this, because it ultimately leans on the Divine Standard for a definition (circular), he certainly created Creatures complex enough to decide upon Good vs. Evil, even according to their own standards. If our Creator had no opinion on Morality at all, one can only wonder why He did that. Why not leave us like the animals, with a totally instinct-based concept. At the very least, it would seem that such a Creator is either Good, evil (Heaven forbid), or a little of both (Heaven forbid)... from a logical perspective. But for so much detail to be Created, I am leaning towards the idea that he does have an opinion on this (one way or the other). Of course, I am predispositioned to believe he is Good.

    Perhaps it is better to start with an exploration of the greatness of this Creator (in terms of handywork), regardless of his nature. For me, it is a bit rediculous to fathom His nature or essence (at this point) from such a finite perspective. But we can appreciate his works.

    "If you have understanding you will comprehend that which our sages pointed out. They have clearly stated that the Divine Chariot (the mysteries of Torah) includes matters too deep and too profound for the ordinary intellect. It has been shown that a person favored by providence with reasons to understand these mysteries is forbidden by the Law to teach them except viva voce, and on condition that the pupil possess certain qualifications, and even then only the heads of the sections may be communicated. This has been the cause why the knowledge of this mystery has entirely disappeared from our nation and nothing has remained of it." (Moreh Nevuhhim).

    However, the fact that these mysteries were understood (at one time) lends credibility to what you are saying. That we can move in that direction through knowledge.

    Warmest
    Alex

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  4. "Let it not arise in your mind that you will be able to perceive G-D by trying to study or to search into the knowledge of His Essence (ma'aseh Merqavah) or of His Essential (absolute) Truth. For this is impossible. On the contrary, whoever attempts to enter into such a study is a blasphemer and a reviler. For all that which exists has not the power to understand this. How much more so one who is found in a material body. Therefore the Sages of blessed memory warned us and said: Don't search into that which is too wondrous for you."

    But searching for ma'aseh bereshit (the makings of creation) is important.

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  5. Alex, of course Ma'aseh Breishit too as all other sciences biology, etc... I would say even many of the humanities are important .

    That is why the strong barrier that has been put up as a reaction to haskallah between secular and Torah knowledge has created such havoc in our community and dsitorted important matters. It is time we get leaders who reverse and aboilsh this so detrimental attitude.

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  6. > Is it not worthwhile to find out? Is that not a very worthwhile search?

    And how exactly do you propose to do that?

    Your reasoning is always circular on this point. You say the Torah is the best way to get to God. You say life is a search for God. When I ask, how do you know, you say 'Because its in the Torah'. Again, how do you even know you should be searching for God in the first place??

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  7. > XGH: Although magnitude or even greatness does not necessarily prove a moral Creator, it certainly shows a Creator that put an unfathomable amount of detail into the complexities of His Creation (clearly creating forces of Good and Evil to exist).

    Unless the creator was just some dumb physical process that we cannot comprehend. Again, you start with faith that the Creator is basically God like.

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  8. >When I ask, how do you know, you say 'Because its in the Torah'.

    Apparently you read what you want to. When did I ever say that. Read my post again carefully. You have a hangup with the Torah just like the Yeshivish crowd worships it instead of god, so do you try to debunk it is if it were God!

    I am talking about the great existential question. As long as there is a strong argument that there is a God and it has not been disproven, man will search for Him just as they are searching for the Unified Law.

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  9. > I am talking about the great existential question. As long as there is a strong argument that there is a God and it has not been disproven, man will search for Him just as they are searching for the Unified Law.

    Okay, but I'm not so sure Man is searching for God per se. Maybe Man is searching for meaning?

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  10. > Maybe Man is searching for meaning?

    Is it not the same as searching for God? See Yesodei Hatorah 1:3 the last few words "Lefikach ein amitato ke'amitat echad mehem...hu levado ha'emet etc..." Isn't meaning and emet synonymous?

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  11. XGH wrote: Unless the creator was just some dumb physical process that we cannot comprehend. Again, you start with faith that the Creator is basically God like.

    Response: You were the one that originally started with a first cause (which is acknowledged by both Aristotle and Maimonides). I actually acknowledge that as a logical starting point. The discussion of His nature came later. Is the creation itself that leads me (maybe not you) to the idea that the first cause is indeed G-Dly. The complexity and largeness of the physical creation (for me) can not be assigned to "some dumb process". Is this proof? Nahhh.

    However, as you do recognize a first cause (as you seem to admit), then you yourself are not being consistent by retro-arguing for a dumb process (although in all fairness to you, you may just be presenting options or possibilities). A first cause (by its very implication) implies intelligence (or as science recently calls it - "an element of Design"). Even if you disagree, you would be assuming a dumb process as much as I would be assuming design.

    Perhaps we can argue the meaning of the word cause. Can (for example) something be caused by an accident or as a result of something (unplanned)? I suppose that from a strict scientific perspective, that is something we could argue about. But I am already with the answer NO on that one.

    If you do agree on design, order or intelligence of some degree, please let us know up front. Otherwise, it is wasted folly.

    I never said we should be searching for G-D (not yet anyway), as our host appears to be saying. I am (and was) saying we should be searching for truth, by learning about the creation (ie: what can be observed about the universe/ ma'aseh bereshth/ the sciences/ observations).

    I agree with you. I am not sure that man is searching for G-D. Dawith says the search for truth can be equated to searching for G-D. He brings out the Rambam. However, this only appears to work if one PRESUMES (or perhaps KNOWS -as the Rambam says) the truth of the existence of G-D (beforehand), which I believe was your point. I recognize your point. Dawith's point is that the Rambam insists that we must KNOW that G-D exists. From this, I can only hypothesize that the Rambam is advocating we use every bit of our potential to learn about the first Cause (which he calls G-D) with the very essence of our being, which surely includes the 5 senses and more (intelligence, study and ESPECIALLY LOGIC). Clearly, this is an injunction to learn science.

    Let's search out truth and see where it leads. Shall we?

    Alex

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  12. correction above: It IS the creation itself that leads me (maybe not you) to the idea that the first cause is indeed G-Dly.

    Alex

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  13. Alex, How do you Yemmenize Alex?
    :-)

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  14. you don't...

    It's originally Greek anyway, so what can you do? Make it "Al" for short.

    Al

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  15. > Let's search out truth and see where it leads. Shall we?

    I'm game!

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