Monday, July 09, 2007

Judaism for our Time - Rambam Revisited.

Here is a segment of Technician’s presentation with my comments in brackets and Italics.

Blogger- But wait – all this stuff is still dogmatically medieval and incorrect science.

Answer- even Maimonides limited knowledge to what was epistemologically provable and therefore the metaphysical aspects of science and God’s essence are unknowable. We only know God’s existence through his actions in the material world, not his essence or the scientific proofs for creation. It is already a non-dogmatic position of a liberal theist.

[Rambam repeatedly states in MN that humans are limited to know only what is in our material world. That is why he says that Aristotle is reliable only on what he says about things below the sphere of the moon (in medieval parlance the physical world – other spheres were of a different nature according to them). All else is speculation and is based on what makes more sense logically or apprehended through revelation. There is no empirical evidence in metaphysics. As God by definition is non-physical, all we know is that there is such an entity. If we want to understand anything about that Entity all we can do is extrapolate from what we perceive as His actions. It gives us a framework to relate to Him but has no relationship to His real essence. Even Creation from nothing is based on revelation rather than empirical proof. If Rambam would have insisted, like many other thinkers before, during and after his time, including today that the words of Tanach have to be read literally notwithstanding reality, he would have been a dogmatic theist.]

Blogger – no this is still medieval. You cannot prove God and science works without God.

Premise 1- we acknowledge that Hume formally disproved the proofs for God.

[By showing that there is no causality, the argument for the existence of a First Cause based on the impossibility of indefinite sequences of cause and effect fell to the wayside. His understanding that we know things only based on our senses and experience, does not allow speculating about the existence of an Entity outside our sensory experience even if a non-contingent entity was logically necessary.]

Then, in the Enlightenment - Voltaire, Thomas Paine, and Diderot destroyed them in public. Only a tyro or a charlatan would take the permission to deceive by ignoring Hume.

Premise 2 – Leibniz and others reformulated the arguments without the medieval elements. Then, Kant formulated a moral argument.

P3 – Nihilists, materialists, and positivists in Germany socially destroyed the arguments again.

[There are different schools of how to understand empirical knowledge. The discussion centers on Kant who argued that “synthetic a priori” propositions for Metaphysics are impossible. A synthetic a priori proposition is one whose predicate concept is not contained in its subject concept. For example, the statement “all bachelors are happy” versus the statement “all bachelors are single”. In the latter single is contained in the word bachelor – bachelor means single – while in the first “happy” and “bachelor” have two different meanings and must be proven to be true. (I thank for these definitions.) As Metaphysics is not something we can experience with our senses, we therefore can never empirically prove any statement we make about it. As the FC, argument for God is outside things we can sense it is therefore according to Kant’s understanding a nonsensical argument. (For examples of this position read bloggers XGH and Knowledge Problems). Kant however introduced the idea of a humanistic moral and ethical order based on Reason and independent of God.]

P4 - At the turn of the 20th century, Hermann Cohen reformulated the arguments as postulates of reason. It is not proof but a logical postulate to avoid the other approach of P3- the nihilists and materialists. We accept God as the giving reason and moral order to creation; Man’s role is to hear the moral call from God and act to make the world a better place.

P5 – as a Jew and former reform seminary student, Cohen formulates his approach using Maimonides and not Aquinas. Maimonides in the 20th century automatically means through the lens of Cohen. Leibowitz, Soloveitchik, Leo Baeck, Ken Seeskin, and most others formulate their approaches to Maimonides using Cohen.

Conclusion – When we say Maimonides we are already non-dogmatic and use this as shorthand for a general approach. Especially, since we are more concerned with fighting superstition and creating a moral order than with epistemology.

[Herman Cohen and other neo Kantians put religion in a separate category. They argued that, although God is unknowable, man can develop ethics and morality from his surroundings and that in itself, that thinking and activity, is the God that religion is proposing. It is not something that needs to be proven empirically but is a way of thinking. It presents Judaism as a humanistic and ethical religion rather than a God centered one.

Religious thinkers of that school led by RYBS went one-step further. Agreeing that God is unknowable, they however accept revelation and the existence of a personal God based on that. RYBS emphasized man’s duality and dialectical makeup. The creative and independent coupled with the subservient to God make up the complete religious persona. The contemplative and passive observer becomes the active creative person that acts based on his understanding and experience of God. If one reads Rambam carefully one sees this dual approach where man is nothing while at the same time acts emulating God. It is only when emulating God that man “experiences” Him. It is that experience through emulating God that is the ultimate human goal and perfection. The scientific and rational man who uses this developed ability to create and mold his surroundings is also the religious man that “experiences” the Creator

The question that comes up, is this not subjective? Technician addresses this in his further presentation with my comments coming up soon.

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