Monday, November 15, 2010
The Paradox of Creationism and Non-Corporeality.
Proving the existence of God is a topic discussed from time immemorial and seems to be a never-ending subject. I believe that the cause is the lack of definitions. When we are trying to prove the existence of God, the thinking is that we are talking about a personal God, an entity that created and controls existence and is involved in it on a constant basis. That is the God that is relevant to the general public and is therefore the one that is instinctively sought after. Unfortunately, the only thing that we can prove unequivocally is the existence of a non-contingent entity that is uniquely non-contingent, non-physical and whose “existence” itself is only a term used for an entity that “exists” in an “existence” that we cannot fathom.
“…for even the term “existence” is applied to Him and other things, according to our opinion, only by way of absolute equivocation.” (MN 1:52, repeated in MN 1:35, 56 and 57.)
I say “Prove”, but I have to add a caveat even to this. Let me explain. Rambam in the introductory chapters to his discussion of the proofs for the existence of God presents the most common proofs, the ones used to this day, which are based on creation and referred to nowadays as “ID - Intelligent design” and which he vehemently rejects. Rambam explains that basing the existence of God on the argument that the world must have a creator for it to be so magnificently structured is a very risky approach. He argues that there is no unequivocal proof that the world was created. It is only an argument that seems to be the most appealing and logical but cannot be proven incontrovertibly. Basing the existence of God on such a weak base is not a good idea. He therefore undertakes to prove it based on the possibility of an eternal universe too. He brings several proofs and one of the most compelling to me is the one arguing that in a world that we observe as being contingent, where every part of it is contingent on a preceding cause, there must be one entity that is non-contingent – that entity is what we call God. In essence, he therefore shows that whether we believe in a created universe or an eternal one, there must be an entity, a “First Existent” that we refer to as God. The problem that we face is that the God that emerges from the eternal universe argument is necessarily uniquely non-contingent and therefore non- physical while the one that emerges from the creationist argument does not necessarily have to be non-physical and therefore uniqueness cannot be proven.
“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.” (MN 1:71)
Unity and non-corporeality can only be unequivocally proven if one assumes an eternal universe. A created universe can accept a non-corporeal unique God but it cannot be unequivocally proven. We therefore face a great paradox – accept creation – God does not have to be non-corporeal, accept eternity of the universe, God must be non-corporeal. We, Jews, who accept creation as a belief should therefore be able to live with the idea of a physical God. In fact, many great Jews did believe that God was corporeal. Ra’avad in Hilchot Teshuvah 3:7 makes the famous comment that “greater and better people [than Rambam who considers corporealists as minim] accepted that belief based on what they read in the scriptures and even more in the Aggadot that confuse thinking”.
It is with this in mind that I believe Hilchot Teshuvah 3:7 becomes clearer.
טו [ז] חמישה הן הנקראין מינים: האומר שאין שם אלוה, ואין לעולם מנהיג; והאומר שיש שם מנהיג, אבל הם שניים או יתר; והאומר שיש שם ריבון אחד, אלא שהוא גוף ובעל תמונה; וכן האומר שאינו לבדו ראשון וצור לכול; וכן העובד אלוה זולתו, כדי להיות מליץ בינו ובין ריבון העולמים. כל אחד מחמישה אלו מין.
The first of the five “Minim” must be read as one who accepts the existence of an entity such as God but does not accept Him as the entity responsible for natural law (מנהיג). An atheist, one who does not believe in the existence of God altogether, is not a Min – a religious definition. Denial of the existence of a “First Existent” is illogical because,
יסוד היסודות ועמוד החכמות, לידע שיש שם מצוי ראשון
(Yesodei Hatorah 1:1)
The existence of a First Existent is a fact; it is the foundation and supporting column of all knowledge. In Hilchot Teshuvah, the Min rejects how our religion sees God and that places him in the category of Minim.
Micah Goodman in his excellent book “Secrets of the Guide for the Perplexed” (pg. 268-269) concludes that Rambam did not really believe that the existence of God is unequivocally provable. I believe he erred by conflating the existence of God with “what” God is, an argument he himself makes several times in the discussion. True, the idea of a non-physical God is not provable; the existence of a First Existent is factual and provable. All the proofs that God is non-corporeal are based on the eternity of the universe which is not provable. The proofs for the existence of a First Existent are based on either possibilities; eternal or created universe.
 In a letter to Marseilles Rambam writes:
Know, my masters, that it is not proper for a man to accept as trustworthy anything other than one of these three things. The first is a thing for which there is a clear proof deriving from man's reasoning—such as arithmetic' geometry, and astronomy. The second is a thing that a man perceives through one of the five senses—such as when he knows with certainty that this is red and this is black and the like through the sight of his eye; or as when he tastes that this is bitter and this is sweet; or as when he feels that this is hot and this is cold; or as when he hears that this sound is clear and this sound is indistinct; or as when he smells that this is a pleasing smell and this is a displeasing smell and the like. The third is a thing that a man receives from the prophets or from the righteous. Every reasonable man ought to distinguish in his mind and thought all the things that he accepts as trustworthy, and say: "This I accept as trustworthy because of tradition, and this because of sense perception, and this on grounds of reason." Anyone who accepts as trustworthy anything that is not of these three species, of him it is said: "The simple believes everything" (Prov. 14:15).
 I use “world” for simplicity and clarity. I am really talking about physical existence.
 A variation on this proof is what is referred to as the metaphysical proof; all existents are “possible existents” – they are not necessary existent. In an eternal existence, there must be a time when no “possible existents” were in existence. As we are here, there must therefore exist a “necessary existent” who is God. This proof too is dependent on an eternal universe.
 Otherwise, the first should be counted as two. It is only after accepting the existence of God that a discussion can be held on His role in existence. Clearly שאין שם אלוה must be read as one with . ואין לעולם מנהיג
 He bases it on professor Ze’ev Harvey’s article ‘Maimonides” Avicennianism” Maimonidean Studies Vol 5 (2008).