Monday, December 31, 2007

Answers to a couple of recent comments on Faith vs. Evidence

My answers to a couple of comments on this post -

Anon:

I wasn't trying to give you a hard time for posting anonymously - sorry if it came across that way.

You're right - perhaps the word "retreat" is a poor choice. But I do not believe in rejecting empirical evidence because my religion claims it must be wrong. If I had always lived in caves and my religion had taught me that the sky was green, and I had always believed that, what would happen if I came to the surface and saw that the sky was blue? There would be 3 choices.

1) The sky isn't blue, despite the evidence of my own eyes.

2) The sky is green; therefore, my entire religion is wrong.

3) The sky is green, therefore my religion was wrong about this particular point. That doesn't invalidate the rest of the religion.

My beliefs would fall into the 3rd category. I love Hashem, I love Judaism. I am forced to concede that Judaism had it wrong on some counts, but that doesn't mean I reject it all.

You say that science is accelerating. But it cannot disprove an intangible. Science can never disprove my belief in God. Nor can science disprove that the Torah is, at the very least, divinely inspired by God and that there was some sort of revelation. This holds true even if the Torah was written by humans at a later date than is traditionally believed. If I choose to believe that many of the historical events and characters in the Torah are "true" only symbolically or allegorically, science cannot disprove that.

So, in answer to your question on what I believe that cannot be changed by scientific evidence: I believe in God and that the Torah is divinely inspired and that Judaism is an outgrowth of that Torah. I believe I am bound by the halachic system because we were commanded by God to create a process based on his revelation that resulted in said system of laws.

None of this can be disproved by science, so I am confident that I never need give up my basic beliefs.

David G:

I'm actually not really struggling with the conflict between science & Torah. I'm pretty comfortable with the middle ground that I carved out. I am fascinated by the challenges and possible solutions, but I don't feel my basic belief system is in danger.

Has the Democratic Party moved to the left?

I usually don’t comment on politics on this blog, but in this political season, and with politics being my version of sports, I guess it’s inevitable.

In this Jerusalem Post op-ed piece, Jonathan Tobin decries that the Democratic Party, by veering sharply towards the left, has forced people like Joe Lieberman to turn to the republicans and endorse John McCain. Tobin repeats the usual claim of the right that the Democratic party has become soft on terror and is now controlled by the radical anti-Israel pacifist left and that people like Lieberman have no choice but to lean towards the “responsible” foreign policy of the Republicans.

"At places like Huffingtonpost.com and other sites where the MoveOn.org crowd congregate, the comments range from the scatological to the purely anti-Semitic. At such places, hard core anti-Bush and anti-war sentiments are the coin of the realm, and hostility to Israel and its perceived influence on American foreign policy is rampant. The notion of a Democratic Party that aggressively defends America's interests abroad as vigorously as it fights for liberal causes at home is treated as an absurdity in this quarter."

The truth is, by needlessly attacking Iraq, mismanaging the war, torturing prisoners, and abrogating international treaties, Bush created the opening for the lunatic fringe of the left to gain so much of the voice of liberalism. If he had continued to responsibly prosecute the war in Afghanistan and not attacked Iraq and embraced unilateralism, the radical voices of the extreme left wouldn't be nearly as loud or carry nearly as much weight in the media.

That being said, it is exactly that focus by the media on the MoveOn.org crowd that gives a skewed impression of today's Democratic electorate. The vast majority of Democratic voters is fairly middle of the road and abhors the tactics and shrillness of the extreme left. But they recognize that the war in Iraq was a costly and useless error and they are anxious to move back to normality. Lieberman doesn't recognize this truth and therefore gravitates to the right. He left the Democratic party behind when he chose to support the wrong war.

The one Democratic candidate for President who really represents the fringe left that many seem so frightened of is Dennis Kucinich, and he is polling in the low single digits. Most Democratic voters are supporting mainstream candidates like Clinton, Obama, Edwards, etc. All of them supported the war in Afghanistan and have consistently expressed strong support for Israel. So in what way has the Democratic party abandoned the center? Only by the standards of those who support this wasteful and illegal war in Iraq.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

More on Faith vs. Evidence

Anonymous left a comment to my post "Faith vs. Evidence" on Dec. 24.

I started typing a comment in response, but decided my point merited a new post.

Anonymous wrote:

"Great blog. I came across it accidentally, but well thought out and thorough posts.

"Anyway, I don't think your generalization in the 2nd paragraph holds. I came from a pretty religious family, from an early age as I can remember I always valued logic and reasoning more than blind faith.

"But anyway, on to your statement that "There is nothing in the documentary hypothesis to force me to reject God's existence". If you are accepting scientific reasoning, as your post seems to suggest (e.g. you are refer to documentary hypothesis, which is a scientific construct), then you are going about it from the wrong angle. Extraordinary claims required extraordinary proofs. Thus, you have to prove God's existence rather than wait for someone else to disprove it. Otherwise, I could just say that there is nothing in the documentary hypothesis to force me to reject the existence of exquisite set of Fabergé eggs traveling in orbit of Jupiter.

"Moreover, as far as adjusting belief to fit empirical evidence... Sorry, either you believe in God or you do not. Adjusting your belief based on the soup du jour makes the belief invalid."

Anonymous:

Thanks for the comment.

What I was saying is that I am NOT basing my entire belief system entirely on rationalism. I am both a rational being and a religious one.

I come from a belief in God & Judaism. That, I admit, is not a rational belief. It is a religious one. I don’t advocate for that position based on a reasoned understanding of the evidence. I feel it emotionally, in a way that has nothing to do with empiricism.

On the other hand, I also view myself as a rational being. I am confronted with evidence about the natural world and of history and archeology, evidence that was not available to earlier generations.

So I am forced to retreat. But it does not mean that I must throw out all of my religious beliefs, but simply to acknowledge that some of them may have been based on myth and legend. Does that mean the entire foundation of my belief in Judaism has crumbled? I say no.

I concede the points I must, based on incontrovertible evidence. For instance, archeological and geological evidence clearly proves there was no worldwide flood in ancient times. Does that mean that I have to throw out the baby with the bathwater?

No! There are many ways to understand the flood tale related in the Torah. God meant it allegorically or symbolically. Or maybe there was a massive flood and it seemed like it covered the entire world and the Torah was given to humans in language they could understand. Or perhaps the Torah was written by humans, but it encompassed a measure of divine revelation.

Many of the dogmatic beliefs of Judaism were formulated much later than biblical times, and many of those even later than Talmudic times. So what if one part of dogma is proven to be untrue. There is enough richness of tradition to reach back and find a different explanation from antiquity that allows my belief to stand.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Modern Orthodox communities

There’s been a lot of talk lately about how much of the formerly Modern Orthodox community has been leaning to the right, religiously.

The problem is much more pronounced in the big communities where the Orthodox population is dominated by the Ultra Orthodox. The MO in those areas seem to take their cues for everything from the Charedim. Kashrut, education, etc, are all run or organized by Charedim and the Modern Orthodox just use the services provided by them.

I live in a small community that is most decidedly "out of town". Because there are only a handful of Charedim here, the MO rabbis and lay leaders and members of the community all step up to the plate and manage the Vaad Hakashrut, run & teach in the day school, manage the eruv, invite modern speakers, etc.

In the big communities the MO look to the UO for all their community building, by default, and end up thinking about themselves the way the UO think of them - that Modern Orthodoxy is just "Orthodoxy lite" instead of something dynamic and beautiful in its own right.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Faith vs. Evidence

Is there any evidence for believing in Hashem & Judaism other than faith?

It depends on one's starting point. Someone who was raised in a secular humanist household and whose identity is invested in secular humanism will undoubtedly see no reason at all to accept any sort of higher being or revelation.

On the other side of the coin are many of us who are starting from a point of faith in God and faith in Torah MiSinai.

We don't have this faith because we have deduced it from logical processes. Rather, we feel it deeply, in a way that is not subject to logic or rationalism. It's a different kind of belief, not based on empirical evidence. We simply KNOW.

Being intelligent individuals raised on modern western rationalism, we confront evidence that the Torah is not what traditional Judaism claims it to be.

What do we do? Rather than throw out all of our deeply held beliefs, we must modify them to fit the empirical evidence.

That is, emunah still has a place in our thoughts and hearts. It's still the place where we start from. We simply must adapt aspects of our belief to the incontrovertible evidence that we are faced with.

I don't claim to speak for everyone who comments and posts on this and like minded blogs. But I think most think as I do.

Coming from a firm belief in God, I see no need to jettison that belief. There is nothing in the documentary hypothesis to force me to reject God's existence.

The traditional views about the text of the Torah are another thing. I cannot, based on what modern scholarship presents me with, accept that the exact text of the Torah, word for word, was given to Moshe at Har Sinai.

Does that mean I must accept the conclusions of the DH? Certainly not. Much of the DH is simply intelligent speculation. The evidence requires me to modify my thinking somewhat. But it doesn't in any way prove the nonexistence of God or that no part of the Torah has its source in divine revelation.

I guess in the end part of it does come down to blind faith. But if we were only interested in what can be proven by logic, then this topic wouldn’t be so popular in the blogosphere.