After asking to a group of atheists, “Assuming with live in a world with free will, what amount of evidence would be enough for you to believe in G_d?” one of them decided to get smart and flip it around on me. He asked:
What evidence would you need to convince you that the Torah is not the divine word of H-shem or the divine expression of G-d’s desire.
While attempting to be somewhat politically correct here, obviously whenever someone believes in anything, they do not believe in other things. This explains the choosing of my belief, and isn’t meant to be an attack on anyone else’s. As I state below, I think it’s safe to say that people’s beliefs obviously have some meaning or they wouldn’t believe what they do.
While this will lead into a direct answer to the question, everyone makes choices (“lack of a choice” being a choice, as well) and so my basis for my choice is the compelling nature of the argument. There must be another system which is just as compelling. In order to no longer believe, there needs to be something just as compelling:
- would have to say there’s free will;
- an equally complete system which ascribes a positive purpose and reason to do anything that we do in this world;
- an equally complete system which fits in with, and explains the world in a sensical manner which can be evaluated by looking around and comparing what we see to what is claimed (akin to predictions becoming true); and
- would have to stand out from the pack by having stronger evidence than others without obvious false statements and predictions.
I am starting with a presumption that there is free will. I can’t claim to understand the nuances of what that means, but I can claim to say that if there isn’t, I should logically be absolved from any fault of my own and it doesn’t matter what I do. You won’t find me being a Calvinist or Atheist for these reason. I just don’t see the point.
I don’t have any memory of, way of accessing, or way of knowing what comes after I die. Don’t tell me if I suffer in this world, I’ll receive happiness in the next world. While that’s compelling to explain a philosophical question such as, “Why bad things happen to good people” and a compelling secondary reason to keep me to something for which I already believe, it’s not a compelling reason to live my life that way when comparing to what I can see and feel here which is the only “real” thing to my senses which I have. If in my life, which I can test here and now, it will bring me tremendous pain and suffering, Pascal’s Wager is of little probative value. If someone feels it’s too hard to change, or worse, painful to change (same thing, really), they’re not going to do so based on any logic you give them. On the flip side, once I am believing, Pascal’s Wager is going to hold me there absent a pretty strong reason to the contrary.
This cuts out, for me, belief systems that start with such things as “the world is cycle of suffering, so become a monk and remove yourself from it”. If you almost starved yourself to death and sat under a tree until you had it all figured out, you might come to that conclusion, too. This point also knocks out atheism for me, as it leaves us being some amazing formation of matter temporarily formed into a meaningless existence. The most vocal atheists seem to more often be vocal anti-theists, who spend more time talking about how this or that religion that they came from was wrong than the arguments for atheism, as they were hurt by people in the name of religion.
The belief needs to explain more than just a particular event in time. It needs to explain the world up until now, and why it is this way. Granted, this is the foundation of all mythology, but a key difference between “mythology” and a “functioning religion” (here, I very much disagree with Joseph Campell that mythology is just someone else’s religion) is that the former is a one time explanation with little or no timelessness, where as a functioning religion has not only a beginning, but also flows through to now. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that if a belief was eradicated from the world, it wasn’t one which was “correct”. Don’t show me some Aztec story and say “look how G_d spoke to all of them, too.” It needs to be evaluated based on what it is, not what it purportedly was. Compare to Mythology 101, a real course I took in college, where the interaction between Yitzchok [Isaac] and Yismael [Ishmael] was actually juxtaposed with the ongoing Israel/Arab conflict. Go do that with Hermes and Aphrodite.
Mythology and religion are not the same and the only religions that are both positive, claim a purpose to this world, and have a system which is complete and can be evaluated are those based on Judaism. We can see the 70 nations and how they function, know that each person must have a purpose, and not everyone is supposed to believe the same way save for some basic precepts for humanity. We can see that the Torah says that the Jews will be exiled from Israel, remain small in number (Devarim 4:27), and scattered around the world (Vayikra 26:33) eventually to return (Devarim 30:1-5). The later point was a matter of faith for all but small groups of Jews, until the mass immigration of Jews to Israel in the past 100 years – such a thing has never happened in history. These are rather silly things to say, just as in the New Testament it’s silly to say the “old” covenant “is now out of date and will soon disappear” (Hebrew 8:13 … whoops … silly thing to say, and even sillier because it’s wrong which created quite a theological problem for the Catholic church.) Just about every other belief in something says, “we’re it, be like us or you’re stuck suffering” which both the Western and Eastern religions have in common, none of which have a greater claim than any other.
Atheism: The evidence for atheism is non-existent. The best that can be ‘proven’ is that things could happen on their own, but not how those things got here. Why’d the Big Bang decide to bang? What keeps [insert name of piece of matter here] orbiting around [insert name of corresponding piece of matter here]? Quoting Ilya Prigogine, Nobel Prize winner in chemistry, “The statistical probability that organic structures and the most precisely harmonized reactions that typify living organisms would be generated by accident, is zero.” Not to mention the probability of a planet a perfect distance from the sun having a water cycle and all the other necessities of life. The only thing more far-fetched than believing in a Creator is believing that there wasn’t one. My genetics professor (name available upon request) told me quite clearly that, “i have faith in evolution because it happened.” While one can examine evidence and look backwards, one cannot run a test over a billion years to carry out the scientific method on creation of Earth’s atmosphere, development of life out of organic compounds (a still unexplained and unconfirmed hypothesis), and so on.
Other Religions: The examples in point 3 aren’t “the scientific method” any more than that of anything else looking back to events in the past that we can’t repeat. There is, however, a continuation in, at least, Judaism and those religions based off of it (Catholicism, Gnosticism, Protestanism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Mormonism, Sunni Islam, Shiite Islam, Bahai, and so on). There are lots of different peoples with different beliefs, and this needs explanation. A system claiming that unless you believe like them or you get punished, combined with a claim that one man had a revelation about this would speak to a cruel G_d that isn’t worthy of my belief. Not to mention, there are so many religions that start this way with such a single person making such claims (Catholicism, Gnosticism, traditional Protestants, Eastern Orthodoxy, Mormonism), or at least, believe it about those outside of their predecessor religions which they claim to be usurping (Sunni Islam, Shiite Islam, Bahai). That’s not a very good explanation for why the world is the way it is.
Other systems and even nations simply disappeared and/or usurped the claims of Judaism into their own beliefs (compare the dominant religion of the Romans to Christianity, and the pre-Islamic rituals at the kaaba – this isn’t about disproving other religions, so we’ll keep this short). Religions are based off of the revelation or enlightenment of one person. The possible other exception to this is Hinduism, and for me, is the biggest ‘competition’ for which, the Rigveda is quite an interesting work (once you get past the idols having any independent power and view everything as coming from a single infinite Creator, which is difficult). However, even so, there’s no claims of truth to any of this, and it does fit well, again, with the overarching system of the Torah stating that Avraham [Abraham] had great-grandchild who went east with gifts of a type of negative spirituality. Commerce and language similarities between the Middle East and India also abound(, though a Hindu I spoke to argued this the other way around in terms of whom influenced whom).
Judaism says that we’re here to rectify the world and raise it to a pure form. We live within it, and connect to the Creator (e.g. taking off from creation in the world one day a week). That allows us to live within the world, explains the function of doing anything in it, as well as finds a higher purpose without going off to aestheticism (though, arguably, we have some sub-groups like that, too).
The claim in Judaism extends back to national revelation at Mount Sinai. This is not “definitive proof” (for that would violate free will) but it is a stronger claim than any other belief system, the others beginning with the claim of a single person who told (or forced) others to believe as he did. It seems to me that if G_d wants you to do something, he’s not going to punish you for not doing, per se, but you might be missing out on, while, doing the will of the Creator. I hold this as true because it’s logical, though it’s still an assumption. The “punishments” in Torah are “consequences.” The snake gets all it’s food from the ground and never needs to look up, worry about, consider, or think about a Creator. It’s needs are met on the ground and it’s consequence is disconnection from G_d. So too, the punishment/consequence of denying G_d is the same – you “find out” you were “right”.
There’s no proselytizing, because how can I prove it to you and why would I need to teach you a system of belief that you weren’t introduced into? One is introduced into this system by being at Sinai, being a child of someone at Sinai (Devarim 6:7), or choosing it on their own. That’s it. It’s logical, explains the world around us, and there is nothing with stronger or more compelling arguments which meet my four criteria. Those that claim to replace Judaism with something else have to answer as to why they don’t put on tefillin (Devarim 11:18) but yet, the Torah says that it will never be replaced.
The belief also has a venerable “chain of title” with, for example, my wife’s genealogy going back to Sinai and Adam, and Jews actually remaining small in number and existing to the irk just about every authoritarian who wanted to consolidate their power. Unless you want to ignore all the evidence for political purposes (such as the Waqf in Jerusalem advertising King Solomon’s Stables on their pamphlets in the 1920s, but today, denying there was ever a Jewish presence in Israel!?) it’s pretty clear that Jews do go back continuously to biblical times.
1) “Why would G_d create the world this way, why wouldn’t it be created with or without X?” Answer: I don’t know. I can only evaluate this world and I don’t claim to know what a Creator would or wouldn’t do, but a simple partial answer would be based on the Ari Z’l that the Creator wants a relationship with us. An infinite G_d without a creation that can choose to do good or bad, is not infinite. We can choose to come closer or move further away from the Creator at all times. This world is in such a way that we have freedom to do either, but our relationship, the end goal (which is common in both Western and Eastern religions) is the best for us and the Creator of whom we are actually a part thereof.
2) “Even if there is a Creator, who says he cares what you do or that he ever related to us?” Maybe we’re all just supposed to figure it out. I think there’s some truth to this to a certain extent. In fact, I think there’s some meaning in every belief, no matter how far-fetched, otherwise people wouldn’t do it. I find it hard pressed to say anyone is “wrong” for doing any of these or will be “punished” unless they are violating the Noachide laws (such as don’t steal and don’t murder and other obvious / innate things in us, including the prohibition against denigrating the Creator … this doesn’t even require belief in G_d, but certainly not the denigration thereof, which is logical – why would you go out of your way to denigrate a Creator, or possibility of one? That’s silly.)
To believe in “creation without a known purpose” is ultimately is no different than atheism or other forms of pointless-isms. We could come up with any number of ways of “figuring it out” from suicide (“you exited a suffering world first and woke up from your bad dream – you win the ability not to be sent back, unlike those other poor non-suicidal people”) to, well, Judaism (“live in meaningful and purposeful test; here’s how to be happy throughout anything”). If there’s a Creator and my observable senses tell me I want pleasure, but that I should deny it or exit from it, I think we’re all *&&*^* anyway. I’m not going to live my life like that and will take my chances that I’m wasting my time rather than live my life based on conjecture about after death, for the same reason that atheists don’t find Pascal’s Wager to be persuasive (see above). (It also happens to be another foundation of Judaism – Avaraham [Abraham] was chosen by G_d because Abraham saw that the world wasn’t left ownerless, but that there as interaction with a single Creator who cared what we did, further making a very real and sensical discovery, as we do in our own quests for truth.)
3) Age of the universe. A literal reading of creation in the Torah seems to contradict science. Numerous articles could be written on this topic, but in short form, one of my favorite answers is that of Dr. Gerald Schroeder (whom I once picked up from an airport and asked him if he believed in his own theory, to which he said, “I’m starting to after teaching it for so long.”). This posits creation being told from the point of the view of where the universe was created for which what would become the Earth is in an accelerating frame of reference, only switching frame of reference and “slowing down” when Adam is given a G_dly soul on the 6th day of creation. It fits well. Other answers come from Shrodinger’s Cat and waveforms only being collapsed once observed, and the Zohar’s statement that there is nothing in the world by desire. In other words – Adam made the world this way, as did subsequent evaluation and as the midrash says, pretext from G_d to have it turn out a certain way, through subsequent molding. It also took Aristotle’s philosophy until the past 100 years to catch up to Judaism’s view that there is a beginning, in the first place and who says it won’t be replaced again? Again, we weren’t there to test it. We can only see the results and make theories, basing them on presumptions that we hold to be true and then evaluating (just as I presume there must be free will, I must be able to deduce with my senses, and a world following from that).
4) Classic theological problems – bad things to good people, children dying, suffering in the world … for that, take a look at Malbim’s commentary on Iyov [Job], or write in the comments. Suffice to say, these are their own topics.
Got more? Feel free to comment.