Living up to The Truth

8: Summary and Conclusion

by Rabbi Dovid Gottlieb
The Color of HeavenArtscroll
Section 1 | Section 2

Chapters IV-VII presented a summary of the evidence. Now, let's take examine the total evidence in the light of what this evidence was supposed to show. The first thing that the evidence was supposed to show was the uniqueness of Jewish history. Remember the Martian perspective that we spoke about in chapter III. We imagined a Martian surveying all of human history except for the Jews. He would come to recognize various categories of expected events: what happens to peoples under conditions of success or conditions of failure, war and peace, famine and exile, health and disease, economic collapse and economic prosperity and so on. He would have certain expected conditions of development and disintegration of civilizations. We then asked: "Would the Martian regard the Jew as more of the same, fitting in with the normal regularities that he has come to expect, living under the same conditions and types of rise and fall and development and disintegration of civilization? Or, would he regard the Jew as utterly unique in human history?"

The survey of the features of Jewish history that I have presented would lead the Martian to conclude that the Jew is utterly unique. First, the Jew possesses predictions of events that could not have been expected to happen and on which a neutral bystander would have put a very low probability. The estimate that we came up with in chapter IV was a probability of 1/16000 that the prediction in Deuteronomy 28-30 would be expected to come true. And, against all expectations, this prediction came true.

Second, Jews have witnessed miraculous events, including unique public miracles that other nations don't even claim. Very surprising unique events have happened in Jewish history, events which served to support Judaism, to enable Judaism to survive, and to rescue Judaism from dangerous circumstances. Third, Judaism survived and developed under historical conditions which were unique, conditions which would have lead to the disintegration of Judaism, especially when compared to other world religions. Fourth, you have a unique quality of life, and fifth, a unique impact on world civilization. All of this would have to lead the Martian to conclude that Jewish history is unique.

Well then, what shall the Martian do with this unique history? Again we said in chapter III, when you have an area of phenomena which you think you can explain and then you come across a new phenomenon in the area which all of your tools of explanation cannot handle, you need to add something to your tools in order to explain the new phenomenon. The example we gave was the case of the nucleus in the atom, when it was inexplicable that all the protons should sit there without repelling one another, and physics added the nuclear force which holds them together against the force of electrostatics.

Similarly, if you have a unique historical phenomenon, and it cannot be explained by the normal features which produce other historical phenomena, then you have to infer the existence of some other force which is responsible for this phenomenon. Then from the description of the phenomenon you can infer directly at least a minimal description of the force that produces it. It has to be the kind of force that is capable of producing the unique features of that phenomenon.

The features in question are: an unaccountably true prediction against all odds, miraculous events which help to found and support the Jewish religion, the survival of Judaism against all historical probability, a unique quality of life enjoyed uniquely by Jewish communities, and the impact of Judaism on all of world civilization. What kind of force could be responsible for those kinds of effects?

First, the force must be powerful. It has maintained the existence of a civilization, it has produced the crossing of the Red Sea, the revelation at Sinai, the manna that people ate and so on: it must have considerable power at its disposal. Second, it must be intelligent. A blind or uninformed force cannot maintain the existence of a civilization. Third, it must be some interested in Judaism in particular. These things didn't happen to the Hindus or the Eskimos or the Chinese. They happened only to the Jews and therefore this force must be interested in the Jews in particular.

But fourth, it cannot be exclusively interested in the Jews. If it were exclusively interested in the Jews, it could have transported the Jews to some isolated area and maintained them over there and had its particular interaction with them there. Instead, the Jews were brought to the crossroads of three continents, and they had an impact on the development of world civilization. Apparently, then, that force is interested also in the rest of mankind. It is not exclusively interested in the Jews. It is interested that Judaism should have an effect on the development of world civilization as a whole.

Now those are all descriptions of G-d, that is, the Jewish conception of G-d. Those descriptions of G-d are directly confirmed by a survey of the historical record.


Section 1 | Section 2

That much we can directly confirm. The rest - other descriptions of G-d, G-d being infinite, or G-d being creator of the universe and so on - are not directly confirmed by the survey of history. One also finds in Judaism descriptions of events that cannot be directly assessed, like the descriptions of the future, that there will be a Messiah, or what happens to the soul after death - there are no ways to directly confirm these. But, as I said in chapter III, since this is all part of a single coordinated body of information, and since those aspects of the information that can be directly assessed are all directly supported by the evidence, the rest of the body of information gains credibility by being a part of that same body of information, just as it is with respect to any other source of information that you evaluate. If everything that source of information tells you which you can verify checks out true, then the other things it tells you are credible.

This, it seems to me, puts Judaism in the position of having greater probability of truth than any alternative. It surely has greater probability of truth than any other religion because as we saw in chapter II, other religions don't have any relevant evidence at all. Judaism is the only religion that puts itself on the line and offers evidence, and the evidence is quite powerful. A secular view of the world is inferior because all of these events cannot be explained from a secular perspective. You cannot explain the survival of the Jewish people, you cannot explain the verified accounts of miracles, you cannot explain the correct prediction, you cannot explain the unique quality of life, you cannot explain the impact that Judaism has had on world civilization, and you certainly cannot explain the sum of all of these taken together.

Now, have I absolutely refuted the skeptic? Couldn't the skeptic still admit that he hasn't explained them, but hold that maybe they will be explained in the future? Yes, it is still conceivable that there is no G-d and that these things happen for naturalistic reasons that we simply don't have access to at this time. But, I remind you that that wasn't the name of the game. That appeal only satisfies Descartes. It is still conceivable that the favored hypothesis is not true - but that is true for everything you believe, everything you know, everything you rely upon. Everything has some conceivable alternative which has not been ruled out absolutely.

That wasn't the criterion that we agreed upon. The criterion that we agreed upon was high probability of truth vis-a-vis the alternatives. The reason that we agreed upon that criterion was because Judaism is a practice. Judaism involves decisions. The criterion to which we hold responsible decisions is the criterion of high probability of truth. Whatever is the case with respect to theoretical beliefs (and philosophy is riddled with disagreement about that, and most philosophers disagree with Descartes' criterion) that is not relevant to us - we have to decide how to live. Decisions on how to live are made on the basis of high probability of truth vis-a-vis alternatives, that is to say, if those decisions are going to be made responsibly. That is the criterion to which we hold other people. If that is the criterion that we use for responsibility in all other areas of practical life, then we have to use it in this area as well. Therefore, Judaism is the only responsible way to live.

Once the power of the evidence that the Torah is true is appreciated, two questions naturally arise. One: if the evidence is so compelling, why is the number of people who believe in the truth of the Torah so small? Two: if the Torah is the only truth, don't we have an obligation to preach it to others? But this contradicts Judaism's consistent refusal to proselytize.We will answer the questions in turn.

The first question expresses a common assumption. The assumption is this: Whatever can be seen to be true by available evidence and simple logic should be recognized as true by a great majority of mankind. But this assumption is clearly false.

Consider anti-semitism as an example. There are (at least) hundreds of millions of anti-semites. They believe that Jews are evil, dirty, subhuman, etc. etc.. And yet many of them live among Jews. They have no evidence whatsoever for their beliefs. If they took the time, they could gather enormous evidence against what they believe. Still they persist in their folly.

Consider the shape of the earth. More than two thousand years ago considerable evidence existed that the earth is round. (Indeed, a few in the intelligentsia believed it.) The sightings of stars by sailors, the difference in shadows at noon in different locations, the disappearance of the bottom of the ship before the sails - this evidence was available to many. Yet almost no one questioned the "obvious truth" that the earth is flat.

Consider any human study or activity - e.g., cooking, economics, sailing, mining, stamp collecting - does the majority of people have the truth about these matters? Usually only those people who take the time to study them know the truth, and they are the tiny minority.

The moral is this: Often what can be discovered from available evidence via common logic is known only by a tiny minority of people.

Now the explanations of this failure to find the truth will vary from case to case. For the truth of the Torah, it not to hard to provide. First, very few have direct access to the evidence presented here. Second, very few can make an unbiased examination of religion since their family and social life depends largely on their religious affiliation. Third, the argument presented here is not exactly simple. [I wish I could make it more so!] It takes considerable intellectual effort to follow it to its conclusion. These three factors are enough to explain why acceptance of the Torah's truth is so limited.

The second question is this: If the Torah is the truth, don't we have an obligation to share it with the rest of the world? But Judaism does not believe in actively seeking converts. That seems to imply that we do not really believe that it is true!

Many people share this misconception. They start with the truth that Judaism does not seek converts. They then draw the false conclusion that Judaism accepts other religions for other people. They then infer that Judaism does not regard itself as true.

Let's sort out the facts. Judaism is the truth as revealed by the Creator of the entire universe. The "Jewish G-d" is the only G-d. He is as much the G-d of the Hindus and the Taoists as He is of the Jews. If the Hindus and Taoists do not recognize this, then their religious beliefs are not true. (See chap. II.)

It is a tragedy when people live their lives based on false beliefs. This holds for medicine, economics, nutrition and (all the more so) for religion. Since we possess the truth, it is definitely a responsibility to share it with others. This means teaching them that it is true - no more.

Now suppose we are successful in doing this. Non-Jews will come to see that the Torah is true. What then? Well, since the Torah has a place for believing non-Jews, we will explain to them how to serve G-d as believing non-Jews. Since the Torah does not require them to convert to Judaism in order to serve G-d faithfully, we have no interest in seeking their conversion.

We do not proselytize because the Torah - which is the only religious truth, and which we have an obligation to teach to all - does not require others to be Jews.


Next: Appendix
Previous: Chapter VII - Jewish Survival - the Fact and its Implications

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