Living up to Truth, Ch. VIII - Summary and Conclusion

Library Library Kaddish

Living Up to Truth
by Rabbi Dr. Dovid Gottlieb
2nd Revised Edition


Title Page | Author's Preface | Translater's Forward
I - The Relevance of Religion | II - Religion: Pragmatism or Truth? | III - Belief and Action: Criteria for Responsible Decision | IV - True Predictions | V - Archeology | VI - Revelation and Miracles - the Kuzari Principle | VII - Jewish Survival - the Fact and its Implications | VIII - Summary and Conclusion

VIII

SUMMARY AND CONCLUSION


Section 1 | Section 2

Chapters IV-VII presented a summary of the evidence. Now, let's take the evidence together and remember 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 Part I. 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?"

It seems to me that 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 this essay was a possibility 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, the Jew seems to have had in his history miraculous events, 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 Christianity. (The same comparison could have been made, by the way, with respect to Hinduism and Buddhism which also have disintegrated into hundreds of different sects each with its own account of what it stands for.)

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 above, 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 phenomenon, 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 this particular religion, the survival of this religion against all historical probability, a unique quality of life enjoyed uniquely by this particular religion, and the impact of this religion on all of world civilization. What kind of force could be responsible for those kinds of effects?

Number one, the force must be powerful. If it has maintained the existence of a civilization, if 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. Number two, it must be intelligent. A blind force, or an uninformed force cannot maintain the existence of a civilization. Number three, 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 fourthly, 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 over there. If the Jews were brought to the crossroads of three continents, and if in fact they did have an impact on the development of world civilization, then apparently 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.


SUMMARY

Judaism is unique in its verified improbable prediction, public miracles, survival, quality of life, and world impact. A power capable of these effects must be powerful, intelligent, interested in Judaism's survival and impact on the world.


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 at the outset, 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 (unless and until you get something that doesn't check out). In the meantime, the rest gains credibility from the fact that whatever which can be checked does check true.

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 any 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 summation of all of these taken together as a whole. These are a lot of different facts that cannot be explained.

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 pragmatic decisions is the criterion of high probability vis-a-vis 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 made responsibly. That is the criterion to which we hold other people. If that is the criterion that we use for responsibility in in all other areas of practical life, then it seems to me that we have to use it in this area as well. Therefore, Judaism is the only justified way to live.


SUMMARY

The part of the Torah not directly confirmed by the historical evidence is made credible by being part of the same body of information as that which is confirmed. Thus Judaism has the highest probability of truth among the alternatives (other religions and a secular view). Since Judaism is a practice, we must conclude that it is the only justified way to live.

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