Rabbi Gottlieb (RG) Kuzari Principle: Let E be a possible event which, had it really occurred, would have left behind enormous, easily available evidence of its occurrence. If the evidence does not exist, people will not believe that E occurred.
Some of my previous Kuzari posts (begun here ) have specifically discussed this version of the Kuzari argument. In addition, some information in my prior Kuzari posts directly or indirectly apply to the RG version as well.
This post will now argue the principle is flawed for reasons I may not already have discussed (I can’t remember, as you get older you become more forgetful) and by a new example.
We find the following in the book Rumour in Orleans by Edgar Morin 1971.
“A rumour of vanishing women that shook an entire town, though not one disappearance was actually reported to the police, the near certain belief, held by thousands of Orlean’s citizens, that a white slave trade was being run from the very heart of town, in the fitting rooms six of dress shops - all Jewish though neither press, radio, nor television had one word say in support of it; a kind of medieval panic that for several days held a modern town in it’s grip, in the age of mass media; a fantastical sexual threat that suddenly conjured up the grim spectre of anti-Semitism here was story that fascinated me when I first read the account of it in Le Monde, L’Express and Le Nouvel Observateur.” Edgar Morin had studied this rumor in depth and wrote a book about it. How it starts, spreads etc:
What is important is the false story came to be believed by thousands including numerous educated people in the 1960's. The story consisted of numerous vanishing women, at one point the count was over 60. At this point I am not sure of the final tally nor if the story began to spread to other regions in France.
(Fortunately the government, police, press, media, and other groups mount a counter offensive to repudiate the story and though the story trickled away, there were still some believers. It is my understanding that even about 20-30 years later (or is it even more ?) there are French (and others ?) who think the story was true. Some claiming it was 'even written up in the news.' )
Imagine the believers in the story telling the story to their children. Potentially thousands and thousands of their descendants could potentially be believers. Would my Father lie to me ? How could so many of my relatives, and community believe it ? Such a story could not gain traction and come to believed by so many people unless there was evidence, right ?
Lets apply the RG principle to the initial recipients of the story.
Event = numerous women have been kidnapped.
Is this an event of type E ? Should there be ‘enormous, easily available evidence of its occurrence” ? Yes. A large number of women disappearing in 1960's Orleans would result in hundreds if not thousands of complaints to officials, the police, the press, the radio, TV, neighbors etc: etc Such a story would be all over the newspapers, radio, TV, police bulletins. Friends and families of the kidnapped women would be coming forward with pleas. All sorts of warnings would be issued by the authorities, churches etc:. Nonetheless, the story becomes believed by thousands and it took a concerted effort to bring the rumor to a halt.
One reason the RG principle is problematic is what ‘left behind enormous, easily available evidence of its occurrence’ consists of. How do we evaluate when evidence qualifies as such or does not ?
Easily available to whom ? Who are the people that are determining the evidence ? Who are the people looking for it ? How would different people interpret the evidence ? Etc: Etc: Arguably very few if any events 'leave behind enormous, easily available evidence' that unambiguously suggest a specific event. This relates to the issue what events qualify as type E.
Another reason the principle is problematic is that people (even large groups of people) do not behave the way RG principle thinks they should. There are many who are not cool, rational, unbiased and skeptical enough. Especially when it comes to group behavior. Thus such a group may come to believe in a story of an event regardless of the sufficiency of the evidence. Once the story has traction it is passed down to the group’s progeny and even becomes accepted by people outside the group until we may have thousands and thousands who come to believe the story is true.
Maybe the Exodus - Sinai story became accepted by a small group even without sufficient evidence, (just like the Orleans story began with a small group of people). Eventually the story becomes accepted by thousands.
Would the Exodus - Sinai stories even qualify as an event of type E ? What sort of evidence was available to the Israelites ? Would that evidence suggest supernatural interventions ? As discussed in Part 9 miracles in the Torah point to natural causes. Even the revelation does so, and I would suggest reading Part 9 regarding Spinoza's commentary regarding miracles in the Bible, what was reported, how they were reported, why they were reported and how the ancient Israelites perceived events and more.
The RG principle depends on a link between event and evidence. But this only makes sense for events for which we are familiar with. For events that we know leave behind certain sorts of evidence or for evidence that we know points to certain sorts of events. Events such as say a fire burned down a house. But we have no experience with supernatural events. What sort of evidence points to supernatural event(s) ? What sort of event(s) points to evidence of supernatural ? Because that crucial link between event and evidence is broken for something involving supernatural, a case can be made supernatural is outside the scope of the RG.
What would 'enormous, easily available evidence' for supernatural event(s) such as Exodus-Sinai consist of in ancient times ? Since the ancient Israelites had no experience (I am speaking prior to the Exodus-Sinai stories) with supernatural events they would not know what such evidence would consist of. How would anybody be able to determine if the evidence they had corresponds to supernatural or perhaps something else ? The ancient Israelites could also confound natural events with supernatural causes. This is not far fetched since ancient people would ascribe supernatural involvement for all sorts of natural events.
Continued Kuzari Argument Part 11
- Alter Cocker Jewish Atheist
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