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A fairly accurate, but incomplete INDEX of Posts & good overview of this blog READ SOME REASONS TO REJECT ORTHODOX JUDAISM my April 2014 post or click link above. Highlighted words lead to other posts almost all in my blog. Born into an Orthodox Jewish family (1950's) and went to Orthodox Yeshiva from kindergarten thru High School plus some Beis Medrash.Became an agnostic in my 20's and an atheist later on. My blog will discuss the arguments for god and Orthodox Judaism and will provide counter arguments. I no longer take comments. My blog uses academic sources, the Torah, Talmud and commentators to justify my assertions. The posts get updated. INDEX OF POSTS SEE MAY 2017 or click link above.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Proof of God from Miracles or Kuzari Argument Part 9

When writing this post I was not sure to label it Kuzari Part 9  or Proof of God from Miracles because there is overlap. Hence the combined title of the post.

It may be helpful to skim my Kuzari posts first begun here 

When very young in Yeshiva learning the Bible about all the open miracles G-d allegedly wrought on behalf of his chosen people  it was almost like a proof of G-d. We had a tradition of those miracles occurring, so they must of happened right ?  Plus,  G-d he could do anything right ?

But even when quite young there was this nagging doubt - why did all these open miracles only happen in ancient times ? 

Some religious people argue - but there are miracles still to be observed - like the birth of a child. But those sort of examples are not what a miracle is supposed to represent, something unnatural. Nor do they alleviate my doubt why  no open miracles in more recent times.

Some religious people then argue but G-d does do miracles for the Jews - events such as Gaza rockets or the rise of Israel also Proof of God from Prophecy (includes some Israel discussion) . My previous posts explain why such events are not convincing and in addition they are not open miracles.  Related discussion is also found in Proof of God from Miraculous Recoveries...

Religious people then resort to apologetics why G-d does not perform miracles anymore. I do not find the excuses convincing. 

If an open  miracle could be established to have occurred beyond a shadow of a doubt I would be open to something beyond known nature exists. For example, if under scientifically controlled conditions a ‘man’ can successfully walk on water whenever we request it. That would mean the ‘man’ is a person with ‘supernatural powers’ or person able have the supernatural demonstrated thru him or an alien with powers we have no knowledge of. 

So in a way even a bonafide miracle would only prove something beyond our known experience and knowledge is occurring. It may not be supernatural being(s). It may be super technological sophisticated alien  beings -  a better explanation than supernatural beings. But to many people the aliens would appear as ‘gods’. 

Later in this post, Hume provides an example of a type of a miracle that needs to be discussed in relation to the Exodus stories. This post will also be citing some of Spinoza on Miracles. As Spinoza will demonstrate we must be careful when reading the Bible stories, that they should not be taken at face value. Also, ancient documents like Bible, were not meant to be ‘history’ as we understand the term today. They had theological, economical, local and international political purposes. Many Ancient Near East cultures would ascribe events, including natural events to the will of the God(s) - the ancient Jews being no different. 

Based on Hume’s discussion of Miracles 

Our everyday experience shows nature operates according to certain ‘laws’ of nature with a very high probability ( arguably 100%, since we are aware of no violation of the ‘laws’ of nature as science now understands those laws).  We read about  miracles in ancient texts and sometimes from reports of living witnesses or stories relayed to us by people. Yet we know there is a  probability of error, a high probability of error within those ancient texts, living witnesses and stories relayed to us.

We may compare the probability of the ‘laws’ of nature of being violated versus the probability of the testimony of miracles being in error. We find the probability of the former being much less than the probability of the latter,  so we reject the testimony of miracles.

Does this mean Hume intends we never accept testimony of ‘miracles’ ? Does not Hume himself propose we accept miracles under certain circumstances ? Later I will propose an answer.

I will not be citing all of Hume’s  reasons and arguments to reject miracles, the interested may read his books - for example An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding, from which the following is extracted from Section X - Of Miracles. All the following are quotes  from Hume. I urge the reader to read every word of Hume carefully. 

“...That no testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind, that its falsehood would be more miraculous, than the fact, which it endeavours to establish...”

[We hear a story of a Priest turning a stick into a snake. 
Could the story be false ? Would it be miraculous if the story was false ? What would be more miraculous the stick turning into a snake or the story being false ? ]

“For first, there is not to be found, in all history, any miracle attested by a sufficient number of men, of such unquestioned good-sense, education, and learning, as to secure us against all delusion in themselves; of such undoubted integrity, as to place them beyond all suspicion of any design to deceive others; of such credit and reputation in the eyes of mankind, as to have a great deal to lose in case of their being detected in any falsehood; and at the same time, attesting facts, performed in such a public manner, and in so celebrated a part of the world, as to render the
detection unavoidable: All which circumstances are requisite to give us a full assurance in the testimony of men.”

[ Lets begin to apply Hume’s criteria to the Bible miracles. Do we know there a sufficient number of men witnessing the miracles ? No. We only have a story in a book alleging a certain number of men. Were they unbiased ? No. Educated enough ? No. Anything to gain by the stories ? Yes. Was it public enough ? No. It was in a desert hidden from view from everybody except the very people making the claim they are chosen by God. More can be written, but enough has been said.] 

[And here comes  Hume’s alleged loophole to accept a miracle.]

“I [Hume] beg the limitations here made may be remarked, when I say, that a miracle can never be proved, so as to be the foundation of a system of religion. For I own, that otherwise, there may possibly be miracles, or violations of the usual course of nature, of such a kind as to admit of proof from human testimony; though, perhaps, it will be impossible to find any such in all the records of history. Thus, suppose, all authors, in all languages, agree, that, from the first of January 1600, there was a total darkness over the whole earth for eight days: Suppose that the tradition of this extraordinary event is still strong and lively among the people: That all travellers, who return from foreign countries, bring us accounts of the same tradition, without the least variation or contradiction: It is evident, that our present philosophers, instead of doubting the fact, ought to receive it as certain, and ought to search for the causes whence it might be derived. The decay, corruption, and dissolution of nature, is an event rendered probable by so many analogies, that any phaenomenon, which seems to have a tendency towards that catastrophe, comes within the reach of human testimony, if that testimony be very extensive and uniform.”

[Does this mean Hume would accept the ‘dark’ event as a miracle ? He seems to hedge by writing we may accept the event has having happened, but the cause needs to be researched. Anyway, would the Exodus stories qualify for an ‘acceptable’ miracle(s) ala Hume    ? NO. He goes on to explain.]

“Here then we are first to consider a book [Bible], presented to us by a barbarous and ignorant people, written in an age when they were still more barbarous, and in all probability long after the facts which it relates, corroborated by no concurring testimony, and resembling those fabulous accounts, which every nation gives of its origin. Upon reading this book, we find it full of prodigies and miracles. It gives an account of a state of the world and of human nature entirely different from the present: Of our fall from that state: Of the age of man, extended to near a thousand years: Of the destruction of the world by a deluge: Of the arbitrary choice of one people, as the favourites of heaven; and that people the countrymen of the author: Of their deliverance from bondage by prodigies the most astonishing imaginable: I desire any one to lay his hand upon his heart, and after a serious consideration declare, whether he thinks that the falsehood of such a book, supported by such a testimony, would be more extraordinary and miraculous than all the miracles it relates; which is, however, necessary to make it be received, according to the measures of probability above established.”

[Hume was aware of the Exodus stories and rejects them. And for good reason. Those Kuzari proponents who think they have an ally in Hume are grossly in error.]

[ To paraphrase some other reasons Hume rejects miracles include:  people’s propensity for wonder, surprise and the love of the tale. Also, the unreliability of the witnesses of the miracles who are ignorant and not skeptical enough. Also, the numerous miracles found amongst Hindus, Muslims, pagans etc: etc: opposes the miracles in a single other religion say Christianity.  The Christian will probably argue all those other miracles from  religions and pagans are all false for one reason or another, unreliable for one reason or another  or perhaps some were real but done by Satan or even done by God for them. But our Christian miracles are reliable. Can you hear the Hindus or Muslims responding in kind ?  Convinced ? ]

Based on Spinoza’s discussion of Miracles 

I have mentioned Spinoza several times on my blog; he was  perhaps the first Bible Philosopher to help break the bondage of my mind. We will consider Spinoza's discussion on Miracles as found in A Theologico-Political Treatise, by Benedict de Spinoza

[We have good reason to believe the ancient Israelites were predisposed to believe in the supernatural.  Confounding the situation is even natural occurrences amongst ancient peoples, including the ancient Israelites are attributed to the supernatural. So for example, if the ancient Israelites are wandering in the desert  and a flock of quail  happen to come their way (Exodus 16:13)  they would attribute it to supernatural. Or if  water issues from a rock (Exodus 17:6) that could be ascribed to supernatural.  Even today many Jews attribute everyday events and the most mundane coincidences to the working of G-d.] 

Here are some relevant highlights but see Spinoza for more support and examples for his contentions. I urge the reader to read every word of Spinoza carefully: 

(5) In fact, the common people can only adore God, and refer all things to His power by removing natural causes, and conceiving things happening out of their due course, and only admires the power of God when the power of nature is conceived of as in subjection to it.
(6) This idea seems to have taken its rise among the early Jews who saw the Gentiles round them worshipping visible gods such as the sun, the moon, the earth, water, air, &c., and in order to inspire the conviction that such divinities were weak and inconstant, or changeable, told how they themselves were under the sway of an invisible God, and narrated their miracles, trying further to show that the God whom they worshipped arranged the whole of nature for their sole benefit: this idea was so pleasing to humanity that men go on to this day imagining miracles, so that they may believe themselves God's favourites, and the final cause for which God created and directs all things.
(7) What pretension will not people in their folly advance!....

(68) In Psalm cv. 24 it is said that God changed the hearts of the Egyptians, so that they hated the Israelites. (69) This was evidently a natural change, as appears from Exodus, chap.i., where we find no slight reason for the Egyptians reducing the Israelites to slavery....

(74) If, therefore, events are found in the Bible which we cannot refer to their causes, nay, which seem entirely to contradict the order of nature, we must not come to a stand, but assuredly believe that whatever did really happen happened naturally. (75) This view is confirmed by the fact that in the case of every miracle there were many attendant circumstances, though these were not always related, especially where the narrative was of a poetic character....

The circumstances of the miracles clearly show, I maintain, that natural causes were needed. (77) For instance, in order to infect the Egyptians with blains, it was necessary that Moses should scatter ashes in the air (Exod. ix: 10); the locusts also came upon the land of Egypt by a command of God in accordance with nature, namely, by an east wind blowing for a whole day and night; and they departed by a very strong west wind (Exod. x:14, 19). (78) By a similar Divine mandate the sea opened a way for the Jews (Exo. xiv:21), namely, by an east wind which blew very strongly all night...

(81) Wherefore we may believe that, although the circumstances attending miracles are not related always or in full detail, yet a miracle was never performed without them....

(82) This is confirmed by Exodus xiv:27, where it is simply stated that "Moses stretched forth his hand, and the waters of the sea returned to their strength in the morning," no mention being made of a wind; but in the song of Moses (Exod. xv:10) we read, "Thou didst blow with Thy wind (i.e. with a very strong wind), and the sea covered them." (83) Thus the attendant circumstance is omitted in the history, and the miracle is thereby enhanced...

I have shown that Scripture does not explain things by their secondary causes, but only narrates them in the order and the style which has most power to move men, and especially uneducated men, to devotion; and therefore it speaks inaccurately of God and of events, seeing that its object is not to convince the reason, but to attract and lay hold of the imagination....

Lastly, in order to understand, in the case of miracles, what actually took place, we ought to be familiar with Jewish phrases and metaphors; anyone who did not make sufficient allowance for these, would be continually seeing miracles in Scripture where nothing of the kind is intended by the writer; he would thus miss the knowledge not only of what actually happened, but also of the mind of the writers of the sacred text. (106) For instance, Zechariah speaking of some future war says (chap. xiv;7):  "It shall be one day which shall be known to the Lord, not day, nor night; but at even time it shall be light." In these words he seems to predict a great miracle, yet he only means that the battle will be doubtful the whole day, that the issue will be known only to God, but that in the evening they will gain the victory: the prophets frequently used to predict victories and defeats of the nations in similar phrases...

In this way many occurrences in the Bible are to be regarded merely as Jewish expressions. (112) There is no need for me to go through them in detail; but I will call attention generally to the fact that the Jews employed such phrases not only rhetorically, but also, and indeed chiefly, from devotional motives. (113) Such is the reason for the substitution of "bless God" for "curse God" in 1 Kings xxi:10, and Job ii:9, and for all things being referred to God, whence it appears that the Bible seems to relate nothing but miracles, even when speaking of the most ordinary occurrences, as in the examples given above."

[It has been a long time since I studied Spinoza who wrote in the 1600's.  His words still ring so true and are a breathe of fresh air.]

[There have been some scholars who have assumed some kernel of truth in the Bible stories and have used the Bible to provide clues of  natural causes and thus derive some natural explanation of what may have occurred. For example - explanations of manna have ranged from various sorts of mushroom, insect, insect secretion, plant, plant  secretions. So did actual miracles actually happen in the Exodus, or were natural occurring events attributed to G-d ? Even the Sinai revelation could refer a storm/ earthquake/volcano or some combination thereof.]

Continued Kuzari Argument Part 10 

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