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About Me

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.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Proof of God from the Gaps, Sherlock Holmes, and Absence of Evidence

Updated thru 4/4/2106

Many proofs of god suffer from these related logical fallacies. Fallacy of incredulity or argument from ignorance or god of the gaps, false dilemma and the Sherlock Holmes argument.

I will briefly discuss the fact that absence of evidence is sometimes evidence of likely absence. 

Argument from Ignorance - arguing a claim is true because it has not been shown to be false. Example -  God made a covenant with the Jews at Mount Sinai. Or God created the Universe as described in Genesis. You were not there so you can not disprove either one. (For now lets ignore the very unlikely 600000 plus witnesses figure and other evidence the Torah got the creation story wrong.) However, the onus is not on me to disprove the stories. The onus on the person making the claims to support them. 

God of the Gaps Fallacy - plugging a gap in knowledge with God being responsible. Example - Science can not explain how life arose from matter, hence God did it. (For now lets ignore scientific research into this.) 

Fallacy of Incredulity - XYZ is so incredible. I cant imagine XYZ being true. Therefore XYZ is false. 
Example - The suggestion that small mammals eventually evolved into humans cant be true because it sounds so unbelievable. (For now lets ignore all the evidence in favor of evolution.)

False Dilemma -  Reducing the number options usually to just two. Example - Since the Universe could not have come from ‘nothing’, God must have created it. Here  just two options are provided. But there are other possibilities. Maybe the universe or it’s building blocks always existed.  Besides Physicists have offered cosmological models of a Universe coming from nothing and models requiring no supernatural intervention.  Another example is found in one version of the Kuzari argument. It begins either a revelation by God actually took place at Sinai in front of a mass of people or the Sinai story is false. But there are many other options. Something could have happened and it was mistakenly interpreted as a supernatural event. My Kuzari posts discuss a number of plausible scenarios. 

Sherlock Holmes Argument  “Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.”

Suppose John Doe is found stabbed to death in his home.  The detective creates his list of suspects

a) The Butler
b) The Maid
c) The Wife
d) A supernatural being

Suppose the detective has eliminated a) thru c) as being the murderer, then choice d) must be the culprit.

Lets examine the fallacious conclusion.

First, we can not eliminate all possibilities, since we don’t know them and sometimes can not even imagine them.  There are thousands of other potential suspects unlisted or reasons why Jon Doe is dead. Did he fall on the knife or stab himself ?

Second,  we often can not claim certain things are impossible because our knowledge is often insufficient for doing so. Also, maybe the reason we think the Butler innocent is only because he fooled us somehow.

Third, after eliminating a) thru  c) is the  remaining possibility viable ? Are supernatural beings even a valid option ?  In other words simply eliminating choice a), b), c)  does not mean d)  is guilty. We know people kill other people based on past experience, so options a) thru c) are plausible possibilities.  But should d) be seriously considered to be on the list ? We have no empirical evidence or reason to believe supernatural beings stab people nor do we have any reason to believe they even exist.  In other words, if the list was expanded and ranked according to likelihood, d) would be at towards the very bottom of the list with arguably a zero or near zero probability. 

{ETA 4/4/2016 In the 2016 Sherlock movie The Abominable Bride we find support for my interpretation of Sherlock Holmes. I am only about halfway thru the movie as I write this. 

There have been several murders committed by the a ghost or zombie. Watson and Sherlock are casing out a home. Outside a ghostly apparition is seen. The home is sealed close. Nevertheless  a man is stabbed to death in the home ! Moreover, Watson claims to have seen the  ghost/zombie inside the house and claims the ghost is the culprit. Sherlock responds to Watson -  eliminate the impossible i.e the ghost,  and observe what remains.  So Sherlock would not consider a ghost or living dead as a possible explanation for being the murderer.  

I bring this movie to your attention as humorous refute for using Sherlock to prove supernatural. Sherlock himself rejects supernatural even when there is eyewitness testimony and other reasons to support supernatural as the murderer.}

Lets suppose there is some phenomena for which we can not conceive an explanation for. We  then claim God is responsible for the phenomena. Even if God did exist it would be  faulty logic. God may exist, but maybe he was not responsible for the phenomena. For example, God may say I threw the dice but let chance determine the outcome. Or perhaps God would say I am not responsible for that particular phenomena which emerged on its own or was caused by some other supernatural entity or natural force.

To return to the idea of absence of evidence. 

Suppose I call you after you return home from work and  tell you an Elephant was in your garage the whole day.  Should you believe me ?  You may ask me the color and if I said pink you may smile. But suppose I said grey ? You may call in experts looking for odor, hair, dander, urine, excrement remnants etc: and after doing a diligent investigation no evidence of the Elephant is found. You ask many neighbors, the children who played in the street, the police, the fire department etc: and nothing at all suggests an Elephant was in your garage. I think most rational people would agree absence of evidence is evidence of likely absence of the Elephant being in your garage today.  

Some religious people claim absence of evidence for 600000 plus people at Sinai is not evidence of absence of 600000 plus at Sinai. But is this reasonable ? Such a large mass of people would most likely have left some traces in their wanderings. They likely would have left an  imprint on the Egyptian country and a significant  large  imprint on entry into Canaan. Some surrounding cultures would surely note such a large Exodus perhaps recording it or acting on it. Then there are enormous logistical issues which I will not delve into. Virtually every, if not every  expert who has studied the issue rejects 600000 plus. Not a single expert advocates 600000 plus. We can safely claim absence of evidence for 600000 plus people at Sinai is evidence of likely absence of 600000 plus at Sinai.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Human Sacrifice in the Bible Part 2

Prior to reading this post please at least skim my posts Passover, and Human Sacrifice in the Bible (Part 1).

There is an interesting story where the King of Moab sacrifices his eldest son (his first born ?) and it seems to have efficacy. We also have an example of a failed Tenach prophecy.

2 Kings Chapter 3

1 Now Jehoram the son of Ahab began to reign over Israel in Samaria in the eighteenth year of Jehoshaphat king of Judah, and reigned twelve years. 2 And he did that which was evil in the sight of the LORD; but not like his father, and like his mother; for he put away the pillar of Baal that his father had made. 3 Nevertheless he cleaved unto the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, wherewith he made Israel to sin; he departed not therefrom. {P}

4 Now Mesha king of Moab was a sheep-master; and he rendered unto the king of Israel the wool of a hundred thousand lambs, and of a hundred thousand rams. 5 But it came to pass, when Ahab was dead, that the king of Moab rebelled against the king of Israel. 6 And king Jehoram went out of Samaria at that time, and mustered all Israel. 7 And he went and sent to Jehoshaphat the king of Judah, saying: 'The king of Moab hath rebelled against me; wilt thou go with me against Moab to battle?' And he said: 'I will go up; I am as thou art, my people as thy people, my horses as thy horses.' 8 And he said: 'Which way shall we go up?' And he answered: 'The way of the wilderness of Edom.' 9 So the king of Israel went, and the king of Judah, and the king of Edom; and they made a circuit of seven days' journey; and there was no water for the host, nor for the beasts that followed them. 10 And the king of Israel said: 'Alas! for the LORD hath called these three kings together to deliver them into the hand of Moab.' {S} 11 But Jehoshaphat said: 'Is there not here a prophet of the LORD, that we may inquire of the LORD by him?' And one of the king of Israel's servants answered and said: 'Elisha the son of Shaphat is here, who poured water on the hands of Elijah.' 12 And Jehoshaphat said: 'The word of the LORD is with him.' So the king of Israel and Jehoshaphat and the king of Edom went down to him. 13 And Elisha said unto the king of Israel: 'What have I to do with thee? get thee to the prophets of thy father, and to the prophets of thy mother.' And the king of Israel said unto him: 'Nay; for the LORD hath called these three kings together to deliver them into the hand of Moab.' 14 And Elisha said: 'As the LORD of hosts liveth, before whom I stand, surely, were it not that I regard the presence of Jehoshaphat the king of Judah, I would not look toward thee, nor see thee. 15 But now bring me a minstrel.' And it came to pass, when the minstrel played, that the hand of the LORD came upon him. 16 And he said: 'Thus saith the LORD: Make this valley full of trenches. 17 For thus saith the LORD: Ye shall not see wind, neither shall ye see rain, yet that valley shall be filled with water; and ye shall drink, both ye and your cattle and your beasts. 18 And this is but a light thing in the sight of the LORD; He will also deliver the Moabites into your hand. 19 And ye shall smite every fortified city, and every choice city, and shall fell every good tree, and stop all fountains of water, and mar every good piece of land with stones.' 20 And it came to pass in the morning, about the time of making the offering, that, behold, there came water by the way of Edom, and the country was filled with water. 21 Now when all the Moabites heard that the kings were come up to fight against them, they gathered themselves together, all that were able to put on armour, and upward, and stood on the border. 22 And they rose up early in the morning, and the sun shone upon the water, and the Moabites saw the water some way off as red as blood; 23 and they said: 'This is blood: the kings have surely fought together, and they have smitten each man his fellow; now therefore, Moab, to the spoil.' 24 And when they came to the camp of Israel, the Israelites rose up and smote the Moabites, so that they fled before them. And they smote the land, even Moab, mightily. 25 And they beat down the cities; and on every good piece of land they cast every man his stone, and filled it; and they stopped all the fountains of water, and felled all the good trees; until there was left only Kir-hareseth with the stones of the wall thereof; so the slingers encompassed it, and smote it. 26 And when the king of Moab saw that the battle was too sore for him, he took with him seven hundred men that drew sword, to break through unto the king of Edom; but they could not. 27 Then he took his eldest son that should have reigned in his stead, and offered him for a burnt-offering upon the wall. And there came great wrath upon Israel; and they departed from him, and returned to their own land. {P}

Notice Verse 15 But now bring me a minstrel.' And it came to pass, when the minstrel played, that the hand of the LORD came upon him. 

To understand verse 15 - This was a practice common in various cultures where a minstrel plays to induce an ecstasy.  

The Prophet says in verse  18 And this is but a light thing in the sight of the LORD; He will also deliver the Moabites into your hand. Yet at the end of the story the Moabites are not delivered. See verse 27. This is a failed  Tenach prophecy. For more on prophecy see Proof of God From Prophecy .

 In addition, somehow the human sacrifice changes the outcome of the war because we see in verse  27 Then he [King of Moab] took his eldest son that should have reigned in his stead, and offered him for a burnt-offering upon the wall. And there came great wrath upon Israel; and they departed from him, and returned to their own land.

There are several possibilities, and they are not all mutually exclusive.

1) The sacrifice was to the Moabite god Chemosh who has real power and human sacrifice to Chemosh works. Chemosh somehow intervenes and Israel withdraws because of that intervention.

So perhaps Chemosh had real power and enough power to overcome Yahweh !

2) The Israelites thought Chemosh was real and thought human sacrifice to Chemosh works. The sacrifice to Chemosh had psychological effect.

3) The Israelites were overcome with emotion as the King of Moab sacrifices his own son.

4) Rashi explains the Israelites remembered their sin of worshiping pagan deities and are thus not worthy of miracles.

Rashi does not fully explain the situation because a) the Israelites had been winning the war regardless of their past sins, and had the water miracle, both proving they were worthy of miracles b) If the Israelites had been sinning they would not need a reminder c) The prophet said they would win the war proving they were worthy of miracles. d) And the enemies of Israel were worthy of a miracle ? 

5) During a war or siege disease may spread. It is possible this happened to the Israelites army and they withdrew. The sickness and deaths were attributed to the efficacy of human sacrifice by the King of Moab.

6) It is Israeli  propaganda to explain a failed mission to the public. It was not our fault we lost the war, we lost the war because of the King of Moab’s sacrifice.

7) The text is not clear to which God(s) the King of Moab is sacrificing to. Suppose it was to Yahweh. Then perhaps the Israelites  thought the sacrifice would interfere with Yahweh assisting the Israelis and even turn Yahweh against the Israelites. But why would the Israelites think human sacrifice to Yahweh, (by a Moabite no less)  have any efficacy ?  Also, if  Yahweh truly disapproves of human sacrifice, then why would he accept the human sacrifice and send a wrath upon Israel ? This would encourage the use of human sacrifice ! 

Continued Human Sacrifice ? in Bible Part 3