Sunday, March 27, 2011

Plain Logic

Moshe Grylak's column a couple of weeks ago stirred up a lot of discussion on the blogs. He was writing about the crisis of faith amongst those who are ostensibly religious and committed.

Since his article I have spent many, many hours thinking of the correct response, were someone to ask me to justify his (or her - though in my experience this problem is predominantly a male issue - for some reason) beliefs and practices. I have come to several different conclusions (usually changing my mind every couple of hours or so), and am still working through various different approaches to the problem.

I was very pleased when someone told me tonight that Rabbi Grylak has written a follow up column where he gives part of his answer to such a person. I wasted no time in looking at his article. You can read it too, if you wish. Here is the link.

On the one hand I am quite disappointed with his answer. On the other hand, I think that he makes a very good point.

Both he and Harry Maryles make a similar point. It is this:
plain logic compels a person to believe. Simple common sense recognizes that nothing gets made by itself.

This is also known as the 'argument from incredulity.' The eye/human being/universe/world/[insert object here] seems too complex for my mind to imagine that it was made without a Creator. Therefore there must be a Creator.

This is similar to what Rav Shach writes in Avi Ezri, and many of the great Rabbis have shared this belief. This is William Paley's argument and the 'proof' of Chovos HaLevavos before him, and Rabbi Akiva's argument before him (though I'm not sure if this is a real midrash or not):

An apikorus asked Rabbi Akiva to prove that Hashem created the world. Rabbi Akiva asked the fellow who made his suit. The fellow said that it was the weaver. Rabbi Akiva then said to his talmidim, "Just as the suit is evidence of its weaver (because how else could such a complex garment come about, do you think two threads just got together and formed a garment?), so too the complexities of the world (which is a lot more than a garment) is evidence of its creator.

In fact, all it shows is how limited the human mind is when it comes to grasping the true brilliance of nature. There are many things that amaze us. They do not 'prove' anything apart from the way our brain works.

In addition this line of argument has at least two MAJOR flaws if this is used as a proof.

Firstly, many people have shown how flawed the world is. If creation is 'proof' of G-d, then we would (erroneously) infer that G-d is cruel and bloodthirsty, having created a world of hunger, pain and suffering. We would also be misled into thinking that G-d is far from perfect, since the world appears to us to be far from perfect. Do we really want to believe in a G-d who made over 60,000 species of ichneumonidae? Whether or not Darwin is correct about evolution, I think he is certainly right when he makes the point that:

"I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars"

The other major flaw in this argument (from a Jewish perspective) is that it has nothing to do with Judaism or Torah, mitzvos or prayer. Any theist could use this argument. This 'proof' no more helps someone in kollel than it does an Muslim, Hindu, Christian or Buddhist. I don't see how it comforts or helps anyone. And it is certainly not a kind of Deity who we could have a relationship with.

This post has become too long, and I haven't said half of what I wanted to say. But I will conclude with agreeing wholeheartedly with Rabbi Grylak on his second (and major) point.

He writes:

One educator asked me, “So what do you want me to do? Believe me, I do talk to them about emunah.”

“Don’t talk to them!” I replied. “Show them! Words won’t help here; experiences are what’s needed. From an early age, bring them into living contact with the world and its wonders. Take them to the planetarium, where they can see the vastness of the universe, get them excited from an early age, and at every age give them suitable experiences, and then teach them the prayer Vayevarech David, and they’ll know what David HaMelech meant when he said, ‘You have made the heavens, the heavens of heaven and all their hosts, the earth and all that is upon it, and You give life to them all.’ Take them to the zoo, and teach them about the incredible wisdom underlying every animal’s characteristics.

This is exactly what Rambam writes. Not as a proof of G-d (that takes 26 axioms and many pages in Moreh Nevuchim) but in order to 'Love G-d'. The more we learn about the world, nature, science, history etc, the more we grow to love G-d, which then leads to fear of G-d. It does not prove anything. But once a person comes to love someone else (or some G-d else) many of their 'belief' issues fade away.

For this reason it is such a shame that science and other disciplines are neither taught nor encouraged in traditional Hareidi society. Or even worse - science becomes 'kiruv tricks' by the likes of Zamir Cohen, which distorts both Torah and science. If we would encourage people to learn about the world, and to read about the wonders of creation, they would come to be filled with a love of G-d and a yearning to know Him.

Perhaps Mishpacha Magazine will change the world in which we live. Let's hope so.

PS I found the source of the Rabbi Akiva story. It is from Midrash Temurah

Wikipedia tells me that
According to A. Jellinek, the Midrash Temurah was composed in the first half of the 13th century, since it drew upon Ibn Ezra and upon Galen's dialogue on the soul, even though it is cited by Me'iri and Abraham Abulafia

So it is not actually earlier than Chovos HaLevavos. Oh well.

No comments:

Post a Comment