Friday, April 27, 2012

Is there such a thing as rational Judaism?

Can religion really work with rationalism? There are many good books which try to bridge the gap between them (the 'first and best' of which was Challenge: Torah Views on Science and Its Problems, and of course there are the books of Rabbi Slifkin including The Challenge of Creation: Judaism's Encounter with Science, Cosmology, and Evolution

But at the end of the day must we come to a point where we give up on the rational? Are there things which we cannot accept rationally but have to accept on faith? And if so, how do we know where to draw the line?

New research seems to suggest that the more rational a person is, the less likely he or she is to be religious. I have no idea whether this actually means anything or not, but I am very sceptical about the methodology used (though I haven't been able to access the full paper, so perhaps it is the summary that is misleading, rather than the research.

For example, one of the ways they decided who is rational and who is intuitive was through the following question:

For example, students were asked this question: "A bat and a ball cost $1.10 in total. The bat costs $1.00 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?" The intuitive answer — 10 cents — would be wrong. A little math on the fly reveals that the correct answer would be 5 cents.

After answering three of these questions, the students were asked to rate a series of statements on belief, including, "In my life I feel the presence of the Divine," and "I just don't understand religion." Students who answered the three questions correctly — and presumably did a better job of engaging their analytical skills — were more likely to score lower on the belief scales.

So based on three questions like that, and vague answers to questions about "I feel the presence of the Divine..." they make a generalisation that intuitive people are more religious, but intellectual people are less religious. I'm not convinced (I know that was only a small part of the study, but to my mind that is completely meaningless, and doesn't make sense in a study like this at all).

On the other hand, (and quite ironically), intuitively it seems to me that someone who is less rational is more likely to be religious. On the other hand, rationally, it doesn't really make sense to me.

Were Rambam, Saadiah, Ralbag or Yitzchak Yisraeli not religious? When Rambam rejects the philosophy of Kalam because it contradicts Aristotle, is that not purely rational?

But looking at the world today, it does seem to me that Kiruv has got rid of most of the intellectual, rational potential baalei teshuva. It seems that today faith has to be based on dodgy fake science and cholent. No rational person will accept that for very long.

1 comment:

  1. If the survey is conducted in an area where the predominant majority of the population relate to religion in Xian terms, that would not surprise me. We're talking about a culture where religious people are expected to take a "leap of faith" or to "believe because it is absurd" (Tertullian, as said culture misquotes him).

    That said, we live after Kant, Salanter and Freud. The notion that people make decisions based on rational argument has been discredited. R Yehudah haLevi (Kuzari I) is correct -- what any one philosopher can "prove" another can "prove" the opposite. It inheres in the fact that for all the rigor of a proof, it still rests on one's givens. And one's experience, proclivities and negi'os change which givens you find self evident.

    To quote my own aphorism:
    The mind is a wonderful organ
    for justifying conclusions
    the hear already reached.

    It's the experience of Shabbos that convinces someone that the system by which we get Shabbos is reliable. Shabbos is just one example, but perhaps it and talmud Torah are by far the strongest cases. The internal experience is a data point, one of our givens.

    It is no more becoming frum because I like Shabbos than saying that I accept that two lines with the same slope (in flat Euclidian space) will not meet because I like the idea. It's not a matter of "like", it's a different mental judgment.

    The typical Kiruv worker didn't yet catch this. And second, he is dealing with people who expect their truths in sound bites. So true education is difficult, instead there is marketing. Either he tries to make an overly simple philosophical argument or he simply gives up on thought and goes for the enjoyable experience -- liking Shabbos rather than feeling its congruance with the needs of the soul.

    Rationality is an assessment of the relationship of givens to a conclusion -- if there is one. Not of the givens. People confuse rationalism with metaphysical minimalism. They're both tools of the skeptic, but they are not the same thing.