The Kuzari Argument, is probably the most oft-repeated argument in support of the existence of the Jewish god. Attributed to the Spanish Jewish poet and philosopher, Rabbi Yehudah Halevi, it has seen resurgence lately in the works of Rabbi David Gottlieb, Rabbi Akiva Tatz, Rabbi Lawrence Keleman, and many others. There are many different formulations of this argument; however the essential principles of the argument are the same.
There is a tradition amongst Jews that tells of an event in which god revealed himself to them
This tradition is reliable
An event of this magnitude cannot be falsified
Therefore the event must have taken place as described
Therefore god must exist
I am not going to discuss every flaw in this argument, I would rather cover (what I feel) are the two major critiques. The first of these is that there is no evidence that this event ever took place. The second is that even if it did in fact take place, as described, it still would not suffice as evidence for god’s existence.
It should be obvious that to assert that in must have taken place simply because the torah said it did, is a circular argument, and I will not discuss it any further past this simple observation.
Rabbi Keleman, when discussing the argument, claims that if the event did not happen then there are only three options before us; what he calls past, present, and future theory. Past theory – someone got up one day and told the jews that their ancestors had witnessed the Sinai event. Present theory – someone got up and told the jews that they witnessed gods revelation. Future theory – someone got up and told the jews that somewhere in the future god will reveal himself. It seems to me that he set it up this way so as to give the reader the false impression of having covered all of his bases, when in fact two of the options are clearly absurd. Furthermore, he is only contemplating the option that one person got up at some point and asserted that the event took place. It seems that he has ignored the most logical option, the evolving myth. There is no reason to assume that the Sinai event was any different from the typical myth. Perhaps there was a meeting of people near Sinai where they devised a few laws which were deemed “divinely inspired”. It doesn’t take much to imagine that story evolving into what we know today as the story of the giving of the torah. However the real problem with the kuzari argument becomes apparent if we grant, for arguments sake, that the event did take place.
In order for us to accept their testimony, they would have to know what it was they were seeing. Let us compare it for a minute to the UFO phenomenon. The fact that there are UFOs makes perfect sense, as there are many flying things that most people cannot identify. However, for people to then claim that it must therefore be an extraterrestrial spaceship is unjustified. All they know is that they don’t know what it is. If I see a new kind of bug that I have never seen before, I can easily identify it as a bug, because I have seen many bugs before, but if I would have “met an alien” I would be hard pressed to identify it as such since I have no experience with aliens. To bring it back to the Sinai event, how could the average jew at the time know that what they were seeing was in fact a god? They couldn’t. They could do no better than the UFO case; simply call it unidentified. Furthermore we have documented evidence of thousands of people seeing an event and mistakenly interpret it. In the 1900’s there was an event where tens of thousands of people claimed to have seen extraordinary things which couldn’t have happened on the basis of everything that we know about reality.
More importantly, the issue I take with using Sinai as a basis for belief in god is as follows. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and this doesn’t cut it. When it comes to claims about reality, science has noticed that the lowest, cheapest, worst, most unreliable form evidence is eyewitness testimony, and that’s when the people are alive and telling you, in person, what they saw. In order to claim that everything we know about reality is an illusion and that there is a god running the show, not just any god, a prayer listening, commandment issuing, intervening gods, you better have some really powerful evidence. No eyewitness testimony will do, let alone a book claiming that some people thousands of years ago saw it. That simply won’t do.