Friday, May 10, 2013

Arguments For God Part 2: The Kuzari Argument

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. 


  1. Here kuzari related type questions.

    A) Question: Does it make sense to you for the Torah to command it's people to commit national suicide by not working their crops for a year when 80% of its population were farmers and importing crops was impossible due to the enemies surrounding Israel? And why would they be commanded to leave their borders 3 times a year?

    1) To us it does not make sense, but to ancient people that believed that spirits would save them it could make sense.
    2) Maybe the Torah is just silly or wishful thinking. Were the commandments meant to be taken literally ? My Jewish history is weak. Could the laws have been written during the diaspora ?
    3) Ever hear of the Ghost Dance. Native Americans thought they would be invisible to bullets. Does that make sense ? Thats what happens when you believe in Superstitions.
    4) The Jews probably had scouts on the borders. I assume if a war started and the Jews began to get slaughtered, the smarter Rabbi's and people would say defend your self.
    5) You may not work your fields, but you can live off any surplus, trade the best you can, find food in the wild. If not you starve and that is just what happened. See, for when Yaweh/El/Elohim/Shadaii did not show up.

  2. B) Why the argument from Mount Sinai and my Father told me so fails.
    1. We know that folklore, customs, and myths evolve and then get passed down Parents to children. Why not this alleged event ? Also, why can it not just be propaganda ?
    2. The event sounds like a volcano. Volcano erupted in ancient times
    people got wind of it and thought it was related to god. Mountains are
    considered holy sites by ancient pagan religions. This could have
    started a legend.
    3. - A mass revelation in
    the early 1900's that thousand and thousand of people saw Jesus etc:
    In 1900's people are more sophisticated (we hope) than ancient
    primitive people like the Jewish tribes, yet it seems they are also
    deceived. If not, then maybe we should become Christian ?
    4. The implication that a being so powerful as the alleged god would
    come down to earth (a mere speck in the universe) to a mountain in a
    desert and speak to only to a Jewish tribe and choose them over all
    nations and gave them the torah does not seem likely.
    5. The torah is full of nonsense, contradictions, doublets and so lacks
    credibility. PLUS, THERE IS NO empirical EVIDENCE THE
    PEOPLE BEING IN THE DESERT. Carl Sagan said, “extraordinary
    claims require extraordinary evidence.”
    7. We have no witnesses to cross examine. There is only a story in the torah.
    8. Read Deuteronomy 5: "I stood between the Lord and you at that
    time, to declare unto you the word of the Lord; for you were afraid
    because of the fire, and went not up into the mount". So, the jews did
    not hear the word of god.
    9. Even if no other people have a similar mass revelation story, it does
    not follow the Jewish one did occur. Maybe the Jews might just be more
    brazen, because maybe they were more desperate.
    In other words, just because only one tribe of people claim event of type
    XYZ was witnessed by them, and there is no corresponding type claim
    among other peoples, does not imply event XYZ actually happened.
    10. Peoples can accept a false national history. See "The Invention of Tradition (Canto Series)

  3. Continued

    11. for more on Kuzari type of argument see these links

    12) Suppose the Jewish experience, claims... is so unique that we can't totally explain it to your satisfaction.

    THAT DOES NOT MEAN THAT THE SINAI EVENT ACTUALLY HAPPENED. Its just we can't totally explain to your satisfaction. I am sure the are many things we can not explain, that does not mean that Gods is somehow involved.

    13) With a have a story according to Yahweh’s chosen people.
    That Yahweh intervened in human affairs, perform all kinds of miracles to free an enslaved tribe, then miracle upon miracle kept this tribe of hundreds of thousands of people in the desert alive for 40 years. Yaweh also came down to a mountain in a desert and made them the chosen people.

    We have two explanations

    A) The Exodus and Sinai story as essentially nation building myths.

    B) That the story actually happened.

    Given all that I have said in my prior posts (lack of external evidence etc: etc:), the more reasonable explanation is the former. It explains the story in the context of human affairs and natural phenomena. The latter explanation implies some supernatural Yahweh and miracles that add a level of complexity that strains the imagination and creates more unsolved problems than it solves.


    If true this is an argument against Kuzari as follows:

    My Grandfathers and Father and Mother are all Ashkenazi Jews. They accepted the story that their ancestors were in Egypt and then at Sinai. The original Jewish converts in Khazar knew that their ancestors could not have been at Mount Sinai. Yet after a few generations their descendants believe their great great....great granddaddy was at Mount Sinai ! The Ashkenazi Jews accepted a false national origin.

  4. From amazon review of Kelemens - Permission to Believe.
    A theme throughout this book is to ask a question and if Kelemen does not like your answer or you do not have an answer then it must mean there is a god. That is a non sequitur. It could be we just have not studied the issue enough or we do not have a good answer at this point. The book is rife with quote mining from scientists, atheistic scientists no less ! The scientist will discusses a scientific problem, and Kelemen then says positing a god solves the problem. Actually, it does not add anything to our knowledge and creates a level of complexity that is unnecessary, and introduces more questions and problems than it solves.
    I will not discuss his Cosmological and Theological argument for gods. They have been debunked by many scientists and philosophers. See wikipedia on the Cosmological cyclic and other models, and see abiogenesis models for the origin of life. Evolution explains the diversity of life and where man came from. The vast majority of scientists (each easily over 95%) do not believe in gods. The vast majority of Cosmologists do not believe a god exists.

  5. Continued:
    Kelemen says Jewish suffering and survival suggests a god. Besides being a non sequitur, many nations and ethnic groups have suffered terribly and survived. Why did the jews suffer ? Xenophobia, racism, they have different customs than the local population plus saying they are god's chosen, accused of being Christ killer, stole land from and slaughtered various ancient middle eastern tribes ( according to torah), maybe some jews offended their hosts, greedy neighbors wanted their homeland, ...Why did jews survive ? They relocated, went underground (for example in Spain), they bribed, begged, used political machinations, made positive contributions to society, etc:. After they lost Israel, they evolved and changed with the situation. They kept their culture alive, they indoctrinated their children from a very young age. Being in a ghetto just made them hunker down - there was no place else to go. Not every one wanted to kill the Jews. In other words there was no world wide plan to kill Jews. No supernatural explanation is even remotely required.
    Did the Jews really survive ? Depends what Jews means. Depends what "survives" means. The Jewish religion today is very likely not the same Jewish religion practiced in ancient Israel. (Consider the many "Jewish" sects and different interpretations. Pharisees, Essenes, Sadducees, Karaites, Falashas, Rabbanic, and many others.) Also, the genetic make up of the Jews (if there ever was one) has been dramatically changed thru intermarriage/ rape and conversions to Judaism by some other peoples and assimilation (Jews leaving the "tribe"). So even the premise that the "Jews" have "survived" has to be better defined
    Kelemen's solution to Jewish suffering and survival is Leviticus 26:3-39, that god will punish jews if they break the commandment and protect them if they keep the commandments.
    Those versus may have just been propaganda. Also, the predictor is stating the obvious, religion can be a uniting factor, i.e united we stand divided we fall. The predictor talks about rain and reasonable people do not believe rain fall is controlled by gods just because you do not or do not follow his laws. Furthermore, god would have to make it not rain just in Israelis borders. The rain would have to miraculously stop just there and no place else. Same for fruit bearing miracles. The verse(s) are saying make god happy by following th commandments and in return you get all these goodies. This is similar to many ancient superstitions such as sacrifice to the gods to obtain favors.
    His argument that bible makes valid "predictions" needs to be fleshed out much more into a testable hypothesis. This is almost impossible. For example - how do you figure out just when jews are not keeping enough laws and which specific ones to bring on gods wrath. When did the non observance occur - did god actually keep track of every commandment non obeyed by every jew in every second. Are there examples when jews did follow the law yet suffered anyway ? Are there examples when jews did not follow the law yet did not suffer ? You have to test each separate prediction - like no rain, no fruit etc;

  6. Because maybe jews get killed, but it rains anyway. We cant go back in time to see when it did or did not rain. We have to go back and examine each time the jews suffered. I think you get my point. Also, the bible predictor is not valid from a statistical viewpoint.
    Since the bible has a lot of nonsense (contradictions, anachronisms, doublets, myths like women coming from Adam's rib. talking snakes...) the burden of proof is that much greater on the person saying we can deduce god from it. It is a credibility issue. All academic bible scholars say the bible was written by people. Also, we have to examine every time the bible makes a prediction and see how well it was fulfilled. The book only focused on one passage. If the over all predictive value of the book is poor then it could just be luck one passage got it right more times than other passages.

    Kelemen even asserts the preposterous Idea that the holocaust was because many Jews began to not follow the orthodox religion. It was not the loss and heavy burden placed on the German people after WWI that led to WWII, it was not the world wide depression and hyperinflation that led to WWII, it was not racism, it was not scapegoat theory, it was not the culmination of many terrible pogroms, it was not religious bigotry, it was not that many jews were thought to have caused Germany's loss in WWI, it was not because there were jews affiliated with communists, it was not the rampant antisemitism the had prevailed in Europe for centuries, it was not because many Germans believed The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, it was not because the Jews as a whole dressed and acted differently, it was not because hatred was being used to unite a country, it was not because of differences of Ideology, I could go on and on. We then deduce from Kelemens theory that god caused millions of innocent non Jewish people to be killed, just because some jews decided not to practice Orthodox Judaism. Is that insane or what. This is among the so called rational reasons to believe in god according to Kelemen.

    We have two explanations of Jewish Suffering and Survival. The bible predictor with god versus natural explanations. The more reasonable explanation is the latter. It explains the story in the context of human affairs and natural phenomena. The former explanation implies something supernatural and miracles which adds a level of unnecessary complexity. It creates more questions and more unsolved problems than it solves.