Heretical Quote of the Week: Unbelievable Gods

The concept of religion in its widest possible sense, as it is here espoused, certainly goes far beyond the narrow concepts of God promulgated by many representatives of denominational and institutional religion. They often depict, not to say denigrate, God as a being who is primarily concerned with being believed in by the greatest possible number of believers, and along the lines of a specific creed, at that. “Just believe,” we are told, “and everything will be okay.” But alas, not only is this order based on a distortion of any sound concept of deity, but even more importantly it is doomed to failure: Obviously, there are certain activities that simply cannot be commanded, demanded, or ordered, and as it happens, the triad “faith, hope, and love” belongs to this class of activities that elude an approach with, so to speak, “command characteristics.” Faith, hope, and love cannot be established by command simply because they cannot be established at will. I cannot “will” to believe, I cannot “will” to hope, I cannot “will” to love – and at least of all can I “will” to will.

Upon closer investigation it turns out that what underlies the attempt to establish faith, hope, love, and will by command is manipulative approach. The attempt to bring these states about at will, however, is ultimately based on an inappropriate objectification and reification of these human phenomena: They are turned into mere things, into mere objects. However, since faith, hope, love, and will are so-called “intentional” acts or activities, along the lines of the terminology coined by Edmund Husserl and Max Scheler, the founders of the school of “phenomenology”, these activities are directed to “intentional” referents – in other words, to objects of their own. To the extent that one makes intentional acts into objects, he loses sight of their objects. Nowhere, to my knowledge, is this brought home to us more strikingly than with the uniquely human phenomenon of laughter: You cannot order anyone to laugh – if you want him to laugh, you must tell him a joke.

But isn’t it, in a way, the same with religion? If you want people to have faith and belief in God, you cannot rely on preaching along the lines of a particular church but must, in the first place, portray your God believably – and you must act credibly yourself. In other words, you have to do very opposite of what so often is done by representatives of organized religion when they build up an image of God as someone who is primarily interested in being believed in and who is rigorously insists that those who believe in him be affiliated with a particular church. Small wonder that such representatives of religion behave as though the saw the main task of their own denomination as that of overriding other denominations.

Certainly the trend is away from religion conceived in such a strictly denominational sense. Yet this is not to imply that, eventually, there will be a universal religion. On the contrary, if religion is to survive, it will have to be profoundly personalized

-Viktor Frankl

 

Advertisements

About Jared C

I am a criminal appeals attorney, father of four, raised in Kansas, live in San Diego.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

68 Responses to Heretical Quote of the Week: Unbelievable Gods

  1. moshesharon says:

    The G-d concept is inconceivable. To start with, you can’t prove any postulate to be true; you only can prove a theory to be false if it is indeed falsifiable. Therefore, nothing can prove the existence of G-d because you cannot know infinity from a finite perspective and the G-d concept is not falsifiable. However, there is a way to demonstrate with geometry the process of intelligent design creating something from nothing; which is a contraction of the infinite to the finite as true nothingness is the infinite realm that exists beyond what is knowable. For example, the point identifies an exact location in space yet it has no dimensions and therefore has no physical existence. Consequently, if you touch a surface with the tip of a needle you are covering an infinite number of points. Yet every measurable physical structure is a conglomeration of lines connecting one zero dimensional point to another defining that which cannot be measured as the start of everything measurable. Therefore, the point is a geometric key to understanding the concept of G-d creating something from nothing.

  2. Jared C says:

    I don’t think the G-d you are talking about can be believed in.

  3. moshesharon says:

    It’s more of a function of you choosing not to believe rather than any level of believability.

  4. Jared C says:

    I think the point of the quote is that at some level, I don’t have the choice. If a concept of God is beyond grasp, contradictory to my basic understanding, or incoherent, then I can’t bring myself to believe in that God, in a religious sense, without a better explanation or a shift in my understanding of other things.

    I suppose I can choose to believe in some things without any clear understanding or connection, but ultimately these sorts of beliefs seem inconsequential. I can believe in quarks, and other subatomic particles but my belief doesn’t mean much when I they are really beyond my comprehension and understanding them doesn’t effect my experience at all.

  5. Kullervo says:

    moshesharon, you missed the point entirely. Jared C, on the other hand, nails it. You don’t really “choose” to believe something any more than you choose to fall in love. True gods are believable not in the sense of being rationally comprehensible or easy to assimilate into one’s schema, but in the sense that their presence compels you to believe. They are compelling.

    I do think that you can compel yourself to believe in an unbelievable god, but I think you have to kill a part of yourself to do it.

  6. moshesharon says:

    There is a point beyond human understanding, like what existed before the first moment of time that had a present and future, but no past; or if a circle has no beginning when did it come into being? If you believe that nothing can exist beyond human understanding like absolute zero, or absolute inertia, then that’s okay. Just stay with what you know. However, I chose to reach beyond human understanding to believe in G-d, freely wanting to recognize that what is unknowable does exist, like the point and the line. These are geometric figures that cannot be measured yet form the basis for everything measurable. You don’t have to agree with me at all; it’s a matter of free will to believe it or not. However, I merely contend that belief is a choice and not a consequence of being compelled by inescapable conclusions.

  7. Kullervo says:

    Yeah, but if your relationship with the divine is like most people’s relationship with geometry, you can have it.

  8. Jared C says:

    However, I chose to reach beyond human understanding to believe in G-d, freely wanting to recognize that what is unknowable does exist, like the point and the line.

    Yes I believe in the unkowable, and I in fact wouldn’t mind knowing it, but knowing the God in the the point and the line spins my head a lot less than knowing the God in blood, sweat and tears.

  9. Kullervo says:

    Or blood, sweat and beers. That one is even better.

  10. Jared C says:

    . . . and riotous fornication.

  11. moshesharon says:

    Jared: Yes I believe in the unkowable, and I in fact wouldn’t mind knowing it, but knowing the God in the the point and the line spins my head a lot less than knowing the God in blood, sweat and tears.

    Moshe: I get the point and hope I’m not out of line, but if there is any chance of knowing it, then it remains knowable. If you truly believed in the unknowable, then you would concede that you cannot know it by any means, be it blood, sweat, tears, beers or riotous fornication. 😉

  12. moshesharon says:

    Kullervo: Yeah, but if your relationship with the divine is like most people’s relationship with geometry, you can have it.

    Moshe: My relationship with the Divine is not based on geometry; it’s based on cultural tradition dating back 3.5 thousand years. I merely used those geometric concepts as a reference to point out that nothing is what it seems while everything is as it should be. 🙂

  13. Kullervo says:

    I didn’t suggest that your relationship with God is based on geometry. I said if your relationship to God is analogous to your relationship with geometry–and geometry was your analogy not mine–then that is flatly uncompelling.

  14. Jared C says:

    If you truly believed in the unknowable, then you would concede that you cannot know it by any means, be it blood, sweat, tears, beers or riotous fornication.

    I concede that I can’t know the unknowable. Perhaps my point is that the unknowable is also the unbelievable. If an unknowable God wants me to believe, he will have to make himself known in a way that I can fathom.

  15. Kullervo says:

    “Knowable” and “unknowable” are arbitrary concepts with no real application to reality. The extent to which you can “know” anything is much too complex and problematic to be expressed in black and white terms like that.

  16. Racticas says:

    Moshe: My relationship with the Divine is not based on geometry; it’s based on cultural tradition dating back 3.5 thousand years. I merely used those geometric concepts as a reference to point out that nothing is what it seems while everything is as it should be. 🙂

    Racticas: So the geometry analogy was bait-and-switch. We already knew about your 3.5 thousand years of tradition and remain skeptical.

  17. moshesharon says:

    Jared: I concede that I can’t know the unknowable. Perhaps my point is that the unknowable is also the unbelievable. If an unknowable God wants me to believe, he will have to make himself known in a way that I can fathom.

    Moshe: As far as I and my fellow Jews are concerned the unknowable G-d did make himself known to the extent the He chose to reveal enough for us to follow a set of laws. It’s called the Torah. It has served us well for 3,500 years. The Jewish national history, language and culture arose from it. It’s available in every language for anyone to examine its content. Most of the people that I encounter who dismiss it have never given more than a cursory review of the various mistranslations. It should not be confused with the commonly known “Bible.” There is a stark distinction.

  18. moshesharon says:

    Racticas: So the geometry analogy was bait-and-switch. We already knew about your 3.5 thousand years of tradition and remain skeptical.

    Moshe: I apologize for what is perceived as some sort of deception. I made it clear that I was not trying to convince anyone of anything. My argument is that belief is a matter of free choice while Jared contends that it is the end result of weighing compelling evidence and drawing a conclusion based on intellect. The geometry analogy is a way of seeing that the construct of reality is based on figures that have no physical existence having zero and one dimension with zero width.

  19. Kullervo says:

    And we’re all saying that the intellectual affirmation of abstract geometrical figures is exactly nothing at all like a relationship with a living god.

  20. moshesharon says:

    Kullervo: “Knowable” and “unknowable” are arbitrary concepts with no real application to reality. The extent to which you can “know” anything is much too complex and problematic to be expressed in black and white terms like that.

    Moshe: I respectfully disagree. Reality is the sum total of all knowledge within the universe. You either know something or you don’t. It really is that simple. There is that which you know and that which you don’t know. What you don’t know falls into two subcategories of A) what you don’t know and you know you don’t know it; and B) what you don’t know and you don’t know that you don’t know it.

    To explain further, A) I know that a black hole exists, but I don’t know exactly what it is or how it functions in the scheme of the universe. B) There are multitudes of things that exist that we never think about because we have no information about them, like what exists in the deepest depths of the oceans where there is no light and the pressue is greater than any man-made object can withstand..

  21. moshesharon says:

    Kullervo: And we’re all saying that the intellectual affirmation of abstract geometrical figures is exactly nothing at all like a relationship with a living god.

    Moshe: I couldn’t agree more except that for me it’s “The Living G-d.” The intellectual affirmation of abstract geometrical figures is merely a tiny little window with which to grasp the idea of “something from nothing.” This concept is a cornerstone of Hassidic philosophy.

  22. Kullervo says:

    Moshe: You either know something or you don’t. It really is that simple. There is that which you know and that which you don’t know.

    Bullshit. At least acknowledge basic epistemological problems. If you can’t wrap your head around those issues, we can’t even meaningfully communicate about knowledge.

  23. Jared C says:

    Moshesharon,

    I think we are talking about two slightly different things. You are talking about how you find the intellectual explanation and analysis of geometric concepts is compelling to you and informs your understanding of God. I can get behind that in principle, although I don’t agree with the conclusions of your analysis of points. However, I tend to think that this sort of analysis is usually secondary to something much deeper and more powerful, but it may be icing on the cake nonetheless. The 3500 year tradition and record of human experience is far more compelling to me than the geometric analysis.

    But what is difficult for me to accept is that you assert that my belief in “The Living G–d” is simply a matter of my choice: “It’s more of a function of you choosing not to believe rather than any level of believability.” This i can’t buy. If something is unbelievable to me, I can’t choose to believe it. Whether something is unbelievable to me is a function of who I am, my experience, my knowledge and beliefs of other things and the strength of the evidence supporting that world view. Unbelievable propositions may be true, but they are impossible for me to believe without shifting my view of the world. A compelling manifestation of God will effect me powerfully enough to shift my view of the world if it is different, just as a joke will make me laugh, or my lover will compel me to fall in love.

    There are other things that I believe in, but have absolutely no connection to or experience with. (I.e. my belief in black holes for instance.) These beliefs may shift wildly as soon as I hear something different about them from some source that I find believable. Because they are abstract and removed from my experience, they are completely uncompelling to me in any religious sense.

    I think Meno’s paradox is somewhat instructive of my point. In Plato’s dialogue, Meno he has Meno question Socrates: “And how will you inquire into a thing when you are wholly ignorant of what it is? Even if you happen to bump right into it, how will you know it is the thing you didn’t know?”

    We can’t know anything that does not fit in somehow with what we can know. And if I don’t have the mathematical expertise to understand black holes and quarks, I can’t really have a living religious- style belief in these concepts. They are simply dead dogma that I can choose to mouth and assent to, but have no purchase in my life.

  24. Kullervo says:

    A compelling manifestation of God will effect me powerfully enough to shift my view of the world if it is different, just as a joke will make me laugh, or my lover will compel me to fall in love.

    Bingo.

  25. moshesharon says:

    Kullervo: Bullshit. At least acknowledge basic epistemological problems. If you can’t wrap your head around those issues, we can’t even meaningfully communicate about knowledge.

    Moshe: Obviously you lack the knowledge of how to be civil, so you can’t communicate meaningfully about anything, it seems.

  26. moshesharon says:

    Jared, you raise interesting points. It is entirely valid to base your beliefs on what you understand to the extend that it has a profound effect on your life. And, I agree that mere knowledge that something exists that we know nothing about can be empty and meaningless. The original post of this blog speaks correctly against religious dogma that threatens eternal punishment for non-conformity.

    To explain more about where I am coming from, the observant Jew learns a way of life filled with rituals for every aspect of living. Although it may seem restrictive, it becomes no more cumbersome than the usual routines for activities of daily living dictated by the construct of our bodies. The proper motivation for the Jew is neither fear of punishment nor desire for reward; but a desire to do the right thing; to be a “mensch” (good person). So most of the rules we follow from the Torah make sense. Descent people from the world over follow the same patterns of ethics and morality even though they know nothing of Torah and may even profess not to believe in G-d. Thus the Jews do not have a monopoly on ethics and morality; nor does lack of believing in a deity denote any lack of morality and/or ethics.

    On the other hand, some of our rules and traditions make no sense at all, but we do those because “G-d said so,” and we have come to accept those as part of our Jewish identity. This is where free choice comes into play. What makes the G-d described in the Torah entirely believable to me and many Jews while held totally unbelievable by others, is admittedly something of a mystery to me, unless we can agree that believability with regard to any religion is strictly in the eyes of the beholder. As I said previously, those who restrict their notion of believability to that which can only be established by physical evidence will never be satisfied with any discussion of a supernal existence, supreme being, intelligent design or any idea that reaches beyond physical reality because none of that can be proven or disproved. However, you are correct in pointing out that external influences in our life experience often compel us to adopt one belief system or another, but free choice does play a role in my experience because every morning when I wake up I re-examine my beliefs and choose to don my phillacteries and prayer garments. then I spend some time learning as much as I can the reason for doing what I do. I do hear things in my culture regarding some of the stories which challenge my scientific sensibilities, so I question and probe all the time as do my colleagues. It is a wonderful course of daily mental stimulation. Again, my little tryst into geometry was, as you so eloquently put it, more of the icing, or a bit of a mental exercise in trying to understand the Hasidic concept of “something from nothing” with regard to creation or “intelligent design.”

  27. moshesharon says:

    Kullervo: A compelling manifestation of God will effect me powerfully enough to shift my view of the world if it is different, just as a joke will make me laugh, or my lover will compel me to fall in love. Bingo.

    Moshe: Actually, the compelling manifestation of G-d is exactly the historical experience of the Jewish people, starting with the Exodus from Egypt and culminating in receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai. However, the profound manifestation of Divine Revelation altering the human intellect is much greater than the emotional response of laughing at a joke or even falling in love in response to a lover’s overtures. Although I do see that all three scenarios are responses to stimuli in a general sense.

  28. moshesharon says:

    I realized after posting that Kullervo was quoting Jared and agreeing with him. A bit of confusion on my part, but my response remains except that I redirect my response to Jared.

  29. Kullervo says:

    Moshe: Obviously you lack the knowledge of how to be civil, so you can’t communicate meaningfully about anything, it seems.

    Don’t fucking tell me to be civil. Either learn how the culture works here on this blog and deal with it, or bugger off. Calling something bullshit is a completely acceptable response to something being bullshit.

    In any case, you completely avoided the substantive comment. You can’t talk about epistemology–which is what you’re doing if you are talking about the nature of knowing–if you refuse to acknowledge the existence of epistemology.

    Actually, the compelling manifestation of G-d is exactly the historical experience of the Jewish people, starting with the Exodus from Egypt and culminating in receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai.

    Maybe that was compelling to the Jews who were there, but you and I only get it secondhand, so no. Doesn’t work. Fail. If you are saying that reading the written record and experiencing preserved tradition of the Jewish people is a compelling manifestation of God, okay. Maybe to you. But if so, it is compelling because you personally found it compelling–it touched you in some profound way that compelled you.

    However, the profound manifestation of Divine Revelation altering the human intellect is much greater than the emotional response of laughing at a joke or even falling in love in response to a lover’s overtures.

    Jared’s not saying they’re identical. He’s saying they’re analogous only in the sense that the human response to the divine is to a certain extent an uncontrollable reflex, the believer is compelled by the object of belief like a lover is compelled by the object of his love to fall in love or a listener is compelled by the joke to laugh. If you don’t know how analogies work, you have missed the bus from the very start, because that’s what we’re talking about here.

    You can choose commitment to your mate, but you don’t choose to fall in love with them. The same with God: you can choose to intellectually adopt the position that God exists, and you can choose to be committed to a particular religious tradition, but you don’t choose whether or not you believe.

    The original post of this blog speaks correctly against religious dogma that threatens eternal punishment for non-conformity.

    No it doesn’t. That’s not what the original post is about at all. Did you even read it?

  30. Racticas says:

    Moshe: Obviously you lack the knowledge of how to be civil, so you can’t communicate meaningfully about anything, it seems.

    Racticas: I’m calling you a coward, Moshe. I will have trouble taking the substance of what you say seriously until you come out from behind your non-substantive “zinger” comeback and respond to Kullervo. He swore because he found your willful ignorance of the basic epistemological problem to be outrageous and uncivil to reason. He found it offensive. So do I. You’re not his dad and he didn’t come into your office asking for advice. He doesn’t *owe* you the respect you waltzed in and demanded. You may think you are a wise Jew helping out a couple of misguided goy with your 3.5 million years of tradition, but most of us know something about Judaism (some of us know a hell of a lot about Judaism) and none of us found it compelling or authoritative. We do not see this scenari0 the same way you do. We are skeptical. You don’t get to cow us with scolding: Your arguments will have to stand on their own two feet here.

    In any case, if you can’t handle a bad word or two then don’t post on a blog devoted to sacrilege.

  31. Racticas says:

    Final note: one thing we are *all* used to here is religious believers prancing in and thinking that their insider polemics are going to shock and awe us. One day it’s a Mormon, the next day it’s a Jew. You’re going to have to do better than repeating a Sunday school lesson here, because you’re not preaching to the choir. Many of us have theological, legal, or other high-level intellectual training. Cut the bad rhetoric and give us good reasons. If you ask Kullervo and I, personal reasons are the best. We are jaded, but not completely closed-minded. Most of us are here because we are interested in divine truth– we are just sick of the bullshit that masquerades as it.

  32. Kullervo says:

    You’re going to have to do better than repeating a Sunday school lesson here, because you’re not preaching to the choir.

    Saturday school lesson, dude. Don’t be an anti-Semite. Otherwise, well-said. I hereby grant you admin status. And I absolve you of all your sins.

  33. Jared C says:

    Moshe,

    I (for one ) appreciate your perspective willingness to share your thoughts, I am quite interested in how G-d has affected you, how your religion is compelling, the cake rather than the icing. When dealing with religion, especially amongst the skeptical, I think it is easy to turn people off by intellectualizing things too much. I agree with Raticas. I personally am far more influenced by hearing people’s personal experience with God than their “enlightening” insights about G0d. Experience cannot really be argued with or denied. We may interpret it differently but its clear that your religion has effected you in a very real and compelling way. Ultimately that is my main interest. Frankl is an example to me of a life touched in a compelling way by God. I would be interesting to know how G-d compelled you to mold your life in the way that you have.

  34. moshesharon says:

    Kullervo: Don’t fucking tell me to be civil. Either learn how the culture works here on this blog and deal with it, or bugger off. Calling something bullshit is a completely acceptable response to something being bullshit.

    Moshe: Okay fine, if that’s your mode of self expression, so be it. Knock yourself out. Use all the four-letter expletives you want. And if you want to go through all of the epistemology gyrations over a simple thing like knowing a particular subject or not, that’s fine too. I don’t dismiss it at all. So what is it you want to say about knowing versus not knowing regarding something knowable from the epistemological perspective? I’m willing to learn.

  35. Kullervo says:

    Okay fine, if that’s your mode of self expression, so be it. Knock yourself out. Use all the four-letter expletives you want. And if you want to go through all of the epistemology gyrations over a simple thing like knowing a particular subject or not, that’s fine too. I don’t dismiss it at all. So what is it you want to say about knowing versus not knowing regarding something knowable from the epistemological perspective? I’m willing to learn.

    You misunderstand.

    “Knowing a particular subject or not” turns out not to actually be simple at all. That’s the point. What does it mean to know something? How does one know something? How is knowledge acquired? How do we know what we know? Epistemology is the branch of philosophy that deals with these questions. Epistemology is “knowing a particular subject or not.”

    Accusing me of wanting to “go through all of the epistemology gyrations over a simple thing like knowing a particular subject or not” is like accusing me of wanting to go through all of the physics gyrations over a simple thing like explaining gravity.

    But at the end of the day, though you may be willing to learn, I am not willing to teach. Teaching you is not my job. If you don’t come to the table with the tools necessary to engage in the discussion, I’m not obligated to be interested in what you say, and I’m certainly not obligated to equip you with those tools. You want to be able to talk meaningfully about the nature of knowledge? Educate your own damn self.

    I’m not trying to say anything at all about “knowing versus not knowing regarding something knowable from the epistemological perspective” except to point out that your broad assertions about “the knowable” just childishly and ignorantly disgregard the fundamental problems of “knowability.” If you don’t get that “knowing a particular subject or not” is not a simple thing at all, then we really can’t talk about knowing, can we?

  36. Kullervo says:

    Okay fine, if that’s your mode of self expression, so be it. Knock yourself out. Use all the four-letter expletives you want.

    It’s not “my mode of self-expression”; it’s the local norms of the discourse. If you want to play our game, learn the rules we’re playing by. Because the rules that you’re used to might not apply.

  37. moshesharon says:

    Racticas: I’m calling you a coward, Moshe. I will have trouble taking the substance of what you say seriously until you come out from behind your non-substantive “zinger” comeback and respond to Kullervo. He swore because he found your willful ignorance of the basic epistemological problem to be outrageous and uncivil to reason. He found it offensive. So do I. You’re not his dad and he didn’t come into your office asking for advice. He doesn’t *owe* you the respect you waltzed in and demanded. You may think you are a wise Jew helping out a couple of misguided goy with your 3.5 million years of tradition, but most of us know something about Judaism (some of us know a hell of a lot about Judaism) and none of us found it compelling or authoritative. We do not see this scenari0 the same way you do. We are skeptical. You don’t get to cow us with scolding: Your arguments will have to stand on their own two feet here.

    In any case, if you can’t handle a bad word or two then don’t post on a blog devoted to sacrilege.

    Moshe: No holds barred. I get it. But your reference to cowardice is non-sequitur. I have no problem discussing epistemology with Kullervo or anyone else and have no fear of being wrong or mistaken. I still stand by the comment I made that set him off: Restated, I was referring to knowing or not knowing something knowable versus believing in something that is not knowable. I don’t have to engage in a long discourse about the problems of truth, justification, the test of infallibility, the Gettier problem, etc. to get my point across. If you or anyone else has a problem with that, deal with it.

    Regarding respect for another human being, I didn’t demand anything. I simply chose not to engage in a verbal altercation with Kullervo, the provocateur. Jared didn’t seem to take offense at anything I posted. He made his position clear respectfully and I learned from him. He also agreed with some of my statements. That was the exchange of ideas that I came for. Everything else is a waste of time and energy.

  38. Kullervo says:

    I was referring to knowing or not knowing something knowable versus believing in something that is not knowable. I don’t have to engage in a long discourse about the problems of truth, justification, the test of infallibility, the Gettier problem, etc. to get my point across.

    Yes, yes you really do. Because your point casually ignores epistemological problems and is thus subject to immediate and massive criticism based on those problems.

    If you say,

    You either know something or you don’t. It really is that simple. There is that which you know and that which you don’t know.

    Then I say: But that does it mean “to know?” How do you know a thing? Is there more than one way to know a thing? How do you know your knowledge is reliable? What is “knowable?” How do you know what you know? What about different degrees of knowing or not knowing?

    And bang, right there. The mere fact that those questions can be asked without immediate and obvious answers that are not themselve subject to similar questions deomnstrates that it is not simple.

    But instead of asking you those things and reinventing the epistemological wheel, I merely referred to the entire corpus of philosophy that grapples with those questions and talks about whether knowing or not knowing really is that simple. Because teaching you epistemological concepts is a waste of my time and energy, when you can just go read them yourself. I’m not your teacher.

    If you don’t come equipped with the right tools to engage in the conversation you are trying to engage in, I will send you back to remedial class and ask you to come back when you’re up to speed before I am willing to have the conversation.

  39. moshesharon says:

    Kullervo: If you don’t get that “knowing a particular subject or not” is not a simple thing at all, then we really can’t talk about knowing, can we?

    Moshe: I get that there are complexities regarding knowledge; however, we still have to function at a practical level. Otherwise how do I know that I really don’t know enough about knowing to say whether I know it or not? 🙂

  40. moshesharon says:

    Kullervo: If you don’t come equipped with the right tools to engage in the conversation you are trying to engage in, I will send you back to remedial class and ask you to come back when you’re up to speed before I am willing to have the conversation.

    Moshe: Ouch! I’ll try to get over it.

  41. Kullervo says:

    I get that there are complexities regarding knowledge; however, we still have to function at a practical level. Otherwise how do I know that I really don’t know enough about knowing to say whether I know it or not?

    Agreed. But while we have to function at a practical level, we still have to keep in mind that the practical level is a vulnerable simplification and not the thing itself. We can talk about practical knowing, but we also have to remember at the same time that in a certain sense, we can’t really know anything.

    And keeping that in mind means we can’t go tossing around statements like:

    You either know something or you don’t. It really is that simple. There is that which you know and that which you don’t know.

    because that’s not a practical simplification; that’s just flatly untrue. You can’t build a solid argument on it, and you certainly can’t use it to criticize someone else’s argument.

  42. moshesharon says:

    Actually Kull, I was curious to see what you had to say about knowledge. Saying that I’m willing to learn is not the same as asking you to teach me. I’m simple stating that I am not above learning from anyone; not even you. So far you had a tantrum and cursed. I didn’t see anything substantive coming from you. You raised the issue about the complexities of knowledge, so go ahead and elaborate. Put up or shut up. Let’s see what you got and I’ll answer it.

  43. Jared C says:

    Moshe,

    I think the offending comment was :”Reality is the sum total of all knowledge within the universe. You either know something or you don’t. It really is that simple. ”

    These are sweeping and dramatic statements that I think is false for lots of reasons. I think they ares unsupportable under analysis. However, I think that your belief here is particularly relevant to the discussion. We can operate fine assuming we know nothing at all. As Kant explained, reality in itself may be completely beyond our knowledge and experience. Finding God (or gods) from reliable accounts of our experience and the experience of others does not require proof, knowledge or certainty.

    I think that there is no question that you have important experiences with God, and I may have a lot to learn from them, but this sort of explanation is always going to fail to compel me.

  44. Kullervo says:

    So far you had a tantrum and cursed.

    Calling bullshit is not a tantrum here, Moshe. Learn the rules or don’t play. You say something manifestly untrue, I can call you on it without the need to elaborate.

    I didn’t see anything substantive coming from you. You raised the issue about the complexities of knowledge, so go ahead and elaborate. Put up or shut up. Let’s see what you got and I’ll answer it.

    Go back and review the exchange. You’re wading in talking about the knowable, and depending on it heavily as a concept to make all of your points. I say there’s not really such thing as the knowable. You say there is, pure and simple. I call bullshit and point out the massive epistemological problems with your asssertion, and by undermining that assertion, I undermine everything you say that rests on it.

    That’s all. My substantive contribution is: to point out that your substantive contributions are smoke and soap bubbles, because your substantive contributions rest on bald assertions and assumptions that do not hold up in the face of real, unresolved questions.

    You can’t rest your argument on the premise of a knowable God because “knowable” probably doesn’t exist.

  45. moshesharon says:

    Kullervo: And keeping that in mind means we can’t go tossing around statements like:

    You either know something or you don’t. It really is that simple. There is that which you know and that which you don’t know.

    because that’s not a practical simplification; that’s just flatly untrue. You can’t build a solid argument on it, and you certainly can’t use it to criticize someone else’s argument.

    Moshe: You have an interesting point, but I don’t agree with you entirely. On the practical level we study a particular subject and develop marketable skills. The brain surgeon approaches the patient and says “Put your life in my hands and trust that I know how to open your skull remove the anomaly and close it again without killing you.” The patient has to make a decision and his life depends on the truth of the doctor’s statement, notwithstanding that there are numerous things that can go wrong just by bad luck and the patient dies anyway. Yes there are mind-boggling complexities in this decision process, but if the patient can’t boil it down to “The doctor either knows how to do this or he doesn’t” then he or she will never be able to consent to the life-saving procedure.

  46. moshesharon says:

    Kullervo: You can’t rest your argument on the premise of a knowable God because “knowable” probably doesn’t exist.

    Moshe: You need to review my earlier statements because you quoted the opposite of what I said. I stated that the G-d as described in the Torah is not knowable. However, If you say in that context that nothing is knowable, then since I believe that the unknowable G-d created everything, then everything he created must be equally unknowable in its true form. Therefore, you are correct from an exegetical perspective that “knowable” does not exist and what we think we know and perform tasks by such “knowledge” is some sort of profound multidimensional illusion.

  47. Kullervo says:

    The brain surgeon approaches the patient and says “Put your life in my hands and trust that I know how to open your skull remove the anomaly and close it again without killing you.” The patient has to make a decision and his life depends on the truth of the doctor’s statement, notwithstanding that there are numerous things that can go wrong just by bad luck and the patient dies anyway. Yes there are mind-boggling complexities in this decision process, but if the patient can’t boil it down to “The doctor either knows how to do this or he doesn’t” then he or she will never be able to consent to the life-saving procedure.

    No, the patient has to evaluate the reliability of the doctor’s statement, and certain factors and uncertainties that weigh into that evaluation cannot really be practically quantified, so they have to be disregarded or at most, given a best guess, for the purpose of evaluating the doctor’s statement.

    The patient can never boil it down to a 100% certainty versus 0% certainty. But you do not need to boil something down to 1 vs 0 in order to be able to make a decision. the highest level of criticla thinking is evaluation, the process by which we weigh and judge. The patient goes in with some uncertainty; that is inevitable. Deciding whether to consent to the procedure is a matter of evaluating what can be evaluated by the processes of appraisal that are available. The answer will be fuzzy and have a difficult-to-judge margin of error. Every decision does. That’s life. Pretending that ti is otherwise is fooling ourselves, and has the potential to cause us to evaluate poorly.

    Of course, the patient is probably not sitting down with pencil and paper and assigning probabilities and certainties to various factors. We do all of this more or less intuitively (which can be a problem, because we can sometimes be applying flawed rubrics to our process of weighing without consciously realizing it). But it is what we do.

  48. Kullervo says:

    You need to review my earlier statements because you quoted the opposite of what I said. I stated that the G-d as described in the Torah is not knowable. However, If you say in that context that nothing is knowable, then since I believe that the unknowable G-d created everything, then everything he created must be equally unknowable in its true form. Therefore, you are correct from an exegetical perspective that “knowable” does not exist and what we think we know and perform tasks by such “knowledge” is some sort of profound multidimensional illusion.

    I agree with your conclusions but disagree with the process by which you arrive at them. Whether you said God is knowable or unknowable is irrelevant to my point, because you were talking about knowability as a concept in any case and I was merely pointing out that suich a concept is more misleading than revealing.

    But it does not necessarily follow that if an unknowable God created everything, everrything must also be unknowable. You’re going to need to fill in some logical steps there before you can reach that deduction.

    But I am inclined to think that whether or not objective reality exists, we have no way to objectively perceive it, so for practical purposes, the world as we experience it must always remain “some kind of profound multidimensional illusion.”

  49. moshesharon says:

    Jared: Moshe, I (for one ) appreciate your perspective willingness to share your thoughts, I am quite interested in how G-d has affected you, how your religion is compelling, the cake rather than the icing. When dealing with religion, especially amongst the skeptical, I think it is easy to turn people off by intellectualizing things too much. I agree with Raticas. I personally am far more influenced by hearing people’s personal experience with God than their “enlightening” insights about G0d. Experience cannot really be argued with or denied. We may interpret it differently but its clear that your religion has effected you in a very real and compelling way. Ultimately that is my main interest. Frankl is an example to me of a life touched in a compelling way by God. I would be interesting to know how G-d compelled you to mold your life in the way that you have.

    Moshe: Thank you Jared. You are truly a “Mensch.” When you ask how “G-d compelled me to mold my life into its present routines.” It was astute of you to assume that my life now is different from what it was a little over a decade ago. I became more involved in traditional Jewish life. At this point I don’t think that the compulsion was from an external source. It was more of giving in to a constant nagging feeling from childhood that something was missing; i.e. my connection to my Jewish roots. So it has as much to do with community as anything else. Regarding the intellectualization about G-d or the “G-dliness experience” if you will, everything that I have learned (whether I know it or not is another discussion) comes from Jewish literature all based on the Torah; the Five Books of Moses received at Mount Sinai followed by the additional books of the Tannach written over the next 400 years of Jewish History. From these writings of Hebrew scripture Talmudic scholars over the next three thousand years wrote tens of thousands of volumes of commentary, all of which is preserved today and translated into several modern languages. Thus there are two sides to Judaism: the practical and the esoteric (mystical/spiritual). On the practical side we learn what we can about how to live our lives and conduct ourselves within a code of morality and ethics (these are not exclusively Jewish concepts as I have previously stated). On the spiritual side, we perform various rituals that have no practical benefit which is based solely on the belief and a trust in the G-d that is unknowable. All I can say about that is that it is a “Jewish thing,” which from a practical view is part of our cultural identity.

  50. Kullervo says:

    At this point I don’t think that the compulsion was from an external source. It was more of giving in to a constant nagging feeling from childhood that something was missing; i.e. my connection to my Jewish roots. So it has as much to do with community as anything else.

    There you go. That nagging is what we are talking about here. That’s the thing you didn’t decide. It was just there, like the attraction to a lover or the humor in a joke that compels you to laugh.

  51. Racticas says:

    I a increasingly interested in ritual, and I am interested in what rituals you find compelling and why (that’s an open question which I should have posed as a blog post, but it’s triggered by Moshe’s comment).

    I went through a long period of trying to convince myself that religions were True or Untrue and I ended up feeling that those questions yield unsatisfying answers. The philosophical approaches to religion I toyed with all ended up making me feel like the answers were determined by the questions I asked, and that there was no neutral source of guidance in determining what the right questions are. I still believe that. But along the way I found that prayer, singing hymns, liturgy, prostrations, meditation, chanting, whatever all had a powerful effect on me. I have heard those things poo-pooed by a lot of religions and thinkers, but if there is any such thing as godliness I have only ever felt it then. When someone tells me that was just a biological reaction to my activity, my response is “maybe so; but if that’s the case then I don’t believe in God at all because I have nothing else to hang my hat on.”

  52. moshesharon says:

    Kullervo: I agree with your conclusions but disagree with the process by which you arrive at them.

    Moshe: Sounds like a “Gettier problem.” 🙂

    Kullervo: Whether you said God is knowable or unknowable is irrelevant to my point, because you were talking about knowability as a concept in any case and I was merely pointing out that suich a concept is more misleading than revealing.

    Moshe: I concede that the statement “There is what we know and what we don’t know and know that we don’t know it.” is more a function of belief rather than any factual truth. However, I maintain that it must have practical application or we would not be able to perform tasks that require learning how.

    Kullervo: But it does not necessarily follow that if an unknowable God created everything, everrything must also be unknowable. You’re going to need to fill in some logical steps there before you can reach that deduction.

    Moshe: If I follow your conclusion that there is no such thing as “knowable”, assuming the Unknowable G-d created everything then it is a foregone conclusion that “everything is unknowable in its true form.”

    Kullervo: But I am inclined to think that whether or not objective reality exists, we have no way to objectively perceive it, so for practical purposes, the world as we experience it must always remain “some kind of profound multidimensional illusion.”

    Moshe: So what does that say when two individuals arrive at the precisely the same conclusion with diametrical opposed reasoning?

  53. Kullervo says:

    I a increasingly interested in ritual, and I am interested in what rituals you find compelling and why (that’s an open question which I should have posed as a blog post, but it’s triggered by Moshe’s comment).

    DO IT.

  54. moshesharon says:

    Kullervo: No, the patient has to evaluate the reliability of the doctor’s statement, and certain factors and uncertainties that weigh into that evaluation cannot really be practically quantified, so they have to be disregarded or at most, given a best guess, for the purpose of evaluating the doctor’s statement.

    The patient can never boil it down to a 100% certainty versus 0% certainty. But you do not need to boil something down to 1 vs 0 in order to be able to make a decision. the highest level of criticla thinking is evaluation, the process by which we weigh and judge. The patient goes in with some uncertainty; that is inevitable. Deciding whether to consent to the procedure is a matter of evaluating what can be evaluated by the processes of appraisal that are available. The answer will be fuzzy and have a difficult-to-judge margin of error. Every decision does. That’s life. Pretending that ti is otherwise is fooling ourselves, and has the potential to cause us to evaluate poorly.

    Of course, the patient is probably not sitting down with pencil and paper and assigning probabilities and certainties to various factors. We do all of this more or less intuitively (which can be a problem, because we can sometimes be applying flawed rubrics to our process of weighing without consciously realizing it). But it is what we do.

    Moshe: We are not really in disagreement here with regard to all of the uncertainties that the patient has to contend with. But the only way to get through it and make that final decision yes or no without bolting for the door in a panic the patient has to boil things down to a very simplistic level. In most cases he/she didn’t have any choice of surgeons. It was the luck of the draw. The surgeon says “I can do this.” He claims he has knowledge of how to do brain surgery. The patient has to believe that to have enough confidence that he/she will survive the procedure. Therefore knowledge functions in this scenario on a practical level. The patient has to answer the question, “Should I or shouldn’t I?” based on “he either knows or doesn’t know this thing called brain surgery.”

  55. Kullervo says:

    No way. Brain surgery isn’t something you know or don’t know. There’s a fine and broad spectrum of ability to perform brain surgery. The patient’s decision of yes-or-no is based, among other factors, on the patient’s evaluation of the surgeon’s degree of skill and knowledge. You could say it’s a question of “does he know brain surgery well enough or not” which is probably one of the questions being answered, but even though this is a yes-or-no question, it can only be answered with a fuzzy, vague degree of an answer, like “yes, but with some margin of error and with a reliability of which I am more or less certain.”

  56. Jared C says:

    Ultimately the decision to undergo surgery is a matter of faith. Demonstrated ability of the surgeon doesn’t entail subsequent performance. it may be a compelling reason to exercise faith, but it is not proof sufficient to create knowledge. In the same way, one miracle or answer to prayer, or the life experience of many does not entail an entire theology or religion- however compelling these things may be.

  57. Kullervo says:

    Eh, I’m not sure that making a decision based on uncertain data is necessarily “faith,” because all our decisions are made to some degree on uncertain data, which reduces “faith” to mere decisionmaking. There would be no way to differentiate a decision made based on faith from a decision made not based on faith, which would mean “faith” would not really have any meaning.

    Unless “faith” conveys a statement about the degree of uncertainty perceived. The more uncertainty that is perceived, the more we say that the decision was made based on “faith.” So when we make a decision, “faith” the name for the magnitude of the margin of uncertainty .

  58. moshesharon says:

    The patient has no means to evaluate the surgeons degree of skill and knowledge. In any event your arguments are well taken but beside the point. The issue is knowing versus not knowing a thing. Brain surgery has many details of how to perform each task so there are multiple knowing versus not knowing, but still the practical side of knowledge (knowing versus not knowing a thing) has to kick in for people to function.

  59. Jared C says:

    Well, the problem is that you are saying G-d is unknowable, yet the Torah reveals him in the world. If the Torah has any true information and it came from G-d then we have to concede that something is known of G-d. A black hole is also unknowable on some level. You are never going to get anything within light years of a black hole. Everything we know about them comes from lots of math and careful deductions from bits of light created millions and billions of years ago. Yet because of this light, we can say, in a common sense way, that we know what black holes are.

    In the common sense way of describing the situation, if the Torah is factually accurate, we know something of G-d. We can know that if we practice the rituals of the Torah that it creates a certain enlightenment in us. What we can’t really know, again in the common sense usage, is the validity of the ultimate correct interpretation of these observable, historical experiences.

    In a common sense use of the word “know”, I know the sun is shining outside, but that, strangely, doesn’t allow me to claim to know what the sun is, or what it ultimately means to shine.

  60. Jared C says:

    “. . .because all our decisions are made to some degree on uncertain data, which reduces “faith” to mere decisionmaking.”

    This may be true on some level, but we probably disagree about the nature of certainty. (http://ldstalk.wordpress.com/2008/02/21/in-what-way-is-it-true/#comment-3877)

  61. Kullervo says:

    This may be true on some level, but we probably disagree about the nature of certainty. (http://ldstalk.wordpress.com/2008/02/21/in-what-way-is-it-true/#comment-3877)

    I sincerely, sincerely doubt we would have that same exchange now.

  62. Jared C says:

    I am absolutely certain you are right.

  63. moshesharon says:

    In response to Jared re: G-d is unknowable.

    You are correct, and I said previously, the Torah describes G-d to a limited extent with metaphoric humanoid references such as “the Hand of G-d.” However, the Torah does not answer the question, “What is G-d?” And moreover, tells us that He is unknowable. A perfect example, is a conversation I had with a friend who goes to my Shul today at the grocer’s. He is a world renowned artist. He said, “I want to paint G-d.” He asked me if I had any ideas on how to represent the Almighty. Aside from the fact that this would actually violate the first commandment of not to make any images of G-d, we spoke about how to make a representation without painting an image. The artists settled on depicting creation with a representation. One of the possibilities we discussed is a circle because it has no beginning and no end. But then I said that the circle would have to be the entire canvass. My artist friend agreed. The conclusion, Jared, is that even though we have descriptive references galore within the confines of the finite world we have really have no concept of G-d because he is infinitely greater the the seemingly endless universe. Yet, paradoxically, we have a relationship with him described as children to a father, bride to a groom, and subjects to a King. He displays emotions like ours, joy, anger, frustration, satisfaction, etc. He needs us because even as powerful as He is, he can’t have His relationships without people. He needs us to have free will because ruling over programmed robots is not satisfying. I can understand why it seems like our ancestors conjured Him up out of their imaginations. Thus we Jews of today have to study the commentaries and the scriptures for evidence that convinces the learner that no human mind could have conceived the Torah in its entirety. Please understand that Jews for the most part are a highly educated and sophisticated people and always have been. Logical reasoning has always been our basis for belief in G-d except for those rituals for which the Torah commands blind obedience, like soldiers in an army. The Hebrew language is unique in that each letter is an iconic symbol and has a numerical value. The language of Torah is also an infinitesimal code book with layers of encryptions that have only superficially been solved. That is why we have a different philosophy regarding knowable versus unknowable, which for us translates to revealed versus unrevealed, with all deference to Kullervo’s astute epistemological arguments.

  64. moshesharon says:

    Jared: Ultimately the decision to undergo surgery is a matter of faith. Demonstrated ability of the surgeon doesn’t entail subsequent performance. it may be a compelling reason to exercise faith, but it is not proof sufficient to create knowledge. In the same way, one miracle or answer to prayer, or the life experience of many does not entail an entire theology or religion- however compelling these things may be.

    Kullervo: Eh, I’m not sure that making a decision based on uncertain data is necessarily “faith,” because all our decisions are made to some degree on uncertain data, which reduces “faith” to mere decisionmaking. There would be no way to differentiate a decision made based on faith from a decision made not based on faith, which would mean “faith” would not really have any meaning.

    Unless “faith” conveys a statement about the degree of uncertainty perceived. The more uncertainty that is perceived, the more we say that the decision was made based on “faith.” So when we make a decision, “faith” the name for the magnitude of the margin of uncertainty.

    Moshe: Faith in face of uncertainty sounds like an oxymoron, so I would have to agree with Kullervo. The decision to consent to the brain surgery without any evidence of the surgeon’s skill is neither based on faith nor uncertainty but on a combination of ignorance and denial. The patient usually has made no inquiries as to the surgeons history of success with the proposed procedure or the post operative infection rate of the hospital compared to other places. The patient, being given informed consent must be told that there is a risk of death, irreversible coma and other catastrophic outcomes. Moreover, in the face of Hospital mistakes being the number one cause of death in America, the patient maintains a feeling of confidence that everything will be okay, while grappling intermittently with acute bouts of terror as if waiting for execution by lethal injection. Each person has his/her own way of finding some emotional comfort level with this terrifying process. When this comfort level is based on faith in the system, it is not based on reality.

  65. Kullervo says:

    with all deference to Kullervo’s astute epistemological arguments

    This is all I ask.

  66. moshesharon says:

    Kullervo: (quoting me) “with all deference to Kullervo’s astute epistemological arguments”

    This is all I ask.

    Moshe: Glad to oblige. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s