Sunday, January 14, 2007

Lame Fundamentalist Arguments

Even though I said I was done arguing religion, I guess I’m not. Why is that? Well, I still harbor a secret hope that someday someone somewhere (over the rainbow?) will have a decent argument for Orthodoxy. You never know, it could happen! Seriously.

Unlike many of the other skeptics, I am actually looking to the web for chizuk. My own Rabbeim are hardly fundamentalists. One told me that Judaism is merely plausible; he certainly offered no arguments for its validity, not even Jewish History. (Maybe he felt that wouldn’t help). The most he offered was that Jewish Morality has had a good track record.

My other Rabbi didn’t even go that far, he just wanted to know why I still came to shul if I didn’t believe, and maybe I would be happier going somewhere else! No, he wasn’t trying to get rid of me; he was genuinely concerned for my happiness. But I’m quite happy going to shul (and doing everything else).

My third Rabbi (and chavrusoh) is a genuine Biblical Scholar, who, while he does find the Documentary Hypothesis unconvincing (ha!), is not exactly a fundamentalist either. He keeps on pointing out anomalies in Tenach, like the five Tehillim which give accounts of Yetziat Mitrayim through Kibush Haaretz yet don’t mention Sinai! Not to mention all the differences between Devarim and Shemos that I had never noticed previously. Still, what can you expect from a YCT’nick? (joke).

Also, one of our friends here is a big time skeptic blogger, and quite a few of my neighbors are not exactly classical Orthodox. (Oops, I hope they don’t get too upset with that). And quite a few people in my shul have rather interesting theories too. So, unlike many other skeptical bloggers, I certainly don’t lack skeptical companionship in real life.

But I look to the web, not for skeptic support, but rather for some good arguments for OJ. Unfortunately, I haven’t found any (yet). In fact, the process has been thoroughly demoralizing. Even the most intelligent and well read believers have the lamest arguments. I don’t know what to do anymore. David Guttman says I must study the sources, and only then will I find an answer.

But which sources? The Koran, or the New Testament? Or perhaps Socrates and the Enuma Elish? Hard to tell which sources are the correct ones, since that is the VERY QUESTION WE ARE DEBATING OF COURSE. Can anyone say ‘Circular argument’ ? I wish someone would explain this concept to David, it would save a lot of time.

Here’s just one example of what I would call a lame argument. Not surprisingly, the person advancing the argument is quite convinced by it.

No other religion has EVER offered its adherents a false account of their OWN HISTORY, under the pretense that they ALREADY KNOW IT, and foisted a new religion upon them that is AGAINST THEIR WISHES, all the while saying that they have KNOWN ABOUT IT ALL ALONG.

To which I say:

Firstly, this is certainly not the only possible analysis of history.

The senario you paint above is the scenario you BELIEVE to be true based on your particular reading of Tenach. But many other options are possible. I'll just invent one option from the top of my head, just as plausible, and it destroys your argument:

Many of the stories in Breishis and Shemos are somewhat true. There was a very charismatic leader called Moshe who rescued some (maybe a few thousand) slaves from Egypt, about 1500 BC. They had some kind of experience at Sinai (a volcano? a mass hallucination? who knows?) .They moved to Israel, and settled amongst the indigenous population. They maintained their own beliefs, and had a lot of unique customs and writings, including of course a belief in one God. Though even this belief could certainly have evolved from a belief in a tribal god. Over time their mythology expanded, as did their customs. The population grew, eventually conquering the whole of Israel. By then the myth had grown, but the Hamon Am didn't really buy into it, hence all the idol worship. It was only after the churban that people really solidified around it. Why then? Probably because all the skeptics had left by that point, leaving only the hard core fundies.

[Same kind of thing is happening today. Reform and Conservative will die out, leaving only the Orthodox. In a thousand years the 31st century fundies will no doubt be arguing that OJ must be true, because all of Judaism since the enlightenment believed in it!]

Is this scenario plausible? As much as any other. In fact a lot more so, because it doesn’t require God to write a very strange book.

Secondly, even if I accept the argument that it’s amazing that the people would have listened to the Torah even though it was false, so what? Lots of things are amazing, as the fundies themselves argue. So an amazing thing happened, and a people believed in a fake history, and suffered because of it. Nu, strange things happen. I mean, if a God can write a book, surely something as equally strange could happen, no? Why is your amazing belief any more likely than my amazing belief?

Either way you look at it, this argument is totally lame, and would only convince someone who doesn’t actually need any convincing at all, because they already believe in it. You can find many such arguments given by Christian apologists and no doubt Islamic apologists too. But my question is not whether Christianity or Islam are true, I have no doubt they are at least as (or more) bogus than Judaism. The question isn't which religion is the least unbelievable, but rather which religion is most probably actually true.

The most amazing thing of all though, is why these otherwise intelligent people believe their arguments are strong. I’m not questioning their beliefs, we all have beliefs. What I’m questioning is why they think their arguments for their beliefs are good!

My new theory is that in reality they are assuming the consequences before they even start arguing. They already accept TMS is true and all other options false, so they become convinced by lame arguments. If they truly accepted what an extra-ordinary claim TMS was, they wouldn’t really think their arguments were any good at all.

Oh well. I'm still waiting for that fundie on a white horse who has a good argument. Maybe I should daven for him to come soon.