The Muffti was intrigued by a question of TM’s the other day asking about whether or not we could prove or disprove God’s existence. While many (i.e. such luminaries as Kierkegaard and our own Laya) think it is an empty endeavour since faith is precisely that state where you believe without proof or evidence, others have been fairly convinced that irrationality is a fault not a virtue and have pursued proof either way. The Muffti thought there might be some interest in this so here are a few highlights from the last 2000 years of philosophical/theological thought on the matter. This will be a rather breezy guide, but much serious work has been done on all of these arguments.

  • The Ontological Argument

    A fellow named Anselm, attempting to refute the fool who denies God in his heart, came up with the following a priori proof:

    1. To be God is to be that being such that no greater being could be conceived. (this is intended as a definition).
    2. Something which exists is greater than something which does not exist. (Premise)
    3. Therefore, God must exist. If he didn’t then there would be a greater being you could conceive of (namely, an existing one). But God just is the greatest conceivable being (see premise 1). So you get a contradiction by denying God’s existence.

    A brief note: premise 2 is supposed to be obvious. Existing is intended to mean ‘existing in the world’ as opposed to existing merely in the imagination. Needless to say, this argument has not won a whole lot of favour of the years (though some luminaries such as Descartes seem to have bought it). What has been striking is the volume of diagnoses of how badly this argument does. Kant thought that ‘existence’ wasn’t a predicate, which premise (2) seems to rely on. Frege thought that ‘existence’ was a property of properties rather than of individuals, which would falsify (2) as well. The Muffti can think of many other reasons why this argument fails but will leave it as an exercise for the reader.

  • The Ontological Argument Part 2
  • If you thought the last one was bad, here’s an even worse version of it. Preliminarily: ‘necessary’ in this argument is analyzed as something which could not fail to exist. God has usually been thought to be a necessary existent: it is impossible for him to just fail to exist. With that in mind:
    1. It is possible that God exists.
    2. God is a necessary being.
    3. Necessary beings can’t fail to exist.
    4. Therefore, God must exist.

    The idea comes from an axiom of modal logic that says that if it is possible for something to exist, then it is necessarily possible that it exists. The argument has been criticized on quite a few grounds as well, most compellingly for its confusion of what is known as epistemic possibility (the notion used in premise (1)) and metaphysical possibility (what is used in premises (2) and (3).) Also notable is that no atheist accepts premise (1), so at best this argument should make agnostic people worried.

  • The Cosmological Argument
  • This one really sucks and it comes to us, I believe, from Aristotle.
    1. Every thing has a cause.
    2. There can’t be an infinite chain of causes.
    3. Therefore, there must be a first uncaused causer.
    4. God is that uncaused causer.

    Yup, this is a real winner let me tell you. For starters, note that the sub-conclusion in (3) contradicts premise (1). More notably, Russell persuasively argued that there is no obvious reason to accept (2) and, worse, there seems to be a confusion between the cause of a series of causes and the cause of every member of the series. The Muffti is embarrassed for those who have bought this argument.

  • The Design Argument
  • This is easily the most promising of the bunch. In essence, it relies on some controversial bits of probability theory. The idea is the following. Modern physics tells us that the basic ‘settings’ or ‘parameters’ of the universe can be set in any number of ways, very few of which support life. However, we find life in the universe. If the process were random, we would expect not to find life since it is so damned unlikely. Givcn that we find life, then, we should suspect that there was a helping hand.

    The idea is pretty cute. There are problems to be sorted out. One is the so-called anthropic principle. The principle says, roughly, that if you get evidence for something that you can’t possibly get evidence against, you can’t take that evidence to support anything. Now, WE could not have gotten evidence that we don’t exist, since getting evidence presupposes existence. Thus, we could not have gotten support for the proposition that the world was set in a way that didn’t support life. The Anthropic Principle says that we shouldn’t take the evidence that we exist, then, to support anything.

    This would be a nice refutation if the anthropic principle didn’t look very, very suspicious, especially if not qualified in its application. To take a case, imagine that you are given an injection and told that it was either poison that would kill you instantly or a harmless placebo. If you live, surely you get some evidence that you took the placebo, even if you couldn’t have gotten evidence that it was poison.

    A more convincing problem with the argument is that it relies on an indifference principle (otherwise we can’t say that it is improbable that the setting would be set as they are). Namely, if there are many possibilities, they are all equi-probable. While that sounds great, the principle is known to lead to contradiction in fairly mundane cases. So I guess I don’t buy the argument at all.

  • The Problem of Evil
  • I’ll end with an argument against the existence of God.

    1. God is omnipotent, omnibenevolent and omniscient.
    2. Therefore, God wants to prevent evil, knows how and is capable.
    3. Evil exists.

    The 3 premises are supposed to form an inconsistent triad. The challenge, then, is to explain how they can be reconciled since they all seem true. I should note, in this connection, Kenny told me once that he sees no Jewish commitment to God’s omnibenevolence. I thought that was interesting, though a little scary…

    About the author

    grandmuffti

    48 Comments

    • I don’t think that trying to prove God is necessarily “an empty endeavour”. I can ‘prove’ the love exists based on human behavior, poetry, and chemical reactions in the brain, but at a certain point you need to bridge the gap and experience in order to know. But thats just how I look at things.

      If philosophical proofs do it for you, kol ha kavod, but they just never took me far enough.

      I can’t deny that I believe God exists, even though sometimes i wish i could, cause it would make my life decidedly easier, but when i doubt, well, I’ll just repeat what i said in the other comment:

      But for me, the Jewish people’s continued existence, and the state of Israel’s existence is my constant proof that there is definitely some kind of higher power, and we seem to be of some sort of concern.

      What to do with that, and how then to live, I’m still(constantly) figuring it out.

    • This isn’t going to sound so scholarly, but here’s my “proof”: I have seen too many “coincidences” to think that they turn out that way just by chance. I have thankfully been the recipient of many fortunate coincidences, some of which I thought were absolutely horrible when I first experienced them. However, the benefit of perspective showed me that some of those “terrible” events made possible other wonderful events, that I could or would not have experienced if not for the trauma. To me, G-d is the only entity that could have made those things happen in such a way. If G-d is helping me (and despite what my mother thinks, I’m really not THAT special) on a daily basis, then It must necessarily be helping everyone else. The question is what constitutes “help” and why things happen the way they do.

      What separates mortals like us from G-d is the fact that we view things as good or bad, when only G-d really knows how each small event fits within the much larger picture of life. We are unable to see how the pieces fit together; to us they are all just a mishmash of colors and lines that we think we can interpret. G-d, being infinite, can see all the pieces at once. Since we cannot see the big picture, we cannot accurately interpret “good” and “bad”.

      If you accept the definition of G-d as an infinite entity with infinite wisdom (and without this definition, what is a “god”) then it is perfectly logical for such an entity to have logic and perspective that is beyond human comprehension, which explains why we sit here wondering why bad things happen to good people and why evil exists, when a G-d, by definition, must have Its own logic that is not subject to human parameters.

      Sorry for rambling.

    • Um, why didn’t you add in your #1 of the disproof that god is omnievilicious? Why presume he’s just benevolent? Doesn’t he encompass/touch everything that exists? Isn’t Nazi Germany as much a product of god as the smile on a child’s face when a clown trips and falls?

    • you know, it’s funny, but i don’t think God every tries to refer to him/herself as ‘good’ anywhere in Tanach. could that just be a human projection or presupposition?

      Why do we assume that God has to be infinitly ‘good’ (according to our understanding of what ‘good’ is, of course) to exist? Wise? it certainly seems so. Good? in my more cynical moments, the Jury is still out.

      Oh dear, this might keep my brain theologically busy all night.

    • By the way, Muffti, thanks for typing all of that info, it was interesting.

      Although you do seem a bit biased. 😆

    • What I find most interesting is the level of proof some people require for God.

      For example, most people who read this blog are probably more than willing to say that grandmuffti exits. Based on how much TM and he agree, I suspect it is simply TM under an alias, but I digress.

      People would say grandmuffti exists, even though we have only from him a few bits of text on this screen. From God we have a much larger piece of text that has had truely amazing consequences for the world.

      As time passes, people using the web wayback machine may come accross this page, and they will probably still be in agreement that grandmuffti exists based on a few posts.

      I realize God may be more “important” than muffti (no offense) but some things we accept so readily as fact, and other things we interrogate down to the finest detail. Some things we believe until disproven, and others we disbelieve until proven.

      That sounds a bit wishy-washy as I re-read it, but what the heck, have at it.

    • Well TM posted this weekend at times when grandmuffti was totally addled and incapacitated and in my presence, so I’m pretty sure they’re not the same person.

    • I, for one, subscribe to the Baal Shem Tov’s model of pantheism — that everything in existence is God, including ourselves, and that our awareness of this fact is obscured by the veil of physicality. Once in recognition of this construct, for me, the mere fact that I am here right now, conscious and breathing, is therefore all the proof I need that God exists.

      The only place I get stuck is on the “consciousness” of God. There are six billion of us humans, each with thoughts and feelings. If the sum total of we six billion are comprised completely of God, as God is the vast expanse of all matter and intangibility (like thought), then what is to say that the greater macrocosm of which we are each a mere microcosm, doesn’t have thoughts and feelings itself? And if God does have thoughts and feelings, how do we know what they are and what God wants of us?

      Regarding Bruno’s mention of “coincidences”, the phenomena is usually referred to as “synchronicity” — coincidence which seems to go beyond the realm of mere chance and speaks to something greater in the eyes of the perceiver. Robert Anton Wilson writes extensively about this in his book “Cosmic Trigger”, which I highly recommend. My experiences with synchronicity have often served as an affirmation of, more or less, something happening in “the wiring under the board.” Regardless of whether or not God may be conscious in the manner to which I refer in the previous ‘graph, there is apparently an active intelligece inherent within the workings of the universe which I, for one, believe coordinates such events.

    • The Muffti exists, CK can tell you for sure! Though he was never addled and incapacitated (thank you CK for your exaggerations!) He’s not identical to TM, as far as he knows. And nothing is more important than the Muff’s existence.

      Thanks for interesting posts from all of you. A few quick thoughts in response (and forgive them for being stupid; the Muffti is not a man of the morning.)

      Neocon, your point about levels of proof is interesting, but I think that my existence and the existence of God are two fairly different matters. In particular, we have a fairly good idea of what it would be to verify my existence if you really cared enough. Granted, you probably don’t; but that’s probably in part because I don’t write books and send messengers to inform you all of my holiness and offer threats as a response to disobedience of my laws. If I did, however, and people started to obey me over the net, you may very well start questioning my existence, my nature and my purposes.

      Furethermore, imagine that my postings and laws and stories turned out to be mildly contradictory and in some cases, downright bizzare (like when I started to demand that you don’t mix wool and flax?!?) Perhaps you’d start thinking that there were several people authoring the stuff who were working at cross purposes? Perhaps you would start to think that if there was one person who wrote them, he was probably insane?

      Finally, imagine that evidence started coming out that revealed that the stories the Muffti put out were probably historically false, at least on a literal reading. That the some of the things the Muffti claimed to be responsible for could be given a simpler most plausible scientific explanation. That the Muffti’s claim to mercifulness was mitigated by massive amounts of suffering, bad things happening to good people. Would you then be inclined to think that the Muffti both existed as a unified force in the posting world adn that he worked in mysterious ways? Or would you, on the balance of probabilities, start thinking that the existence of a Muffti was probably not the most likely theory? I am guessing the latter. So what is odd, from what I can tell, is that we allow ourselves belief in God so uncritically and then demand disproof rather than proof.

      Anyhow, Laya: I agree that jews are not nearly as committed to the claim that God is all good as christians are. Closest I can think of off the top of my head is exodus: “the Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty…” (Exodus 34:6,7). I don’t really think that the problem of evil is a knockdown argument against the existence of God, just against the traditional view of God that he is all good where that entails eradicating badness where ever possible. For what it’s worth, I also never saw any place in the Old Testament where God tells you he is either omnipotent or omniscient: perhaps he’s just really power and really smart but limited in various ways. Less impressive, I guess, but more coherent?

      FInally, as regards coincidences. These are funny things to judge. I think it is unlikely that I have prophetic dreams, given that dreams seem to be constructed out of parts of your mind that aren’t sensitive to how the future will go. But am I surprised that people have dreams that correlate with how the future acutally goes? Not at all…given how many people dream on a daily basis, it isn’t at all surprising that there are many many dreams that turn out to correspond with how the future will go. Similarly, i’m not surprised that some people turn out to be really lucky. Given how many people there are, its not surprising on a mere chance model that things go well for some, badly for others and so-so for most. This is a rather shallow model for how to judge coincidence, but it’s suggestive: what we take to be coincidence is not very suprising giving the number of people who are all watching the world looking to see coincidences…

    • Mo, you might want to take a look at Spinoza’s ethics, he might answer the question you raised.

      if you’re interested in spinoza’s proofs. Here’s what I wrote for my paper on Spinoza.. its long so get ready. this is my first paper ever in philosophy so dont be harsh!
      —————

      Spinoza’s Three Proofs For The Existence Of God

      It is the goal of this paper to present a clear understanding of Spinoza’s proofs for God’s existence. In E1P11 Spinoza writes: “God, or a substance of infinite attributes, each of which expresses eternal and infinite essence, necessarily exists.” In order to understand the various proofs Spinoza gives to this proposition, one must go back and deal with the earlier propositions, demonstrations and axioms he presents. It is a complex process to try and reconstruct in linear order the arguments that lead to the proposition that God necessarily exists.
      Spinoza’s geometrical system makes a lot of sense but also gives the reader a harder time understanding his claims. God’s definition can be found in E1D6: “By God I understand a being absolutely infinite, that is, a substance consisting of an infinity of attributes, of which each one expresses an eternal and infinite essence.” (85) This definition is given in the beginning of Ethics. Later on, in E1P11, Spinoza simply adds to this definition the argument that God as an absolutely infinite substance must necessarily exists.
      In order to prove this, Spinoza explores the concept of the substance and finally arrives at the conclusion that the substance he defined as God must necessarily exist. This paper will focus on providing a detailed reconstruction and critical analysis of three of Spinoza’s proofs for the existence of God.
      Spinoza’s proof of necessary existence of God begins with a discussion on substances in E1P5. If there are two distinct substances, what are the things that make them distinct from one another? E1P4 claims that “two or more distinct things are distinguished from one another, either by a difference in the attributes or by a difference in their affections.” (87) This proposition is also know as the principle of the “Identity of Indiscernibles”; if X is not Y, then there must be a property that X has and Y does not, or that Y has an X does not have.
      To prove E1P4, Spinoza argues that based on E1A1 – “Whatever is, is either in itself or another” (86) – there cannot be anything outside the intellect but substances and modes, as seen in the definition of substance – E1D3, and the definition of mode – E1D5. E1D4 defines attributes as “what the intellect perceives of a substance” (85), which pretty much can be included in the category of substances. Thus, if two things are to be distinct from one another, the difference must be either in the substances (and attributes) themselves, or in the modes.
      If the distinction between two substances that share attributes but not modes, is made by their attributes, then it could be argued by the principle of Identity of Indscernibles that there is only one attribute. On the other hand, if the difference between two substances is made by the modes, then the distinction between the two substances would have to be conceived through the modes, which cannot be true: “By substance I understand…that whose concept does not require the concept of another thing, from which it must be formed.” (E1D4, 85) Moreover, E1P1 argues: “A substance is prior in nature to its affections.” (86) Thus, the substances cannot be distinguished from one another based on their modes. This is how Spinoza proves that, “In nature there cannot be two or more substances of the same nature or attribute”. (E1P5, 87) This proposition is the first stage towards the proof of God’s existence.
      Now that E1P5 has been proven, Spinoza claims in E1P6 that “One substance cannot be produced by another substance” (87) based on E1P2 and E1P3: In E1P2 (86) it is agreed that two substances with different attributes have nothing in common with one another because they must be conceived only through themselves (which is evident in E1D3, the definition of substance).
      Furthermore, in E1P3 (87), Spinoza argues: “If things have nothing in common with one another, one of them cannot be the cause of the other”. This is due to the fact that if two attributes have nothing common with one another, they “also cannot be understood through one another.” (E1A5, 86) Since “the knowledge of the effect depends on, and involves, the knowledge of the cause” (E1A4, 86), the conclusion is that a substance, which cannot be understood through another substance, also cannot be created by it. This proves E1P6.
      In E1P6C, Spinoza takes this a step further and argues that “from [E1P6] it follows that a substance cannot be produced by anything else. For in nature there is nothing except substances and their affections… Therefore, substance absolutely cannot be produced by anything else.” (87) The proof of this is simple; if, as E1A1 claims, “whatever is, is either in itself or in another”, and a substance cannot be created by another substance as shown in E1P6, the only option is for a substance to be created by a mode, which is impossible.
      In E1P7D Spinoza argues that if a substance cannot be produced by anything else, as shown in E1P6C, it will be the cause of itself, as shown in E1D1: “By cause of itself I understand that whose essence involves existence or that whose nature cannot be conceived except as existing.” (85) Thus, E1P7 is proved: “It pertains to the nature of a substance to exist.” (88)
      The first proof for the existence of God, in E1P11D, consists on E1P7 and E1A7. E1A7 says: “If a thing can be conceived as not existing, its essence does not involve existing.” (87) Therefore, if we conceive that God does not exist, that implies that God’s essence does not involve existence. But since God is defined as a substance (E1D6, 85) and it pertains to the nature of a substance to exist, it is impossible to conceive God as not existing. Thus God necessarily exists. As simple as that.

      Summary of the first proof for God’s necessary existence:
      1. God is defined as an absolutely infinite substance with infinity of attributes.
      2. If we can conceive that God does not exist, his essence does not involve existence.
      3. The essence of the substance does indeed include existence.
      4. Fortunately, since God is defined as a substance, his essence involves existence.
      5. It is impossible to conceive God as not existing
      6. Thus God must necessarily exist.

      While Spinoza’s first proof for the existence of God is short and brilliant, he tries to present a few other directions to reach the conclusion that God’s existence is necessary. He begins his second proof with the principle of sufficient reason: “For each thing there must be assigned a cause or reason, both for its existence and for its nonexistence.” (91)
      The cause or reason must either be in the essence of a thing or out of it. The example Spinoza gives is of a square circle; the essence of the square circle includes the reason for it not to exist, because it is a contradiction. As seen in E1P7, the existence of the substance follows from its essence. So both the square circle and substance belong to the category of things whose existence or nonexistence is in the essence itself (this category can be divided to two – that of existence of nonexistence as derived from the essence itself).
      There is another category that includes squares, circles and human beings. In this category, existence does not follow from the essence itself, “but from the order of the whole corporeal Nature.” (91) This order determines whether a thing from the second category exists.
      If God does not exist, there must be a reason for the nonexistence. If it is proved that there cannot be such a reason (which is the goal of this second proof), God must exist. The reason for God’s nonexistence must be either in God’s essence or outside of it. If this reason is outside of him, it must be “in another substance of another nature” (91); if it would be the same nature, this would mean that there is a shared attribute, which is impossible as shown in E1P4 earlier on.
      Thus the option left is that the reason for nonexistence must be in another substance of a different nature. But also this is impossible, for “a substance which was of another nature [NS: than the divine] would have nothing common with God (by E1P2) and therefore could neither give him existence nor take it away.” (91) That is, there can be no connection between the substance of God and the substance that holds the reason for God’s nonexistence. If the reason for God’s nonexistence was external to him, that would necessarily mean that God is not a substance but merely a mode who is subordinate to the natural order of things.
      If the reason or cause for the nonexistence of God cannot lie in anything external to him, the only option left is that it must lie in the nature of God himself. In such a case, God would resemble the square circle, in the sense that his essence would involve contradiction. But here lies the absurd, for it is impossible “to affirm this of a Being absolutely infinite and supremely perfect.” (91) Thus, now it has been proven that the reason or cause for God’s nonexistence cannot lie, neither outside his essence nor within it. Spinoza therefore has successfully concludes his second proof that God must necessarily exist.

      Summary of the second proof for God’s necessary existence:
      1. God is defined as an absolutely infinite substance with infinite attributes.
      2. The reason for the existence of a substance follows from the essence itself.
      3. If God does not exist, the reason for his nonexistence must exist either within his essence or outside of it.
      4. If the reason for God’s nonexistence is outside of his own essence, then God cannot be a substance, because then he would not be conceived through himself.
      5. Thus the only option is that the reason for God’s nonexistence is within his own essence. That is, God’s essence must be a contradiction in order for him not to exist.
      6. This is absurd, because God is defined as an absolutely infinite and perfect and no contradiction can exist in his essence.
      7. Thus God must necessarily exist.

      Spinoza begins his third proof for the existence of God by arguing that “to be able not to exist is to lack power, and conversely, to be able to exist is to have power.” (92) If only finite things necessarily exist, that must mean they are more “powerful” than an infinite thing such as the substance of God. Since this is absurd, there are two possibilities; either that nothing exists or an absolutely infinite substance exists. As E1P7 shows, it follows from the essence of the substance to necessarily existence. Based on E1A1 – “Whatever is, is either in itself or in another” – Spinoza argues that “we exist either in ourselves, or in something else, which necessarily exists.” (92) But we must exist in something that is absolutely infinite in order to avoid contradiction. Therefore God, who is an absolutely infinite thing, must exist.

      Here is a summary of the third proof for God’s necessary existence:
      1. If only finite things exist, then they are more powerful that infinite substance, which is contradiction.
      2. So either nothing exists (both finite or infinite) or an absolutely infinite substance exists – God.
      3. We exist, either in ourselves or in something else.
      4. If we exist, we must exist in the absolutely infinite substance, because if we don’t, then there are only finite things, which is a contradiction (see point 1)
      5. Thus God must necessarily exist.

      E1P7 is essential in all proofs of God. In E1P11S, Spinoza wishes to clear up some misconceptions. First of all, while the third proof of God was a posteriori, this does not mean that God’s existence is such. Second of all, Spinoza points out the confusion people have with EIP7, regarding the idea of existence from external causes and existence that follows from essence; in our ordinary world, things that exist – such as apples or humans – tend to perish. But these things all come from external causes, and are modes and not substances, as God is. As E1P6 argues, “One substance cannot be produced by another substance.” (87) The substances cannot be created and cannot perish.
      A problem rises from the fact that Spinoza’s second proof for God’s necessary existence relies on the assumption that whatever can exist, must exist; that is, whatever has no reason for not existing, must exist. As I have noted in class, this leads to an existence of infinite worlds, infinite rules of physics etc. Lets take our world for instance. The question rises; are there not other parallel worlds, where a different set of natural laws exists in each particular world?
      Spinoza’s view of the world is a necessitarian one – all things that happen, happen necessarily. In such a perspective, there is only one possible consistent world. If we accept this notion, which is supposedly totally consistent with Spinoza’s argument of Sufficient Reason (that all that can exist must exist), I believe that a contradiction might arise.
      The necessitarian world limits us to a singular chain of events. If all that can exist, must exist, there should be in existence all possible worlds that are consistent within themselves. Spinoza might argue that the fact is that the only possible world is the one we live in, because it is necessarily the only logically consistent world. That is, there can be only one consistent world, and we are living in it.
      But I would like to argue that if Spinoza’s philosophy is to be consistent, there should be infinite amounts of universes, while in each universe there exists a necessitarian order of events. On the larger scale, in o
      In the Spinozistic world I propose, the substance cannot only be conceived through an infinite amount of attributes. There must also be a infinity of infinite modes in each and every attribute. In the attribute of extension, for instance, the collection of all modes is the infinite mode. But there must be also infinite amounts of logically consistent finite modes, each collection of finite modes being an infinite mode of one possible world. Thus each attribute should hold a infinity of infinite modes, in order to incorporate the infinity of all those things that can exist. Of course all this is my humble opinion and amateur speculations.
      There is another problem is Spinoza’s proof of God, in E1P5 – a problem that Leibniz addresses and Spinoza never actually answers. If there are two substances, one with the attributes of extension and thought and the other only with the attribute of extension, then there is a contradiction with E1P5 that argues that there cannot be two substances with the same attribute.
      A possible answer to lies in the Principle of Sufficient Reason: there must be an explanation why the second attribute does not have the attribute of thought. Since there is no such reason, such a situation cannot exist.
      In general, Spinoza’s three proofs for the existence of God are logical, coherent and consistent. They are based on axioms and definitions that the philosopher laid out in the beginning of the Ethics. The problems only begin later on with the small details and issues that come up, but the way Spinoza builds up to the proofs is simply brilliant. If the axioms are to be accepted by the reader, Spinoza’s proof of God has major consequences on the way we understand this world. The absolutely infinite God Spinoza “creates” is a very radical one indeed.

    • In response to Grandmuffti’s comments on coincidence, I was not claiming that I have particularly “good” luck. In fact, some might say it’s rather lousy. My point was that it is very difficult for mere mortals to determine what is “good” and what is “bad”. [As an example, there are people who think Bush winning was “good” and others who think it was “bad”, but they cannot logically both be correct.] We can’t know for sure unless we are seeing the big picture, which only G-d can see. I don’t believe G-d views specific events as “good” or “bad”, but It just views events as what “is”. People, with the benefit of perspective that might come only with time or death, may be able to understand at a later point. G-d sees and understands all as it unfolds. Coincidence or synchronicity (and all this time I thought it was just one of the great albums of all time) is just a case where humans get a glimpse of the big picture.

    • My proof for God’s existence:

      Milk.

      I mean, come on, really. A white liquid that you can DRINK?! That can’t happen by coincidence! 🙂

    • Muffti,

      I agree (and even mentioned) that there are large difference between you and God. All I was commenting on was the different levels of proof people require. If you started making kooky contradictory posts, people might start to doubt your sanity, not your existance. Maybe God is just mean and likes tormenting us all as Laya implies…

      Maybe he simply lets us make our own mistakes and learn from them…

      Maybe what we think is just terrible and unfair is actually best for us (like a flu shot to a 3 year old)

      Perhaps you’d start thinking that there were several people authoring the stuff who were working at cross purposes?

      What about conspiracy theories?

      PS: In case people didn’t get it, my comment on TM & Muffti being one in the same was a joke. I’m starting to feel that my sense of humor may not be cutting it here 😐

    • The Muffti sort of sees BB’s point. But to note:
      a) It’s not true that ‘logically’ something can’t be both good and bad. After all, they may be good and bad in different respects. (Bush’s winning may have been good for rich people and gun nuts while bad for, well, everyone else.) Attention to logical form will reveal that ‘good’ and ‘bad’ are relational adjectives.
      b) You say
      “I don’t believe G-d views specific events as “good” or “bad”, but It just views events as what “is”. People, with the benefit of perspective that might come only with time or death”
      That’s all fine and well; but remember who the burden of proof is on here. The argument from evil will never manage to persuade people to stop believing in God: there will always be something cheesy that gets God out of the hot water (he’s smarter than us, he can see more than us, he is not bound by ‘our laws of morality’ but by his, and those are good even if we can’t tell…) Famously, Leibniz just denied that a world could possibly be any better than this one in order to beat the problem of evil. It is meant for people who are evaluating the various claims of religion so in the end its just a question of plausibility: would a god creat a world this crappy given that he could do better and was so motivated?

    • Because G-d is more satisfied to see His creation that he has endowed with free will, man, struggle with and hopefully overcome evil (or “crappiness”) than to just make a perfect world from the start, even if that is within his power?

    • The Muffti also sees Neo-cons point, though as usual he refuses to agree. He also realized that the identification of Muffti and TM was a joke. I think that if I started making contradictory kooky points, you might very well start to wonder whether there was a coherent unity called ‘GrandMuffti’ and start thinking that the Muff was an amalgamation of people. That’s usually, in fact, what we conclude when a corpus seems to be littered with various writing styles, contradictory ideas etc.

      My point is that the levels of proof for existence (and sanity, and coherence etc) tend to rise when you have some salient reason to doubt. And I think that even the most committed of theists will admit that there is some reason to doubt the existence of God, even if they refuse to entertain those reasons seriously. One reason to doubt his existence? The problem of evil. (see above as to why the p.o.e. won’t convince any theists of this stripe: they can always say the kinda cheesy things you said in your post!) Another reason to doubt him? The existence of a better theory for explaining most of the things that we used God to explain. Any more? The existence of contradictory historical evidence. The lack of any current tangible evidence of his working. The inconsistencies of the Old Testament. The existence of multiple, contradictory conceptions of God.
      I think I’ve said enough; the larger point is that there will always be weasly ways for theists to explain all of this evidence. no one suspect that a person with faith is really rationally persuadable to give up that faith doesn’t tend to stand on any rational basis. Likewise, I don’ t think the existence of babies being born, beauty and a bunch of alleged witnesses who existed thousand of years ago will convince any atheists. I was just presenting some arguments for your intellectual interest and edification.

      Two last quick points. Milk rules, but I’ll thank the cows before I thank god. And Synchronicity still holds up as one of the better rock albums of all time.

    • That’s usually, in fact, what we conclude when a corpus seems to be littered with various writing styles, contradictory ideas etc.

      Actually, I usually just conclude they are democrats 😛

    • The Muffti is amazed the ‘free will’ defense took so long to come out. The mysteries of free will are, well, mysteries. But no matter; there are two well tread roads in response to free will defenses. I’ll merely repeat them without endorsing them.
      a) Free will implies the ability to choose (which I take it implies the ability to act on your desires to effect a causal external outcome). Free will DOES NOT imply the ability to do evil things. If I offer you a trip to Aruba or a trip to Hawaii, you have the ability to choose freely. No evil is implicated in this decision.
      b) More directly addressed to your point: the argument from evil is a bit of a misnomer. It should really be called ‘the argument from crappiness’. Now, I think everyone will admit that crappy things happen that have nothing to do with human free will.
      Earthquakes terminate thousands of lives. Volcanos spew lava that kills unsuspecting locals. Plague affects people who are otherwise nice hard working people. All of these things are crappy. None of them seem to enahnce humanities free will. All of them are, in principle, avoidable given an act of an omnipotent being. So, we can expand the argument to include anything bad that happens which doesn’t implicate free will.

      So much for the free will defense. And good riddens since it is so damned ad hoc (and, I suspect on further reflection, frought with contradiction).

    • Dude. Muffti. No. Synchronicity sucked. Outlandos D’Amour as good. Regatta de Blanc was good. Synchronicity will be remembered for having “Every Breath You Take” and a couple of nearly unlistenable Stewart Copeland/Andy Summers numbers, and a song about dinosaurs.

      Although at least Sting hadn’t decided he was more interested in blue turtles yet.

    • Muffti realized that he had a slight lapse of memory when he endorsed Synchronicity. I don’t think it sucked; but it wasn’t great. However, it did have Synchronicity and synchronicity II, along with murder by numbers and King of Pain, all of which were pretty good. Tea in the Sahara, though…yuck.

    • Michael agrees. There is room for debate in the existence of G-d, but the relative merits of Police albums are a hard objective truth.

    • I think we should all start arguing against the existence of God, and see how long it takes the Muffti to start arguing from the theist perspective.

    • PS, Neocon, I am NOT saying that God is “just mean and likes tormenting us”. But maybe we just bring our own baggage of what we think God ought to be, and then get angry and question her/his existance in the first place because s/he doesn’t seem to be acting the way we think s/he should.

    • Laya, that “baggage” frequently stems from our religious faith and from the writings of that faith as well as their interpretations.

      What is a Jewish God? What is an Israelite God? What is a Christian or a Greek God?

    • GrandMuffti wrote: Free will DOES NOT imply the ability to do evil things.

      We had this argument minutes after you posted. You are saying that the freedom to choose does not have to entail a choice between something good and something bad. Your original point had something to do with a comely brunette and blonde… but I digress. If you are systematically deprived of the ability to make a possibly wrong choice then you are not really choosing at all. If all your options are designed to be good then what need do you have for Judgement, preference whatever? In your scenario a decision based on a coin toss will result in the same end as a decision based on a well thought out choice and / or preference.

      So lets apply this to G_d as say a benevolent parent. The parent allows their child to choose which school it will go to. In scenario 1, the parents present the child with say 3 options, all of which are fine private schools that will fast track junior to an ivy league college and a fine professional carreer. Scenario 2, the parents allow junior to choose from any school, private elite institutions, alternative education schools, public schools whatever. In Scenario 2 Junior has a real choice to make and he can make a good choice or a bad one (ie choose schools based on the availability of good drugs and loose hot women…). In scenario 1, junior really has only the illusion of choice as all imprudent alternatives have been eliminated by the parents.

      Life is thus all about free will and the ability to make a good decision or a bad decision or something in between. Sadly we sometimes choose evil as well, but a G_d that takes those choices away from us is not really letting us live. Also, a G_d that prevents me from moving around as I like and living in places prone to crappy things like plagues and earthquakes is also not letting me live. This does not make G_d a bad dude, just an entity that has created life and has allowed said life to live however it sees fit, regardless of the consequences. There is no middle ground here – either their is free will and the concomittant hazards that that implies, or we are all just glorified puppets. G_d did not create puppets. G_d created life.

      Damn I wish I had saved that IM conversation… remeber how we discussed how if you have 1000 spontaneous orgasms a day, then the joy of orgasms sort of diminishes. You need lack of good, or evil, to appreciate good – can’t fully appreciate the peaks till you’ve been to the valleys…. Yes, I am in fact saying that the existence of bad stuff and even evil is a necessary prerequisite for life.

    • This has been an interesting post and comment thread, to say the least. I “came of age” in Hollywood and Los Angeles, which meant complete secularism, but I was eventually convinced of the existence of G-d at the same time that I had earned my doctorate in psychology. Believe me, after spending years in the “ivory tower” and state mental hospitals (as an intern, not as a patient, duh), I was a bit stunned when I realized that the Torah was the best psychology book ever.

      Nevertheless, I want to say that I think the Muffti has been brainwashed by academia into thinking that he can endlessly pontificate about the existence of a “timeless” and “endless” being. Truthfully Muffti, you have produced enough material in your Jewlicious posts and comments to create a dissertation and get out of the ivory tower and into the real world.

      And btw — the Police and Sting have made very good music over the years, ck. You just haven’t been listening carefully enough.

    • They were at their best on their first two albums, when Sting still had some cojones and that yelp and wasn’t afraid to mix excellent pop songcraft, punky energy and, of course, reggae. The reggae is key. And of course, being a drummer myself, I can’t get enough of Stewart Copeland, who was a monster.

      So, nuts to you and your uncultivated ear, CK!

      Oh, um, to keep this on topic: Hashem rules, yo!

    • If G_d isn’t a good and positive influence on us, our behaviors and choices, then what is he good for? Why is he worth worshiping? Because he created us and dangles the keys to our afterlife if we don’t?

      There is something just too weird about this scenario. A G_d who professes to love his weak and faulty creations only to leave them to their own devices for life, to be judged by him only at the end for the human mistakes he wired us to make? The results being heavenly bliss or hell fire and brimstone forever? Naah!

      I can’t deny the existence of G_d and don’t want too actually.
      I want to believe G_d is the good spirit of love empathy and compassion in us that keeps us from making the mistakes of hate, selfishness and jealousy.

      I think you will get your more heavenly or hellish life right here on earth to the degree your G_od behavior dominates over your ‘mistake’n behaviors. I don’t live my life in pursuit of a promised after life, nor the least bit intimidated by the threat of the alternative. ‘What you sow so shall you reap’ for sure in this life. Maybe in an after, but who knows or should care.

    • The Police were vaguely amusing at the begining with their cooptation and vanilification of reggae. When success hit, they became unbearable and Sting evolved into a frightfully turgid and pretentious songster crafting music suitable for soccer Moms and the taste addled. There never was and never will be anything even vaguely “punky” about Sting.

      As far as Hashem goes, well… I LOVE HASHEM! I even have a t-shirt that sez so!

    • Oh, I agree, Sting became completely intolerable after their second album or so, but even if the reggae on the first two was vanilified it still made for good tunes. I mean, I’m never going to listen to the Police for reggae over Culture or the Congos or something, and I’m never going to listen to the Police for punk over the Clash (who were of course the masters of fusing punk, reggae and everything else), but hey, I still like them. And Roxanne or Can’t Stand Losing You have elements of punkiness in them. It’s all in the attack, yo. They were all killer musicians, and Stewart Copeland had attitude. Listen to the first disk of their live album. It’s awesome.

    • Thanks ever so, Muffti. ck has spent all night in the office whining about how much he hates the Police, and humming ‘I Can’t Stand Losing You’ in an off-key and sarcastic manner.
      Now I have to go research Canada’s workplace harrassment regulations…

    • The Muffti is beginning to regret ever having posted this.

      But anyhow, a few quick notes.

      Uppity Shiksa: So sorry! I didn’t realize CK would inflict his hatred for the police on you. But take this as a warning. If you don’t behave, I’ll sick RUSH on jewlicious and try to live through CK humming that!

      CK: Yes, that was a fine conversation. Your point is well taken; but I still think the free will defense is a non-starter. Like I said then, the real thrust of the argument is to establish that bad things happen and that they need not happen. Some of those things are not caused by our free will. So even if we allow all the evil that is caused by free will to be off limits to divine intervention, that leaves all the non-free will related bad things to contend with. And, we all know, there is a lot of that.

      Having said that, your point can also be turned against you. Many people live lives where there range of options is fairly limited. People in famine areas don’t tend to have a lot of options at their disposal. Does this mean that God is robbing them of the free will he could be giving them? And why don’t they get the sort of free will we get? (i.e. if lack of real choice is tantamount to lack of free will, it looks like free will is not a reality for many many people…)

      Janice: I’m afraid that my dissertation is leading me, if all goes well, straight back into the ivory towers. I don’t really think I’ve been brainwashed; but then again, no brainwashed person ever tends to think that they have been brainwashed. Pardon the endless pontificating. I’ll shut up now.

    • I would take a centrist approach on proofs of God’s existence. No, we cannot prove God exists. On the other hand, we need not rely entirely on faith. We all have certain things which suggest to us that HaShem is real. For many people, the very amazing fact that we, and the beautiful universe that we live in, exist is enough. After all, Judaism is the religion whose “ineffable name of God” translates in some way as “that which is and causes being.” For me, though, it is the marvel of human consciousness. I once saw mention in a theological work that human consciousness is the universe’s way of looking at itself. As a physicist, that statement resonates in modern quantum physics.

      I have written a short essay on the topic both as a means of poking holes in one simple argument for God’s existence and to present a much more beautiful (to me, at least) reason to believe:

      It is often said, by people perhaps not well-versed in probability, that if you put billions of monkeys at billions of typewriters, one of them would eventually and randomly reproduce the works of Shakespeare. The fallacy of this idea can easily be shown. Instead of the complete works of the bard, let’s consider a 500 word quote from one of his plays. 500 words, at an average of 6 letters per word with one space in between, is 500*7=3500 characters long (ignoring punctuation, of course). If a typewriter has about 50 keys, then there are 50^3500 possible combinations, a number so astoundingly large that it is, in effect, infinite. Even billions of billions of billions of monkeys couldn’t type a Hamlet soliloquy. There are so many random configurations of letters and spaces that those that actually make any sense are simple overwhelmed by those that don’t.

      In arguing human origins and the existence of God, the typing monkeys are often used in support of two very different positions. Those who seek to “prove” evolution and the non-necessity of a creator, point out that we humans, and in fact all that we see in the universe are the result of random processes guided by the laws of nature. That is, the universe as we know it is the manuscript typed by 14 billion years of random interactions. On the other hand, those who seek to “prove” the existence and need for God point out that the probability of things existing as we know them is infinitesimal. We represent a highly unlikely state of being, a hence, something must have made us this way.

      Both of these arguments have flaws. Together, however, they point in an intriguing direction. Those arguing for a divine creator must acknowledge what is known as the weak anthropic principle: “The observed values of all physical and cosmological quantities are not equally probable but they take on values restricted by the requirement that there exist sites where carbon-based life can evolve and by the requirements that the universe be old enough for it to have already done so.” In other words: “We exist, so it should come as no surprise that we exist and that the universe created us.” Your own existence depends on some amazingly unlikely interactions of your ancestors, but that is no reason to assume that the ancestors were guided in these interactions so as to produce you. The other side, however, must not fail to acknowledge the possibility that our current existence is, in some way, quite special in a universal sense. That random processes in the universe can produce a rock, a star, a planet, or even a tree or fish may come as no surprise. But humans, and human intellectual products, are different. Einstein’s theory of relativity should not be viewed as a random object distinct from the universe which created it, like an atom. Instead, the body of physics (and theology, for that matter) is reflexive, seeking to declare some truth about the universe in which it exists.

      An animal which, upon looking in a mirror, shows no recognition of itself lacks a basic level of self-consciousness. An animal which produces a clay model of itself and calls it “me,” on the other hand, might be said to have a high-level of self-consciousness. Likewise, a universe which produces, by random processes, a variety of physical objects and beings that never stop to consider its mysteries may not have any deeper meaning. As the weak anthropic principle would point out, if it does exist that way, so the random processes that produced it should not come as a surprise. But, a universe like our own, in which we humans (and perhaps others?) ponder, think, look in wonder, and produce scientific and theological works about the nature of the universe points to a level of self-consciousness in the universe. It suggests that our existence marks a physical state which transcends randomness and imbues our us and the universe with a deeper meaning. It offers the possibility that we exist in the universe so that we may try to understand the universe. It also hints at the Divine.

      (Feedback always appreciated)

    • fineline! I wanted to chime in as well that I both read and totally appreciated your comment. As laya noted, we’ve been a little inundated elsewhere. I didn’t want to rush in and comment as I feel your comment probably merits a re-read or two. I don’t know who you are but please come back and visit often!

    • I have always considered the platypus (?) to be proof of G-D’s existence. (not to mention sense of humor) I mean after all here we have a mammal that looks like a beaver with a duck’s bill and it lays eggs. Kind of makes you wonder doesn’t it. (Well Kangaroos and Wallabees are a little strange too but rabbits jump around to travel so I don’t look at them to closely.) : )

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