Wednesday, February 03, 2010

The Logic of the First Cause

One of the saddest consequences of the internet is that it has turned many Jews into skeptics about - not only their faith - but about the very existence of God. There is a very popular blog dedicated to the very idea of this question. The anonymous blog owner who identifies himself as XGH is a victim of this phenomenon.

He started his blog as a response to the ban on Rabbi Slifkin’s books which angered him as it did me and many other Orthodox Jews. If I am not mistaken he was a part of - or at least sympathized with - the Charedi world. He is now firmly ensconced in the world of skeptics.

XGH constantly questions and argues God’s existence. He does so not from animus, but from a sincere confusion about the information he has been exposed to. Information about seemingly irresolvable contradictions between science and Torah.

I am not here to debate that issue. Nor will I allow a discussion of it here. Although legitimate questions are raised, this post is not intended for that discussion. I am therefore going to closely monitor and edit or delete all attempts to do so on either side of the debate.

My purpose here is to discuss only the matter of God’s existence. This is one of the issues that XGH constantly focuses upon - as he did again in a recent post. I don’t expect to convince him. But I do hope that my arguments will appeal to those who read both of our blogs and have had questions raised about it.

A little caveat is appropriate at this point. Commenting on this issue is a dangerous task and therefore goes against my better judgment. But that hasn’t stopped me before. So in the hopes that I can do some good - here goes.

The argument for God’s existence is a logical one. How did the physical universe get here? The answer is that some entity must have created it. Those of us who believe in First Cause cannot fathom the idea that matter and energy created itself - or was just always infinitely there. It is pure nonsense to us. Some Entity must have caused it to be there.

You can call that Entity whatever you want. Call it God, or Allah, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster. A rose by any other name is still a rose.

Remember we aren’t talking about the attributes of God. Nor are we talking about the mechanics of creation - whether it was active or passive, whether it was via a ‘Big Bang’ and Darwinian evolution or the sudden appearance of a fully developed universe in six stages. These are theological questions beyond the scope of this discussion. This discussion is about God’s existence only.

One of the repeated questions asked by skeptics is the following. If everything must have a first cause - the same question can be asked about God. Who created Him? This would be a valid question if God was corporeal. But He is not. He is by definition and by logic - a spiritual Being.

The spiritual universe is one in which we have no physical entry. As physical entities, we know little if anything about it. In that world the concept of infinite is therefore possible. At least it makes more sense than it does in the physical world.

The physical existence of the corporeal universe explained as a creation by a Spiritual Being is the most rational explanation of all matter and energy. How a Spiritual being does that… how He transcends the spiritual plain to create a physical universe… these are questions that I can't answer.

There is no way of transcending the physical world into the spiritual world to study it firsthand. All one can do is study and observe nature and try to deduce some of those answers empirically. Or rely on traditional religious teachings and intuition. But not proving or even understanding the mechanics of creation does not contradict the logical deduction of a spiritual First Cause.

The obvious next question is - if that is so, how do you know that there is only one Supernatural Creator? Maybe there are two or twenty? Maybe there are many gods? Believing in many gods does not contradict the logic of the First Cause argument.

The answer is quite simple. Occam’s razor. Entities must not be multiplied beyond necessity. While it is true that polytheism does not contradict the idea of First Cause, it does add unnecessarily to it. Only one God is needed. Adding more has no logical necessity.

This is why I believe in a Creator.

What are His attributes? Does he care what goes on in the world? Does He interact in it at all? Does He have laws we must follow? If so, what are those laws? How do we know what those laws are? Who interprets them? These are all theological and religious questions that - for me – is where Judaism comes in.

This essay is not an attempt to justify Judaism. It is only an attempt at a rational explanation of God’s existence. And to me that is pretty clear.