Fundamentals of Torah for Non-Jews: Part II
But what about authorities or “experts”? Shouldn’t we believe them? Let’s look at that. Why would we believe an authority or expert? Well, they may have more knowledge than us. This is true in many classroom situations. If I’m trying to learn mathematics, and I’m just a beginner, and the teacher has an advanced mathematics degree, then it would seem reasonable to listen to what they have to say. But should I just trust them? Should I trust everything they say? Consider this. Why does a five-year-old child not cross the street when cars are coming? Because Mommy or Daddy said so. The child obeys its parents. But what would we think of an adult who gave the same answer to the same question? We would wonder why he never grew up. You would think that an adult would say, “Because there are cars coming and I don’t want to get hit.” Not, “Because Mommy told me so.” So let’s extrapolate that principle. We may accept known authorities or experts temporarily until we attain enough knowledge to test their statements and establish our own knowledge. As an actuary, if I were questioned on why I used a particular mathematical formula in a particular situation, it would be ridiculous of me to answer, “Because my college professor said so.” Rather, I would be expected to explain the mathematical basis for my use of that formula and why it is appropriate in that situation.
Likewise, we are all ultimately responsible for our own knowledge and the decisions we make. We can’t push that responsibility off on someone else. Flip Wilson’s classic line, “The devil made me buy that dress!” just doesn’t cut it. We’re responsible; each of us for our own lives. So I have to decide who I’m going to trust as an expert and how far I want to go to confirm that knowledge. A perfect example of this is health care. If I have a skin problem, I may need to go see a dermatologist. Do I need to learn everything that the dermatologist knows in order to follow his advice? Of course not. But I’m responsible for researching at least enough to choose a dermatologist who knows what he or she is doing. Otherwise, I’m the one who will endure the consequences.
So, in certain specialty areas like medicine, I may choose an authority and follow their advice without fully understanding all of the knowledge underlying that. In other areas, I may choose an expert and accept what they’re telling me temporarily while I’m learning. Ultimately, my goal should be to develop enough knowledge to test the expert’s conclusions and prove them for myself. Then those conclusions become mine. So far, so good. Given that we have a method for establishing what’s true, can we prove that the universe has a Creator? Note that this is foundational. We need to establish this before we proceed any further. Going with the idea of “I know that G-- exists because I feel it or sense it” doesn’t cut it. We need to be able to demonstrate it. If we use the method we’ve just described to identify what’s true in every area of our lives, why would we abandon it when it comes to the area of the Creator of the universe? It’s important that we not skip this important step (or any steps).
Let me suggest first a demonstration. This is not, technically, a proof, but I find it to be so compelling as to virtually constitute a proof.
Suppose you walk into a room, and there is someone standing beside a piece of paper that is taped to the wall, and as you look closely you realize that the paper is a freshly inked copy of the United States Declaration of Independence. And the person in the room says to you, “You’ll never guess what just happened! I tossed this bottle of ink against the wall, and it formed itself into this flawless copy of the Declaration of Independence!”
The first question is, would you believe him?
If your answer is yes, why would you believe him? If your answer is no, why wouldn’t you believe him?
Ok, now hold that thought and let’s consider this second scenario. You walk into the large board room of a big corporation. The room is dominated by a long table that has 24 chairs, all perfectly lined up. At each seat at the table, there is a blotter, a yellow pad of paper, a pen, a coaster, and a coffee mug, all perfectly aligned. Standing at one end of the room next to a window and a large supplies cabinet is the person who obviously manages the room. As you stand there surveying this perfectly aligned scene, that person says to you, “You’ll never believe what happened. I accidentally left the window open last night and a big wind came along and blew the supplies cabinet door open, and then the wind blew all of these blotters, pads, pens, coasters, and coffee mugs from the cabinet onto the table in perfect alignment.”
Same questions as before. First, would you believe him? If yes, why? If no, why not?
(Please take a moment to think deeply about this before proceeding. There’s an important principle here.)
My guess is that you’re answer to the first question in both cases is no, you wouldn’t believe what the person is telling you. Your answer to the second question as to why you wouldn’t believe the person probably centers around the preposterous unlikelihood that these events could actually happen.
So what’s the general principle operating here?
Whenever we see order, we assume there is intelligence behind it.
Let me repeat that. Whenever we see order, we assume there is intelligence behind it.
Think about that. Anytime we see things that are orderly, or that are stacked up, or that operate within an obvious system, we assume that someone with intelligence made it that way. We never see order and assume that it’s random. So when we look out at the world, or at the wonder of our own human bodies, what do we see? Incredible order! Systems that operate in an amazing and harmonious way. From the cellular systems within our bodies, to the nervous system, digestive system, reproductive system, muscular and skeletal systems, to the atmospheric systems, ecological systems, plants, animals, tides, and an almost limitless array of systems in nature that act in harmony and allow our planet to exist.
How is it, then, that we look at the board room and dismiss the idea that the wind blew that into existence, yet we look at the complexity of the world – not to mention space! – and actively consider the possibility that all of that incredible order came into existence without intelligence behind it?
It would be ridiculously inconsistent of us to do this. So let’s look at a proof that there is a Creator of the universe, the world, and its inhabitants.
I’m taking this proof from the classic book, Duties Of The Heart, by Rabbi Bachya ben Joseph ibn Paquda. This book is highly recommended for non-Jews interested in Torah and is published by Feldheim (www.feldheim.com).
There are three statements that we need to establish in order to construct our proof. The first statement is, “A thing does not make itself.”
So what’s the proof of this statement?
Consider the following. Any thing that exists after having not existed must either (A) have made itself, or (B) been made by something else. No other possibility exists. It has to be one of these.
Does this make sense?
So we have two alternatives, A and B. We see that the answer must be one of them because no other alternatives exist in this case. Thus, if we can show that one of the alternatives is impossible, then we have proven the other.
So let’s consider alternative A, which states that any thing that exists after having not existed must have made itself. Now if this is true, we can continue further and say that any thing that made itself must have either made itself (a) before it existed, or (b) after it existed. No other possibility exists. It has to be one of these.
But if we look at (a) and say that the thing made itself before it existed, that is impossible. For at that time it was nothing, and you can’t get something out of nothing. On the other hand, if we look at (b) and say that the thing made itself after it existed, it really did
nothing, because it already existed. Therefore, since both of these possibilities are impossible, then it is impossible for a thing to have created itself, which means that A is impossible. Therefore, the answer must be B; that is, any thing that exists after having not existed must have been made by something else. So we have proved our first statement, which is, “A thing does not make itself.”
Please review this proof carefully to be sure you understand it before you continue.
Now, our second statement is, “Causes are limited in number; since their number is limited, they must have a first cause before which there is no other.”
Let’s think about causes for a moment. A rock was perhaps caused by a volcanic reaction, which was caused by some energy forces under the ground, which was caused by something else. A person was “caused” – in a sense – by his or her parents, who were caused by their parents, who were caused by their parents, and so forth.
Now, how far back does all of this go?
To answer that, let’s consider this idea. Whatever has an end must have a beginning. That is, the effect of a cause must have a first cause. Why? Because anything that is infinite cannot be made up of discrete (that is, individually separate and distinct) parts. And anything that is made up of discrete parts can’t be infinite. Here’s why.
Imagine something that is infinite. Now if it has discrete parts, then you should be able to take away one of those parts. If you could, then the remaining thing must be less than what it was before you took away the discrete part. Now if this remainder is still infinite, then we would have one infinite thing that is greater than another, which is impossible. If, on the other hand, the remaining thing is finite, then adding back in the discrete part that you took away would still make it finite. Yet we started out with the assumption that it was infinite. So we would have the same thing be both infinite and finite. This is an impossible contradiction. Thus, it is impossible to take away a part from that which is infinite, and therefore whatever has a part must be finite. Now in looking around at the world, we see that everything is made up of discrete parts. Take people for instance. There is you, your parents, their parents, their parents before them, etc. Since these “causes” are discrete parts, it follows that these causes are finite in number and that there must be a first cause before which there is no other cause, for as we just demonstrated, the causes cannot go back infinitely. Otherwise, we run into the impossible contradiction explained in the previous paragraph.
That establishes our second statement, which is, “Causes are limited in number; since their number is limited, they must have a first cause before which there is no other.” Then there i
s our third statement, which is, “Anything that is composite was brought into existence.” Here’s the proof. Anything that is composite is made up of more than one component. Those components had to exist before the composite thing. And the one who put the composite thing together had to exist before the composite thing.
In addition, everything must be either infinite or brought into existence. No other possibilities exist here.
Now, we showed above that something that is infinite cannot have parts. Yet something that is composite is, by definition, made up of parts or components. Furthermore, something that is composite had a beginning, and something infinite cannot have a beginning or else it would not be infinite. Therefore, something composite cannot be infinite and therefore must have been brought into existence.
So we have now proven our three statements:
(1) A thing does not make itself.
(2) Causes are limited in number; since their number is limited, they must have a first cause before which there is no other.
(3) Anything that is composite was brought into existence.
Next, let’s take these three statements and see what they lead us to regarding the existence of a Creator.
When we look at the world and space, we see that it is made up of many parts. There are the stars, the sky, the earth itself, rocks, mountains, water, plants, animals, birds, the oceans, rivers, lakes, etc. All of these things are made up of parts. For example, we can see that a bird is made up of feathers, bones, organs, etc.
Thus, it’s clear that the world – and all that is in it – is made up of parts; that is, it is a composite. Now we showed above that anything that is composite was brought into existence. We also showed that a thing does not make itself. Thus, the world (and the universe) has to have had a Creator who brought it into existence.
In addition, since we showed above that causes are limited in number – that is, there cannot be an infinite series of causes – then the world had to have had a beginning before which there was no other beginning. That is, it had to have had a first cause before which there was no other cause. That cause is the Creator, as identified in the previous paragraph.
Thus, we have shown that there must be a Creator of the world and, similarly, the universe. END.