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Saturday, July 25, 2015

Why Orthodox Judaism is a Cult - Part 2

Years ago, I decided to see what it was like to get sucked into an Orthodox Jewish group. I posed as a secular Jew and lett the kiruv (Orthodox Jewish outreach) rabbis rope me in to this learning experience. I spent one year full-time in an ultra-Orthodox Jewish community before moving away, and then studying with a different community, but only part time. To this day, I spend 2-3 nights a week studying with Orthodox rabbis. Occasionally, one of them finds out the truth about me, and I inevitably get kicked out, and have to find another group. This has happened several times so far, and I predict it will continue to happen in the future.

So far my most notable experience has come when one Modern Orthodox rabbi, who identifies himself as the most liberal and tolerant of Orthodox rabbis in the area, found out about my beliefs. At first, he seemed intrigued. We talked for a few hours about my beliefs regarding God, Israel, and the public education system. He was absolutely shocked to find that a fellow Jew could believe in Jesus as God. He also asked me about my feelings about Jews for Jesus, and I said that I like their intentions but believe they are not terribly successful.

About a week later, I got a phone call from him, where he said that he would not allow me to attend any of his shiurim (lectures) and pretty much wanted to break all contact with me. I asked why he seemed to have such a change of heart. He said that even though I never had any affiliation with any missionary organization. In all my years of studying with Orthodox rabbis, I have not attempted to sway their audience. I just sit and listen. The rabbi said that he could not allow me to do that, because I might in the future, encounter a secular Jew and use this rabbinic information to persuade him or her to accept my beliefs.

Several things are of note here. First, this rabbi has been known to invite people who are not Orthodox and have no intention of becoming Orthodox to dine with his family or to spend the night for the Sabbath, or to attend religious events with them. He is sharply critical of the Hasidic group Chabad, which is a very outreach-focused organization. He brags that he accepts all Jews for who they are and provides no pressure for them to conform to his beliefs. This is the rabbi who would not even let me listen in on his lectures because "you could use them against us."

Second, it was during his phone call where I heard him repeat so many slogans that I had heard a bunch of times from Orthodox Jews, and repeating them word for word. This rabbi was not thinking for himself, but was spouting the propaganda that he had been force-fed in yeshiva many years ago.

Third, his attitude toward letting outsiders know his beliefs resembles Gnosticism and other secret societies more than it resembles a defensible belief system. I have studied under Eastern Orthodox theologians, letting them know my beliefs openly. They had no problem with teaching me. I have studied Roman Catholic theology under very theologically conservative Roman Catholic theologians. They openly welcome me, even though they know I have major issues with their theology. Reformed Protestants also have openly welcomed me and even atheists and agnostics to learn their belief systems. In all cases, I asked whether they were afraid I could use their beliefs against them. They all responded that if I used these teachings to criticize them, they would be happy that at least I would be criticizing what they actually believe.

People who have confidence that their belief systems are true are not afraid of criticism. Alvin Plantinga has phoned many of his colleagues, telling them that he wanted clarification on what they believed so that he could more accurately criticize them. These colleagues were only too eager to oblige! They believed that their beliefs had the best arguments for them, and would be happy to change them if other beliefs had better arguments. I agree with this sentiment. I would only be too happy to accept the belief system and even the lifestyle of Chabad or the Aish Hatorah or Jews for Judaism rabbis if they presented strong enough arguments. But I think the feeling is really not mutual.

Years ago, when I was living undercover as an ultra-Orthodox Jew, I studied in the kollel (community learning center) pretty much on a nightly basis. I particularly enjoyed studying with adolescents and even older children who were raised Orthodox, because they gave me the raw teachings that they were taught in the day schools, without filtering out any of the teachings which might look bad to outsiders.

I was reading through the latter chapters of the book of Daniel (ArtScroll translation) with one 14 year old boy, who said that he had never read the book of Daniel before. I let him do most of the reading and discussing of the commentaries on the text. When we got to Daniel 12:2 he froze up. He said that he could not believe what he was reading.

"Many of those who sleep in the dusty earth will awaken; these for everlasting life and these for shame, for everlasting abhorrence."

He said "but we don't believe this. We believe that the wicked will suffer for up to 12 months but no longer."

I was later told by the rosh kollel (head of the kollel) that I should not be reading prophets with the kids. They are not taught these books until later on because they can be easily "misunderstood." He gave an example that he believed strongly in marital fidelity, but a cursory reading of 2 Samuel or 1 Kings makes it look like David was guilty of having an affair with Bathsheba and arranging the murder of Uriah to cover it up, or that Solomon was violating his marital vows by having 700 wives and 300 concubines. The rosh kollel told me that he thought Bill Clinton was a despicable individual for having an affair with one intern. There was no way he was going to let the kids just read these books of the Bible for themselves.

Defenders of Orthodox Judaism will claim that cults do not allow questioning while Orthodox Judaism thrives on questioning. This is one of those dangerous half-truths. It is true that the rabbis do allow lots of questioning from the laity. They are more than happy to answer questions when they know they have the questioners intellectually out-gunned. They will answer questions from people who do not have the education to pose powerful, thoroughly researched questions backed with citations from top scholars.

Michael Brown said that when he was a teenager, the Chabad rabbis would gladly allow him to ask them questions about their interpretation of Scripture. Once Brown started becoming an expert in Semitic languages and was able to challenge their interpretations on philological grounds, they quickly stopped letting him ask those questions.

I have repeatedly contacted anti-missionary organizations such as Jews for Judaism to ask if they would be willing to engage a Christian scholar in oral debate. They have consistenly refused to do so, stating "we do not believe in debates." I have asked Dovid Gottlieb, the founder of the modern Kuzari Principle argument if he would publish it in a peer-reviewed journal, and he refused. These rabbis do like to entertain questions, but not from professional scholars, lest their followers realize that the Rebbe has no clothes.

Why Orthodox Judaism is a Cult - Part 1

Evangelical Christians often use the word "cult" to describe any group that claims to be Christian but is guilty of one or more major heresies. This is not the definition I will be using. I am going to define a cult as an organization or group that seeks to control its members through indoctrination and then isolate its members from any outside influences that might threaten this control.

Organizations such as UC Berkley have criteria for what makes a group a cult. An organization is a cult if it has many of the following features:

1.  Love Bombing - Instant friendship, extreme helpfulness, generosity and acceptance...Group recruiters "lovingly" will not take "no" for an answer-invitations impossible to refuse without feeling guilty and/or ungrateful. "Love", "generosity", "encouragement" are used to lower defenses and create an ever increasing sense of obligation, debt and guilt.

2.  Schedule Control & Fatigue - Study and service become mandatory. New member becomes too busy to question. Family, friends, jobs and hobbies are squeezed out, further isolating the new member.

3. Submission - Increased submission to the leadership is rewarded with additional responsibilities and/or roles, and/or praises, increasing the importance of the person within the group.

4. Intense Study - Focus is on group doctrine and writings. Bible, if used at all, is referred to one verse at time to "prove" group teachings

5. Totalism - "Us against them" thinking. Strengthens group identity. Everyone outside of group lumped under one label.

6. Isolation, Separation & Alienation - Group becomes substitute family. Members encouraged to drop worldly (non-members) friends. May be told to change jobs, quit school, give up sports, hobbies, etc.

7. Secrecy - Group hides inner workings and teachings from outsiders. Sophisticated cults may curry media interest or even employ public relations consultants and ad agencies to manage their image.

and most importantly

8. Information Control - Group controls what convert may read or hear. They discourage (forbid) contact with ex-members or anything critical of the group. May say it is the same as pornography making it not only sinful and dangerous but shameful as well. Ex-members become feared and avoidance of them becomes a "survival issue." 

Speaking from experience, Orthodox Judaism has many of these features. There is an outreach industry called kiruv which seeks to turn non-Orthodox Jews into Orthodox Jews, regardless of how manipulative the organization has to be. They invite people in by offering community, fellowship and meals. They open their homes to strangers and offer the arms of friendship. This friendship comes with a price, subtle pressure to conform to the group's behavior.

One favorite tactic is called the BT yeshiva. A normal yeshiva is a place where Jewish men around college-age, live and spend 12-14 hours per day studying Talmudic law for a few years. The BT yeshiva is a similar idea. Young, single Jews, especially those on trips such as Birthright, are invited for a free meal and a place to stay. They can live and study for years on end at no cost to them, with the only condition being that they spend a good amount of their time studying in classes which focus on how to conform to Orthodox Jewish law, and also indoctrination as to why Orthodox Judaism is true.

The real magic about this approach is that people in yeshiva are pretty isolated from the outside world. Social psychology sets in, and the beliefs and behaviors of the yeshiva culture seep into these new recruits, with little outside contact to hold this transformation in check. Their worldviews become manipulated in an almost Truman Show -esque fashion. By time they are finished with a few years, they are ready to live and believe like a proper ultra-Orthodox Jew, always living in an Orthodox community, so that the indoctrination can be maintained.

The idea is to make it as easy and as pleasant as possible to become more and more dependent upon the Orthodox Jewish community for emotional, social, spiritual, and eventually financial support. This community becomes one's entire world, and that gives the community tight control over its members. The more integrated one becomes, the more difficult and painful it is to get out.

Orthodox Jews who come to believe in Jesus often lose everything as a result. The Orthodox community is very good at getting everyone, including the person's own family, to shun the individual. All support is cut off, and their own families will not speak to them. These Orthodox families sometimes even hold funerals for Jews who leave the community, especially if they come to believe in Jesus.

The reverse is almost never the same. I have met people raised in hardcore, homeschool, Fundamentalist Christian backgrounds who have become atheists, Jews, and even Muslims. Very rarely do these Christian families shun them or cut them off from support.

For those still unwilling to accept the idea that Orthodox Judaism is a cult, ask youself the following question. Why is it that those who apostatize from Orthodox Judaism, particularly those born into the system, require halfway houses in order to make the transition? This is not true of Catholicism, Evangelical Christianity, or even Reform or Conservative Judaism, but it is very true of Orthodox Judaism.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Faith Strengthened (Pt 2) Under the Microscope: Chapter 52

John 10:38, "That ye may know and believe that the Father is in me, and I in Him." The same is repeated in chapter 14:11. In chapter 17:21, it is said, "That they all may be one, as thou, Father, art in me, and I in Thee, that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that Thou hast sent me. And the glory which Thou gavest me, I have given them, that they may be one even as we are one. I in them, and Thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one," etc.

The junction of Father and Son is conferred also upon the twelve apostles. If, therefore, the Christians thought it necessary to change their belief in the Divine unity, they were not justified in adopting the term "Trinity," inasmuch as the twelve apostles are placed on an equality with Jesus, and they might, with the same latitude of argument, be well included in the coalition of Divine personages.

This is an area where I have good agreement with Troki. In John 10, Jesus confronts the Jewish authorities. The crowds challenge him to proclaim himself as Messiah, but Jesus does one better than that. He says "I and the Father are one." The crowds then accuse him of blasphemy, for who could be unified with God but God? Mohammad was quite right to assume that no creature could assume partnership with our Creator, and that seemed to reflect Second Temple Jewish sentiments as well.

Troki argues that in Chapter 17, Jesus says that the disciples are to be one, just as the Son and Father are one. Therefore, Jesus' claim to be one with the Father is not a claim of deity. This, I think, is to misunderstand the passage. Jesus did claim to be one with the Father in the sense that he wanted the disciples to be one. In John 17 Jesus gives his high priestly prayer over his disciples, desiring that they would be united in their mission. Jesus claims that his own mission with the Father is one of the same unity. Jesus and the Father are one in their mission to redeem humanity, bringing about salvation. Jews knew that only God is the source of salvation, and this sentiment is still in the siddur to this day.

The kicker is the Jewish reaction. Why stone Jesus for blasphemy if he was only claiming to be an important prophet or exalted creature? Claiming to be Messiah is not blasphemy. Claiming to be exalted is not blasphemy. Claiming to be God, however, is grounds for being stoned. And if that isn't enough, remember verse 33:

The Jews answered him, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.”

Sunday, May 24, 2015

E.P. Sanders on Messiah

"The second source that sheds light on the title 'Messiah' is the library found near the shores of the Dead Sea. In some of these documents there are two Messiahs, one a son of David and one a son of Aaron, the first high priest. The second, the priestly Messiah, is in charge. The other Messiah does nothing. There will be a great war (according to one scroll), but the Messiahs play no part in it."

-E. P Sanders, The Historical Figure of Jesus, p. 241.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Errors & Anachronisms in the Talmud: Dating Darius

Recently, I have been listening to the OU's Nach Yomi. This is an audio series put forth by the Orthodox Union, where each day, a rabbi gives a summary and commentary on one chapter from the Prophets or the Writings.

Seder Olam Rabbah is a rabbinic midrash which the Talmud quotes repeatedly. The Talmud and rabbinic tradition after it treat this book as the authoritative timeline of the history of the world. You can find Seder Olam Rabbah translated to English freely available online, such as here.

So here is the interesting 5 minute segment where this Orthodox Rabbi admits an error in the rabbinic chronology.

Here is the audio file

Haggai begins with "In the second year of Darius the king," which Seder Olam Rabbah interprets as Darius, the son of Xerxes. BibArch gives us a pretty good timeline of the Persian rulers during this time.

According to history, the successor of Cyrus close enough to implement his reforms was Darius I Hystapses. Seder Olam rabbah places Darius as the son of Xerxes as the Darius who ruled when the temple was built. Here is the relevant section of Seder Olam.
(Ezra 1:1-3) “In year one of Cyrus, king of Persia, when the word of the Eternal through Jeremiah was fulfilled, did the Eternal enlighten the spirit of Cyrus, king of Persia. He had a public announcement made in all his kingdom and also by letter, as follows: “So says Cyrus, king of Persia: All kingdoms of the earth the Eternal gave to me, the God of Heaven, and he ordered me to build for Him a Temple in Jerusalem that is in Judah. Anyone among you from all his people, may his God be with him and may he return to Jerusalem in Judah.” (Ezra 1:5) “The heads of the families of Judah and Benjamin, the priests and Levites, supported everybody whose spirit was enlightened by God to return and build the Temple of the Eternal in Jerusalem.” (Ezra 2:64-65) “All the community together, 42,360. In addition, their male and female slaves, 7,337 …” These numbers are the totals; the sum of the details is only 29,450. Where are the missing 12,360? These are the returnees from the other tribes. (Ezra 3:3) “They prepared the altar on its foundation while they were afraid of the Gentiles …” (Ezra 3:7) “They gave money to the stone masons and metal workers, food, drink, and oil to the Sidonians and Tyrians to deliver to them cedars to the harbor at Jaffa, following the permit issued to them by Cyrus, king of Persia.” Cyrus ruled incomplete three years. (Ezra 4:6) “In the reign of Ahasuerus, at the start of his reign, they wrote accusations against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem.” (Ezra 4:24) “In the meantime, the work at the Temple in Jerusalem stopped and was idle until year two of Darius, king of Persia.”

(Esther 1:3) in the year 3 of his (Ahasuerus’s) reign he made a feast …” For four years, Esther was hidden in the fortress Susa. (Esther 2:16) “Esther was taken to the king, to his palace, in the tenth month, that is Tevet, in the seventh year of his reign.” For five years, Haman amassed riches for Mordecai. (Esther 3:7) “In the first month, that is Nisan, in the year 12 of king Ahasuerus, they threw the lot before Haman …” On the 13th of Nisan did Haman write letters (Esther 3:13) “to destroy and kill all Jews …” On the 15th of Nisan did Esther appear before the king. On the 16th of Nisan was Haman hanged. On the 23rd of Nisan did Mordecai write to countermand the missives of Haman. On the 13th of Adar (Esther 9:5) “did the Jews slay all their enemies,” (Esther 9:12) “and in the fortress Susa the Jews slew 500 men” and they hanged the ten Sons of Haman who had written incitements against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem. (Esther 9:11) “On that day, the king was informed of the number of the slain.” About the same time the next year it is said (Esther 9:29) “Queen Esther and the Jew Mordecai wrote…”

Lo, it says (Jer. 29:10): “When Babylon will have filled 70 years I shall remember you and fulfill My good word to return you to this place”; (Dan. 9:2) “I checked the books for the number of years, about which the word of the Eternal was to the prophet Jeremiah, that 70 years were fulfilled since the destruction of Jerusalem.” Israel was 52 years in the kingdom of the Chaldeans, then they were remembered and returned, three years in the reign of Cyrus, 14 of Ahasuerus, and in the second year of Darius the Temple was built. And so says Zachariah (Zach. 1:12): “The angel of the Eternal declaimed and said: O Eternal of Hosts, until when will you not have mercy on Jerusalem and the cities of Judah, about which You are angry now these 70 years.” The Temple was built for four years as it is said (Ezra 6:15): “This temple was finished at the third of Adar in the year six of the reign of Darius.” At the same time the next year did Ezra come up from Babylon and other deportees with him as it is said (Ezra 7:6-10): “He is Ezra, who came from Babylon, a scribe quick in the Torah of Moses that the Eternal, the God of Israel had given… There came from the Israelites and from the priests, Levites (singers, doorkeepers), and temple servants to Jerusalem, in the seventh year of king Artaxerxes. He arrived at Jerusalem in the fifth month of the king’s seventh year. Really, of the first of the first month was the begining of the voyage from Babylon, and on the first of the fifth month he came to Jerusalem since the hand of the Eternal was good over him. Because Ezra had concentrated on studying the Torah of the Eternal, to do and to teach laws and judicial rules in Israel.” He came to separate Israel from the foreign wives.
Seder Olam confuses the two Dariuses, giving us a Darius far too late in history to match the timeline given to us by Persian records and archaeology. I am not surprised to find such an error, but I am surprised that an Orthodox Rabbi working for the OU would admit that his holy and authoritative rabbinic tradition would make such a glaring mistake.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

West Morriston and the Kalam Argument

            The Kalam Cosmological Argument is perhaps the most widely discussed of the theistic arguments. With the revival brought about by William Lane Craig and its popularization brought about by the Internet in general and YouTube in particular, there is no shortage of objections. What seems most fascinating is the degree to which objectors to the argument, even in the professional philosophical literature, misunderstand the assumptions about the ontology of time upon which the argument is built. Specifically, Craig’s version of the Kalam argument assumes a relational or reductionist view of time, and yet so often the objectors assume (without argument) a Platonist view of time. One might try to repair these objections by giving an argument for a Platonist view. The problem is that the Kalam argument is robust enough that it can be adapted to almost any view of time’s ontology. In short, Platonism regarding time serves as no threat to the Kalam Cosmological Argument.
A Brief Overview of Kalam
            The Kalam Cosmological Argument can be stated quite simply with two premises and a conclusion.
(1)   If something begins to exist, it has a cause
(2)   Material reality began to exist
(3)   Therefore, material reality had an immaterial cause
This paper will focus on the properties of the first cause. According to their article in Blackwell, Craig and Sinclair state that the cause of material reality must be uncaused and beginningless. Given the impossibility of an infinite number of past events, this cause must be changeless and immaterial, since material things change incessantly at the microscopic level.[i] Craig and Sinclair also note that on a technical level, the Kalam argument only demonstrates that metric time had a beginning. If there were an undifferentiated time before creation, God would be temporally prior to creation, but there would be no moment one second, one hour, or one year before creation.
Discussions surrounding this argument often involve what it means for something to begin to exist, and whether the arguments against the sufficiency of the material world apply equally to God. If the past has to be finite, then how is it that God is not also finite in the past? A better way to rephrase the question is: “If the past is finite, how can God be eternal in the past? How can God be from everlasting to everlasting?”
Craig answers this through a careful definition of what it means to begin to exist. The definition goes something like: “A being b begins to exist at time t if and only if b exists at t, there is no time interval immediately prior to t at which b exists, and there is no state of affairs in which b exists timelessly.”[ii] This is to say that a being can be both eternal and finite in the past as long as there is a state of affairs when (or where) the being exists timelessly. When talking about the finitude or infinitude of the past, we need a definition that allows us to state coherently “time began to exist” and “time did not begin to exist.” Otherwise, the beginning of time becomes a matter of arbitrary stipulation rather than a matter of thorough philosophical investigation.
Morriston objects to this idea, yet does not state his assumptions explicitly. He argues that it is not possible for God to be apart from time “prior” to creation.[iii] He takes the view of Grunbaum and Swinburne stating that something does not begin to exist unless there is a prior time in which that thing does not exist.
A Brief Excursion Regarding Premise 2
            It is puzzling the way that some objectors are so quick to dismiss the philosophical arguments against the infinitude of the past. Take the argument that an actually infinite number of things cannot exist. Morriston, Oppy, and others suggest that if transfinite arithmetic violates intuition, then one should say “so much the worse for intuition.” This seriously underestimates the problem presented by Hilbert and others. The real problem is not that the existence of actual infinites would allow people to build weird and spooky hotels that defy intuition, but that it would allow us to perform, in reality, mathematically invalid operations. Inverse operations with infinite cardinals are every bit as invalid as division by zero or taking a base 1 logarithm. If one’s ontology allows for such operations, then that should serve as a reductio against any such ontology.
            Worse, the transfinite cardinals such as 0 seem far more problematic than set theorists are generally willing to admit. Consider Cantor’s formula for dealing with infinite cardinals. He stipulated that two sets A and B have the same cardinality if they can be put into a bijection. Think of a philosophy class where every student is sitting in a chair and every chair has exactly one student sitting on it. Cantor would say that the set of students and the set of chairs has the same cardinality. This comports without our intuitions about the size of groups, but it is not a complete description. In order to fit with our intuitions about size, we need to state that in order for the number of students and chairs to be equal, not only do we need to be able to pair one student to one chair so that there are no chairs or students left over, but we also need to be unable to pair our students and chairs so that each student is sitting in one chair apiece, and yet there are chairs left over. Transfinite sets fail this criterion, and hence the set of all natural numbers (for example) is not equal in size to anything, not even to itself. Set theorists might be able to ignore these problems and proceed anyway for utility’s sake. David Hilbert was a non-realist regarding mathematical objects, which may be why he allowed for mathematical discussion of these objects. The ontologist does not have such a luxury. Ontology has no place for such useful fictions, since the subject of ontology deals with what literally is the case.[iv]
Christ Rescued Us from Platonic Hell
The argument against actual infinites also serves as both an argument against a realist view of abstract objects, the B-theory of time on Christianity, and a formalized propositional view of omniscience. As a bonus, it can help us understand Christ’s ability to be both ignorant and omniscient. The issue of abstract objects has already been addressed at length by Craig, Azzouni, and others. The short answer to those who would object based on abstract objects is that it does not seem at all obvious that mathematical objects literally exist, or that our idea of truth be based on a view that forces us to believe that every noun in our vocabulary corresponds to an object in our ontology. Likewise, the existential quantifier seems more like a linguistic device than a symbol of ontological commitment.
On the B-theory of time, all moments in time are actualized. There is no objective passage of time, which means that there can be no such thing as a potentially infinite future. If one holds to a robust doctrine of immortality, one is committed to the view that humans will live with God in a temporal state for eternity. On presentism, this doctrine can be believed without commitment to actual infinites, since the number of events will be always finite and always growing. On the B-theory, one is committed to an actually infinite number of events.
Similarly, the argument against actual infinites requires us to think of divine omniscience in qualitative rather than quantitative terms. God’s omniscience is not an actually infinite collection of propositions. Instead, it can be thought of as a type of superthought, or super conscious state from which he can derive any true proposition. This may provide a helpful solution to the problem raised in Matthew 24, where Jesus says “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.” How can an omniscient being say such a thing? If we think of omniscience as a non-propositional thought, then we can suggest that in his incarnate state, Jesus used his human brain to think. If his human brain had access to that thought, but was not able to derive propositions from it, Jesus would possess both omniscience in a qualitative sense and yet simultaneously not know about that day or hour.[v]
Stopping Infinite Hammertime
Objections that an infinite future has the same problems as an infinite past also seem inadequate. Let’s use an illustration that Thomas Aquinas used to hammer out the details. Imagine an immortal smithy who uses a hammer for his work. Over time, the hammer wears out, and he throws it into a pile and then obtains a new hammer. Such a smithy who begins his work at and never stops would never have an actually infinite number of hammers in the pile. The number of worn out hammers will always be finite but growing without limit. A smithy who has been hammering for an eternal amount of time would in fact have an actually infinite pile of hammers. A thought experiment like this shows that the concept of an infinite future, given the A-theory of time (or presentism, for that matter) does not have the same potential difficulties as the concept of an infinite past. Even under presentism, the possibility of an infinite past at least presents the potential of an infinite accumulation effect. Such a difficulty cannot even in principle exist with an infinite future alone.
Platonism vs. Reductionism
            Imagine a world containing nothing but a void filled with a dark aether. The world undergoes no change – it is completely static. Can we say that such a world can have a passage of time? In other words, can there be such a thing as time without events? If not, that is the reductionist view, also known as the relational view. If so, that is the Platonist view, also known as substantivalism or absolutism with respect to time. Another way to ask this question is: “Which has logical precedence, time or events?” On the reductionist view, events are logically prior to the passage of time. Time is not an independently existing entity or structure. Given the impossibility of an infinite number of past events, and that an event requires a change in the state of affairs, a reductionist is committed to the fact that some state of affairs exists prior to the first event. Since time comes into existence at the first event, we cannot say that the initial state of affairs is temporally prior to the first event, but that it is logically prior to it. Since, on this view, time comes into existence, no reductionist can coherently state that a being b does not come into existence unless there is a prior time when b does not exist. Any argument against the coherence of the previous view is not an argument against Craig’s view per se but an objection to the reductionist view of time.
            Many objections to the Kalam argument implicitly do just that, yet fail to state it explicitly when they argue against Craig’s view of time.[vi] Wes Morriston holds this unstated assumption in his critiques of Craig’s argument. He writes “You might wonder how long he thinks God has existed.  Since God does not begin to exist, mustn’t he have existed forever?  And wouldn’t that be an actual infinite of the very sort that Craig says is impossible?” Morriston also objects that God’s choice to create a finite temporal world cannot be an eternal choice, since an eternal sufficient choice entails an eternal effect. Such arguments misunderstand the concept of “eternal” on a reductionist view of time. Instead, the word “eternal” in regards to the past should be defined as “an object o is past eternal if and only if o exists and o did not begin to exist.” Therefore, the word can mean either “temporal and infinite” or “timeless.” God is eternal in that he exists changelessly in that initial state of affairs. God is needed for creation because no deterministic being can turn a changeless state of affairs into a temporal state of affairs. An eternal sufficient cause can indeed produce a non-eternal effect if the cause can act arbitrarily. Any argument against this will either collapse into an argument against libertarian free will or into an argument against the reductionist view of time.
            It is easy to imagine a divine consciousness bringing time into existence on the reductionist view. In the initial state of affairs, God exists changelessly, holding one single, static state of consciousness. God acts, changing the state of affairs, and bringing time into being as an emergent phenomenon. In such a world, God exists timelessly apart from or “before” (in a highly metaphorical sense) time, since time supervenes on events, or on changes in the state of affairs. This is how “God’s life in time, so to speak, begins with creation. Subsequent to creation, God has a past and that past has a beginning, since it began with the creation of time and the universe.”
Two Ships Passing in the Night
            Suppose that the objector is not bothered by any of this. The objector holds to a Platonist view of time and argues that Craig’s view of God and time is therefore incoherent. How might the defender of Kalam respond to such an accusation?
            It does seem that the idea of bringing time into existence is, or at least might be, incoherent on the Platonist view. Indeed, it is difficult for the temporal Platonist to think of any event or act as logically prior to time. All acts require time, and on the Platonist view, time is the container within which events occur. The creation of time, if it is anything, is an event. On reductionism, the creation of time is unproblematic, since time is a byproduct of events. On Platonism, the creation of time is still an event, yet time is logically prior to all events. In order to create time, time has to already exist, and so the creation of time on temporal Platonism seems incoherent. Worse, the beginning of time would itself be an event, meaning that on temporal Platonism, time has to precede time, giving us an insoluble bootstrapping problem. It seems that this is the real objection coming from the likes of Morriston and others. Objectors who take this line of argumentation fail to state that they are rejecting a reductionist view of time, and hence, their discussions with defenders such as Craig involve both sides talking past one another.
The Kalam Argument on a Platonist View
            The Platonist view of time has numerous problems on its own, which themselves might shut down any temporal Platonist objections to this argument. One of them concerns the ordinary view of time. Physical time is generally defined in terms of events. One second, for example is currently defined by the International System of Units as 9,192,631,770 transitions within a cesium atom, a reductionist definition if I ever heard one. One who objects to Kalam from a temporal Platonist view must deny that this is what time really is, or at least accept that time’s metric is reductionist, even if time is not. There are still potential problems with an actually infinite past, such as an infinite regress of nested temporal intervals, even if they do not have a metric. However, this is more of a problem for temporal Platonism than it is for the temporal Platonist view of the Kalam argument.
Can a temporal Platonist use the Kalam argument? It seems so, as long as the argument is modified slightly. The premises and conclusion are fine, but we need to modify the definition of beginning to exist. We can say that on temporal Platonism, an object o begins to exist at time t if and only if o exists at t and there is no time immediately prior to t that t exists. The idea of being timeless apart from time does not seem coherent on temporal Platonism unless one wants to abandon presentism and fall right into the jaws either of the problems with the B-theory or McTaggert’s Paradox if one wants to adopt something like the growing block view. Because of the bootstrapping problem, temporal Platonism will require time that is eternal in both directions, meaning that an argument for the finitude of the past will not establish that the past is finite, but only that the number of past events is finite. One can argue, as Richard Swinburne does, that time is undifferentiated without a metric. Without events, an infinite past does not entail an infinite number of minutes or hours. Like divine omniscience, time is qualitatively infinite without being composed of an infinite number of parts, or containing an infinite number of events.
            On a temporal Platonist view, one can say that God exists temporally prior to the material world. Since there cannot be an infinite number of past events, this means that there is some first event. If all causes are temporally prior to their effects, this does no damage to the Kalam argument. One can just say that God’s cause of the universe coming into existence is the first event, and the origin of the universe is perhaps the second event. One might object that on this view, why is it that God did not create the universe sooner? This argument does not help the objector because it applies to any view which contains a Platonist view of time and a finite number of past events. Why did the first event not happen sooner? This is not an objection to the Kalam argument, but an objection to temporal Platonism, and I will leave it to the temporal Platonist to answer it. One might wonder why we need to posit God on such a view, and the answer is that without a being who possesses libertarian free will, it seems impossible to connect an infinite past that lacks events with a future that contains events. No impersonal set of conditions can do this, since no deterministic entity can be entirely quiescent and then begin to change. Simple indeterminism will also not work, since the only candidates we have for random events are decaying particles and fluctuations in the quantum vacuum. Both of them are constantly in a state of flux, and governed by probability relative to metric-based time.
            The reductionist-Platonist distinction is one of the most essential issues to understanding Craig’s version of the Kalam Cosmological Argument. If one wants to object to this first cause argument, the objector will need to be more explicit as to whether the Platonist or reductionist view of time is being assumed in the objection. Furthermore, the objector should be giving an objection that is not simply reducible to a criticism of the other position. Most Calvinist criticisms of Molinism are not really attacks on the specific doctrine of Molinism, but are instead arguments against libertarian free will. If the Calvinist wants to give such arguments, that is fine, but let us be upfront in what the Calvinist is critiquing.
            Hopefully, the preceding article was able to shine some light on issues surrounding the Kalam Cosmological Argument. The key is that those who object to Craig’s model of the Kalam argument need to state that either his view fails even under a reductionist view of time and definition of coming into being, or show that both the Platonist view of time is correct and that the temporal Platonist version of the Kalam argument also fails. Unless and until the objector does that, I think that Craig’s view is the more plausible one.

[i] William Lane Craig and J. P. Moreland, eds., The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology (West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012), 192.
[ii] Paraphrased, but it gets the idea.
[iii] Wes Morriston, “Must the Beginning of the Universe Have a Personal Cause?: A Critical Examination of the Kalam Cosmological Argument,” Faith and Philosophy (vol. 17, No. 2, April 2000) 151.
[iv] A similar problem arises regarding the Riemann Zeta Function. This function is supposed to give us a solution to converging sequences of fractions such as ((1/2)+(1/4)+(1/9)+(1/16). . .) Riemann then used complex analysis to extend this function even to divergent sequences. This leads to odd results, implying that (1 + 2 + 3 + 4. . . = -1/12) and also that (1 + 4 + 9 + 16. . .= 0) The Riemann Zeta Function is a very useful tool in mathematics, but it is absurd to think that these divergent sequences literally have these sums.
[v] This view of divine omniscience also might help us escape from problems that plagued Kurt Gödel and Alan Turing. Consider the proposition B: God does not believe B. One can rework the proposition to remove all direct self-reference and all indexicals, as Gödel did in his incompleteness theorem, and still wind up with a paradox. If God believes the statement, he believes a falsehood. If he does not believe the statement, he lacks a belief in a true proposition. A non-propositional account of omniscience may be of help here.
[vi] Kant himself may have failed to appreciate this distinction. In his Critique of Pure Reason, the first antinomy assumes that time is a series of differing conditions. This assumes a reductionist view of time, since temporal Platonism can contain different times with the same conditions. Kant’s antithesis that “a beginning is an existence which is preceded by a time in which the thing does not exist” itself assumes a Platonist view of time, since a reductionist account of time can make perfect sense of time beginning to exist.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Brother Nathanael and Jews for Judaism

I am ambivalent toward Brother Nathanael. I am glad that he came to believe in Jesus, but I shake my head at his fanatical anti-Semitism. I suppose it comes with the territory since covenantal theology (where the Church is now Israel) is inherently anti-Semitic. I wish that more Christians would be less tolerant of such a theology.

I suppose I would agree with him more if he would just replace "Jews" and "Judaism" with "Progressives" and "Cultural Progressivism." Instead, Brother Nathanael cherry picks the Jews out of the Progressives and blames problems in the Western world on the Jews while ignoring non-Jewish threats.

That said, I think he gives a pretty good critique of Jews for Judaism.

I especially like when he calls Julius Ciss a "pompous ass" after Ciss deliberately misquotes Matthew. Nathanael also brings up a good point about the rabbis' own treatment of Messianic prophecy. They have to re-interpret prophecies like Daniel's so that some future person is still eligible for the role.

They also have to ignore that Jews are no longer able to prove tribal lineage. The most we can do is guess based on tradition regarding who is a Kohen or a Levi, or who descends from David. Even DNA only shows that people who claim to be from the Kohen line are in fact related. It does not prove that they are Kohenim. Only the temple records prove that (as mentioned by Josephus in Contra Apion), and those temple records are gone forever. I trust that when Jesus returns, he, being God, will be able to restore the knowledge of those records.

His "fellowship with demons" line is a bit harsh. While Jews have led the destruction of Western society through implementing cultural progressivism, we have to draw a distinction between Jews and Judaism. Orthodox Rabbinic Judaism is not culturally progressive, and culturally progressive Jews are far from being theologically orthodox. Ben Shapiro draws a good distinction here.

It's the progressives who are destroying Western culture, not Jews. Most religious Jews aren't progressives. Since Jews comprise about 2% of the American population, it should be obvious that the overwhelming majority of progressives aren't Jews.