After yesterday's post on my emails with Rabbi Dovid Gottlieb, I want to tie up that discussion with some final reflections.
- Gottlieb initially said that I had not engaged the empirical support of his argument. However, I believe that anyone who reads yesterday's post will see that I carefully and conclusively show how his argument actually brings in no empirical support at all. His mantra was, and remains, "show me a false NET." He continues to demand evidence (i.e., a false NET) but points to none himself. He is therefore engaging in apologetics rather than establishing a positive case.
- Gottlieb challenges others to show him documented "real" false NET events. He reasons that if there are no such false NETs, then we are left with only a hypothesis that NETs can be false--only a hypothesis, not a case based on direct evidence. The hypothesis frame is important to Gottlieb because he claims that his "empirically-based" support for Kuzari trumps the hypothesis of false NETs, but Gottlieb is actually incorrect on many levels here. First, as I have already shown, his support for Kuzari is anything but empirically-based. Second, we cannot base a belief in Sinai's truth on whether we can find sufficiently parallel real or fictional events. We can base such a belief on physical evidence, on interpretation of historical data, on the authority of certain figures or certain texts--but the presumed uniqueness of the Sinai story is not a criterion of its accuracy or truth. Third, the tactic to limit matters to the existence of NETs is nothing short of evasion: the case against Kuzari is based on a range of empirical data. Yesterday, I explicitly identified the main categories of this data. The existence or non-existence of NETs has little-to-no bearing on Kuzari's serious problems in logic, on the lack of physical evidence for Sinai, or on the evidence we do have concerning the history and composition of the Torah.
- One item getting lost in the discussion and its too-loose terminology is that we cannot automatically grant that Sinai itself is true or even a NET event. Without presuming that Sinai is either true or false, we see that NET events are quite subjective and slippery. What defines a "nation"? What defines "witness"? How do we assess the nature and level of belief in "The story was in fact believed to be true? I am not asking trivial questions of semantics but serious questions of philosophical and empirical grounding. These serious questions have not to date been answered satisfactorily, as far as I know.
- Gottlieb criticizes my argument for being hypothetical, which is to say it consists of a "plausible" scenario that is not, in fact, real. This is puzzling for two reasons. One, my argument has a much wider scope than the two examples I use as Sinai parallels. Indeed, as I have said, "It does not take real cases of false NETs to defeat [Kuzari] because it's already a flawed principle!" Two, Gottlieb's argument in support of Kuzari is itself hypothetical. I give a hypothesis as to how the Sinai story developed, and that hypothesis is one part of my overall argument. Gottlieb gives another hypothesis about Sinai: that what it reports is true and was later recorded by some combination of witnesses and recorders. We are both dealing with the hypothetical, and what we are trying to do is come up with a sensible way to determine which hypothesis is better suited to the truth.
Another big data point to keep in mind is that outside of the Torah's report of Sinai, there is no positive case for the event. To my knowledge, we have no reason to believe Sinai actually happened other than the Torah's ambiguous description of an event. As thinkers, we have a responsibility to ask what sorts of evidence might reasonably have been produced from the Sinai event in the Torah. For instance, should we expect that other nations might have seen something from afar and reported it? If we say "no" in this case, then perhaps we need to address the problem of Sinai's being an enclosed event. Kuzari downplays other revelations as being "semi-private," yet the Sinai revelation is private in its own way because only the one group has received the revelation. Had Israel, Sinai, and the Amalekites all experienced the same revelation and recorded it, then we would have strong evidence of a most momentous event in human history.