[I'm pulled into ever more minutia-discussions on Kuzari]
This is more fallout from the continuing email exchange I have been having with Rabbi Dovid Gottlieb concerning my post on the Kuzari Principle. I have argued that Gottlieb needs to do a better job of establishing the possibility that divine-human interactions take place. Gottlieb disagrees.
Originally, I had asked him “Why do we think that it even makes sense to conceive of immortal, super-beings?” I asked this question because he began his syllogism explaining Kuzari on the premise, "Let E be a possible event...." The word "possible" is Gottlieb's, not mine. For the Sinai revelation to work as E, a possible event, the God of Exodus must exist and that God must be able to make himself perceptible to people.
Now, we can think of other conditions that must be possible before Sinai can be possible, but I want to stop with the two conditions I just stated. I had originally asked Gottlieb about the first condition, reasons for thinking God exists, but here I want to spend time considering the second condition, reasons for thinking that God and humans can have actual interactions with each other.
At first, Gottlieb avoided answering my question by misconstruing my request as a demand that he "prove" the possibility of such an event. But, no, I had asked that he establish the possibility, not prove it.
I suspect Gottlieb knows it is no simple matter to establish the possibility that divine beings communicate and interact with real humans. To illustrate, let’s claim that “It’s possible that divine being DB has shaken hands with Fred.” Compare this claim with four others:
(1) “It’s possible that human being HB has shaken hands with Fred.”Do we allow that all five claims are equally possible? Or do we balk and suggest that the degree of possibility will be influenced by (a) conditions such as historical time, geographical space, and available technology; (b) our prior knowledge and assumptions about the kinds of entities named as divine, human, grizzly bear, color, and imaginary; and (c) our understanding of the speaking intent of the claimants and the modality of the claims [e.g., persuasive or entertainment intent; factual or figurative mode]?
(2) “It’s possible that grizzly bear GB has shaken hands with Fred.”
(3) “It’s possible that the color green has shaken hands with Fred.”
(4) “It’s possible that imaginary character IC has shaken hands with Fred.”
Using these three criteria, we can propose reasonable standards of impossibility:
Claim (1) will be impossible if HB and Fred don’t live at the same time and never come across one another.But what makes the divine-human interaction claim impossible? Well, for one thing we cannot use the question of the divinities’ existence or non-existence because the claim already presupposes existence and because we want to separate the category “divinity” from the category of “imaginary character IC.” Nothing seems to make the claim impossible.
Claim (2) will be impossible for the same reason as claim (1).
Claim (3) will be impossible if the claim is intended as a straightforward, factual statement.
Claim (4) will be impossible if the claim is intended as a straightforward, factual statement and Fred refers to a real human being.
Before the religious among us rejoice too much, I remind everyone that we can achieve an equally possible and also-unfalsifiable result by using the name of any divinity or mythical being: divine-human interaction, God-human interaction, mermaid-human interaction, Ra-human interaction, Odin-human interaction, centaur-human interaction, and so on. These types of interaction are all possible and all unfalsifiable.
I had asked Gottlieb “Why do we think that it even makes sense to conceive of immortal, super-beings?” I could now just as well ask “Why do we think that it makes sense to conceive of mermaids and centaurs?” At one time, good reasons may have included explanation, fun, or for sake of tradition. Today, however, the questions are whether these reasons still hold and whether other conceptions offer better reasons.
The larger point is that
We do not automatically grant the existence of gods--we do not and we should not. Anyone who wants to place "God" in the context of reality will have to address the questions of why posit a god at all and why posit this or that version of a god.
To put the point another way: It is becoming ever less necessary to take seriously the supernatural substance of religions.