By the Grace of G-d, 25 Iyar, 5719 , Brooklyn
Mr. Yitzchak Damiel,
Greetings and Blessings!
I received your letter along with the question from the young men’s and women’s groups. Please extend to them apologies for the delayed response, which was due to numerous preoccupations — especially prior to and following Pesach.
Of course, their question itself is impossible to properly answer in a letter, and I am therefore compelled to restrict my response to a few main points. But I hope that you will be able to elaborate on several of the points in my letter, based on explanations from Torah and, particularly, works of Chassidut.
It goes without saying that if you find instances or points in my letter to be insufficiently explained, I stand ready to answer further questions or even difficulties and contradictions, and I will endeavor to answer them to the best of my knowledge.
In response to the question:
“Is there a way that we, as skeptics, can be convinced of the truth of G-d’s existence — and with a clarity that leaves no doubt or even possibility of doubt?”
In general, there are questions that appear simple and at first glance seem to deal with simple issues; and for this reason they are worded simply using common terms. Nevertheless, it is specifically these questions that require great care and precise explanation of their expressions. This is particularly true concerning a question that has been discussed back and forth for hundreds and thousands of years, and among diverse and broad circles that certainly had different intentions regarding the question and its details. Therefore, the proper procedure is that the person presenting a question such as this must explain themselves and define the terms that he is using.
Similarly regarding this question which asks for proof of the truth of the existence of G-d. The concept of “existence,” as well as what constitutes “proof” of an already existing entity, are terms whose meanings have become blurred by their extensive usage — from young children up to researchers who are extremely meticulous in every detail. [Your groups, however,] did not explain their intention in this regard.
To further explain: With respect to a young child, it could be argued that his idea of “existence” and “proof of existence” only applies to something that he can touch with his hands. And a regarding a blind person, for example, there is no such concept as colors. He is completely reliant on the report of someone else who tells him that they see colors and shades. On a simpler level, “everyone” is in complete and total agreement that for every action there must be a cause and a source. Thus, seeing things occurring serves as solid proof that there is a “power” at work, although it is not a “direct” proof and there seemingly remains room for doubt. A clear example of this is electricity. A person is a being with senses – his sense of sight confirms the existence of colors, his sense of hearing confirms the existence of sound, etc. — and they are considered complete and direct proofs. And while no sense allows a person to “see” electricity, one can perceive the effects it causes: making a wire glow or moving the [needle on a] electric meter, and the like. As a result, a person decides that the power called “electricity” exists — despite having never seen it — and that it is the reason and cause for the aforementioned events. In fact, this is considered definitive proof. The same logic applies to magnetic power, etc., but I chose the example of electricity since its existence is completely accepted beyond the shadow of a doubt.
Moreover, on an even lower level, it has become accepted as an absolute truth – due to the widespread believe that every effect has a cause — that even an effect that “defies” logic has a cause. For example, the “existence” of the force of gravity, the proof for which is the way physical entities move — [i.e.,] seeing no visible cause for their movements we accept the existence of the force of gravity. And even though the effect is caused from a great distance away and without an intermediary, the intellect accepts it because the idea has been imbued within people since childhood and mentioned often in various textbooks, until it is considered an “obvious” concept that is completely beyond the shadow of a doubt and closed to discussion. [Consider] the current effort to attribute the force of gravity to a “refined” matter called “ether”. [The theory] necessitates that [ether] posses so many opposing and conflicting characteristics that the theory is even more discounted than the possibility of a distant force exerting an impact [on something else] without anything connecting the two – if there could be something more absurd than that.
I do not know in which areas of science the questioners are occupied, or whether they are involved in the so-called “Exact Sciences.” However, it is specifically these sciences which recently produced another novel concept that completely defies intellect. Nevertheless, scholars of the Exact Sciences have accepted it as a fact and a [real] phenomenon, and it is practically an accepted truth among the masses — despite being totally incomprehensible. The concept [I am referring to is the notion] that matter is merely a specific configuration of energy and it is possible to change matter into energy and energy into matter – which is entirely illogical. However, [it has gained acceptance because] there were phenomena that had no explanation and if this concept is accepted they can be explained. This is what is commonly considered as scientific evidence that enjoys widespread acceptance as completely incontrovertible clear proof – as in the wording of the aforementioned question — although according to reason it is entirely absurd.
* * *
Since their question lacked a definition of what is acceptable as “clear evidence of the truth of G-d’s existence that is beyond the shadow of a doubt, etc.,” I assume that they will accept the same manner of evidence that they accept regarding their daily conduct.
Starting from this point, there is of course a proof of the Creator’s existence, and in fact several proofs. But, as mentioned, there can be no opposition to them if they are not intellectually reasonable or even oppose rationality.
For, as said [previously], it is accepted among intelligent, thinking people who contemplate what is occurring around them, that in order to “explain” phenomena, intellect is absolutely not the determining factor.
The way of proving this is similar to the proofs used in the Exact Sciences, and even more so to the proofs that determine the day to day lives of each and every one of us:
Anyone who considers their actions while sitting at home, walking around, lying down, or rising, will admit – without shame — that no one demands from themselves that they scrutinize the basis of their every action or conduct. Rather, they accept the testimony of others who have already investigated the matter. Only where there is concern that the testimony might be falsified, or that the witness was influenced by either external or internal factors, or that the witness was not in his right mind and has a distorted grasp of the matter, etc., is more testimony demanded. And the greater the number of witnesses, and the more diverse their experiences and the circles with which they are connected – which decreases the chances of any error or conspiracy, etc. — the more the proof becomes strengthened as definitive scientific evidence. Based on this premise, individuals and the general [population] do various things — regular, daily actions — fully confident that the matter is “true and certain.”
The same holds true in our case.
[G-d’s] giving the Torah on Mount Sinai has been authenticated throughout the generations as an event that occurred before an audience of 600,000 men, besides the children. And if we are to include the women and men over 60, etc., [then there were actually] millions of individuals [in attendance] who left Egypt and “they alone saw with their own eyes.” This was not a testimony limited to single prophet, dreamer of dreams, or even a small group of people. [Rather,] it was testimony handed down from father to son through the generations, and all admit that there was no interruption in this tradition from then until today, and that the number of firsthand witnesses was no less than 600,000 people whose “views are not the same as one another, etc.” Even after [the Jews] were spread throughout the four corners of the world, the various accounts of this historical event are consistent in all their details. Is there any testimony that is more trustworthy and accurate?
The second method of proof — also based on the above principle — is that the sight of events, phenomena, and their outcomes establishes our approach, even when there is a concern [it might lead to] loss or harm, etc. Thus, when encountering something organized that includes many orderly parts that interact in a highly coordinated fashion where no one part has dominance over another, we conclude with total certainty that there is an outside force at work which connects and unifies all the parts. And the very fact that this power connects and unifies all the parts serves as proof that it is greater and more powerful than they are, dominating over them. An example of this is when we enter a factory that is operating entirely automatically, with no one in sight. No one would think — and there would be no argument on this — that there is no master engineer who sees the totality of every machine and every part in his mind, is fully in control over them, and is hooking them up to each other and to the center of operations, etc. On the contrary, the longer there is no human intervention in the mentioned factory and the more things run automatically, serves as even greater testament to the wondrous talents of the engineer.
If this is true for a factory, which contains hundreds or thousands or even tens of thousands of parts, then certainly when one contemplates our world: a piece of wood or stone, or plants and animals. And superfluous to mention the constitution of the human body, as in the verse, “from my own flesh I perceive G-d”; especially according to the current scientific explanations that everything is comprised of billions of atoms, and every atom is comprised of even smaller parts. Seemingly, there should have been mass confusion and disorder. Instead, we find incredible organization and integration between the smaller parts, the bigger parts, and the biggest parts, as well as harmony between the “small world” (microcosm, i.e., man) and the “large world” (macrocosm, i.e., the universe) etc., etc. It is therefore clear beyond any shadow of doubt that there is an “Engineer” who is responsible for everything. Of course, I am not oblivious to the known idiom that everything is conducted according to “the laws of nature,” but I felt it was unnecessary to emphasize that this is an expression which offers nothing in terms of an explanation. Rather, it is a convenient description of the current state of affairs — i.e., that all aspects of nature are orchestrated in a specific set order. However, to say that “the law of nature” is an independent entity onto itself, and that it controls all of nature, and that there exists thousands of such entities – corresponding to the number of “laws of nature” — is the greatest absurdity; and there are none among the scientific community involved in this subject who will agree with this. The aforementioned term, as mentioned, is merely a convenient and brief expression that describes the state of things and relieves the need to constantly repeat oneself with lengthy descriptions of the seemingly simple things that are occurring. It is, however quite obvious that it offers no explanation at all.
* * *
Regarding the main issue at hand: As was mentioned, I understand that students want a proof according to which they can actually and practically live their lives, and [in fact] the aforementioned proof is far stronger than any of the proofs and evidence according to which they currently conduct their daily lives. [Moreover,] what proof could be more straightforward than the fact that before going to sleep at night they prepare everything they will need in the morning, despite the fact that there is no intellectual reason to assume that tomorrow the sun will rise again and that everything in nature will run just as it day yesterday and the day before. Nevertheless, since the world has been following the same pattern for many days and years, they are confident that these “laws” will continue tomorrow and the next day. This “confidence” serves as the basis for the effort and great exertion they make in preparation for tomorrow morning, despite there being absolutely no basis for such behavior according to logic – unless [of course] the world has a Master.
As mentioned above, everything that has been said until now requires more elaboration and further explanation of some of the details. However, I hope that [what has been written] is sufficient and provides enough material to reflect and conclude that those who say we must search for proofs of the Creator’s existence, but the creation itself is a fact beyond a doubt, are mistaken. For the contrary is true: The most current scientific findings concerning the existence of created matter and how best to “describe” it are subject to very strong doubts; especially now, when the discrepancies between research findings across several fields are on the rise. Furthermore, this is in addition to the greatest, most important and fundamental scientific doubt: Who can determine whether or not impressions made upon the eyes, ears, or the mind in general have any connection with something that lies beyond human senses and intellect? Such is not the case concerning the Creator, or in other words, the Cause who caused and arranged the entire creation – concerning Whom it makes no difference whether there is other actual existence outside of Him or just senses detecting what seems to be another existence. For the foremost logical deduction of the common man – according to which he lives his entire life – is that every known existence in his world was caused by something, either internally or externally.
Another point I need to add: Upon hearing a “simple” proof, it is a common and natural human reaction to struggle with its acceptance due to its simplicity. However, I hope that such is not the case among these questioners, for this hesitation is not based on the intellect and it also exerts no influence on one’s actual conduct, as can be clearly seen. [In fact,] one of the core principles of our belief in the Creator of the world and its Guide, and the Mount Sinai experience where we received the Torah and its mitzvot, is that “the essential thing is the deed.”
I look forward to hearing reactions to all of the above; and as mentioned in my included letter, I hope [the questioners] will feel entirely free to express their opinions, even if they disagree with what was written above.
With esteem and blessing.
1. Printed in Likutei Sichot — Vol. 11, p. 273, and completed according to a secretariat copy.
2. Concerning this issue, see Igrot Kodesh — Vol. 18, #6898, #6959, and #6969.
3. While the idea of a distance force exerting an impact without an intermediary is generally difficult to accept, we see that the concept of gravity is widespread, and with greater conviction than some of the theories being offered for natural phenomena.
4. I.e., no two people think alike. And yet they all stated the same testimony concerning what happened at Mount Sinai.
5. The same methods of proving matters that the students accept in their daily lives will be acceptable for the purposes of this discussion on proving the existence of G-d.
6. How can one know for sure that what his senses detect is accurate and constitutes the definitive truth of the world?
7. The commandments.