Finding Faith Through Proof
Please forgive any transgressions that I may make in asking this question. I do not want to appear heretical or offensive to any parties. While my experience within Judaism has been that blind faith is discouraged and that debate is necessary to foster true belief, I also recognize that this topic is delicate. I welcome and appreciate any corrections or guidance on how I might improve on these improprieties.
I have been invited into a Jewish study group but am hesitant to claim a spot while I am struggling with the foundation of my faith. This infirmity regarding something deeply axiomatic to Judaism feels shameful and I am reticent to share these thoughts with others in my community. I have been focusing on independent study to alleviate these feelings and prove to myself the existence of G-d, but I struggle to verbalize to others how I know of His existence in a substantial way, and it feels like a logical gap.
I feel a calling toward spirituality; a draw to cleave to G-d and acquire goodness. This is the simplest proof I can provide to myself, that I have this inclination toward intellect that supersedes matters of physicality. But lately, this hasn’t felt as satisfying a proof as it has in the past. I wonder if it isn’t just human nature, learned through thousands of years of evolution as a community-based creature, that makes me want to give and contribute to the good of the whole and achieve something beyond my individual powers. I wonder at the creation of our universe and how far man has come in our understanding of it and how many more physical phenomena that were once credited to G-d we will eventually attribute to science. It may be the state of the world, but I crave the comfort of faith that feels perpetually out of reach.
Of the proofs I have seen, most fall into four categories: traditional, philosophical, scientific, or historical. I studied Rene Descartes proof of G-d, where I cannot trust my senses that tell me that I exist, because those can be distorted. Rather, I know that I exist because even if my senses are to be manipulated, there must be a “me” to manipulate. Now that my existence is established, I know I did not create myself, therefore something external must have created me and that line can be traced back to what must be an ultimate creator. But my faculties are finite, so who is to say that I haven’t also been manipulated to forget the act of creating myself or my capabilities to create any other thing? If some external force is manipulating me, who is to say that there are not multiple external forces capable of orchestrating my perception? This argument, as it was presented to me, feels limited and was not a satisfactory form of proof.
Similarly, the proof from Maimonides that there are three cases for the universe seems inconclusive in the face of modern science. The idea poised to me was that either a.) everything in this universe exists eternally and is necessary, b.) nothing in this universe exists eternally and nothing is necessary, or c.) that some things in this universe exist eternally and are necessary while other things are not. The first case can be argued insofar that while we witness things coming into and leaving existence all the time, science indicates to us that matter cannot be created or destroyed, and therefore nothing can truly be created or ultimately destroyed, just organized differently in each iteration. Conversely, we have since discovered the vacuous nature of space and the presence of black holes, where matter enters and assumes a form that we do not understand. But in this case, couldn’t the universe become engulfed in these chasms of nothingness and result in the second condition? The third condition cannot be selected by the process of elimination then.
Scientific proofs seem fallible as well due to the point I touched on briefly above: just because a scientific principle surpasses human understanding now does not mean it always will. We can quantify many natural occurrences that were once attributed to miracles and acts of G-d. And while I don’t subscribe to the theory that science cannot operate in conjunction with G-d, simply listing subjects that we cannot explain contemporaneously does not feel like a solid foundation for proving the existence of an eternal being.
Most historical proofs I have read exceed my limited understanding, particularly the predictions made by Moshe that relate to the destruction of the First and Second Temple. Without the interpretation of historians or rabbinical figures, I have struggled to form any concrete ideas on my own. Regardless of the content, how do we know that these prophecies have not been altered over generations of oral tradition to better suit what we observed throughout history? Do we have a physical copy of these prophecies that can be proven to predate the events in question?
I have been willfully avoiding the traditional proof, as it is the most compelling proof I have encountered but also feels the most difficult to discuss tactfully. The example I was given was the Jews’ exodus from Egypt. When Moshe began prophesizing the impending liberation of the Jews, many members of the community were skeptical. As he engendered each of the ten plagues, each defying replication or explanation beyond the divine, more Jews began to believe that Moshe was a messenger of G-d. Any lingering doubts were ultimately assuaged when G-d spoke to the Jewish nation at Mt Sinai. Moshe’s status as a prophet was confirmed when the same connection to G-d was shared by all three million Jews present. The fact that depictions of these events remained consistent over such vast swaths of time and distance would indicate that the events were witnessed and held tremendous personal significance to those present. Only a shared experience would have the power to remain steadfast across so many people. Surely a fabricated event would have been quashed by the community and a mere story would not have survived thousands of years without branching and undergoing fundamental changes.
At this point, I would like to request your patience as I discuss my sources of uncertainty. My religious education is limited, please forgive my ignorance in this matter. My speculation stems from a lack of historical knowledge and the inability to verify a history that spans millennia. How do we know that the Jews that disseminated the oral Torah were not recruited after the creation of the Torah, including the events at Mt Sinai? How do we know that the events of the Torah were not fabricated and then taught to a growing community as history? While there are certainly Egyptian records of slavery during this period, how do we know that the liberated slaves are not an unrelated nation whose history coincidentally aligns with the narrative in the Torah?
I understand that the nature of G-d and faith do not always lend themselves well to explanation. My faith in G-d is something that cannot be logically reasoned in most circumstances; I know G-d exists the same way I know I love my family, even though there is no quantifiable way to demonstrate either. My nature is stubborn, though, and is no longer satisfied with this line of explanation. I listed several proofs as examples of the types of doubts that arise within me, but I am not requesting that each of my doubts be mitigated. Even one proof that satisfies me logically would put me at ease and help to reaffirm my belief. If you have any recommendations for resources that I might explore further, I would appreciate any direction. Thank you for taking the time to read my reasoning, arduous as it is, and have a wonderful day.