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A Question of Faith: An Atheist and a Rabbi Debate the Existence of God Paperback – May 1, 1994
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Shor states, "the atheist can reply, 'Why can't EVERYTHING be contingent? Maybe the universe is just a brute fact. Why does the universe have to be intelligible?' This is one of the apparent stalemates between the theist and the atheist." (Pg. 35) Later, he asks, "Bill, how do you know all of these wonderful characteristics of God? How do you know that He (She or It) is persuasive rather than coercive?; that He grows and develops in process with the world?; that He lures the good?; that He has a divine memiory? an eternal memory? How do you know all the attributes you give Him?" (Pg. 84-85)
Kaufman replies, "you make your claim of nihilism ... dogmatically. How do you KNOW there is no meaning in the universe other than human meaning? Since religion is such a pervasive element of human culture, wouldn't it be odd to find that there is nothing to it and those who believe in it are just plain stupid or credulous?" (Pg. 92)
Shor asserts, "I assume that the universe is the result of chance, and you assume that it is the result of God. Why do I consider my assumption more valid than yours? First, I assume that the universe was created by 'nothing.' You find it necessary to postulate an inventor with an infinitely complex mind and, to believe the modern theologians, with an ethic and a conscience. My 'nothing' is so much simpler that it can hardly be called an assumption." (Pg. 126-127)
Kaufman says, "I agree that a law of nature is simpler than a Supreme Being, but a law of nature is NOT an explanation of the universe. A law of nature is a description of the universe, which cries out for an explanation." (Pg. 156) He adds, "I know nothing about God. I BELIEVE that God exists because, at present, I believe the religious hypothesis (i.e., God) is the best explanation of the universe." (Pg. 164)
Although neither convinces the other, this is a very interesting and broad-ranging debate, that will be of interest to anyone concerned with the philosophy of religion (and certainly not just those of the Jewish persuasion!).
Absurd as it may seem, that is approximately the premise of "A Question of Faith." Notwithstanding the title, the two authors, an atheist, Morton Shor, and a rabbi, William Kaufman, debate faith and the existence of God using criteria of science, logic and "independently verifiable evidence." They are discussing an issue of belief using rationality as the benchmark. It should be no great surprise, that the atheist is much more convincing using these tools, for the rabbi can only raise non-provable philosophic and religious arguments which have no standing in a scientific debate. So in the end the rabbi, who inexplicably has accepted rules which have no bearing on issues of faith, must concede that the atheist may have some right on his side. The atheist has no need to concede anything, and he does not do so.
The concept of the book makes little sense if the goal is to illuminate the issue, nor should it be expected that the two authors would have common ground for any reasonable discussion. They are playing basketball to decide the chess championship.
Atheists will love this book. The religious will not.