The Freedom to Choose Our Starting Point

This is largely based on Rabbi Chaim Goldberg's course called Freedom to Choose....

Were We Created, or Did We Arise "Naturally"?

There is only one answer to this question. From within the world the arguments for either side are of equal strength. Infact the arguments for "Arising Naturally", may be stronger because creating a universe out of nothing seems to violate the law of identity. "Nothing" cannot be equal to "something".

Richard Dawkins argued that we arose "naturally":

Clinton Richard Dawkins FRS FRSL (born 26 March 1941) is an English ethologist, evolutionary biologist and author. He is an emeritus fellow of New College, Oxford, and was the University of Oxford's Professor for Public Understanding of Science from 1995 until 2008.

Dawkins wrote that The God Delusion contains four "consciousness-raising" messages:
  1. Atheists can be happy, balanced, moral, and intellectually fulfilled.
  2. Natural selection and similar scientific theories are superior to a "God hypothesis"-the illusion of intelligent design-in explaining the living world and the cosmos.
  3. Children should not be labelled by their parents' religion. Terms like "Catholic child" or "Muslim child" should make people cringe.
  4. Atheists should be proud, not apologetic, because atheism is evidence of a healthy, independent mind.[4]

Mr. Dawkins also wrote this at the end of an article in The Guardian in support of having all children read the King James Bible:

Whatever else the Bible might be - and it really is a great work of literature - it is not a moral book and young people need to learn that important fact because they are very frequently told the opposite. The examples I have quoted are the tip of a very large and very nasty iceberg. Not a bad way to find out what's in a book is to read it, so I say go to it. But does anybody, even Gove, seriously think they will?

Why Is The Answer to the Above Question Important?

Mr. Dawkins has "created" an interesting problem for himself. He obviously considers himself to be a "moral" being, but a being that arose from nature rather than being created cannot be "moral". How could that be? A being that arose from nature is simply the product of invariable/immutable natural laws. It is the product of collisions of particles whose motions and collisions and the results of those motions and collisions are controlled by these invariable laws. Such a thing can have no will and its future was pre-determined by the natural laws and the collisions and motions of the particles. To be moral a being has to have free will in order to compare its behavior to a standard and to adjust its behavior to more closely fit that standard. Mr. Dawkins has condemned himself to determinism and thus has no hope of adjusting his behavior. He cannot be "moral". However, he is free to choose the opposite answer to this question and then set himself free to be moral and responsible. Since he is not likely to concede G_d exists and created the world, I don't foresee him taking responsibility for his choices.

Prophecy versus Philosophy

The Ramaq proposed an allegory about four friends. Three of the friends saw their friend Reuven carrying a sack. Simeon said that Reuven was a young, strong guy, so if he was bent over, the sack must be very heavy and was perhaps filled with stones. Levi said it could not be filled with stones, but must be filled with diamonds because Reuven would not use such an ornate sack to carry stones. Judah said that whatever was in the sack must be worth more than diamonds, perhaps it was platinum. Reuven would not have so many armed guards just for diamonds.

The three friends are like the philosopher/scientists of today. They can get closer and closer to the reality of what is in the sack, but they can never know the absolute truth of what is in the sack like Reuven can. The prophets were able to connect to the Author's truth and thus have "complete" knowledge of it.

The Qualitative Factors of Philosophy Versus Prophecy

From Rabbi Goldberg's Course - Freedom to Choose ...
Philosophy Prophecy
Qualitative Factor 1 Philosophy acts in the dark, looking for the truth (all the tools of understanding by humanity - the senses, imagination, and intellect - are not able to lead to absolute truth, like prophecy) Prophecy understands absolute and complete truth (based on external revelation of the Creator Himself)
Qualitative Factor 2 Philosophy asks questions and answers them within a closed world - the philosopher both asks the questions and gives his own replies as he sees fit. Its a closed world with a pessimistic ending (endless cycles or circles). Prophecy receives external support from the "other", the Creator (just as it is impossible to exit a swamp without outside help...) Its an open world with an optimistic finale.

I take particular note of the second qualitative factor of philosophy - "the philosopher both asks the questions and gives his own replies as he sees fit". This puts the philosopher (King) above the law and there really is no restraint on him/her.

Hebrew Sages Preserved the Memory of Prophecy

Israel was a nation that witnessed G_d at Mount Sinai. The Torah of Moshe attests to this. Not only that, but the mere existence of Israel today testifies to this fact. Israel has always been a small nation that has faced persecution at the hands of larger and more powerful nations. Yet, as the Torah predicted, they have survived.

Here is Moshe reminding the entire nation of Israel of what they saw at Mt. Sinai:

Shemot (Exodus) 19

16 And it came to pass on the third day, when it was morning, that there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud upon the mount, and the voice of a horn exceeding loud; and all the people that were in the camp trembled.
17 And Moses brought forth the people out of the camp to meet God; and they stood at the nether part of the mount.
18 Now mount Sinai was altogether on smoke, because the LORD descended upon it in fire; and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mount quaked greatly.
19 And when the voice of the horn waxed louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him by a voice.
20 And the LORD came down upon mount Sinai, to the top of the mount; and the LORD called Moses to the top of the mount; and Moses went up.

D'varim (Deuteronomy) 4

9 Only take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes saw, and lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy life; but make them known unto thy children and thy children's children;
10 the day that thou stoodest before the LORD thy God in Horeb, when the LORD said unto me: 'Assemble Me the people, and I will make them hear My words that they may learn to fear Me all the days that they live upon the earth, and that they may teach their children.'
11 And ye came near and stood under the mountain; and the mountain burned with fire unto the heart of heaven, with darkness, cloud, and thick darkness.
12 And the LORD spoke unto you out of the midst of the fire; ye heard the voice of words, but ye saw no form; only a voice.
13 And He declared unto you His covenant, which He commanded you to perform, even the ten words; and He wrote them upon two tables of stone.

D'varim (Deuteronomy) 5

1 And Moses called unto all Israel, and said unto them: Hear, O Israel, the statutes and the ordinances which I speak in your ears this day, that ye may learn them, and observe to do them.
2 The LORD our God made a covenant with us in Horeb.
3 The LORD made not this covenant with our fathers, but with us, even us, who are all of us here alive this day.
4 The LORD spoke with you face to face in the mount out of the midst of the fire--

Maimonides or the Rambam, one the greatest men in Torah Scholarship said:

Israel did not believe in Moses, our teacher, on account of the miracles he performed. For when one's faith is based on miracles, doubt remains in the mind that these miracles may have been done through the occult and witchcraft...

What then were the grounds of believing him? The revelation on Sinai which we saw with our own eyes, and heard with our own ears, not having to depend on the testimony of others... (Mishna Torah - Foundations of Torah 8:1)

As you can see the Nation of Israel was witness to G_d and is qualified to produce prophets of G_d. The direct connection to the Creator through the prophets of Israel ended 2400 years ago, but the memories of that prophecy have been preserved by the Hebrew Sages.

The Foundation of Morality

Picture using a flashlight on a sunny day. When you shine the flashlight you cannot see it in the sunlight. At night you can see it plainly. At night you can't see without the flashlight. This is a metaphor for G_d (the sun) and us (the flashlight).

Another metaphor is when a person dies. The moment before death there was something there that filled and animated the person. The moment after the death whatever filled and animated the body disappeared.

The Torah or the Bible opens:

1 In the beginning of God's creation of the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was astonishingly empty, and darkness was on the face of the deep, and the spirit of God was hovering over the face of the water. 3 And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light. 4 And God saw the light that it was good, and God separated between the light and between the darkness. 5 And God called the light day, and the darkness He called night, and it was evening and it was morning, one day.

In Hebrew it says (transliteration), "B'reishit bara elokim et hashamayim v'et haaretz."

We are interested in the word "bara", which is translated to "creation". In Hebrew this word means "to fill", "healthy", "robust" (See Genesis 40:2). In Aramaic it means "separate", "son". So, the word "bara" has two meanings: 1) Fill, 2) separate or give an independent existence. At the very beginning G_d "withdrew" or made space and then He filled it with our world.

G_d had an independent existence and He had no needs, but He made space and then gave to "another" or us. When He created us, He made us in His "image". The Hebrew word translated to "image" also can mean "shadow". G_d freely gave to us, without any need to do so, and He made us to be similar to Him. Thus we are to emulate Him and give to others and it is from this that all morality arises.