Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Problem #1: God Defies Reasonability

Discussions about whether or not to believe in God generally come from either the truth angle or the utilitarian angle. Truth arguments relate to whether or not it is reasonable to postulate God's existence. Utilitarian arguments relate not to the fact of God's existence, but to whether belief in God is a constructive, positive force in the world, or whether it is a destructive force. The previous section outlined in brief some of the utilitarian arguments for belief in God, particularly as it pertains to Jews living in the religious community. This section will briefly address the question of the "truth" of God's existence.

It must be understood from the outset that it is in no way possible to demonstrate or prove conclusively whether God does or does not exist. The question relates to the reasonability of postulating one way or the other. To examine this, it is important that we first make the distinction between "God the Creator" and "God of the Torah."

I maintain that belief in a Creator of the Universe is perfectly reasonable. We do not understand how existence came to be what it is, and it is reasonable to speculate that there is an Intelligence behind it. (This is not, to be clear, an argument for Intelligent Design, which claims to offer evidence for God's existence based on gaps in nature, especially in evolution, that it proposes could not have been bridged were it not for Divine intervention. The consensus at this time in the scientific community is that Intelligent Design is a pseudo-scientific enterprise, whose arguments do not comprise anything on the order of evidence of the supernatural.) When I say that belief in a Creator is "reasonable," I mean from the standpoint of human psychology - i.e., it is a natural thing for us to believe. If we are conscious beings with the ability to create, who is to say there is not a consciousness greater than ourselves which is responsible for the universe? Does that mean that God's existence is therefore "likely"? No. Does it say anything as to the nature of God, or for that matter how many "gods" are involved? No. Might there be a race of aliens who spawned life on Earth? There may well be.

Point being, the idea of God is pure speculation, reasonable coming from the human being, but speculation nonetheless. However, the more specificity one attaches to God the Creator, often the less reasonable the speculation becomes, and the more complex theological argumentation one must formulate in order to support that belief. For instance, the notion of a "benevolent" God is one which is difficult to support. Positing such inevitably leads to the theological paradox often brought between God's omnipotence and God's benevolence (i.e., the question as to why an all-powerful God does not intervene to curtail suffering). It is precisely theological questions such as these, which appear contrived, needless, and frankly irksome, which draw many people to an atheistic position. After all, why enter into such a paradox when there is a far more straightforward way out?

Much ink has already been spilled on arguments for God's existence (cosmological, teleological/unmoved mover, Jewish-historical, etc.), and I do not intend to elaborate on these here. Suffice it to say, such arguments may highlight lapses in our knowledge, or phenomena that are unique and highly intriguing, but they in no way require that we fill in those spaces with "God," as opposed to any other natural explanation. In any case, my focus here is not on God in the abstract, ineffable sense, but on God as the giver of the Torah, God the commander, maker of miracles.

We spoke about specificity in regards to God as being inversely related to reasonability. On that count, the God of the Torah is another level of specificity altogether. To believe in this God, one has to accept that He came to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to Joseph and Moses, spoke to them, took the Children of Israel out of Egypt with wonders and miracles, and commanded the mitzvot of the Torah, all of which took place approximately between 3800 and 3300 BCE. In traditional Orthodox terms, one also would have to believe (despite it not saying so it the Torah) that God dictated the entire Torah letter by letter to Moses. Again, one cannot "prove" that this did, or did not, happen. The question is one of reasonability. To that end, let us ask two simple questions:

1. Where is God now?

Stated bluntly: "Show me the miracles." If a sea can split on command, if the voice of God can be heard on the top of a mountain giving over instructions to a nation, if a column of fire/cloud can follow a people's path in the desert, if manna can fall from the sky, why is it that we do not see and experience these things (or anything remotely similar) today? To one who says that some individuals do indeed hear the word of God, I say that if you examine closely there will invariably be a more reasonable explanation. It will be accountable to some combination of self-delusion, fakery, mistaken attribution, dream, trance, hypnosis or hallucination. To one who cites real-life miracles (chance meetings/synchronous events, miraculous healings/rescues, etc.), to which hundreds of thousands of individuals regularly attest, once again there will always be a more plausible explanation, such as statistical eventuality.

That is, with the countless events and decisions a person encounters every day, it is to be expected that once in a while, one of those would have a serendipitous character. What happens is that such an event is taken not only with great surprise and joy but as also portending supernatural involvement, i.e., God's hand in the world. But for every one of those events are countless others which were decidedly less than astonishing. There were all the times you turned a corner just a split second before running into a friend from childhood. Similarly, for every person who makes a miraculous recovery, there are thousands more who do not, and their stories generally remain untold. Understandably, we prefer to relate the miraculous, happy endings, and therefore we lose sight of the fact of their statistical inevitability. Moreover, even if one were to posit supernatural explanations to things such as chance encounters, they are still miracles on a different order of magnitude than, say, water standing up like a wall, or all the firstborn males of Egypt dying overnight.

One argument made by believers is that God's "appearance" in Biblical times was due to its being a special era, whose specific needs required a more direct Divine engagement with humanity. Now that the revelation has taken place, God's face as it were has been "hidden," no longer given to open miracles, prophecy and other fantastic encounters. Ours is now a test of faith... Granted, this is an explanation, and a rather convenient one at that, but the far more reasonable explanation is that such miracles and other direct encounters with God never in fact occurred at all. And that is why we never see them today. It should be especially obvious given the fact that at the time that Torah came onto the scene, all peoples had their gods, and the powerful acts of these gods and their interrelations with humans are likewise interwoven as part of the national story. Should the Israelite story be any exception?

2. Are the mitzvot Divine?

It follows from the belief in a Divine Torah, wherein the mitzvot are commanded by God Himself, that such commandments are invested with an "eternal" quality. Their laws and principles are etched into the very fabric of the cosmos as part of the Divine will for Creation. Yet with only a cursory examination of history, it is clear that the mitzvot, far be it from being "timeless," are in fact a clear reflection of Bronze Age civilization. Israelite civil law bears a close resemblance to other codes of law from the ancient Near East. Other peoples gave tithes to their priests, and gave food and incense offerings to their gods, some in temples strikingly similar to the structure of the Mishkan. Some, including the Egyptian priesthood, performed circumcision, exercised dietary limitations, and immersed in ritual baths.

I ask then what is more likely, that everyone was closer to the Divine will at the time, that Bronze Age Mesopotamia just happened to strike upon the perfect "cosmic cocktail," such that all subsequent generations must now follow its particular set of rituals and norms as the living word of God, or that the ancient Israelites were simply a product of their time and place, albeit with their own unique "spin" on it all?

Would Moses, were he to first come on the scene today, possibly make us painstakingly (and at great cost) write out the Torah, letter by letter, on strips of animal hide attached together with sinews, because there is something "Godly" or "holy" to this specific set of materials and processes? Or was that simply the technology available at the time? These questions are obviously rhetorical, as it is certain that Torah is no more, and no less, than a product of its time. Yes, we have adapted it in many ways which make it "timeless," but to say that the Torah is God's eternal law is completely untenable. Therefore, the Biblical God, commander of mitzvot, is completely untenable.

People looking for "proofs" may wish to draw your attention to the millions who stood at Sinai and watched the revelation with their own eyes, and that in no way could this kind of story be "made up." Remember however that every ancient people had its origin story, in which the gods played a role. Myth and history were regularly interwoven as one. It is only in modern retrospect that we cannot fathom such a thing. Therefore we assume that our Biblical forebears would not have knowingly retold myths. But they were not "lying" by telling of miracles, wonders, prophecy, wrath, and Divine conquest in the desert; rather they were giving honor to their God and to the people. To tell a story (remember that as much as we are now called the "People of the Book" it was a primarily oral tradition for the entirety of the Biblical era and then some) without God, without miracles, would be at the very least dry and not terribly memorable, and further it would be unseemly, not befitting to any people, let alone a "holy nation." We had to tell our story in a supernatural, super-memorable fashion.

Just because someone is able to put words skillfully together, so as to appear to make a good case, does not make it "true." One still needs to consider common sense plausibility. And given the absence of open miracles and Divine intervention today, and the fact that the mitzvot and God-invested stories of the Torah are very much a product of their time, maintaining a belief in the God of the Torah, the commander, the miracle-worker, defies common sense. It defies reasonability.

Someone may wish to believe nonetheless, which is fine. But better to be honest and call it "faith."


  1. AJ, what do you mean by "reasonable"? I think that you're using this term in a number of ways.

    When you say "Truth arguments relate to whether or not it is reasonable to postulate God's existence", you appear to be using "reasonable" in the sense that reasonableness = truth content.

    Upon stating that God’s existence cannot be proven conclusively, you state that “The question relates to the reasonability of postulating” that God does or does not exist. This looks like a refinement in the meaning of your use of the word “reasonable” – you’re taking the position that reasonableness -> probability of truth. In other words, it might be reasonable to postulate God’s existence even if we were only 90% sure that God exists. Or maybe 75% certainty is reasonable, or maybe “more likely than not” is reasonable. I don’t mean to sound facetious, because in life a “reasonable” truth probability depends on the overall situation. In a civil court case, we may require only “more likely than not”, but in a criminal court case we might require “beyond a reasonable doubt”.

    But there’s a potential divide in meaning here that I think we should acknowledge. Belief in God (1) might be “reasonable” in the abstract sense that it could be true, or (2) it might be reasonable in the sense that it is susceptible to proof, or (3) it might be reasonable in the sense that we have some ability to prove it true, or (4) it might be reasonable to the extent that we have proven it true. Consider the statement that the world is round. This statement is reasonable in the sense of (1) and (2), and today in the sense of (3) and (4). But 5,500 years ago it was not reasonable to believe that the world was round in the sense of (3), there being no way to prove world roundness with the then-existing math and technology. The claims made in modern string theory appear to be reasonable in the sense of (1), but they’re not reasonable in the sense of (3) and (4), and they may not be reasonable in the sense of (2) either. Belief in God is like belief in string theory, or belief in the “multiverse” that many atheists use to explain how the universe where we live could have come into being without a God.

    Later on you appear to use “reasonable” in other senses. So there is much more to say here, but this is a good place to pause and consider what we mean by reasonability, and why we think that an unreasonable belief in God is a bad thing.

    1. Larry, you make a very reasonable point. (Sorry, couldn't resist.)

      I fully admit that I employ a fuzzy definition of "reasonable". Because it is a hard thing to pin down, and I'm not sure I want to be so precise about it. What is "reasonable" is highly context-sensitive, and depends on the perspective of the person doing the evaluating.

      So for instance, I would say it's "reasonable" from a social/cultural POV for a person raised in a Young Earth Creationist milieu to believe that the Earth is less than 6000 years old. After all, you can't really blame them. But for most scientists, the notion is completely absurd, totally unreasonable, because there is such a preponderance of evidence pointing to an Earth that's billions of years old.

      As far as the existence of God, since there is not a single scrap of "hard evidence" to the positive (Intelligent Design claims aside), it would not be reasonable to claim that God exists from a normative scientific POV. Although from a human psychology POV, it is reasonable to think that everything has a "maker". And even from a scientific POV, the idea of a Creator is "more reasonable" than the idea of the Biblical God, because whereas the former has no evidence "against" it per se, the latter certainly does (in the sense of there being other explanations which are far simpler, and accord with our empirical experience as well as research).

      But again, belief in the Biblical God is only "unreasonable" from the POV either of an average secular person off the street, or of someone who has some knowledge of ancient cultures, Biblical criticism, etc. For someone raised in a culture of belief, or who adopted the belief, or who has doubts but wants to be counted as a "kosher" Jew, it is "reasonable" for any of those (and other people depending on their circumstances) to believe in the God of the Torah.

      I realize this answer is probably far from satisfactory, since it makes reasonability very much subjective, and perhaps there would be some sense in my qualifying what I mean in various cases, like "scientifically reasonable" or "reasonable insofar as being statistically probable" or "reasonable in the sense of having no evidence against it" or "reasonable from the POV of X person" - or using the definitions you brought above. But sometimes trying to "objectify" something which is subjective ends up opening a can of worms, and the point is better taken if left a bit fuzzy. That's my sense here. That said, if there's some way to use a few qualifiers and add more clarity without things getting too "wormy", I'm open to that.

      Lastly, about unreasonable belief in God being a "bad thing", it's not necessarily. But in some cases it is. From my POV... It is "bad" if it results in the ostracizing of Jews who don't accept that belief. It is "bad" if it makes Torah look absurd and pushes away Jews who would otherwise be enriched by Judaism. It is "bad" if it results in unhealthy, violent or otherwise cult-like communal behavior. You get the point.

      Great comments - thanks for taking the time!

  2. AJ –

    I’m struggling to understand your argument that belief in God is unreasonable.

    If “reasonableness” is a hard thing to pin down, then logically it should also be hard to pin down whether theism or atheism is reasonable or unreasonable.

    If what is “reasonable” is context-sensitive, and if God-belief is reasonable in certain contexts, then the issue seems to boil down to whether we prefer the contexts where God-belief is not reasonable over those contexts where God-belief is reasonable.

    The contexts you suggest are a mixed bag. A Young Earth Creationist is by definition a God-believer who also believes in a 6,000 year old universe (unless there are atheist Young Earthers!), so Young Earth creationism is not so much a context where God-belief is reasonable as a label for a type of God-believer. (In contrast, there ARE scientists who both believe in God AND believe in a 6,000 year-old universe. There’s even a network of them – you can Google it. You may not like the science they practice, but it IS out there.)

    In contrast, science IS a context within which to judge the reasonableness of certain beliefs. For example, I think that science provides a context within which to judge a claim for the age of the universe. However, science does NOT provide a context to judge the reasonableness of God-belief. By its nature science is limited to the controlled observation of natural phenomena, and on advancing natural explanations for these phenomena. Things that cannot be explained by scientists as having natural causes are left unexplained. Unless you think that scientific knowledge is the only kind of knowledge, it would appear that the existence of God falls wholly outside of the scientific purview. In other words, science is not so much a context where God-belief is unreasonable, as it is a sphere of activity where God-existence is not investigated.

    You mentioned other possible contexts: a “secular” context (which I think is simply saying a non-religious context), a “culture of belief”, a context of those who want to appear to be kosher Jews – but again, these contexts are ones DEFINED by God-belief. Really, these are not so much contexts as communities. It is not so much that these communities provide a context for God-belief, but instead that God-belief is a condition for membership in these communities.

    You might have suggested other contexts. Perhaps military communities are more or less likely to believe in God. Perhaps agricultural communities (reliant as they may be on favorable weather) might be more likely to believe in God. Perhaps academic communities, or communities built around industry or technology, might be less likely to believe in God.

    I’m not sure what any of this would prove, in terms of “reasonableness” of belief in God. In fact, your example seems to point to something else altogether, as your favorable view of atheism is contrary to the context of the community where you live and with which you identify. Following your argument, it would seem “unreasonable” for you to deny belief in God! But clearly you intend to argue otherwise. I presume that you are appealing to a different context, where your views are “reasonable” and belief in God is “unreasonable”. In fact, you seem to be arguing that many (or most?) Orthodox Jews already exist within this different context, or can be persuaded to adopt this different context. I’m just not getting what this different context consists of, and why it’s necessarily better than contexts where God-belief is reasonable.

    1. Larry,

      If “reasonableness” is a hard thing to pin down, then logically it should also be hard to pin down whether theism or atheism is reasonable or unreasonable.

      As soon as I submitted my response I knew I had that one coming! The point I wanted to make in my reply to you is that I agree there are different definitions and contexts of reasonability, so ultimately I don't judge people from having the beliefs that they do. Virtually no one tries to be "unreasonable".

      So how do I justify a "God defies reasonability" position? First off, I think I was fairly clear about qualifying the argument as referring specifically to the Biblical God, and the mainstream Orthodox belief that if someone were to come back with video footage from 3300 years ago, what we would see is exactly what is described in the Torah. And while it may be "reasonable" for people to believe that for any number of social/psychological reasons (again I don't want to judge individuals for their beliefs), from a strictly truth-content POV, it is so unreasonable (in the sense of being extremely improbable) that it borders on absurdity.

      Why do I have to point this out in such a provocative way? (I don't know if you're asking this, but I'm bringing it up anyway.) If I want to make the case for Atheodoxy (non-belief coupled with observance), why not simply say that not believing in the God of the Bible is "reasonable" from a truth-content POV? Why call someone else out for being unreasonable? It probably has to do with the factors I cited at the end of my previous response. What I want to argue is that not only is it "within reason" to take an Atheodox position, but that Atheodoxy could be said to represent a more idealistic position than traditional Orthodoxy, by maintaining a robust Torah Judaism without the fundamentalism. And to make that argument I feel I need to be a bit provocative and point out the problems with traditional Orthodox belief.

      That's more or less where I'm coming from.

  3. AJ –

    In your most recent reply to me, it seems like you’re not claiming that belief in God is per se unreasonable, or that all existing systems providing for belief in God are unreasonable. (In fairness, you DID say originally that belief in a creator God was reasonable, but you qualified this by saying that such belief is psychologically reasonable, in that it is “natural” for people to believe in a creator God. But you went on to say that the idea of God is pure speculation and that this speculation loses most or all reasonability once one buys into a complex theological system.)

    Instead, from your last reply, you now seem to be arguing only that “mainstream Orthodox belief” in God is unreasonable. By this, I don’t read you to be picking on the Jews! Instead, I think what you’re describing is a particular attitude towards God and scripture, which you might call “fundamentalist” and I might call “literalist”, that might (and indeed does) exist in any number of belief systems outside of Judaism.

    If indeed this is your argument, then one “reasonable” response to your argument would be to advocate a more “reasonable” form for belief in God. While your original post seemed to equate unreasonability with theological complexity, there are many complex theological systems that are not literalist or fundamentalist that (consistent with your last reply) might be deemed to be “reasonable”. You write in a way that suggests you are probably aware of such non-fundamentalist belief systems.

    So instead of arguing that God defies reasonability, why not argue instead that fundamentalism defies reasonability?

  4. Larry,

    Thanks for pointing out what I said about theological complexity and lack of reasonability. Even though I believe it's the case re: "God's benevolence", I realize that I don't want to make this into some kind of "rule", so I changed it to say, "often the less reasonable the speculation becomes..." I think that's better.

    Yes, for sure I could say that fundamentalism defies reasonability. My use of "God" is partly as shorthand, and designed to catch people's attention. But there's a part of me that doesn't want to let God off the hook either. The reason I "pick on" Jews is not because there aren't others to pick on regarding fundamentalism, but because as a Jew I have a particular interest in seeing us do better. And while I first and foremost want to focus on literalist/fundamentalist beliefs in God, I think evolving as a people also means reconsidering our belief in God in general - even what I'd call more "reasonable" belief. But this is a longer conversation, which maybe I'll tackle in a post sometime.

    Again, great comments!

  5. just a short come lately post from an aspiring atheist i agree with a lot of questions you raised in this artificial however two points that i still get stuck at every time i try arguing in favor of aethism in my kollel are 1.if it was very common to include supernatural myths in a bronze age tribal religion's origin storys can another tribe that had an origin story claiming to involve a miracle preformed in view of the entire nation?(this varification seems to be specifacly discussed in devrim ki shal na liyamim...) 2.if this was just a typical tribal war god then the historical continuation of this particular Mesopotamian doctrine long after all its contemporary's have faded from the scene is very a very peculiar fluke and a divine orchestration is definitely within the bounds of a reasonable explanation (i know there are still lots of Buddhists a couple zasterians and a bunch of other religions claiming to date back to antiquity but none of these have a contemporary vibrancy as still relevant or real connection to the ancient religions they claim to have inherited)

    1. Hi Juda,

      The gist of my response is this: Always look for the simpler explanation first.

      By "simple" I mean an explanation that fits with our understanding and observation of the world. A natural explanation is simpler - and therefore preferred - over a supernatural explanation.

      When someone claims to have seen a ghost, we don't take that claim at face value. We assume there's a 99.9% likelihood it was something else. Maybe it was a hallucination, a dream, some sort of movement that the person interpreted as a ghost, a trick the person fell for, etc. All of these are things we humans are susceptible to. That being the case, wouldn't it be *far* simpler, more reasonable - and more preferable - to go with one of these explanations, rather than having to posit the existence of other-worldly "spirits"?

      Same thing with the claim of Divine revelation. If there's a simpler explanation, shouldn't we prefer that over a supernatural explanation? It's easier to see I think if we pretend we're looking at another religion.

      Let's say hypothetically that Hinduism had the tradition of a mass-revelation event of the god Vishnu. How would we as Jews react to it? We'd of course assume it was false. There HAS to be another explanation. Why? Because the claim of a mass-revelation of Vishnu can't possibly be true! Otherwise, prove it - show me "Vishnu". I've never seen him, have you?

      But what if a Hindu pressed the point further, and asked: "If the story of Vishnu's revelation was made up, how could such a fabrication that supposedly involved millions of witnesses initially have been believed? Who would've believed it first?" Or they'd ask the question this way: "How could millions of Hindus have separately received the same story about Vishnu from their grandparents, who were told by their grandparents, and so on for thousands of years, if the story weren't true?" Hearing those questions, would we call that a slam dunk proof and all convert to Hinduism? I think not! No, we'd stand firm in our nonbelief and offer alternative explanations as to how they could've received such a tradition.

      (Sorry, too long of a response - to be continued...)

    2. Like for instance... Maybe the Vishnu story was only first told several generations after the supposed revelation, as part of the national/religious story - a.k.a. as an origin myth. (After all, every legend and myth has to have some kind of "starting point".) And then it wouldn't really matter whether the revelation involved one person or one million people. No one was around from the generation of the story, or who even knew anyone from that generation... Point being, there are any number of ways to "shlug up" the mass-revelation claim by offering a more down-to-earth explanation.

      Ok, well if we'd react this way to the hypothetical claim of a Hindu mass-revelation, then the only thing keeping us from doing it with Torah is pure ethnic bias. But as people of integrity and truth, we should strive higher! To me, THAT is what separates us from the nations, from the other religions.

      Anyway, it goes without saying that the same logic applies to the survival of Klal Yisrael and Torah. Yes, it's fantastic and seemingly miraculous - something to treasure, to be grateful for, and not to ever take for granted. But is there really NO natural explanation we can possibly think of? Well, how about the fact that our adherence to Torah in exile has made us "mitzuyanim" - distinct - wherever we go. That's why I'm "Atheodox" and not a secular atheist. (At least part of why.) Because without all the ritual, without all the "weirdness", we'd assimilate and be lost. Yes, even without ritual we feel distinct, different from the other nations, and we get treated that way. Anti-Semitism affects Orthodox and secular Jews alike. But that "feeling" gets lost eventually unless we preserve it. We preserve Torah, and Torah preserves us. It's a wondrous thing - but also entirely within reason, within the frame of natural explanation.

      Again, I'm not saying people shouldn't be inspired by it. I'm not even saying they shouldn't attribute it to HKB"H if it helps them be more grateful and inspired and full of hope. But it's much better to call that belief "emuna" and not anything to do with a "proof". The latter I find to be intellectually dishonest, not something that befits the Am HaTorah. But even further, I want to see a place made for Torah Jews who *don't* hold that belief, who function better without it, for whom choosing natural explanations over "emuna" represents a more "mehadrin" approach to intellectual honesty. Halavai such people would be respected in the frum world, or at least not be made to feel like heretics!

  6. thanks for taking the time to reply and has definitely given me some points for thought. however the way that the torah misinai proof is presented that i still cannot argue coherently against (even though my intuition tells me there is a flaw in the argument that i am missing) is that if something is a natural occurrence it repeats itself and since it was very common for nations to have supernatural origin myths that probably never happened why do none of these myths use public revelation as ours does? (this wasn't clear in my original question because i made a typo it should have read "if it was very common to include supernatural myths in a bronze age tribal religion's origin storys, IS THERE another tribe that had an origin story claiming to involve a miracle preformed in view of the entire nation?"

    also as an aside i think it is a logical misstep to assume that if it is proven that there was a divine revelation then obviously we still have what was revealed and all are bound to follow what is now claimed to be that original message. this is simply not true anyone intimately familiar with the torah realizes that we are hopelessly lost as to what was said i cannot think of even one halacha that we can say with a certainty was given at sinia and even the fundamental tools of how to deal with gaps of knowledge are not clear and subject to endless arguments and sfakeot so we basically have nothing that is definitively from that revelation that is not to say that we don't have anything from that revelation it can be looked at as a divine hint to nudge us towards the right path even though we will ultimately have to find the way ourselves (halivni-weis develops a variant of this idea in his chatu yisreal thesis)
    thanks again for your thought provoking pieces juda

    1. Juda,

      You're right that the Torah emphasizes that wonders were performed "in the eyes of all Yisrael" - including the very last pasuk in the Chumash! I realize that it has the ring of "All of you saw it, so it must be true." But it could have other meanings, such as the idea that *everyone* is in this deal, and therefore part of the brit and chayav in the mitzvot. There's also the concept of "mamlechet kohanim" - that unlike other nations who have only a select few who are set aside and in on the secret knowledge - for Yisrael *everyone* gets to be in on it, and anyone can be a navi (as in the Eldad and Meidad story).

      IS THERE another tribe that had an origin story claiming to involve a miracle preformed in view of the entire nation?

      Is the "entire nation" required to make the proof? What if it's done in a public setting with hundreds of witnesses? Because there are other such claims. Plus, I don't know how often in history you have situations where the "entire nation" is physically situated together in one place.

      Doing a cursory Google search, I came across this link. I like the last comment on the page by "Opus1". He/she gives a link to this page, which is a rebuttal to the mass-revelation proof, which I thought was well-presented.

      All I can say is that just about EVERY religion has adherents who declare that theirs is the one True religion - their prophet(s), their god(s). And they bring argument after intricate argument as to how they've "proven" it to be so, going on until you're blue in the face. Many of these people are highly intelligent and articulate. What I'm saying is that I think we're naive if we think we're the only ones who are immune to this phenomenon. And if you hear about something that sounds "unbelievable", it probably is - especially when it doesn't comport with anything we've seen and experienced today, and when we know the story is coming out of a world which told those kinds of stories (of gods, miracles, etc.).

      Thanks BTW for the tip to look up Halivni-Weiss. I hadn't heard of him and look forward to reading his stuff!

      Best regards,