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Simple enough question, and very much related to the topic.

According to traditional Jewish sources, on what basis should people believe that there's a God?

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shoosh, if what you're actually seeking is sourced bases for belief in a specific quality of God (e.g. that he created the world or that he's omniscient) rather than his mere existence, then you might clarify that in the question before it gets more answers irrelevant to your main concern. (To be honest, I don't know how one can argue for God's existence unless you define "God" as, e.g., the creator or omniscient; and in that case what he's really arguing for is the existence of a creator or an omniscient being. So I guess I'm asking you to clarify, in your question, what you mean by "God".) –  msh210 Jan 31 '12 at 18:11
    
    
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There are no absolute proofs (else there would be no bechira [free will]), but there are some very strong arguments ....read this book for more info –  Shokhet Jul 16 at 2:57
    
@Shokhet of course, if someone actually wanted a book discussing proofs of god, he should be directed to J. H. Sobel's Logic and Theism, but that's not really what we're trying to accomplish here, is it... But where did you get this idea that there wouldn't be free will if there was an absolute proof? –  Matt Dec 22 at 2:34

9 Answers 9

Assuming we all exist, think, know and interact with our actual surroundings etc.

The Ontological Proof

The first class of Divine Proof is the Ontological proof. It goes basically like this:

God as a concept is perfect.

Perfect things must have the quality of existing, else they wouldn't be perfect.

Hence, God exists.

Problems

This doesn't really convince anyone of anything.

Possible Solutions

Many philosophers have spent a lot of time tweaking this proof, but in the end I don't think anyone else really cares about it.

The Cosmological Proof

The second class of Divine Proof is the Cosmological proof. First pioneered by Aristotle and taken up by the Rambam, it goes something like this:

Everything that moves was moved by something else.

There cannot be an infinite regress of events.

Hence, there exists a Prime Mover and we call Him God.

Problems

First off, you could just say that there can be an infinite regress of events.

Secondly, in the current proof what can God tell you to do? Move? Not so powerful...

Possible Solutions

Two avoid the second problem, some have changed "move" to other powers and given those to God.

Alternatively, some focus on the fundamental nature of the proof which is that there exists a being external to the general rules of science. They will argue something like this:

Morality* is eternally true independent of circumstances.

Hence, there exists some entity outside of the natural world and we call it God.

(*Replace Morality with Rationality or some other fundamentally True concept as you please.)

This doesn't really get exactly the God we want, but it is better if you assume Morality/Rationality/etc. is eternally True independent of circumstances.

The Teleological Proof

This is the most commonly given of the three Divine Proofs by organizations such as Aish HaTorah and other (especially Charedi) organizations. It goes something like this:

[Some aspect of the world] is very complex.

Hence, it must be designed as such by a Higher Being whom we call God.

Problems

It might not be. Everyone agrees this is not a strict proof. [BTW this is why people are so opposed to Darwin, not the textual issues from Genesis 1]

Possible Solutions

Err.. Find something REALLY REALLY complex.

Summary

There is no strict philosophical proof for God; however, there is no strict proof against the existence of God either. You need to evaluate the evidence and BELIEVE.

Sources: Philosophy classes and personal research on the subject.

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Nice exposition. You could improve this by citing sources that make or discuss these arguments (e.g. a particular place in the Rambam or a particular page on the Aish website) –  Isaac Moses Jan 31 '12 at 18:32
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+1. I like this a lot, even if the problems with the cosmological proof aren't themselves very convincing. –  HodofHod Jan 31 '12 at 18:37
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@DoubleAA, Only Jewish philosopher I know of that accepted the ontological argument is Moses Mendelssohn. Not sure if you want to use him as a source, though. –  jake Jan 31 '12 at 21:42
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Another commentless downvote? Anyone want to claim it? –  Double AA Feb 1 '12 at 4:20
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The question asks specifically for Jewish-sourced answers. Could you please edit into your answer a Jewish source for the ontological proof you outline? (The other proofs are cited already.) –  msh210 Jul 4 '13 at 6:44

I'm a terrible one for sources, however as far as I am aware there are four ways in which Judaism knows that Gd exists.

  • The first method is brought in the midrashim regarding Abraham. There are two stories that I know of regarding how Avraham knew that god existed.

    1. Story 1: (Thank you @Monica Cellio) Abraham was walking along the way and saw a building that either (had a light in it's window, or was on fire), Avraham looked at the building and said, "Can that house have no master?, surely there is a master of the world."
      I have seen the midrash explained in two ways based on how you translate the line. Either, a building with a light on must have someone who lives in, and so with our world, life exists, so someone must have created it. Or, a house would only be on fire if someone owns it and an enemy wished to destroy it. Since there is evil in this world, and there is constant entropy, the fact that things get "built" means there is a creator. In modern language you might describe this as entropy vs evolution. However as with all midrashim, it could be undertood differently by each person.

    2. Story 2: Abraham was sitting in the sun, when suddenly a cloud blocked the Sun. The Cloud must be stronger than the sun, then a wind came, and the wind moved the cloud, so wind is stronger than clouds, then the wind came to a mountain and was blocked, so a mountain is stronger than wind, then a river was seen carving through the mountain, so water must be stronger than mountains, then the sun dried up the water, so the sun must be stronger than water... This cycle lead Abraham to believe that there must be a force outside of the cycles of nature which is strongest of them all, and runs it all, and that force is Gd. In modern language you might say, "That which breathes life into the equations." However as with all midrashim, it could be undertood differently by each person.

** Edit: It seems that the original midrash talks about man being better than spirit because of a wordplay, so I'm not sure where I heard this version from, but the basic concept is the same.

  • The second method in which we know Gd exists, is in the fulfillment of prophecies and being able to see the hand of Gd in history. This is first mentioned in the Torah when Gd describes himself as the Lord Your Gd who took you out of Egypt. This was a common way for the Rabbis of the Talmudic and Gaonic period to relate to Gd, most notably the book the Kuzari written by Yehuda HaLevi. Various prophecies have come true over the centuries, the latest of them being the return of the Jewish people to the land of Israel.

  • The third method in which we know Gd exists is Rambam's principle of knowledge and the methods of books such as Derech Hashem which aim to prove Gd logically as either the first cause of all things, or show Gd as a necessity in some other logical manner. This method became popular in the middle ages, and has only grown since then. This method has become the most popular over the centuries, to the point that now most Jewish understandings and proofs of Gd are no different from any other theistic philosophy.

  • The fourth method of knowing that Gd exists is through personal experience and prayer, where a person feels a close relationship with his creator. This is most common in circles influenced by the Hassiduth movement from the 18th century.

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As with DoubleAA's answer, citations of specific sources would make this answer more valuable. –  Isaac Moses Jan 31 '12 at 19:10
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If someone wants to find the location of those midrashim, or a link to derech hashem, or a quote from rav Nachman regarding a personal relationship with Hashem, I will be in your eternal gratittude. –  avi Jan 31 '12 at 19:14
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1a = Teleological. 1b = Cosmological. 2 = Teleological. 3 = Cosmological. 4 = My Summary :) –  Double AA Jan 31 '12 at 19:26
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The midrash about the burning house is from B'reishit Rabbah 39 -- bira doleket is a useful search term. –  Monica Cellio Jan 31 '12 at 19:34
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Story 2 reminds me of Baba Batra 10B: - He also used to say: Ten strong things have been created in the world. The rock is hard, but the iron cleaves it. The iron is hard, but the fire softens it. The fire is hard, but the water quenches it. The water is strong, but the clouds bear it. The clouds are strong, but the wind scatters them. The wind is strong, but the body bears it. The body is strong, but fear crushes it. Fear is strong, but wine banishes it... –  Menachem Feb 1 '12 at 0:23

To my knowledge, the only "argument" for the existence of God given in the Torah itself is that He directly revealed Himself to us at Sinai:

Deut. 4:35 "Unto thee it was shown, that thou mightest know that the LORD, He is God; there is none else beside Him."

Deut. 5:4, "The LORD spoke with you face to face in the mount out of the midst of the fire."

In other words, direct experience does not require philosophical proof.

Rabbi Jacob Emden expanded this argument into our own time, saying that, "When I consider these wonders [of the survival of the Jews in exile], they appear greater to me than all the miracles and wonders that God did for our ancestors in Egypt, and in the wilderness, and in the land of Israel."

All philosophical arguments for the existence of God made in traditional sources are only intended to reinforce this basic experiential knowledge that is the heritage of the Jewish people. While these arguments can serve to shore up our beliefs against challenges, many sources see these arguments as helping us acheive a more personal, immediate connection to God.

The most common such arguments found in Jewish works are:

  1. The Argument from Design - Many aspects of the natural world appear to have been been designed with intelligence and intent.

  2. The Cosmological or "First Cause" Argument - What set the world moving? Where did it come from?

  3. The famous "Kuzari" argument (which is also found in the writings of R' Saadia Gaon and Maimonides), that the Sinai revelation was a historical event witnessed by the entire nation. (This argument is basically just an extension of the Biblical "argument" that is intended to enable us to rely with confidence on our historical tradition.)

In my personal opinion, the various philosophical arguments for the existence of God are mainly useful for countering Hume's arguments against miracles. Briefly stated, he argues that no testimony of a miracle should be believed unless the falsehood of the testimony would be more improbable than the miracle itself. It follows, therefore, that one's ability to accept the testimony of the Jewish people's historical experience of miracles has an inverse relationship with the degree to which you think miracles are improbable.

All of the classical arguments for the existence of God are, fundamentally, arguments that we can perceive an element of the supernatural in the natural world itself. Thus, each such argument makes the possibility of miracles more plausible. At some point, it becomes more likely that Sinai Revelation really occurred than that it was made up (which, per the Kuzari argument, is very unlikely). Once you reach that point, then you have the Sinai Revelation to rely on for everything else.

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I think everyone was agreeing that you need Sinai and a Mesorah to teach you about God. We are just discussing why one would believe He exists. –  Double AA Feb 1 '12 at 5:01
    
But if you were actually at the Sinai Revelation with your friend, would it make sense for him to then turn to you and say, "Wow! But we still need to prove that he exists." Sinai didn't just teach us about God, it also demonstrated His reality. Our problem is connecting ourselves with that experience. –  LazerA Feb 1 '12 at 5:15
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So, a Jew who was present at Sinai and "met God personally", so to speak, would still need to "prove" God exists or his knowledge of God is lacking? That might fly with the Greeks, but I don't believe you will find support for it in Jewish sources. While medieval authorities, starting with R' Saadia Gaon, argued that philosophical proofs are a fulfillment of the mitzva of "yedias Hashem", they are only necessary because we lack direct knowledge. –  LazerA Feb 1 '12 at 7:12
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While this is a strong Jewish "proof" it is clearly not the only one, since the Jewish people knew about Gd before Har Sinai. –  avi Feb 1 '12 at 7:50
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Rambam (Hil. Yesodei HaTorah 8:1) writes that prior to Sinai, the Jews only had an unreliable certainty ("נאמנות שיש אחריה הרהור ומחשבה"). This was ever after the miracles of the ten plagues and the splitting of the Yam Suf. –  LazerA Feb 1 '12 at 13:28

How does a Chasid know that G-d exists? He has Emunah.

How does a Litvak (a.k.a. Yeshivish Jew) know that G-d exists?

The Rambam says so, and the Raavad doesn't argue. :o)

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Should this be a comment? –  avi Feb 1 '12 at 11:36
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It may have been formulated as a joke, but it is a serious answer. We know that G-d exists because our sages have transmitted this fact. We can also experience G-d's Providence in our lives on a continuous basis, but that's a beneficial side-effect of knowing, not how we know. –  user1095 Feb 1 '12 at 11:46
    
Ok, I wasn't sure. :) –  avi Feb 1 '12 at 11:47
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I agree that it could exist nicely as a comment as well - except that I actually do list a source, which IMHO upgrades it to answer status. –  user1095 Feb 1 '12 at 11:49
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@Will Maybe you should edit in some of the explanation you gave down here. –  Double AA Feb 1 '12 at 14:10

Intelligent Design is the classic and most powerful argument for the existence of God as scripture says "from my flesh I shall see God" (Job 19:26)

(see the the treatise shaar bechina of chovos halevavos which delves into this at depth or the book "The Universe Testifies" by Rabbi Avigdor Miller. These works not only address the intelligent design of life forms but also at the structure of the universe as a whole - everything has a function. see there.)

The rise of the random evolution theory last century caused the argument to lose some impact but the tide has been turning.

With the advance of microbiology the argument has become much more powerful as the famous philosopher Anthony Flew, who for many decades flew the flag for atheism and then reversed said:

"I think that the most impressive arguments for God’s existence are those that are supported by recent scientific discoveries. I’ve never been much impressed by the kalam cosmological argument, and I don’t think it has gotten any stronger recently. However, I think the argument to Intelligent Design is enormously stronger than it was when I first met it."... FLEW: Absolutely. It seems to me that Richard Dawkins constantly overlooks the fact that... the findings of more than fifty years of DNA research have provided materials for a new and enormously powerful argument to design.

http://www.arn.org/docs/williams/pw_antonyflew.htm

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Related chat room to earlier version of this answer chat.stackexchange.com/rooms/9102/… –  Double AA Jun 30 '13 at 10:33
    
Did you rip material from here? –  Double AA Mar 31 at 18:00
    
that was my own question. wanted torun it by them first. the only answer i got admitted in a comment that he did not rule out intelligent design. –  ray Mar 31 at 18:02
    
he also ruled out teleological proofs for God (not surprising, because they aren't proofs as discussed above). –  Double AA Mar 31 at 18:04
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they are not proofs to you but to many other people they are valid proofs as i added in the answer a quote from Flew and which you deleted in my comment. –  ray Apr 1 at 6:04

There is the "cosmological" argument of King David in Tehilim 19:1-4, where creation itself "bears witness" to the existence of G_d:

The heavens are telling of the glory of G_d

I'll admit it now, I am biased in my belief that the traditional scriptures (i.e., the 24 books of the Hebrew Bible) trump any and every other source of traditional authority.

To be sure, virtually every other traditional source of authority has good and helpful things to offer, and those who are familiar with such sources should always feel free to mine them for nuggets of truth that can benefit both them and the larger community of faith (and even the community of non-faith!).

There is a hierarchy, as it were, of authority, and God's Word trumps all other authorities.

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This does not address the question, which asks specifically for answers "According to the sources." –  Isaac Moses Jul 4 '13 at 2:26
    
Hi rhetorician. It seems like more of this answer is about unbelievers than about belief; could you try to focus this more on the question that was asked? Thanks. –  Monica Cellio Jul 4 '13 at 2:26
    
Hi again. This question is attracting a lot of answers that don't directly address the question, which asks what Jewish sources say on this topic. Without that restriction answers become too open-ended and subjective, not what we're looking for. I'm going to delete this. If you decide to edit it to bring it into line with the comments you've received, please flag so a moderator can take a look. Thanks. Sorry about the run-around since I know you came here in the first place because I mentioned Mi Yodeya. –  Monica Cellio Jul 4 '13 at 2:52
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I'm undeleting this with some rather substantial edits. Please see the revision history for comments. I know that this isn't as eloquent as your first draft, but it's more focused on answering the question. –  Monica Cellio Jul 4 '13 at 17:52
    
That's fine with me. I basically said what I wanted to say, and if in doing so I influenced only one person to think there might be a scintilla of truth in what I said about God's Word being believers' primary authority, then I will consider my efforts to have been amply rewarded. Best wishes, Monica. Don, rhetorician. –  rhetorician Jul 4 '13 at 18:35

Here a few of the proofs I collected a few a years ago (all from major scientists and professors by the way)

  • There is an accepted fact in science: anything that is over 1/1050 is impossible and will never happen. Scientists compare it to someone trying to select a specific crystal of sand from a sandbox the size of the earth. This law is one that is accepted in all universities, labs, and facilities. However, Dr. Carl Sagan was once asked what the odds that the world was created through natural mutations? He answered “1/102,000,000,000.” Thus, he confirmed that the world must have had been created by a Creator. Not to say that anything under 1/1050 must have occurred, because numbers such as 1/1030 still takes a tremendous leap of faith to embrace. Each of the thousands of different proteins in nature is a chain of 20 different amino acids. Their sequential order is crucial; if they are arranged properly the chain folds and becomes a 3D molecule. However, if they are assembled incorrectly no protein will form. Scientist Douglass Axe published in the JBM that the possibility of a protein being formed by random mutation is 1074 or 1:100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. Keeping in mind, there is a time limitation from the Cambrian explosion. Also keeping in mind, that there are only 1065 atoms in the entire galaxy. A parable is given to the probability of this random mutation: a blindfolded man standing in space attempting to locate a single atom. According to the first law that we stated about anything over 1/1050 being accepted in science is impossible comes into action here; we see here that it is impossible for a protein to be formed through random mutation, therefore proving existence of a creator.
  • If one took a ruler that stretched 14 billion lightyears- the approximate size of the universe (it could be much larger) [while keeping in mind the laws and principals of physics (gravity- F=GmM/R2)] and alternated the ruler out of the exact space of gravity in the universe, nothing over the size of a pea would be able to exist. In other words, organisms such as bacteria could be exist, however anything to a certain extent larger than that would not be able to live.

Of course, I have many stored in my computer somewhere.

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I don't understand what you wrote. "1065 atoms in the entire galaxy" "1/1050 is impossible" "alternated the ruler out of the exact space of gravity in the universe"???? Also, you negate the anthropic principle. –  Double AA Jul 4 '13 at 19:28
    
@DoubleAA 10 to the 65th power and 10 to the 50th power. When I copied and pasted it didn't come out well. –  Hacham Gabriel Jul 4 '13 at 19:31
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@DoubleAA and you can also apply all the answers to the question about the truth of Judaism to this question as well. –  Hacham Gabriel Jul 4 '13 at 19:32
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Throw 4 dices on a table, you get 4 numbers. the chance of getting that specific set of numbers is 1/1296. You just made something with chances 1/1296 happen in reality. –  shoosh Jul 5 '13 at 22:20

Rambam Hilchos Yesodei Hatorah Chapter 1

Halacha 5 This entity is the God of the world and the Lord of the entire earth. He controls the sphere with infinite and unbounded power. This power [continues] without interruption, because the sphere is constantly revolving, and it is impossible for it to revolve without someone causing it to revolve. [That one is] He, blessed be He, who causes it to revolve without a hand or any [other] corporeal dimension.

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Why not? And let's also recall the Rambam didn't know about friction or gravity. –  Double AA Aug 12 at 1:07
    
@DoubleAA What do you mean I am quoting the Rambam. –  user6781 Aug 12 at 16:15
    
I agreed you are quoting the Rambam... –  Double AA Aug 12 at 16:34
    
FWIW the celestial spheres He is allegedly spinning constantly don't actually exist. –  Double AA Aug 12 at 17:38

Rabbi Hirsch says a "proof is in the pudding" type of argument, namely if you keep the mitzvos it will become clear to you through your experiences that you are involved in something higher. It need not be explained - you will feel it, if you are keeping the mitzvos properly. This experience is an experience of G-dliness, and is the best "proof" of His existence.

This is quoted in Dayan Grunfeld's intro to Horeb.

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