Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Gift of Apologetics

For Chanukah my mother-in-law got my daughter a doll, my wife something for the house, and me a book that claims to be able to bring the reader to, “actual knowledge of God.” The book is “Search Judaism: Judaism’s Answer to a Changing world” by Rabbi Yitzchok Fingerer. I Googled the author’s name and found that he works for Aish HaTorah; that his shiurim are posted on a site that boasts of having lectures from over 250 speakers, yet mysteriously has pictures only of the male lecturers (either none of the female lecturers were available to pose for a picture or a grainy head shot of a woman is an unpardonable breach of tznius); and (courtesy of Only Simchas) that he was married the same year I was.

I’ve picked up books like this before in good-faith attempts to see if there is some proof I might have missed, and invariably I put them down in disgust after coming across an awful argument or blatant untruth. The most recent was a couple of months ago when I picked up “Beyond a Reasonable Doubt” by Rabbi Shmuel Waldman. I didn’t get very far when I ran across a Judaicized version of Pascal’s Wager. Struck by the absurdity of using a proof created by a Catholic theologian in defense of his own religion as an argument for Judaism, I stopped reading. I’ve come to have very low expectations for these kinds of books.

Still this was a gift, and I know my mother-in-law meant well. My wife told me that her mother had done some research before buying the book to try and find one that would appeal to me. (I’m touched by her effort, though in all honesty I wish she would just let it be.) The least I could do was read it. I decided to write down my thoughts as I went along.

So far I’ve gone through the first chapter, and I have over eleven typed pages of critique. It’s not just some fuzzy logic, it’s not appeals to the possibility that God might exist, it’s not even that its wrong on the main points that the author is trying to make. It’s wrong on Every. Single. Point.

I’d estimate about 85% of the statements in the book are either factually wrong or logical fallacies. Its full of examples and anecdotes clearly meant to push emotional buttons, and the chapter ends with what I’m pretty sure is an exercise in quote-mining. (Though I do have to admit I’m not certain, not having read the quotes in their original contexts.)

I’m thinking about turning this into a project. I usually post two or three times a month. Using this book as source material, I could put up a post every day for weeks. Is anyone interested in reading it?


  1. Yes, bring it on!

    I've been pushed and prodded to read those books as well, so this would be a great public service.

  2. If you write it, it will be read!Sure, why not! You obviously mean to say that your Mother-ln-law , zuhl zein gezundt, is aware of your beliefs; how did that come about? Are you out of the closet?

  3. I've never made much of an effort to be "in" the closet. I don't introduce myself to people by saying, "Hi, I have serious doubts about the existence of God,” but I don’t go out of my way to hide it.

    My in-laws probably have a better idea of what I think these days than my parents do, both because I see my in-laws more often and because my parents stopped trying to get me to do religious things I didn’t want to (mostly going to shul) years ago.