I finally finished the first phase of writing my book! I've finished collecting and organizing my notes. The notes are culled from books, articles, and blog posts I've read, and from things I've written. I'm constantly finding new articles, and there's probably ten books on my current reading list that are relevant to the book I'm writing, but I have to stop collecting notes and start writing at some point. If I wait until I collect every piece of relevant writing, it will never end. The (semi-) final page count for my notes is 1,236 pages, among which is enough information to fill out all of the points I want to address in the book.
The following is a summary of the book as it is now laid out:
Apikorsis!: Reasonable Doubts Regarding Orthodox Judaism, Religion, and God.
Part One: Introduction
Chapter 1: Why I Wrote This Book
The book is, first and foremost, an answer to the canard that people leave Orthodoxy because they are weak-willed hedonistic cretins who can't control their taivos and throw off the ol hatorah to excuse their wallowing in the fleshly pleasures of the world. It shows, at length, that there are kashas that aren't terutzim, that it is reasonable to conclude that Orthodoxy is incorrect, and that the many, many intellectual problems with frumkeit aren't just weak excuses.
Part Two: Thinking About Religion
Chapter 2: Heresy
Truth and the idea of apikorsis are incompatible. If something is true, then it is, and if it's not, nothing is gained by making it a sin to think it. Apikorsis is only a useful idea if it's more important to hold ideologically correct ideas than it is to hold true ideas. Labeling dissenting ideas "heresy" is an attempt to protect beliefs through ignorance and to bully dissenters into silence.
Chapter 3: Epistemology
Before we can determine if Orthodoxy is the truth, we have to establish how we know what the truth is. This chapter contrasts revealed religious epistemology, where there are pre-determined conclusions for which evidence is collected, and the method (ideally) used in science and academia, where evidence is collected first and conclusions drawn from what is found.
Chapter 4: Critical thinking, Cognitive Biases, and Logical Fallacies
This chapter explores formal and informal logic, common mistakes in thinking, probability, and how to evaluate the truth of a claim.
Part Two: Orthodox Judaism
Chapter 5: Orthodoxy's Authenticity
Orthodoxy claims that it is the only correct form of Judaism, essentially unchanged since the Torah was given on Har Sinia and uninfluenced by the surrounding culture. This chapter shows that every one of those claims is not true. There have been many forms of Judaism over the millennia, none of which can be said to be more legitimate than any other; many aspects of Orthodox Judaism would be unrecognizable to Jews of the past; and Judaism has always been and continues to be a syncretistic religion that shares ideas with the cultures in which it finds itself. Orthodoxy as it is now is the most similar of the modern forms of Judaism to what traditional Judaism was just before the modern era, but like the other streams of modern Rabbinic Judaism, it has its origins as a reaction to modernity.
Chapter 6: Orthodoxy's Peculiarities
Orthodoxy has some idiosyncratic ideas, both sociological and metaphysical. Among these are the parochialism of the frum world, in which it imagines it is better than the rest of society and that everyone else is obsessed with what frum people do; the slide-to-the-right and the escalating adoption of restrictive chumros; the doctrine of Daas Torah; and the strange idea that every generation is contemptible compared its predecessors.
Chapter 7: The Women's Section
This chapter addresses the role of women in Orthodoxy. It includes issues such as women's secondary place in halacha and frum society, the misogyny that is woven through halacha, and the hypocritical objectification of women under the banner of tznius, which claims to change the focus from a woman's sexuality to her inner attributes while focusing exclusively on how well she hides her sexuality.
Chapter 8: Arguments for Orthodoxy
My mother's uncle's cousin's stepdaughter had an amazing thing happen to her. Mamish a nes! That proves Orthodoxy is true! And surely all the great rabbonim of the past and the gedolim of today are smarter than we are, and they all believed! Shouldn't we rely on them, and accept that Orthodoxy is true? No, we shouldn't, because how smart someone is has little to do with how likely they are to be right. And people of every religion have miracle stories, most if not all the result of the way the person experiencing them frames the world and misunderstands probability. Nor do the positive attributes of the frum community or its demographic success give us good reason to think that frumkeit is the truth.
Part Three: Judaism
Chapter 9: The Kuzari Proof
The Kuzari is often *the* proof people rely on to show that Judaism is true. This chapter lays out the premises of the Kuzari Proof and shows in detail why each one is mistaken. If any of the Kuzari's premises are wrong, then the Proof is invalid. As it turns out, every one of the premises is wrong, and the Kuzari is useless.
Chapter 10: Factual Inaccuracies in Our Foundational Texts
This chapter discusses some of the inaccuracies in Tanach and the Talmud, from the incorrect order of Creation to the gemara's acceptance of spontaneous generation to mistaken ideas about how babies are made, and much more. It also addresses the "explanations" given by traditionalists, from essentially claiming the world was created five minutes ago to shunting all the inconvenient claims off into an unknowable inaccessible "higher" reality where these mistakes are all really the truth.
Chapter 11: Torah Shebichsav (TSBK) and Modern Biblical Scholarship
In the frum world, Biblical Criticism is usually dismissed as a silly attempt at undermining the truth of the Torah. If only the Bible Critics could read the meforshim, they would understand that Torah is emes! This chapter explains that academics can and do read the meforshim, and shows why the academics come to the conclusion that the Torah is a composite work. It discusses some of the many examples of Sumerian and Egyptian mythology in the Torah, and traces the development of Tanach from oral Israelite myths to the seventh-century BCE redaction of the Torah to the canonization of the Masoretic text.
Chapter 12: The Development of Torah Shebaal Peh (TSBP)
I've heard Orthodox opinions on the divinity of TSBP that range from an insistence that every sefer ever written was given to Moshe on Har Sinai to that Moshe was only given a set of rules for interpreting the written Torah. This chapter traces the development of the concept of an authoritative Oral Tradition and the development of the tradition itself.
Chapter 13: The Historical Development of Judaism in the Ancient World
No one really knows what the origins of the Jewish people are. This chapter begins with plausible speculation about Jewish origins in the Canaanite highlands, and moves from there onto firmer ground with a discussion of the development of Jewish monotheism and the impact of galus Bavel and Judaism's exposure to Zoroastrianism.
Chapter 14: Proofs for Judaism
The most common proof for Judaism, after the Kuzari Proof, is the Argument from Jewish Survival. This chapter opens with a discussion of Jewish survival and the mundane, if unusual, conditions that allowed Jews to survive for millennia as a distinct people. This chapter also addresses other popular arguments for Judaism, such as Bible codes, the supposedly humanly impossible complexity of the Talmud, and, for a good dose of Jewish guilt, the Argument from Jewish Martyrs.
Chapter 15: Question From Other Religions
This is perhaps the greatest argument against emunah peshutah. There are people all over the world who sincerely hold different religious beliefs. Often, the beliefs of different groups are mutually exclusive, which means that at least some of these people must be wrong. What are the odds that we happened to be born into the one religion that got it all right?
Part Four: God
Chapter 16: What is "God?"
Before we can discuss whether or not there's sufficient reason to think that God exists, we have to figure out what we mean by "God." This chapter discusses various conceptions of God, including polytheistic ideas, the God of Tanach, and currently acceptable frum ideas of what God is. It also discusses where the idea of God might have come from if He doesn't exist, and how we might go about determining if there's reason to think that He does.
Chapter 17: Morality and the Problem of Evil, or The Most Common Argument Against God's Existence
One of the common arguments for God is that if there is no God, there is no objective morality, and so God must exist. Of course, it could be that there is no God and there is no objective morality, however much we may want morality to be objective. Nor can God have anything to do with an objective morality, something we've known since Plato. From the Argument from Morality, we move to the Problem of Evil, which asks how there can be evil in the world if God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omni-benevolent. Various theodicies are discussed which try to reconcile the existence of evil with a tri-omni God. One of the most common theodicy is that evil is necessary for us to have free will, and we look at whether we actually have free will in this deterministic universe of ours. Finally, we look at the empirical evidence. Was the world more moral in the past, when religion was taken for granted, and has morality been declining along with the decline of the centrality of religion in society, as religious demagogues often claim?
Chapter 18: The Argument From Design, or The Most Common Argument For God's Existence
Rashi cribbed from Aquinas when he said that just as a house points to its builder, so the world points to a Creator. The complexity of the universe and of life, and the fine-tuning of the world to allow for life, is the most common argument for the existence of God. This chapter explains why complexity doesn't in itself point to a Creator, and gives an overview of evolution as an alternative explanation for how the complexity of life arose.
Chapter 19: Other Arguments for God
This chapter covers many of the arguments for God's existence, among them the argument that the universe had to have a cause, and that cause is God; that there are many things we don't understand, and God is the explanation for those things; the argument that there are many immaterial concepts, like love, that we accept are real, and so we should also accept that God is real; and what for many people is the most convincing reason to believe in God, personal experiences that leave them sure that they know God is real.
Part Five: The Baby and the Bathwater
Chapter 20: Pragmatic Religion
Even if God isn't real and religion isn't true, religion provides all sorts of benefits. And anyway, shouldn't we be frum, just in case it turns out that it's all true after all? No. The answer is no. It's true that religion does all sorts of useful things, but pretty much all of those things can be accomplished without religion, and religion has too many costs to justify pretending it's true in order to keep its benefits.
Chapter 21: Going OTD
This chapter explores the various reasons why people leave the frum community, what they experience when leaving, and what the frum community tells itself about those who leave.
So after all this, is there anything that could make me believe in frumkeit again? And is there any value in being Jewish? I think the answer to first question is it's possible, but incredibly unlikely. The answer to the second question is that I can only speak for myself, but I don't think that being Jewish loses its value as an identity without the belief in Judaism. And I think that the overwhelming majority of Jewish people would agree with me.
These are some other ideas for a cover I've been playing with: