fbpx

Dr. Aaron Segal: Can God Be Proven?

Listen_Apple_ButtonListen_Spotify_ButtonListen_Google_Button

SUMMARY

In this episode of the 18Forty Podcast, we sit down with Dr. Aaron Segal, philosophy professor and student of both Rav Aharon Lichtenstein and Alvin Plantinga, to discuss God from the perspective of analytic philosophy.

Analytic philosophy is mathematical, breaking claims into small pieces to rigorously analyze the language and concepts. The cost of this approach is its unwieldiness and high standards, which Aaron believes has precluded it from providing a capital-P proof of God’s existence. But one can still reason about God, and though some would claim belief in God is irrational, Aaron thinks its rationality is justified.

  • What are the approaches one can take to belief in God?
  • What are the limits of analytic philosophy in talking about God?
  • What are the limits of a philosophy like Plantinga’s reformed epistemology?
  • Can one’s knowledge of God be purely experiential?

Tune in to hear Aaron talk about both the power and limits of reasoning applied to God.

References:
Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus by Ludwig Wittgenstein
Kuzari by Yehuda HaLevi
Metaphysics by Peter van Inwagen
Advice to Christian Philosophers by Alvin Plantinga
The Source of Faith is Faith Itself by Rav Aharon Lichtenstein
“The Source of Faith…” Examined by Aaron Segal
Kurt Godel’s ontological argument

Scholarly Mentions:
Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, Alvin Plantinga, Kurt Godel, Bertrand Russel, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Yehuda HaLevi, David Hilbert, Immanuel Kant, David Chalmers, Georg Cantor, John Locke, David Hume, David Johnson (YU)

Dr. Aaron Segal is a lecturer in the Department of Philosophy at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and formerly taught philosophy in Yeshiva University. Aaron received his doctorate from the University of Notre Dame, where Alvin Plantinga was one of his thesis directors. He has co-authored and co-edited books on Jewish philosophy, such as Jewish Philosophy in an Analytic Age. Aaron is masterful in his knowledge and comfort in the profound questions of analytic philosophy, and also received Semicha from the Chief Rabbinate in Israel.

David Bashevkin:

Hello and welcome to the 18Forty podcast, where each month we explore a different topic balancing modern sensibilities with traditional sensitivities to give you new approaches to timeless Jewish ideas. I’m your host, David Bashevkin, and this month we’re talking about God. This podcast is part of a larger exploration of those big Jewish ideas, so be sure to check out 18Forty.org, where you can find videos, articles, and recommended readings. And allow me to add that we just redesigned and restructured our entire website. So take a moment, check it out. It’s much more easily-navigated right now, and you could go back and look at old episodes and see how we handle individual topics or however way that you like. I like this interface much better. It reminds me a little bit more of Hulu and Netflix, how I’m used to consuming content. So be sure to check out 18Forty.org where you can find our videos, articles, and recommended readings, and all our past episodes, topics, speakers. I really think you’ll enjoy and appreciate our new design.

I think for so many, as we discussed in the very introduction, the question about God really goes hand in hand with, what is the right methodology to start thinking about God? I’ve always been fascinated by the world of analytic philosophy, which is a rather recent phenomenon with older roots. But analytic philosophy really was born in the early 20th century with figures like Bertrand Russell and David Hilbert. And I know, Lord knows, that the number one theme of this podcast is me mispronouncing names and concepts of all the people that I’ve mentioned. David Hilbert, who was really a mathematician, but what he tried to do in the early 20th century was basically rebuild the very foundations of mathematics itself. He probably became most famous for his very rich imagery of Hilbert’s Hotel and trying to conceptualize infinity, which was eventually answered by the great mathematician who may or may not be Jewish, probably not, Georg Cantor. And again, continuing from our theme, Lord knows I pronounced “Georg Cantor” as “George Cantor” probably for the first decade that I even knew of his writings.

But this was a time in scientific and mathematic thought where the very foundations of epistemology, how do we know things, what is the foundations of the very world that we interact with, began to develop and flourish. And there were certain thinkers who began to build this world with our language. How do we describe things? How do we talk about things? How do we know things to be true? Probably the greatest thinker in this area was Bertrand Russell, I think some would attribute to the birth of analytic philosophy to him and his great student, Ludwig von Wittgenstein, who had a little bit of Jewish roots, I believe. I think his father was Jewish.

It’s a fun fact, my yearbook quote was actually from Ludwig von Wittgenstein’s… I’m always embarrassed pronouncing these names because I know when I try harder they just come out worse. Please send letters, and you can correct me there. But my yearbook quote was from Ludwig von Wittgenstein, and I believe, it was either my yearbook quote or it was in the introduction to my letter from the editor. I was the editor-in-chief of my yearbook. That is not a flex. I assure you it is not a job that was all that prestigious, it is no longer on my resume. But I think I had this introductory essay where I quoted, I think, the opening lines from his Tractatus which basically says, “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent,” which is basically a rumination on the limitations of language itself. What are we able to talk about? What are we able to describe and convey?

And I think that the world of analytic philosophy takes the universe of mathematics and imposes it on our very language and our very philosophy and the way that we approach the world. And that is the universe that our next guest, Dr. Aaron Segal, Rabbi Dr. Aaron Segal, who not only is a very fine Talmud Chacham, he completed Rabbanut Semicha, I believe, and studied under Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, but is an analytic philosopher of the absolute highest order. He’s a student of Dr. Alvin Plantinga who, in my life, and his approach in using analytic philosophy to give a foundation and grounding to religious commitment and the existence of God itself is a name, in my opinion, that any committed, curious, sophisticated Jew should be familiar with. No, he is not Jewish, but his thought, anybody who ever was looking for that solid foundation using the language of analytic philosophy to provide some way to ground our commitments and behavior, Alvin Plantinga is absolutely somebody you need to be familiar with.

We didn’t have Alvin Plantinga, I didn’t even attempt to have him on, because Aaron Segal is situated in both worlds. He’s not only a student of his in philosophy, but he really emerges from the world of traditional Judaism and the Beis Midrash, which is why I am so excited to have him as a guest. I would call him a dear friend. I’m actually much, much closer with his brother, Rabbi Ari Segal, of Shalhevet High School in LA, he’s been in my house a thousand and one times. And he’s the one who introduced me to Dr. Aaron Segal. But Aaron is such a delight to speak with, and is really fascinating, and couches that intellectual rigor with also a deep appreciation, as you’ll see, for emotional and experiential life. And I think anybody who’s ever tried to traverse both paths of both the experiential understanding of God, but also something that is deeply rationalistic, deeply grounded in the rigors of analytic philosophy, this is a conversation you’re going to want to listen to. It is my absolute pleasure to welcome our guest, Rabbi Dr. Aaron Segal.

It is my absolute pleasure to introduce today somebody who, maybe I could even call a friend, Dr. Aaron Segal, who’s a lecturer in the philosophy department at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. I know Dr. Segal, and I’ve always been fascinated with Dr. Segal because he is a student of both Dr. Alvin Plantinga, who he studied under to get his PhD at Notre Dame University in metaphysics – I’m sure that’s too broad, but Plantinga had a major influence in some of the language that I use to think about the existence and proving the existence of God – as well as a student of Rav Aharon Lichtenstein zt”l, the great rosh yeshiva in Gush. He was a student of both of them, which is why I am so excited to introduce our guest today, Dr. Aaron Segal.

Dr. Aaron Segal:

Thank you. Thank you, David. And you can certainly call me a friend. It’d be my honor. Yes, I am your friend. You are my friend.

David Bashevkin:

That’s very generous of you.

Dr. Aaron Segal:

I’m happy to see myself as such.

David Bashevkin:

That’s very generous. We’ve only met, I believe, once or twice. We had a long breakfast meeting in Chicago where I came with a notepad just taking notes on things that you told me. I still have that notepad, and thank God it really brought me on an incredible journey. I wanted to begin our conversation with a broad but very important question. You are an analytic philosopher, so maybe we can even start very briefly by explaining, what does it mean to be an analytic philosopher?

Dr. Aaron Segal:

Okay. Basically, being an analytic philosopher specifically has something to do with the methods that you deploy in doing philosophy, and the aim that you take yourself to have in doing philosophy. So you’re trying to formulate your claims very precisely and rigorously. You try to support your claims, subject them to critical scrutiny, which involves usually arguments. Arguments on both sides of various questions. So it’s a very argumentative way.

David Bashevkin:

And it almost looks closer to mathematics than it does to those soaring, looking out at the ocean and thinking about the majesty and beauty of the world. Correct?

Dr. Aaron Segal:

Yeah.

David Bashevkin:

You’re breaking down logic statements step by step and proving things like you would do in mathematics.

Dr. Aaron Segal:

Yeah, yeah. So some papers on analytic philosophy might look indistinguishable from a mathematics paper. Most of them are not quite like that, quite as technical, but even the ones that aren’t quite as technical, like you’re saying, there’s an attempt to break things down into more manageable components or pieces and then to use those pieces to build, step by step, to whatever claim you might want to be establishing in that paper. And you could have grand positions. Analytic philosophers have developed grand metaphysical theories, but most frequently, the work is done in a much more piecemeal –

David Bashevkin:

Granular.

Dr. Aaron Segal:

Plotting way. Granular, yeah.

David Bashevkin:

Exactly, exactly. Even if there’s a grand theory, if you would look at it, you would need somebody to explain to you, why is this so grand? It’s not like looking at the Mona Lisa or a painting. Doesn’t exactly jump out at you.

Dr. Aaron Segal:

That’s for sure. Yeah. Yeah, that’s correct.

David Bashevkin:

So that’s why I’m so excited to talk to you about the topic that we’re talking about this month on 18Forty, namely God, which is a big question. And I wanted to talk about God honing in on a very specific point, which is proving God, or knowing that God exists. So let’s begin with kind of the biggest of all questions. Can you prove that God does or does not exist?

Dr. Aaron Segal:

Okay. That’s a great question. I think the answer is no, but that’s partly because the word “prove” is a very strong word. It seems to be a very rigorous, or would require accomplishing something that is of a very, very high degree of rigor. And also, the premises you use, to go back to the mathematics comparison, the premises you use are somehow self-evident. So it would unfold in the way that a textbook math proof would unfold, if it’s really a proof. And it’s not as though no one has thought, at various points in the history of philosophy, that something like that could be provided. People have suggested that you could provide such an argument for the existence of God, maybe even against the existence of God. But I think it’s extremely unlikely that anything we have at the moment at least, anything anyone has produced to this point, would meet that standard. But that’s a very high standard. So it could be that there are interesting and successful arguments one way or the other but don’t amount to proofs.

David Bashevkin:

And just to dig a little bit deeper on that, has anybody proved or explored whether or not it is, have they proved that it’s impossible to prove? Have people explored that? Meaning, has anybody proved its impossibility to have definitive proof?

Dr. Aaron Segal:

So some philosophers have argued that it’s impossible to prove the existence of God. Kant seems to have argued for that claim, that there can be no proof for the existence of God, just like there’s no proof against the existence of God. If you follow his line, it seems like there also couldn’t be any good arguments for or against God. So it wouldn’t be just proofs that would be out of the question: it would be arguments, period. But I wouldn’t say that anyone has actually successfully shown that, because I don’t think Kant succeeded in showing that. So I don’t think there’s ever been a successful proof of the impossibility of proving the existence of God. I don’t even know what that might look like or how exactly that could go. Seeing on the face of it, eminently possible.

David Bashevkin:

I was thinking about it because in mathematics, when analytic philosophy began in the early 20th century with Bertrand Russell and Hilbert trying to figure out the foundations of mathematics, Kurt Gödel was famous for, and I always butcher his last name, I don’t know if I should even pretend to try to pronounce it correctly. That’s an ongoing theme in this podcast, me mispronouncing words and names. But he did prove, in fact, or attempted to prove the incompleteness of mathematics. That this system, there were things that were true that could not be proven within the system. Gödel himself came up with a proof for the existence of God, which I always found fascinating. That this very person who proved the incompleteness of mathematics still took the time out to come up with a reinvention of an earlier proof for the existence of God. Why would he even bother if he saw the limitations of mathematics? That he thought that maybe metaphysics operated under a different conception or set of rules than mathematics did, that there weren’t things that were outside of that system.

Dr. Aaron Segal:

Yeah. I mean, I don’t know if he thought that metaphysics operated by different rules, but the constraints that you lay down on the system in order to show that the system is incomplete wouldn’t be so relevant, or it’d be hard to formulate analogs, in the case of theology or metaphysics. You have to first do some careful defining of your terms and what a metaphysical system –

David Bashevkin:

As analytic philosophers love to do.

Dr. Aaron Segal:

Yeah, exactly – of what a metaphysical system is and how it can be formalized before you could even state a claim of its being complete or incomplete.

David Bashevkin:

So let’s go to the more practical world. Let’s leave, when we talk about proofs, the world of formal analytic philosophical proofs, and let’s talk about how you, as an analytic philosopher, how do you relate to the… Again, I’m using air quotes, you can’t see it, but the proofs that are often discussed for God, not by analytic philosophers, but that have been provided, whether by early Rishonim about the existence of God or contemporary circles in Jewish books or in Christian books. How do you look at them? How do you approach that problem if as an analytic philosopher you’re convinced, it seems, that a formal proof will never exist? How do you relate to that other world of religious discussions of proving God?

Dr. Aaron Segal:

Those arguments that you find, whether in the Rishonim or in contemporary, more popular religious literature, it’s not as though those arguments aren’t themselves the subject of analytic philosophical discussion. Any argument you find there, if it’s half decent, is going to appear in some kind of genuine philosophical discussion. It’s just going to be analyzed much more rigorously and carefully. So I’m not sure exactly which arguments you have in mind. If you go back to the Rishonim, the dominant kind of argument was a cosmological argument. And maybe the exact formulation, or even the type of cosmological argument that the Rishonim put forward, is now seen as something of a failure. That doesn’t mean there isn’t an interesting and perhaps successful version of the cosmological argument that can be developed, and so contemporary analytic philosophers of religion have tried to do exactly that, to try to see what’s the best version we can give of the cosmological argument.

David Bashevkin:

And just for our listeners, can you lay out what do you mean by the cosmological argument? Just very broadly.

Dr. Aaron Segal:

Right, exactly. It’s a family of arguments which start from some very general fact about the world. Usually, it’s the fact that there are contingent, concrete beings. So there are things, like you and me, that are concrete in the sense that we pull and push things and we have an influence in the world, and that we’re contingent. We could have failed to exist, presumably. I mean that would have been a sad state of affairs, David, but it could have come off that you and I would not have existed. So we’re contingent beings. But whether we are or not, the premise you need usually is something very, very broad and simple and uncontroversial like that. Just that there are some contingent, concrete beings.

That’s one kind of very broad premise, but it’s a family of arguments that start from that very basic idea, and conclude that there has to be some explanation, or a cause, something that makes it the case that there are any such beings at all. That gets you to a first cause, or it gets you to a necessary being. And that’s what the cosmological argument is meant to do. So there are contemporary versions of this, usually ones that get you to a necessary being if they work at all. That is a being who, unlike us, couldn’t have failed to exist. And the way you get there is by assuming some principle, like every fact, every truth has an explanation. And then there’s this fact. Look, there are these concrete, contingent beings. And if you go through the possible explanations, it doesn’t seem like any of them could possibly succeed, except for the one that requires or entails the existence of a necessary being. That’s in very broad outlines.

David Bashevkin:

I promise you, we have very few analytic philosophers who are going to listen and write in angry letters, but I’m not even worried, even those listeners –

Dr. Aaron Segal:

I’m worried about that one, the one.

David Bashevkin:

No, I’m not even worried. Even that listener, I know, I think given your training and standing you can stand up to that scrutiny. So let me ask you this: you are an observant, committed Jew. Not just a committed Jew, you were trained, I believe, as a rabbi. You did Rabbanut Semicha, if I have that correct, which isn’t… That’s not the mail order bride of Semicha. You don’t mail away for that one, that’s a serious Semicha you have to go. That was the worst Semicha analogy, I think, in the history of Semicha or marriage. I apologize to all of our listeners for that.

Dr. Aaron Segal:

I won’t comment.

David Bashevkin:

But you have been immersed in Yiddishkeit, in development of Halakhah. So let me ask you this: with that grounding, and your stance as an analytic philosopher, do you think Judaism even wants us to prove God exists? Is that important to us?

Dr. Aaron Segal:

Okay. So I’m not sure, as far as I’m concerned, it’s important whether Judaism wants us to do that. I’m not even sure I know what the question comes to. I mean, I can point to the fact that in Tanakh, it doesn’t seem to pop up. It certainly doesn’t seem to be a demand, not an explicit demand, at least not on the surface. Even in Chazal, in the rabbinic period, there’s not much by way of real philosophical argumentation for the existence of God. That comes onto the scene, the Jewish scene, in the medieval period, when you have medieval Jewish philosophers who’ve inherited this tradition from the Greeks, and then they start analyzing tradition philosophically. So it enters the tradition at that point. Does that make it un-Jewish? I don’t know, I don’t really see why. I mean, Gefilte fish didn’t come about until pretty late, but it’s a fairly Jewish thing. It doesn’t appear in Tanakh, but it’s still pretty Jewish. So I’m not sure what to say about that. I mean, if I had to give an answer, what does Judaism want, I’d probably have to divide it into all of these different components or periods in the development of Judaism. I mean, I guess to me the more interesting question would be, does God want us to prove the existence of God?

David Bashevkin:

I love that formulation.

Dr. Aaron Segal:

Thank you, David. That’s why I consider you a friend. I mean, given that I said before I think a proof is not in the cards, at least not now, I don’t think God wants us to prove that God exists. But yeah, does God want us to use rational considerations in defending, in coming to, in justifying our commitment to him, our belief in God? And that, I think, is a really interesting question and doesn’t have a simple answer.

David Bashevkin:

And let me jump in because I love that question. And you use the word, does God want us to have a “rational” justification? And I assume, I don’t want to put words in your mouth – And ladies and gentlemen, listeners at home, interviewing an analytic philosopher, don’t try this at home, it’s not easy. But I assume you meant rational as opposed to emotional. And this is where I want to get to a little bit, because I think for so many committed Jews, where they eventually get to, it is a very emotional, dare I say experiential, part of their life. It’s not all that rational. For me, at least, I don’t want to speak on behalf of the Jewish people, it’s not all that rational. So can you divide that out for me about, does God want us to rationally have a basis for our belief in God versus the emotional and experiential? Is that the process? Yeah.

Dr. Aaron Segal:

Yeah. That’s basically the contrast I had in mind when I used the word “rational”. What I really mean is adducing considerations that can be put in the form of arguments, things that can be expressed as what philosophers call propositions or claims. Things that, in principle, I could teach someone else, transfer to someone else. If an argument is a good argument, presumably, I could explain the argument and what’s good about it to someone intelligent, an intelligent person who’s interested in the issue. That’s what I mean by considerations, things like claims that can be formulated and communicated from one person to another. But there’s a whole nother aspect, or realm, of our religious lives and our lives in general which is not so easily communicable, and maybe in some cases, incommunicable.

So these experiences that we have – everyone has experiences of all sorts, and some of us have religious experiences. Religious experiences could be as broad as… broad in the sense of not directed right at God, but just spiritual in nature. I mean, someone who’s praying or singing at a particular moment may feel uplifted. That’s a very general experience of connecting to something beyond or transcendent. It might be much narrower, much more narrowly focused. That is, it might be an experience as of God. Mystics certainly claim to have such experiences. And of course, Tanakh is full of reports of people who have experiences as of God or as of God speaking to them.

So included in our experience is this wide category of experiences that we have. Many of us also have religious experiences, and religious life would be kind of unthinkable if it didn’t also include religious experience. So the question then becomes, the question for one who probes the justification, the integrity with which one holds a belief in God, whether those experiences or emotions could also play some such role. So the natural go-to for a philosopher and thinking about what could support my belief in God is the propositional, the considerations that I can put in the form of an argument and communicate to somebody else. But what about these other things? These other things that make up the bulk, maybe, of the religious lives or the lives of religious people. You might ask, you might wonder: could those also play a justificatory role? Could those somehow themselves, without any recourse to arguments of any sort, also make a person who believes in God on the basis of those experiences, or maintains a belief in God on the basis of those experiences, perfectly rational and reasonable in doing so? And that’s a really interesting philosophical question, maybe one of the most important questions that Alvin Plantinga addressed and contributed to in his philosophical work.

David Bashevkin:

So I want to actually get to that, because this interplay between emotional and experiential… I’m using the word not in the analytic philosophy sense, but proofs, or cultivating that relationship with God through emotions and experience, which as we said, I think most people, that forms the bulk of it, versus the rational exploration. And I think that an atheist rightfully looks at those religious experiences and says, “I don’t know, that’s your chemicals bubbling up the same way you’re afraid of a spider, or the same way you get happy when you eat ice cream. There is a feeling that your cells and your nerves are all stringing together that when you hear a nice song and you’re singing on Shabbos, it’s the same as the ice cream.” So tell me a little bit, and I really want you, because I know this goes against your training, but I think this is one of the most profound things that I have ever heard. How does Alvin Plantinga, Dr. Alvin Plantinga, who was your… There’s a fancier word for this, but he was your dissertation advisor.

Dr. Aaron Segal:

You just used the simple word. Yeah.

David Bashevkin:

What’s the fancy word? What am I really looking at?

Dr. Aaron Segal:

Doktorvater. But use the simple term. We prefer the simple term anyway.

David Bashevkin:

Let’s use the simple term. Explain to me his approach to this question. If you were to ask Alvin Plantinga, and we’ll link to videos where you can hear directly from him, but I’m curious, can you break this down and present it to us?

Dr. Aaron Segal:

Now that I know you’re going to link to videos of him, I feel kind of intimidated. I mean, this is maybe a bit absurd, but okay. His approach to that question starts from questioning what, in general, the structure of our beliefs, if they’re rationally held, might look like. And to make a very long story short, he looks at some possibilities, and he looks at maybe the most promising possibility. If you think about it, a lot of our beliefs are based on other beliefs that we have. But it seems like maybe there’s a foundation of beliefs that we have. That is, there are beliefs that we have that are not based on other beliefs. And it seems like that has to be the case. Otherwise, we’ll end up in something like a circle or an infinite regress. So for logical reasons, it seems like that’s the case. And also just if you look at some of our beliefs, some of our very, very basic beliefs, like two plus two equals four, things like that, they don’t seem to be based on any further beliefs that we have. They’re then used to build up the other beliefs that we have and to justify the other beliefs.

Another question is: so if there are these foundational beliefs, how can they themselves… If they’re not based on anything else, they’re not based on further rational considerations, how can they be justified? And how can they be warranted, is his term. How can they take us from just beliefs to being really well-founded, and maybe even amounting to knowledge if they’re true? So the classical picture, what he calls classical foundationalism, is that in order to be a foundational belief, in order to be a belief that is also justified so that it’s not based on something else, but it’s still properly held, it has to have some sort of really special mark. It has to be certain, like two plus two equals four. It has to be maybe something that’s indubitable, just cannot be doubted. But he then subjects this picture, this classical foundationalist picture, which says, “Okay, that’s what we have in the foundation, it’s the only thing we have in the foundation that can be properly held, that can be justifiably held, and everything else is based on that.” He subjects that to some pretty withering criticism, and shows that there are tons of problems with this. Mainly, it leads to a pretty strong kind of skepticism.

David Bashevkin:

What’s an obvious example of something that falls under the scrutiny? A belief that you and I might have that doesn’t hold up to this?

Dr. Aaron Segal:

Yeah. Let’s say my belief that you exist, David. Or my belief that there’s a table right here in front of me. I mean, these are things that, they don’t manage to meet that standard that’s laid down by the classical foundationalist for being in the foundation. And then if a classical foundationalist wants to justify them by saying, “Well, we can take indubitable steps from these indubitable foundations to get to those beliefs,” best of luck to them. I mean, the history of philosophy seems to have shown pretty clearly that that’s not going to work. There’s just no way to justify those beliefs in the existence of an external world or of other minds or of a host of other things through a series of certain or indubitable steps based on absolutely certain premises.

So it seems like it’ll lead to a pretty rampant skepticism. And it’s also, he ingeniously points out, self-defeating, because this claim itself, that the only way to be justified is to be either in these indubitable foundations or indubitably derivable from the indubitable foundations, that claim itself doesn’t seem to meet that standard. Right? So by its own lights, it itself is not something we should hold. So after subjecting it to such criticism, he says we have to… Basically, his conclusion is we have to be a lot more liberal about what can be a properly basic belief. A properly basic belief in the sense that it’s a basic belief, it’s in the foundation, it’s not based on something else, and yet it’s proper. Holding it doesn’t amount to any sort of intellectual failure or irresponsibility.

So that can include things like perceptual beliefs. If I look out it seems to me like there’s a tree out there. I can just believe, responsibly and justifiably, there’s a tree out there, based on that experience that I have. Directly based on the experience, not based on some other claim that I could formulate or some argument that I could give you. Any such argument would probably be pretty bad, or certainly wouldn’t be as good as a justification I would have just by looking at the tree and coming to believe it. And then Plantinga’s main claim in epistemology of religion is then to extend this to include belief in God. So in his view, at least if there is a God, then very likely, basic belief in God is proper, or it’s very likely that there can be properly basic belief in God in this sense. And taking us through his arguments for that to be clear, circumscribed conclusion, that conditional upon God’s existence, if God exists, then it’s very likely that someone who believes in God because that’s how they grew up, and that’s what their experiences seem to suggest, and their experiences throughout their life continue to suggest, such a person is wholly on the up and up and such a person might even know that God exists. He doesn’t claim –

David Bashevkin:

And such a person is not irrational. Meaning, it’s not claiming that this is a proof for God, but it’s saying that somebody who has had those experiences and now believes in God, that with the terminology of analytic philosophy is sufficient in terms of being a rational, proper, basic belief.

Dr. Aaron Segal:

Exactly. There’s no attempt here in what I have described to give an argument for the existence of God. Which is not because Plantinga doesn’t think there are such arguments: he does. But here, he’s really just focused on addressing someone who says something like this: “I don’t know whether God exists or not. Who could know a thing like that?,” to quote Plantinga, “but I do know that it’s irrational of you, believers, to continue believing in God, certainly in this day and age. And even if God does exist, you guys and gals really have no business continuing to believe in God because it’s irrational to do so.” And his response to them is even granting, because they’re more or less assuming, that there are no good arguments. Even granting that that’s the case, someone who believes in God just in this basic way – maybe they learned when they were growing up, that’s how they were raised, and they continue to do so, and are nourished by these experiences – such a person can be perfectly rational, at least assuming that God does in fact exist.

David Bashevkin:

I happen to love that approach. And in a way, again, I’m curious if you agree with this: to me it almost sounds like that’s modeled in a way in Chazal, and maybe even in some ways the Rishonim. We don’t have a masechta, a tractate, of God. It doesn’t really exist, that deep proof. I don’t know if what the Rambam’s doing, he probably has the most formal discussion of the existence of God, but even the Rambam, who was hyper-sensitive to negative theology, meaning we don’t ascribe things to God, we still find the Rambam talking about love for God as the love of a woman, as the way someone loves a spouse, as the way someone loves a child. And the way I’ve always seen that is kind of through this lens of Plantinga saying that, experientially, when you cultivate that relationship, those experiences have religious, and dare I say with what he’s provided, philosophical significance.

Dr. Aaron Segal:

Yeah. So I might disagree with the attribution of this view to the Rambam specifically. I do think the Rambam speaks a good deal about love of God, and links it very clearly to knowledge of God. But I think in his case it’s going in the opposite direction. So the knowledge is arrived at through a scientific demonstration, or demonstration of some sort, assuming that’s possible, and then that leads to a very intellectual love of God. But I agree, there’s no masechta of God, and in Tanakh and in Chazal and even in other Rishonim who were philosophically inclined, there is much more of a nourishing going on in the other direction. That the emotions of love and awe and other attitudes, emotional attitudes, that a person has toward God, those in turn support one’s belief in God. Those provide it with a foundation. And that could be a foundation in a causal sense. I mean, they are what gives rise, in many cases, and sustains that belief in God. But I think they also took it to be how we come to know God. So coming to know, which is a normative notion, means that they think it can serve also a justificatory role just like Plantinga suggests.

David Bashevkin:

So for me, I think my own conscious experience, I have a conviction that my life amounts to more than the culmination of atoms and science coming together and forming my body and my person. It’s much more real to that. And I almost access God through the realness of who I am, of my own experiences. That it must be, that feeling needs to amount, and my experiences need to amount, to more than just what the scientific explanation, which I’ve always found somewhat reductionist in just what it means to be alive and human and conscious. Is that the same as what Plantinga said? Would he say that that’s a proper basic belief of accessing it that way? Of just, the feeling of being conscious is so real to me. It is so inexplicable that it arises above any sort of scientific explanation. Just the trajectory of my life, that inner world. Would he put that in the category of a proper and basic approach to belief in God? Or I’m veering off into metaconscious David Chalmers weirdo territory.

Dr. Aaron Segal:

He’s not weird at all, at least as I would –

David Bashevkin:

I love David Chalmers.

Dr. Aaron Segal:

Well, I don’t know. I mean, some of the things you were saying sounded to me like highly theoretical claims or highly sophisticated claims that I suppose could be properly basic. I mean, nothing rules them out as being possibly even properly basic. Maybe that’s just you having some experience, and then you can just see, somehow, that there is no scientifically available explanation, no scientifically possible explanation of your life and your experience. I find that a little hard to imagine, but again, nothing can rule it out a priori. But there is the further point that Plantinga, I think, would emphasize, which is that even the properly basic beliefs are not beyond scrutiny and criticism. I mean, any belief that you have, including the basic ones, can be subjected to analysis, to counter-considerations. And the initial justification you have can be defeated, as he would put it.

It’s not as though he’s exempting us from careful philosophical thinking about these properly basic beliefs. So even someone who comes to hold that God exists just on the basis of their experience, depending on what their abilities are, and inclinations, I think he would say they probably have a responsibility to do some hard thinking about some of the questions and challenges that someone could raise about the claim that God exists. And also about the rationality of that belief, which is, of course, why Plantinga embarked on this whole project, because he thought it was of the utmost importance to address whether this kind of belief is rational, meaning the belief that’s held in this way as a basic belief, whether it’s rational, but also the content, that God exists. That’s something that’s subject to challenges, just straight-on challenges. Maybe most importantly and famously, the existence of evil, the existence of very bad things that happen in the world. And that’s something that everyone has to contend with, whether they hold or believe that God exists in a basic way or on the basis of some sort of argument.

David Bashevkin:

So let me ask you this, and this is almost a three-part question, and I’m asking you about – only two of these questions are you really qualified to weigh in on, but I want you to weigh in on all three. I’m always fascinated by discussions in our community, and I mean the broader Orthodox community, but really the broader Jewish community. I’ve heard so many calls, whether it’s in magazines or in high school curriculums, we need to teach our children emunah. We need to teach our children faith. And I’ve always been struck by… I don’t even know what they mean by that. Do they mean proving God in the classroom? Do they mean talking about questions about why do good things happen to bad people?

So here’s the three-part question: your own faith, your children’s faith, and what I would call communal faith, more of a curricular pedagogical question. That’s the one you’re not qualified to answer, but I’m asking you anyways. How do you think God should be taught? I’m asking you again, how does it work in your own personal life? How is God taught in the Segal home, in your home? And how do you think God should be taught – and I know your sibling, who I’m very close with and certainly friends with, Ari Segal, is an educator, maybe you’ve spoke with him about this. How should it be taught in our schools?

Dr. Aaron Segal:

Okay. Yeah. That’s not a three-part question, that’s at least three questions that you’ve now taken the liberty of asking all at once. So I will try my best to answer these. In my own case, and I hope this doesn’t come across as a weasel answer, I think the answer is it’s extremely messy and complicated, the grounds of my own faith. But I think that’s to be expected, I think that’s how it should be. I mean, when you’re dealing with a question as large as the question of God’s existence, it’s going to impinge on many, many other questions. Perhaps nearly every interesting philosophical question is somehow related, maybe at a distance, but somehow related to that question of whether God exists, and it also will impact it.

David Bashevkin:

Can you weigh in on that a little bit, of where’s that messiness coming from?

Dr. Aaron Segal:

The messiness is coming from, it’s being caught up with so many different issues, and having such a profound impact in so many different ways. I mean, the question itself ramifies and connects up with so many different things. I think part of what lies at the basis of my faith are philosophical arguments, and I think there are some very impressive philosophical arguments. We’re not going to have the time to go into them in detail, but I do think –

David Bashevkin:

Do you have a favorite just so listeners could Google it? Do you have a favorite?

Dr. Aaron Segal:

Well, my favorite argument for the existence of a designer is the fine-tuning argument, so that’s like the contemporary version of the argument from design. And you mentioned before arguments that are in the popular religious literature, that’s a very common one. I think it’s actually quite impressive when you get down to the details, and you start looking at the criticisms, many of which seem to be misguided to me. That seem to me, sorry, to be misguided.

David Bashevkin:

That it seems that this universe was fine-tuned in a way for the emergence of life.

Dr. Aaron Segal:

Yeah, exactly.

David Bashevkin:

In a way that if any minor detail was off, all of life would not exist anymore.

Dr. Aaron Segal:

Well, yeah, exactly.

David Bashevkin:

I assume it’s not just philosophical for you. There are also emotional, experiential…

Dr. Aaron Segal:

Yeah, right. So I was going to say, that’s a part of it, is these arguments, and maybe that’s what sustains my belief at this point in the face of certain difficulties and problems. That’s certainly not how I came to believe in God, and that’s also not on a day-to-day basis what nourishes my belief in God. I mean, I didn’t come to believe in God on the basis of any arguments, I was just raised in an Orthodox Jewish home where it was just taught that God exists. And the same for the schools I attended. And I grew up believing that God existed because that’s what I was taught. And along with that teaching that God exists came a whole bunch of experiences: the experiences of living an Orthodox Jewish life, which is extremely rich and full of all sorts of activities, mitzvot, davening, a tisch here and there. These are all things that, like we said before, the emotional components, the experiential components, they form the heart of religious life, and they also, I think, contribute to justifying my belief in God in this way that Plantinga describes. But it’s really hard to package it neatly.

David Bashevkin:

Aaron, can I jump in?

Dr. Aaron Segal:

Yeah, sure.

David Bashevkin:

And I genuinely mean this, we can edit this out, I wasn’t planning on asking this, we can totally edit this out. But your faith was also challenged, correct? Meaning you lost a parent under fairly tragic circumstances. Did that factor in in the way that you think about God?

Dr. Aaron Segal:

I don’t think it factored in –

David Bashevkin:

Allow me just make a caveat. If you don’t want to talk about this, I’m happy to not talk about it.

Dr. Aaron Segal:

Well, we could talk about it now and then maybe decide afterwards whether I want it edited out. I mean, I don’t think it challenged… Yeah, I actually don’t think it really challenged my faith in God, in the God that I believed in and continue to believe in. I think it would be a failure, certainly an intellectual failure, I think even something of an emotional failure, because of its self-centeredness, in a way, or self-absorption. If that took a bigger toll on my faith then the awareness I already had of the great evils and suffering that people had gone through throughout the history of the world. I mean, yes, it was extremely painful, extremely difficult, and still is, and it’s not as though it doesn’t play a role in my relationship with God. It certainly does in terms of how I relate to God, and what that relationship looks like, and what I say to God. But in terms of its presenting an intellectual or philosophical challenge, it presents no more of a philosophical challenge, or no more of a challenge, period, as far as I’m concerned, than the Holocaust.

David Bashevkin:

And any other evil that has –

Dr. Aaron Segal:

Yeah. That might come across as cold-hearted, I hope it doesn’t. I mean, it had an extremely deep, emotional, spiritual, and religious impact. But I just mean to say that I think to… If I were to have let it do that, I think that would bespeak a failure to have absorbed the enormity of the evils that have occurred prior to that. I mean I think in some sense, I hope it’s a sign of some sort of sensitivity rather than cold-heartedness.

David Bashevkin:

So let me ask you, let’s talk about, and maybe it’s no different, what it means to talk about God in your home, and then maybe you could talk about how would you advise our school system to talk about God, or maybe not talk about God at all. I’d love to hear both of those.

Dr. Aaron Segal:

Right. So I’m not sure I would answer so differently. I mean, I don’t know. And I’m not involved, like you said, in designing curricula for our schools. But kids are kids and education is education, I think whether it’s at home or at school. And just like there’s, I think, a need for differentiated education at school – that’s certainly a popular idea these days – there’s a need for that at home. Not every kid is the same. Not every kid has the same sorts of questions, or needs, or concerns. So I don’t think there’s any one-size-fits-all answer to either of these questions, how one should talk about God in the home or how one should talk about God at school.

I think the important takeaway from Plantinga, from what we spoke about earlier, is that maybe for some people arguments is what does it, and for some people, it’s really important to give that class on emunah where you discuss arguments for and against the existence of God. But for other people, that’s really not nearly as important, and maybe even detrimental. For other people, promoting the kinds of experiences, promoting the kinds of activities that you think are going to be conducive to being able to, in some sense, just experience God, taste God, all of those immediate, visceral reactions, you might want to promote that more at least for certain kinds of people and for certain children.

David Bashevkin:

So let me ask you, let’s get a little bit more specific. Somebody comes to you, and they’re very rational. They don’t like tisches. They don’t like singing. They don’t like davening. It just seems like everybody is talking about this invisible being that they have never seen or experienced. Their parents come to you as parents often do and say, “My 20-year-old, they’re struggling with their faith in God. I think they’ve become an atheist, they’re listening to this and that.” Where would you begin that conversation with that child?

Dr. Aaron Segal:

Yeah. Although you’ve tried to narrow it down to a certain kind of kid, again, I think there’s no one-size-fits-all. I mean that’s still a very broad description of a kind of kid and a kind of person. I mean it doesn’t have to be a kid. If I sit down to talk to such a person, I wouldn’t know how to start until I heard a lot more from that person. A lot more about what they feel they’re lacking, or what they feel is so deeply challenging, or what they feel maybe they never had. So all of these problems, these are very different concerns and considerations.

You described one sort of specific consideration where someone says, “Well, this is an invisible God, an invisible thing that I’ve never seen or heard. Why would I believe in such a thing?” I don’t know how much this person has looked into this further. I very often find that with people at a certain age, it’s very easy to be skeptical in a way about these things. The questions are so obvious that it’s very easy to raise the questions. But then the difficult task of actually trying to work through what’s been said about this by people who’ve really invested a lot of effort and energy in this, well it’s much harder to get people to do that. Even the people who are challenged by these things or raise these challenges and even seem to be prepared to make some pretty big leaps, steps away from, let’s say, their upbringing.

And that I just find always to be mystifying, honestly. Maybe I think too highly of philosophy and what it can do and what it should do and how much it should be absorbed. But I don’t think it should be… I don’t think it’s for everybody. I don’t think it’s for the person who to begin with doesn’t care about the rational considerations. But for the person who does, it seems to me that once they raise these questions, they shouldn’t be jumping to conclusions. I mean, no one should be jumping to conclusions before trying to sort through all the arguments and considerations and questions on both sides of the issue. And that’s a tall order. There’s a lot that’s been done, a lot of very good material that’s been written, a lot of…

David Bashevkin:

It’s not enough to just look out at the sky and say, “Hey, no God came down from the heavens. Guess he’s not there.” It’s much easier to articulate the problem than to really… If you’re being motivated from rationality and skepticism, then you also have to be motivated to do the work through rationality and skepticism.

Dr. Aaron Segal:

Yeah, precisely.

David Bashevkin:

Which I think is a fair point. Let me ask you this, and maybe this is more of a reflective question on your own memories and experience. You studied under Dr. Plantinga and Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, and maybe you get this question a lot, or maybe never, but how did their respective approaches to belief in God differ? And were there any ways where their personalities and styles overlapped?

Dr. Aaron Segal:

Ok, so I don’t think I’ve ever gotten that question actually. Thank you for asking me. So they differed in a bunch of ways. I mean, to start with the similarity, they were both deeply religious and devout.

David Bashevkin:

Well, let me make a disclaimer. Alvin Plantinga is not Jewish, he’s Christian, and Rav Aharon Lichtenstein was an Orthodox rosh yeshiva.

Dr. Aaron Segal:

That was difference number one I was going to give, was that one of them was Christian.

David Bashevkin:

You could do the tough ones now.

Dr. Aaron Segal:

Right. So yeah, Alvin Plantinga is a Christian philosopher coming from a Calvinist tradition and analytic philosophical tradition, and Rav Lichtenstein is coming from the world of Torah, obviously, but specifically Brisker Torah and English literature. These are very different worlds, I’d say. And Rav Lichtenstein to me didn’t seem to really evince any serious interest in analytic philosophy, or even maybe in philosophy more broadly. I mean, he obviously was very interested in what the world had to offer intellectually and otherwise, but I think his intellectual inclinations, they were elsewhere, they weren’t in philosophy. I think his father-in-law, Rav Soloveitchik, wanted him to pursue philosophy, if I’m not mistaken, and he did not. He did not want to, so he didn’t.

David Bashevkin:

Did you ever discuss your interest in analytic philosophy with Rav Aharon Lichtenstein?

Dr. Aaron Segal:

Yeah, I did. I did before I decided to go to graduate school. I spoke to him about it. That conversation is part of what leads me to believe that it’s just not where his interests lay. Which is not to say that he didn’t think it was valuable for people like myself who were inclined in that direction, but it didn’t speak to him, I think, to put it mildly. So they were very different, coming from different traditions, and different maybe in, I’d say, approachability. Rav Lichtenstein, I was awed by Rav Lichtenstein, and it was always somewhat of a terrifying experience to go ask him a question. Alvin Plantinga is a much more affable and approachable fellow, I’d say. And just a joy to go ask questions too.

That being said, there are these differences, I think you could point to some important similarities beyond the mere fact, like I started to say, that they were both deeply religious, of course, each in their own way. And this relates to what we spoke about before about Plantinga’s view on the sources of religious belief. They both grew up in religious homes and started with religious belief, but not just as a biographical matter. Throughout their lives, that was the fixed point. And the question was, if there was a question at all, how do you deal with challenges to that faith? That faith that’s so central to their existence. For Rav Lichtenstein, it was perfectly clear from observing him that that was the case. It’s also clear from explicit, his essay, “The Source of Faith is Faith Itself,” where he says as much.

And the same thing with Alvin Plantinga. I mean, you could just tell by interacting with him, but he also said as much. That for him, the most important thing by a large margin was his religiosity, his standing vis-a-vis God. It wasn’t just a matter of extreme importance, it was also the very foundation of his existence. And then the question was, “Okay, well, what do I do with the fact that there are these challenges?” And he took those challenges extremely seriously. And as a philosopher, he was much more concerned to address them and address them head on, I think, than Rav Lichtenstein. But both of them approached things in that way. The faith was the given, and the question was, “Well, what do you do, then, with questions that arise?”

David Bashevkin:

And I should just mention, and we’ll leave it up there for the one or two people brave enough to wade through, which it’s probably one of your more accessible articles, but you wrote –

Dr. Aaron Segal:

Yeah, I was going to say, thank you very much, David. Thank you. I consider that to be my most accessible article.

David Bashevkin:

Yeah, it’s not accessible at all for the average human being, but it’s probably your most accessible article. We’ll put a link to it there, your analytic approach to that phrase and that article that Rav Lichtenstein wrote, “The Source of Faith is Faith Itself,” which you break down and have some words in there that still haunt me in my dreams when I go to sleep at night. I forgot which word it was that I emailed you after I first read it. Hexa –

Dr. Aaron Segal:

Well I’ve forgotten as well.

David Bashevkin:

I’ll look it up and I’ll make sure I put it in the intro over there. So let me finish, unless you had more anecdotes to say, with one final question, and then we have our rapid fire questions. Those go a lot quicker. What do you think the Jewish world could learn from the academic world in terms of discussing faith? And what do you think the academic world could learn from the Jewish world when it comes to talking about faith in God?

Dr. Aaron Segal:

Yeah. I’ll speak just to the academic philosophical world, because that’s the world that I know within the academy. So I think the Jewish world can learn from the academic world of philosophy, and specifically maybe philosophy of religion, that it’s okay to talk about God and try to talk seriously about God. What I mean by “seriously” is not just with a seriousness of purpose. That, I think, many Jews do anyway. But to take oneself as describing the way things are. There’s a tendency in large swaths of the intellectual Jewish world to just shy away from talking about God at all, either because they don’t believe in God or because they think it’s just impossible to say anything at all about God. But in certain sectors – it’s a more Yeshivish, Haredi sectors – there is lots of talk, I think, about emunah and theology, but it’s almost always with the qualification of “kaviyachol”. No matter what’s said. And it could be the most anodyne thing about God, it’s always said “kaviyachol,” that’s “as if”.

David Bashevkin:

I was just figuring out if I should ask you to translate “kaviyachol” or “anodyne,” I wasn’t sure which one I want you to start with.

Dr. Aaron Segal:

The most innocent remark you could make is always prefaced with “as it were,” which has a place, and that brings me now, I think, to the other side of the coin. But it can be taken too far, to the point that one doesn’t really take oneself to be talking about God in any non completely metaphorical or figurative way. And you’ve just become unmoored from really talking about God, which is strange, because many of those same people do talk to God. And it’s not as though there’s a logical inconsistency here between thinking that –

David Bashevkin:

It’s not a contradiction.

Dr. Aaron Segal:

It’s not a contradiction in thinking that you can talk to God but not about God, but there’s something, I think, experientially difficult in living both of those. I mean, he’s so there, he’s so real when you talk to God, but then becomes so distant and ineffable even when you… In more yeshivish circles.

David Bashevkin:

That’s so interesting. Let me jump in because I have the opposite issue. My frustration is that our conversations about God are too often in the form of what I would call the genre hashgacha pratis stories. A story where I was going to miss the train, but then this person, and duh duh duh, and then I made the train and it saved me from something disastrous. Which again, we don’t have nearly enough time to talk about the theological underpinnings of hashgacha pratis stories. My rebbe in Ner Yisrael, Rav Tzvi Berkowitz, I remember clearly voicing discomfort with such stories. I don’t think they’re all that constructive theologically or educationally because it’s a condemnation on everybody who doesn’t have that hashgacha pratis story. It needs to be told very gently before you start applying and pointing to different things in your own life. But I definitely have had frustrations about the way that we wax and wane between the actual very serious experiences and confrontations we have with God through tefillah, and then the way we talk about God when it’s not in the context of tefillah or of a mitzvah, how we give it language. And I’m not sure who’s to blame. It might be, language might be to blame. I don’t know if anyone’s to blame.

Dr. Aaron Segal:

That’s a fair point. I mean, I think there may even be a cognitive dissonance even among those who do talk so frequently about hashgacha pratis and these stories, and I wholeheartedly agree with you that just because I think you should do theology doesn’t mean I think you should do bad theology and focus on these kinds of stories. But I think there might be a cognitive dissonance because if you push them up against the wall, you’ll very quickly elicit this kaviyachol attitude, as you might call it. And then you just wonder, “Well, how am I even supposed to make sense of these two parts of their intellectual discourse, where they’re making all of these claims which seem to be about the world and hashgacha pratis, but then when you push them on it, they’ll back away very quickly.” And things just seem very… They seem to evaporate under scrutiny.

But yeah. I mean, there might be some sectors of the Jewish world which do take these things very seriously, in which case I think they, along with a lot of philosophers of religion, have what to learn from the rest of the Jewish world, who maybe is more reticent. So maybe I’m displaying some kind of cognitive dissonance, or at least tension, here, because I think when I first encountered this kind of very direct, literal talk about God, and I first encountered it in philosophical discussions, I mean, that’s the first place I heard such things, was from my teacher, David Johnson, who’s a professor at Yeshiva University. Before then, I’d grown up in Orthodox circles and gone to Yeshiva High School and Yeshiva Gedola and heard a lot of theology, but it was always in this qualified way. The first time I encountered this bold, literal, straightforward talk about God, head-on without apologies, so to speak, was in my philosophy courses there with David Johnson. Like I said, I liked that a little bit. I mean, not just a little bit, but it made me realize just how strange, in certain ways, the previous discourse was. But then, as I went on, I got somewhat disenchanted with that way of speaking. And it’s very common, at least it was very common until pretty recently, among philosophers of religion, certainly the analytic philosophers of religion, to treat religious language as more or less like regular language. And in my kishkes, I kind of –

David Bashevkin:

Is that a philosophical term, “kishkas”?

Dr. Aaron Segal:

Yes. Plantinga would certainly rely on one’s kishkas. From my kishkas I revolted against that. I mean, it strikes me as making God too much like us. And maybe there is room for kaviyachol. So I don’t know where the perfect balance is. I think each side can maybe learn from the other not to pull things to one extreme or the other. So another point that maybe came up a little earlier that the philosophical community could learn, the philosophy of religion community, let’s say, could learn from a Jewish attitude to these kinds of things, to faith and epistemology of faith, is that for the Jewish people, it’s the Jewish people at least in part who have a faith, a communal faith. Right?

And so your faith is not yours alone, and it’s also not yours to defend alone, which is somewhat liberating, at least for me. And what I mean by this is, at least until, I don’t know, about 10, 15 years ago, epistemology was dominated by a very individualistic approach. Going back to Locke, Hume, and many of the great modern philosophers, everything you believed would be justified individually. Which is not to say you can’t trust other people, but even trusting other people would have to go through your own assessment and cognitive faculties to assess the reliability and then come to the conclusion that they’re trustworthy, and therefore you could believe them.

But it’s not a foregone conclusion that that’s how we should think about it, or that that’s the only way we should think about it. I mean, maybe you, as a member of a certain collective, can inherit the justification for this belief that you hold from the justification that the collective as a whole has for its belief, or for its faith. So I think the Jewish people has a collective faith that goes back in time to Mount Sinai and beyond, and that people, their faith is justified, and in virtue of that, mine is justified. And if I have doubts or challenges that I can’t necessarily address, that doesn’t mean that my personal belief is therefore unjustified so long as the collective as a whole, in some sense, has an answer to these things. Just as a parenthetical remark, I think that’s really what Yehuda HaLevi meant in his Kuzari. I don’t think that he really means to offer the argument that’s ordinarily attributed to him.

David Bashevkin:

A mass revelation. He’s basically shifting the point of beginning and saying, “It doesn’t have to emerge in this individualistic way that… Even Jews have become accustomed to that starting point of my own mind, my own experience, but there’s a way to re-shift where is your starting point, and that there’s a collective.” That is absolutely beautiful, and I love that a great deal. We could talk for another hour, literally, and we’re not going to – kaviyachol another hour. We’re not going to actually do that.

We always wrap up our interviews, and I hope that we’ll have the opportunity to speak more and again, because there’s so much more to unpack and unfold in everything that we discussed. But we always end with more rapid-fire questions. My first question, which – the world of analytic philosophy is so inaccessible, it’s so hard to find something that you could bite into, the average person, because it really is its own language. So is there a book that you could recommend or provide that talks about some of the ideas about God through the lens that you’re accustomed to that’s maybe geared towards a wider population? Even if it’s more than a mezuman, and maybe a minyan. I feel like a lot of what you discussed, there’s like three people who could really get to the depths of it. Could we extend that to 10 or 15? And I say that with love.

Dr. Aaron Segal:

Thank you. Thank you very much. So even though this is not strictly philosophy of religion, Peter van Inwagen’s book, Metaphysics, which I always highly recommend, does have a fair bit about God. And I think he’s just an excellent stylist and outstanding writer. And maybe it’s just me who thinks he’s so accessible, but I would definitely recommend his book. I mean, if you just want…

David Bashevkin:

Anything from Plantinga that’s accessible? Somebody who wants to begin to understand his applied perspective. Not the formal proofs that he builds it up, but how this perspective can actually provide some sort of grounding in my own life. Is there a starting point for that, or he’s really talking to a different audience?

Dr. Aaron Segal:

I cannot believe that… It is escaping me now. But his address when he got to Notre Dame, which… Oh my God. This is embarrassing, David. You’re going to have to cut this part out.

David Bashevkin:

No, no, no. He’s going to come after you. He may even revoke your PhD. We’ll see. We’ll have a discussion about that.

Dr. Aaron Segal:

Yeah. So his address when he came to Notre Dame on – sorry, “Advice to Christian Philosophers.” Okay.

David Bashevkin:

And you could find that online –

Dr. Aaron Segal:

You can find it online, yes. And it’s not heavily philosophical, at least as Plantinga goes. But yeah, it talks about how to integrate a commitment to theism and to God into one’s whole intellectual life. That’s what he means.

David Bashevkin:

I love that. So our second question: if somebody were to give you a great deal of money, a great deal of money, and you were able to take a sabbatical for as long as you need to totally focus to produce a book, what do you think the title of that book would be?

Dr. Aaron Segal:

Oh my God. You didn’t warn me that there would be this round.

David Bashevkin:

This is like the easiest round. No complaining.

Dr. Aaron Segal:

(sigh) Title? Judaism As a System.

David Bashevkin:

Judaism As a System. And it would be about formalizing through analytic philosophy the system of Judaism, or a couple things?

Dr. Aaron Segal:

What it would be about primarily is arguing that lots of questions, lots of the big questions, maybe all the big questions, are intricately interconnected, so that you have to evaluate things as whole systems. You can’t just evaluate things question by question the way analytic philosophers –

David Bashevkin:

Do I hear a little bit of Gödel popping up there or not?

Dr. Aaron Segal:

Not really.

David Bashevkin:

Because he’s my favorite philosopher to misuse. Rebecca Goldstein would probably come after me in my sleep. I don’t know if you read her book on Gödel but she hates people who misuse him, and he’s my favorite philosopher to misuse.

Dr. Aaron Segal:

You’ve now mentioned him several times here. Yes.

David Bashevkin:

I’ll do it day and night. I’ll do it day and night. There was that great New Yorker article about people who like to quote… I forgot. The artist who wore the bandana. The writer who wore the bandana. Oh my gosh, we’re all failing right now.

Dr. Aaron Segal:

Yeah, this is terrible. This is terrible. Thank you, David. It’s also very good of you. Yeah.

David Bashevkin:

This is terrible. We’ll take it up. Okay. Final question. Final question, which relates to what you just ended off on. What time do you usually go to sleep, and what time do you usually wake up? I love hearing about people’s schedules. When do you go to sleep? When you wake up?

Dr. Aaron Segal:

I’d say I go to sleep between 11 and 12, usually. And depending on the childrens’ schedule, and whether or not we’re all under lockdown, it can be anywhere between 6 and 7:30, is when I wake up.

David Bashevkin:

I love that. Very consistent, somewhat mundane, very befitting of your training. It was such an absolute pleasure and joy to speak with you today. My only regret is that it wasn’t for longer, but thank you so much. We’ll follow up with links and articles that you could send. Dr. Segal, thank you so much for speaking with me today.

Dr. Aaron Segal:

Thank you. This was really a pleasure.

David Bashevkin:

I’m going to be honest with you. As much as I am fascinated with the world of analytic philosophy, and the world of Wittgenstein, and all of these people, and people who have used their philosophy to talk about the world, I always find it deeply unsatisfying and unrealistic. It is not, I don’t think, the way that I ever really approach the world. I’m happy other people are doing the work like this because it’s not the way that I make decisions. It’s not the way that I decided to marry my wife. It’s not the way that I decided to raise my children. I think that there is an allure to analytic philosophy because it proceeds so sequentially, and it is so grounded in rationalism, that in our minds, it makes everything feel more real.

Personally, I think, and I think Alvin Plantinga to a degree would agree with this, that analytic philosophy is also very limited. And just because something is not necessarily grounded or able to be formally proven in the world of analytic philosophy doesn’t necessarily mean that it is any less real or any less authentic. I mean, sometimes that can absolutely be the case, and I guess it’s on every person to know when appealing to the rational grounding of philosophy is necessary in your own life. But it’s not something that I am all that enamored with. I find it somewhat stifling, and to me, the goal of life is not to imitate the rigors of computing and computer science and all of the contemporary developments in that world, though I very much think that people who are ensconced in that world – and this isn’t even a criticism, though it kind of is – it’s almost become a religion of sorts if you look at the way that thinking about credence, and the singularity, and the way that certain personalities have become these messianic figures in this world, offering this world of absolute rationalism, paradoxes of maybe we live in a simulation.

So much of the religious language has been co-opted by contemporary philosophy. And overall I don’t find it all that compelling or all that practical. Which is not an argument that it is not true or necessary, it’s really just an appeal to, number one, realizing and appreciating the limitations of any discipline, and also an understanding that maybe the goal in life is not to imitate the ultimate rationality, but our warts, difficulties that are deeply human in the way that we process the world, however you want to explain them, but maybe that, in fact, is what makes us most unique. Rather than thinking about how we can keep up with the developments of computer science, maybe embracing some of the brokenness of our inner experiential and very human lives is also a lens to appreciate what makes the human experience all that unique, and sometimes our very approach towards the notion of God itself.

So I really hope you enjoyed the conversation, and thank you so much for listening. It wouldn’t be a Jewish podcast without a little bit of shnorring, so if you enjoyed this episode, or any episode, please subscribe, rate, review. Tell your friends about it. It really helps us reach new listeners and continue putting out great content. If you’d like to learn more about this topic or some of the other great ones we’ve covered, be sure to check out 18Forty.org. That’s the number 1-8 followed by the word “forty,” F-O-R-T-Y.org, 18Forty.org. And as I mentioned, we just totally redesigned and overhauled our entire website. So be sure to check it out at least once before deciding not to visit. You’ll also find videos, articles, recommended readings, tons of resources on there. I really hope you visit and check it out. Thank you all so much for listening, and stay curious, my friends.