Very intelligent friend turns from Atheism to a weird mix of jewish belief.

First off...i study philosophy and religion, but am a complete layman when it comes to a lot of the in depth studies that some arguments take. I went to high school with a friend who was (is) the most intelligent person i know. He was an atheist at the time, as well as through college, but about a year ago i had heard that he converted to Judaism. I found this very puzzling at the time, especially since i didn't know much about Reform Judaism, which is more like being a Deist than a fundamentalist orthodox jew. After a few chats with him i felt that he was actually just a Reform Jew and not actually practicing any orthodoxy. I knew that he had married a jewish woman and this was partly due to his conversion, but i felt he was a little too intelligent to have that as his only basis. I then asked him and he told me that he leaned more philosophically towards reform judaism, but (here's the curve ball) he actually belonged to one of the strictest orthodox sects for interpreting the torah and rabbinical writings.

He is a professor now at a VERY prestigious college, sitting as the associate professor of philosophy of logic and mathematics. So i asked him about what it was philosophically that could have changed his mind. I have read michael shermers book "why people believe weird things," and have read the chapter on how intelligent people can believe non-intelligent things because they are very good at arguing through their specific field of knowledge. My friend is no different, because he constantly baffles me and leaves me speechless when he answers some of my questions. He went on to tell me about how he had read Wittgensteins book "On Certainty" and that had partial meaning to him because we are just not biologically set up to be 100% certain of anything. Well, i read the book and aside from all the redundancy, i can say that it didn't really sway me one way or the other and i felt that Wittgenstein was actually stating, in a way, that asking questions about gods existence isn't important anyway since it deals with the supernatural and that is something our minds cannot grasp anyway...fair enough.

Secondly, he is a philosophy of logic professor, and i have noticed that there is a great deal of difference in belief systems that certain philosophers hold along with scientific colleagues. Those dealing along the lines of biology, physics, religious philosophy, and things that are more naturalistic tend to be less inclined to believe in a god or creator, but i have also noticed that Logicians and Mathematicians are sometimes (but not always) prone to believe in god because of all the mathematical patterns that they see. One example, which he did not give me, but i did see it was part of his curriculum was that of Godels Ontological Argument. This is modal logic and its mathematics tend to bog me down because i am just not good in this particular field of study, and quite frankly it is very boring, but i can see how someone of great intelligence, especially dealing with mathematics and logic might deduce from all the patterns that there was something out there that could have created us.

I am an atheist to all world religions. I am agnostic to the idea that something could have created this universe, i don't feel that it is necessary, but i cannot simply say one way or the other because no one knows: no theist, no atheist, no deist, and certainly not myself. It is something that is just not within our current grasp as well as scientific and technological ability to understand, and honestly...can we ever understand the supernatural and know what is not part of the natural?

My main question in all of this is wondering if anyone understands Modal Logic, and also wondering if anyone might have some insight into why this seems to be more of a trend with people that are very intelligent when it comes to mathematics and logic, because i certainly cannot win an argument with them because i have no idea what they are talking about most of the time, haha.

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Firstly, why Judaism? In his opinion, does it have anything to offer that other religions or atheism cannot?

Yes, mathematics fits together so perfectly that it appears to have been designed - however, evolution taught us that superficial appearances can be deceiving. Perhaps it is inconceivable to some people that it could all be "just" a coincidence that the laws of the universe turned out in this way.
This was his quote to me from the very first email we exchanged. This quote also led me to believe that he was a Reform Jew, which like i said, isn't really much of a belief in the supernatural at all, but then he told me that his philosophical view was that of reform judaism but that he followed the strictest form of orthodox judaism. Here is the quote:

"Unfortunately, most of my religious thinking is played out *within* Judaism and is not really *about* Judaism. So I don't have much to offer in the way of why I think that Judaism is correct or right for me, etc.

I can say this about my own experience: My conversion grew out of a realization that all ways of living, all worldviews, all basic ways of thinking about one's place in the world and duties in the world are equally irrational. I don't believe that there is any neutral perspective that one can take in order to compare the various religions or to weigh the merits of being religious and not religious. There are just some religious ways of relating to the world and some non religious ones. I decided that my own world-view was largely the product of certain historical, scientific, and literary tropes that were a few decades old and certain personal anxieties and quirks that were no older than me and that this was not a very effective background from which to make the most sense of certain human phenomena like suffering, love, kindness, despair, etc. Without really looking for it, I came to realize that the traditional Jewish worldview served my purposes much better. So I went native and adopted that perspectival background hook, line, and sinker. It is a worldview considerably richer and worn down by history than the one I had before, and my experience with it is completely positive.

I don't believe that I have any evidence for the existence of God or for the truth of Judaism or anything like that. God and Torah are just built in to my outlook from the get-go: they are the primitive background that make my judgments about existence and truth possible."
That's probably the big difference between atheism and religion in general: religion attempts to use the supernatural to ascribe meaning (albeit sometimes a distorted one) to life, whereas atheism doesn't really offer anything up front, other than implying a "purposeless", materialistic universe. Your friend might have been uncomfortable with this apparent lack of meaning.

In this way, atheism is somewhat existentialist in saying that it's up to us to make life meaningful, and we cannot depend on "being told".
yeah, thats the weird thing. He says that he doesn't really believe in an afterlife or that anything supernatural happens, which would conform to what reform judaism is about, but then he states that he follows the strictest form of orthodoxy. He is an odd man to figure out for sure, but i'm just more perplexed with modal logic, i really can't understand it and i kinda hate when i can't figure something out that seems like it'd be a big key to understanding where his viewpoints are coming from.
Mathematics appears to be designed, because it IS designed... by humans. We designed logic and mathematics to fit our needs, to descibe SOME aspects of the world, wich are relevant to us (and only us, humans).
yeah, i think the guy is just very good at what he does and is very good at arguing his point through it, even if its just semantics. I just hate not knowing whats going on in an argument and feeling lost, and modal logic loses me. haha.




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