Tuesday, January 23, 2007

So You "Learn" Because the Talmud is the "Mind of God...?"

How many of you have heard from overeager BT's or even Rabbis that they knew all this rabbinic judaism was "true" because learning gemara revealed the "Mind of God?"

You won't hear that phrase in the litvish circles, but they would no doubt say something along those lines about the gemara- that studying it gives one insight into what God "thinks" or perhaps strengthens their emunah because everything "fits together so well."

Strange, the gemara doesn't really fit together so well, now does it? And as for this mind of god business, well, just read and random page and I dare you to believe god had anything to do with it.

If Orthodox Jews are so convinced there must be a creator because of the complexity of the world, and how well the world "fits together," I have a suggestion: instead of wasting all day reading the gemara, learn "Molecular Biology of the Cell" by Alberts, et al., or a similar text, to study the majesty of "god's work."

The more you learn, the more you will be duly impressed, but your emunah, where will it go? I'd bet my bottom shekel that, once you'd studied, with a chavrusa even better, you'd come to the same conclusion as 99.9% of biologists- that all this amazingly intricate function of the cell and its organelles, DNA, RNA, etc., all came about through a long, progressive course through minute changes over the eons. You'd have a very difficult time with Noah's Ark, or any of Genesis.

But that's OK! Just because orthodox judaism isn't so accurate, and Molecular Biology of the Cell is a far better representation of the true "mind of God"- unfeeling, uncaring, unthinking evolutionary progress over millions of years resulting in fantastic complexity- none of this means you can't glean some of the wisdom of the religion and toss out the rest that is pure nonsense.


PS- I am aware of the frum doctors who know these subjects well yet still believe, but I think that is more a function of their willingness to completely partition their rational professional pursuits from their religious ones. Ironically, the folks that trot out "Intelligent Design" are almost never people that have studied biology to any great extent. The great exception is Collins, but he's no creationist, and rather claims that God 'designed' evolution. A sorry copout indeed.

34 Comments:

Blogger Yoel.Ben-Avraham said...

I won't relate to your post directly, but there can be NO debate that the Talmud (or more correctly the Learning of Talmud) represents the "collective conciousness" of the Jewish People. Everyone who emerses themselves in it eventually "connect" with the great minds that have moulded Jewish conciousness over the past two millenium.

1/23/2007 8:26 AM  
Blogger jethro said...

I thought that the point of studying gemara all day was to limit the time that one had to study physics and biology?

I think that Mordechai Kaplan would have a lot to say about the Talmud representing the collective mind of the Jewish people. I think at most one could argue that the Talmud is a repository of anecdotes, laws , interpretation, and fables that Jews have studied over the centuries, but if one limits themselves to Talmud, what of midrash, poetry, prayer? Why limit oneself to Talmud as a lens to see the world when we have science, literary criticism, Greek and Buddhist thought, as well?

1/23/2007 11:44 AM  
Blogger jethro said...

And by the way, it would be technically more accurate to state that the Talmud represents the collective consciousness of Jewish male rabbis. The Jewish people is a much bigger and broader category than what is represented in the Talmud.

1/23/2007 12:57 PM  
Blogger jewish philosopher said...

Sure, and if you study electronics you'll discover that your computer wasn't "Intelligently Designed". I evolved from the light bulb.

1/24/2007 11:22 AM  
Blogger BTA said...

"if you study electronics"

Actually, your analogy isn't as stupid as it seems.

That is, no one says "this computer must have been made by god, because it is so complex and well-suited to its tasks." The reason for that is that it is obvious that another party is responsible, humans.

Likewise, with complex lifeforms, DNA, etc., evolution is the explanation, not god, and this explanation is well-known to anyone who takes the time to learn about it rather than conjecture and shoot from the hip.

Thanks for bolstering my point.

1/24/2007 5:42 PM  
Blogger nschuster said...

I just have some questions for BTA.

#1 I am a high school Biology and Earth Science teacher in a Public School. I am somewhat familiar with the structure and function of cell, DNA, RNA, Polymerase Transcriptase, Rough and Smooth endoplasmic reticulum, Krebs cycle, Calvin cycle, ect. It is because of my familiarity with cells that I do not believe in unguided evolution. I don't see how something as complex as a cell can, which is as least as complex as a city, can be the result of a series of fortuitous accidents.

#2 I saw a posting on The Jewish Atheist Blog where you said that the only involvemnt that Orthodox Jews have with charitable giving is donations to shuls, yeshivas and kollels. Either you where never part of an Orthodox Community, or you have a very selective memory. I live in a relatively small Jewsih community, yet we have Hatzola, the volunteer ambulance service which is supported entirely by private donations, Bikur Cholim, which provides various services for sick people, including paying for medical insurance for poor people, Tomchei Shabbos, a food bank, Davis Memorial Fund, which provides emergency financial help. There's more, but I think I made my point.

## Why are you so angry? I'm the one who should be angry? After all, you made a very unkind and untrue statement about my friends and neighbors.

1/25/2007 11:40 AM  
Blogger BTA said...

NS,

ok, let's clarify a bit. I'm not angry whatsoever, people assume that because I am sarcastic about Orthodox Judaism, yet nothing could be further from the truth.

As for tzedaka, that's off topic and I'm sure you've taken my comment somewhat out of context, although I do recall making it. I was of course speaking with a bit of hyperbole.

I do give tzedaka, and probably have given more in my few years of observance than most people do in 20 years. Even though I am not observant really, except for shabbos and kosher, I give because it's one of the things about yiddishkeit that I like.

My point was most likely that there is tremendous emphasis on learning as the main charity. After all, who are the tomchei shabbos recipients 90% of the time? You guessed it, people that don't work, who are uneducated or incapable of providing for themselves thatnks to the deficient education and training provided by OJ. I'd bet you're a BT, based on the fact that you work in the biological sciences and work. The odds are with me.

Clearly the tzedaka aspect of OJ is very impressive when properly focused, but the kollelim are destined to bankrupt the frum people or collapse, leaving lots of kids and spouses in the lurch.

As for the biology, I am sensitized by Dawkins' "The Blind Watchmaker" to anyone who says that evolution purports to explain various events of evolution in terms of being "the result of a series of fortuitous accidents."


"It is because of my familiarity with cells that I do not believe in unguided evolution."

No. It's because of your religion that you force yourself to overlook clear evidence that you know leads to only one conclusion. If there were no genesis chapter of the bible, you would be fine with evolutionary biology. But you need to bolster the fundamentalist view that god made people right off the bat and animals "poof!" You have zero evidence for those canards other than the very questionable text called the torah. Yet, you swallow it hook, line and sinker. Dinosaurs? No problem! All the millions of species that were extinct even before people arrived? Fine! Nothing can trouble a person who has an old book to point to.

Moving on, it's clear that you have the credentials you claim to have, so I will just ask you, when RNA transcription occurs, is it guided by GOD, each and every step, or even partially? It clearly follows a pattern doesn't make this process "fortuitous."

Moving on to evolution, you have seen it happen in the laboratory no doubt, various strains of bacteria and Drosophila *evolve* under selective pressures. Is Hashem in the lab, making all these changes constantly? Seem rather silly since he was rather absent for the entire holocaust while children were being incinerated.

So, of course evolution is real and will be just as well-described as RNA transcription in a decade or so, and there have already been great leaps made in understanding it.

Had religion not thwarted science with nonsense, dogma, and mythology, who knows how far we would be along by now in our understanding of how nature arrived at the present stage of ongoing development. For now, you have your God of the Gaps, but he's retreating fast, real fast if you look at the last 50 years.

It's always disheartening to see one trained in science such as yourself feeling the need to go against 99.9% of your peers just because you wear a kippah and the torah says god made adam and eve, made a global flood and all the other myths. I think people like you are setting the world back and ought to be committed to truth over religious dogmas fashioned in the Bronze Age.

And, for the record, I've been in a state of complete equanimity for the duration of this response. ;)

1/25/2007 4:04 PM  
Blogger BTA said...

"I don't see how something as complex as a cell can, which is as least as complex as a city, can be the result of a series of fortuitous accidents."

So, what happens when you come to the part of the textbook which says the mitochondrion was once a separate entity that evolved to become an organelle in most cells? Do you teach the kids that no such thing happened, rather hashem put the mitochonria in the cells and gave them their own DNA for the heck of it?

I mean, it is absurd, and probably a chillul hashem for you to be a creationist! And yes, if you say devolopment was "guided," you most certainly are in essence a creationist.

Think how absurd it is to make the leap from a god who makes big blasts of creation all of a sudden going "micro" and making little changes in DNA over millions of years. Again, there is no reason to believe such, no evidence, no basis, other than a torah that any biblical scholar will demonstrate was written by prehistoric men.

1/25/2007 4:16 PM  
Blogger nschuster said...

Just a few points

#1. I am not a Baal Teshuva. I have kept Shabbos my whole life.

#2. You cited the fact that I work as evidence that I'm a Baal Teshuva? The overwhelming majority of Frum people that I know, both both the Baalei Teshuva and Frum from birth do work for a living. Is this another slander of my friends and neighbors. The few Kollel people I know are not supported by Tzedokah from the community. They are supported by their families.

#3. There are three other Orthodox science teachers in my school. I have known a number of Orhtodox scientists over the years, including an Orthodox, Baal Teshuva cosmologist. I'm not the only perosn who is familliar with science who has a problem with evolution, the big bang ect. Dr. Hoyle had a problem with both the big bang and the fact that a earth only 4.5 billion years old did not provide enough tome life to evolve. He came up with the theory of an infinitly old universe and panspermia.

#3. When I reach the chapter on evolution or Mitochondria (by the way, Mitochondrial DNA does code for proteins, so it serves a purpose, it is not merely a vertige of some premitochondrial bacteria that got swallowed>) I tell the this is what the scientists say, which is the truth.
Some of my students accept evolution some don't.

#4. Scientist are discovering that in many organisms part of the genome is repressed. The genes are activated and become expressed when the organism is exposed to things in the environment. It looks like the organism is evolving, but nothing new is added, just old genes becoming active theis could explain what appears like evolution in the lab. There is no need to invoke Divine intervention. A recent article in Scientific American says that this is how some bacteria are developing immunity to antibiotics.

#5. Stephen Jay Gould and Niles Eldridge have said that the fossil record doesn't seem to show evolution from one species to another. species appear sudenly in rock strata, live for a while then unchanged then abburply disappear. Thsi is why they the developed the theory of punctuated equilibrium.

#6. When I said fortuitous accident, I was refering to the idea that somehow simple molecules line up come together and form something as complex as a cell. I think that this qualifies as a fortuituous accident. I have yet to hear a convincing explantion
for lifes origins from a scientist. I'm still waiting for a convincing explantion for the big bang.

#7. You don't know me at all, except for the fact that my last name is Schuster and I teach for a living, yet you know exactly why I believe what I believe. I think that that is a little presumptuous. You're not a mind reader or a prophet. You don't believe in prophecy.

#8. I must say that the fact that you charge me with creating a Chilul Hasem quite bizarre. You don't believe in Hashem. How can I be Mechalel something that doesn't exist? Moreover, you come are now coming across as very angry. I'm the one who should be angry. You keep slandering my friends.

#9. I regret that my choices sadden you. It please me no end to hear that you keep shabbos, kashrus, and give tzedoka.

#10. I agree with you that nowadays, there are too many people learnig in Kollel.

1/26/2007 10:21 AM  
Blogger BTA said...

JS, I think your indignation is more self-righteous than righteous, but I welcome your clarifications nonetheless, not because I agree with them in the slightest, but because they demonstrate something that I have known to be true.

You say things like, "The overwhelming majority of Frum people THAT I KNOW, both both the Baalei Teshuva and Frum from birth do work for a living. Is this another slander of MY friends and neighbors." (emphasis added)

Now, as a scientist, I would hope you could spot the anecdotal evidence. You clearly don't live in Israel. I think the oversight speaks for iteself.

Moving on to the science, I am frankly amazed that you not only have a problem with biology (your profession), but even the big bang! Your biological problem really says nothing about evolution, but more so about the origins of life on earth, which while still unresolved, certainly don't point to your proposed claim, which Dawkins calls "The God Hypothesis." You would propose that Yahweh created things 6,000 years ago, correct? And your "evidence" would be the Torah? If you don't feel that way, please clarify.

But, once you wade into quasi-scientific explanations, it gets worse for you. Just look at how you contradicted yourself above. On one hand, in #4 you cite to the idea that ties in with the diathesis-stress model of environmental adaptation, that the genes are all there, lying dormant so to speak, and then are suddenly expressed in reponse to envronmental stress. Next, in #5, you say entirely new species occurred in the Cambrian explosion, but of course there are explanations for this as well, the best being that fossil records are good for showing that certain species did exist at certain times, but are not comprehensive for proving other iterations of organisms *didn't* exist. There are many reasons why certain species could have been missing from the fossil record. At a minimum, if those species lived in environments which were unfavorable to preservation, or existed in small numbers.

(For example, there are roughly 20,000 polar bears alive right now. How many will become fossils that could be found in 50,000 years? The absence 50,000 years from now of such fossils has no bearing on the reality that the bears exist today).

We could go on and on about this, but I fear we'd get nowhere. You hold evolution and the big bang to apparently impossible burdens of proof yet believe in magic (aka davening, misheberachs, etc), myths, and blind, evidence-free faith.

You cite Scientific American. I wonder how many articles each year you have to dismiss due to your religion while you find the one to cherry-pick as above to support your incomplete stance on biology?

I would ask you to read the Blind Watchmaker, which clearly answers any questions you might have about evolution. And, yes, while the origins of life on earth are not fully known or explained, he shows where the evidence points and also why the burden of proof is on those who make such fantastic claims as orthodox Jews do.

As for #8, your logic was failing you. I don't care about "Chillul HaShem" in the strict sense. I do care about hypocrisy, and to me a frum biology/science teacher who doesn't endorse evolutionary theory in the strongest terms due to his religion is doing a grave disservice to his students and really ought to be fired. If that actually happened, yes it would be a chillul hashem, something I assume you care about. But moreso, there are frummies, such as Slifkin, who accept the science and try to work with it in their religion. They don't persuade me, but at least they don't look like you do- one who overlooks clear, elegant scientific theories in order to stay a believer in religious nonsense.

last, as I explained, I'm not "angry" but there is a more subtle word- derisive. I find your intellectual views distasteful, your teaching methods dishonest and unethical, and your logic self-contradictory. Those things being said, I say without any sarcasm whatsoever that you are probably a very smart, nice, kind well-meaning fellow, who was totally screwed up intellectually by judaism.

I'm glad you like your friends and neighbors so much, but how much do you care about your students? I mean, how can you justify teaching biology in a public school with this conflict of interest on your part?

To me, your downplaying of evolution to your students from the marvellous, elegant, and overwhelmingly compelling explanation of the diversity of life on earth is tantamount to establishment of religion by the government.

Don't worry, I'm not out to get you, but I'm just trying to make a point that I hope will register with you on some level. I completely discount your name and have no interest in "outing" you etc. I consider you anonymous, but would appreciate your response. You seem very confused, and if you come around, it would be fantastic.

Your claim that the big bang is doubtful is ridiculous, but since you don't teach that to students, it is a private view of yours, a religious one, which is less troublesome in my view.

1/26/2007 3:03 PM  
Blogger BTA said...

Also, this isn't meant to denigrate you, but you are not a PhD in biology, I am assuming. It is quite possible, isn't it, that your lack of conviction about evolution is due to a gap in your training that may have been filled had you gone on to graduate studies? I suppose you could still turn out the same, but take a look at Robert Pollack, PhD, biologist and professor at Columbia who is a "believer" while still finding biology's major tenets (including evolution) to be overwhelmingly accurate.

he came to religion for psychological reasons in essence and while I'm not sure if he's frum, he adheres to Adin Steinsaltz according to him.

You might find him "inspiring."

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=771597158793240432&q=robert+pollack+evolution+judaism&hl=en

1/26/2007 3:10 PM  
Blogger nschuster said...

Just a few more clarifications

#1. Point #4 was a response to your statement that evolution is being observed in the laboratory. My point was that there may be another explanation

#2. Point #5 was a response to your mentioning the fossil record. My point was that accord to the late Stephen Jay Gould and Niles Eldridge the entire fossil record, not just the Cambrian exposion, is a problem for evolutionists as well. They said that we shoudl expect to see somehtin else. They developed the theory of Puntuated Equilibrium to explain the fossil record.

#3. You mentioned that hte origin of life on Earth is still unresolved. I consider that a big problem for the scientific viewpoint.

#4. My studies in Biology show me that every function at the biochemical level involves many, sometimes dozens or even hundreds of differnt proteins, enzymes, raw materials, ect. Each part has to be there in exactly the rightproportions, or the whole system breaks down. Each enzyme consists of hundreds or possibly thousands of amino acids that have to line up in the precisley correct order. The protein then has to fold into a precise shape. A random change in part of the mechanism (evolution) requires a simultanious corresponding change inthe entire mechanism, or the whole thing sytem breaks down. Sicke cell anemia is the result of one misplaced amino acid in the hemoglobin.

#5. I also teach Earth science, So I'm familiar with the Big Bang. What I'v read is that Scientists say that our physics breaks down as we get within a few nanseconds of the big bang. They admit that our sceince cannot explain it. Science requires a causal explanation. Sir Arthour Eddington rejected the Big Bang because he said that it meant that there was a creation event that paralled Bereishis.

#6. I have read parts of "The Blind Watchmaker" I think that his computer program analogy is flawed because he prgram the computer to know what the end result he was looking, and to save the results that approached it. Nature doesn;t know anything so how could nature know that a result is approach a goal? I think I will follw your advice and reread the book more thuroughly this time.

#7. My supervisor knows what I believe, and how I teach (and my Orthodox colleages as as well). He doesn't have a problem. I care very deeply for my students and I work very hard teaching them the curriculum. My students have the best pass rate in the department for the Science RCT's.

#8. As to what I believe, I admit to being conflicted and confused. I realy don't know what happened. I wasn' there at the time. I do consider Rabbi Slifkin's approach a possibilty. I like to keep an open mind reasons sited above, that science has all the answers. There are a lot of GAPS. I was responding to your satementthat anyone who reads the Sceince textbook will ut down the Gemora and study the textbook. I picked up the textbook, didn't put down the Gemora.

#9. I assumed you were angry because you ripped into me like a bull shark. I apologize for being Choshud you.

#10. Thank you for refering me to Robert Pollack. I will look that up as soon as time permits.

I'm afraid that this might be my last post. Regents week is over. the new sememster is starting anf I don't anticipate having time to blog. Its been fun.

(I still can't get past your charing me with creating a Chilul HaShem. I'm concerned with Chiul HaShem, but coming form you, it's as absurd as if I accused you of host desecration. How can I be mechalel something which doesn't exist.)

1/29/2007 11:28 AM  
Blogger Rabbi Seinfeld said...

What a stimulating debate! Thanks to both of you. I don't have much to add, just one little post that I wrote for Rosh Hashana that you might both enjoy (it may slightly synthesize your mutual positions).

I also recommend Rabbi (Dr.) David Gottlieb's lucid and I think fairly original essay on creationism v. design (although I admit I haven't read widely on this topic, but I did not see his view fully represented or acknowledged in the the above exchange).

Thanks again,

Alexander Seinfeld

1/30/2007 4:02 PM  
Blogger nschuster said...

Hi, its me, your favorite confused/creationist science teacher who is desecrating Hashem's name while busting his, um, nether regions . On your point that there is no evidence for Noah's ark, there was a recently an article in the New York Times Science section that sadi that scientist report finding unconsolidated ocean bottom sediments that on falt plains far inladn. The sediments could not have gotten there by uplift because they are lying on land dervied sediments. The same article mention that many cultures not just the Bible, have stories of a world destroying flood. The authors cite this as evidence that ther was a series of Tsunamis over the past 10 thousands years or so. Thats a possibility. It aslo might be evidence for Noah' flood. I'm goin got keep an open mind on the issue.

1/30/2007 4:12 PM  
Blogger BTA said...

NS, I will respond briefly, as I'm pressed for time as well.

You said:
"#3. You mentioned that hte origin of life on Earth is still unresolved. I consider that a big problem for the scientific viewpoint."

How is that a "big problem?" Religion has the big problem, because religion has zero evidence to back up its fantastic claims. As Carl Sagan said the burden of proof is on you: "extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof."

Rashi would make the following fantastic claims: "There's this sentient supernatural being named Yahweh and he did all the things attributed to him in the Torah."

The evidence? Why, the Torah of course! That's a tautology. There is no extrinsic evidence of the Torah's claims, and in fact there is a lot to contradict it. I understand that now, people can come along and say "oh, it was a local flood." However, that's not how the torah was understood by chazzal even. There is no "mesora" for such a viewpoint, which is why Avigdor Miller and today's gedolim know that to be consistent they have to ignore the evidence altogether.

Science begins with a hypothesis and build evidence to support it, or jettisons the hypothesis/theory if the evidence contradicts it.

What you deem a "big problem" is actually direct evidence of the integrity of scientists. That is, they could have invented, as our anscestors did, a myth to explain how life got here, say the flying spaghetti monster. You could never disprove it and there you have it.

No, they are working on developing and refining their tools and techniques of analysis and hope to solve all of today's unresolved mysteries. They may never get there, but it's quite clear that their successes have been so staggering that we would appear as Gods to our anscestors were we to appear to them with cell phones and stealth Fighters, lasers, helicopters, antibiotics,GPS, space stations, etc.


"The sediments could not have gotten there by uplift because they are lying on land dervied sediments. The same article mention that many cultures not just the Bible, have stories of a world destroying flood."

It would help if you cited the article, but look how you pick and choose. As I said above, for every 100,000 scientific articles you have to jettison because they conflict with your "evidence" (i.e. the torah) there is one human interest story in a newspaper speculates about a possible flood. Even if true, that in no way purports to "prove" the NOAH's ARK myth (which occurs in Babylonian and Sumerian myths, such as Gilgamesh, explaining the multiple version- plagiarism)! Noah's Ark is absurd. And worse yet for judaism, if true it demonstrates a god who is "the most vindictive character in all of fiction," god comes off far worse than Hitler. He kills everyone in the world, babies, children and the like, as if he were some enraged drunken serial killer. All because he "regretted making man." That's murder by a supposed god.

His vindictiveness is self-evident throughout the torah. So, believeing in him mean you worship something worse than hitler. Of course, you don't really worship hitler, because you have your own internal guidelines for true morality. That is the Shifting Moral Zeitgeist premise, which you can read- a separate essay.

NS- you are grasping at straws. Nevermind, chillul hashem, it's just embarrassing yourself and your co-religionists. Any secular person who reads your arguments will see the intellectual contortions one must go through just to remain a believer.

Gottlieb is the worst offender. Gosse theory is his favorite explanation for scientific contradictions of torah history.

1/30/2007 10:09 PM  
Blogger BTA said...

Also re: Local Flood, see the classic Godol Hador blog post on the subject, pretty quickly obliterates the claim:

http://godolhador.blogspot.com/search?updated-min=2005-01-01T00%3A00%3A00-05%3A00&updated-max=2006-01-01T00%3A00%3A00-05%3A00&max-results=50

1/30/2007 10:20 PM  
Blogger Rabbi Seinfeld said...

"Gottlieb is the worst offender. Gosse theory is his favorite explanation for scientific contradictions of torah history."

And your argument with Gosse is...?

(For the uninitiated, see Omphalos - it's unverifiable and unfalsifiable scientifically, and is thus by definition not a scientific theory. See also here)

1/30/2007 11:27 PM  
Blogger satyaman said...

nschuster said...
>>>On your point that there is no evidence for Noah's ark, there was a recently an article in the New York Times Science section that sadi that scientist report finding unconsolidated ocean bottom sediments that on falt plains far inland>>>

With regard to evidence that no Global flood occurred during the time stated in the Torah, please read carefully http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/faq-noahs-ark.html

1/31/2007 10:28 AM  
Blogger satyaman said...

nschuster please read-part I

An interesting comment on the flood’s historicity,by Modern Orthodox scholar Marc Shapiro can be read at http://www.ottmall.com/mj_ht_arch/v16/mj_v16i36.html#CIO

Some of the more interesting excerpts follow:

To believe that the entire world was destroyed some four thousand years ago and that we and all the animals are descended from Noah and those in his ark (similarly to believe that we are all descended from a first man named Adam who lived 5000 years ago) is not merely to dispute a certain historical fact, or to deny the existence of say Alexander, Caesar or George Washington. On the contrary, it is this and much more. One who believes in the flood story literally (or in the five thousand year history of the world) rejects the entire historical enterprise. He denies history itself and places himself outside of time. It is pointless to even discuss, never mind argue; with someone who adopts this view since there can be no point of reference between the fundamentalist and the historically minded. Indeed, it makes no sense for the fundamentalist to even attempt to show the historical veracity of what he believes, since as I said above, his very position is a rejection of the validity of all historical meaning. As such any discussion is pointless.

1/31/2007 10:29 AM  
Blogger satyaman said...

nschuster please read-part 2

In follow up post by Prof Shapiro, he states:

In my original posting I stated that believing in the truth of the flood (and a 5000 year old world) is more extreme than denying the existence of George Washington. Someone asked me if it isn't the case that we have more evidence for George Washington than for denying the flood. The answer is obviously no. We know about Washington because of one type of evidence, historical, and we have a great deal of this. However, the entire received body of knowledge in just about every field of human study is dependant on the fact that the world is not 5000 years old and that there was not a flood. These facts are the fundamentals of biology, physics, astronomy, history, anthropology, geology, paleontology, zoology, linguistics etc. etc. etc. Belief in a 5000 year old world and a flood which destroyed the world 4000 years ago is a denial of all human knowledge as we know it. It is a retreat into a world of belief, rather than one based on any sort of fact, and one who believes can believe anything he want to. The fundamentalist is not able to prove that Washington lived, only to say that he believes that Washington lives. It is because Modern Orthodox do not wish to live in a world in which the entire accumulated knowledge of all civilization is to be thrown out the window that they cannot take this literally. Pay attention to what I am saying, it is impossible to make sense of anything in this world, in any field of science and many of the social sciences by adopting fundamentalist position. If people wish to live this sort of existence, fine, but one can't pretend that there is any sort of compelling reason for anyone else to. They certainly shouldn't try to put forth all sorts of pseudo-science to convince people of the correctness of their view. I think that when it comes to science, history etc, people would prefer the stated views of the great scholars (and the not so great scholars) at every university in the world. Since none of these people are fundamentalists, doesn't it make sense for the fundamentalists not even to try and touch these areas?

It is worth noting, I think, that although fundamentalism in this country has always been accompanied by anti-intellectualism, this has not been the case in the Jewish world. In fact, with the exception of some Hasidic trends, anti-intellectualism has no roots in recent Jewish history. The people advocating fundamentalist positions are the most intellectual we have. People often say that they can hold the positions they do because they are ignorant of science and history. This is incorrect. It is not that they are ignorant of all these fields; it is rather that they reject them. There is a difference. The proper word to describe this is obscurantism. And I for one don't think it will last forever. One can only go against the obvious facts of our day for so long. Rabbis could declare that Copernicus's views were heretical for only so long before the weight of evidence ran over them. That will happen with fundamentalism, because if they don’t change, no one with any education will still be listening to them.

1/31/2007 10:29 AM  
Blogger satyaman said...

Rabbi Seinfeld,
>>>And your argument with Gosse is...? >>>
Please read the posts below if you want a full explanation of the philosophical and theological problems with Gosse

With regard to Gosse, please see
http://godolhador.blogspot.com/2005/11/why-gosseleib-doesnt-work.html
and
http://godolhador.blogspot.com/2005/11/pottery-paintings.html
and
http://godolhador.blogspot.com/2005/11/what-gosse-goons-dont-realize.html


You may also want to read
http://godolhador.blogspot.com/2005/11/gottleib-endorses-gosse.html
http://godolhador.blogspot.com/2005/11/gosseleib.html
http://godolhador.blogspot.com/2005/11/gosse-student.html
http://godolhador.blogspot.com/2005/11/holy-zoboomafoo-speaks.html

1/31/2007 10:36 AM  
Blogger BTA said...

R. Seinfeld said:

"And your argument with Gosse is...?

(For the uninitiated, see Omphalos - it's unverifiable and unfalsifiable scientifically, and is thus by definition not a scientific theory. See also here) "

You answered your own question! If something is "unverifiable, unfalsifiable" it is not only not scientific it is an irrational approach.

It's fine to be "irrational" in the sense that you don't require things in your life to be true or at least to make sense logically, but Omphalos makes a world without meaning, a god who is an elaborate trickster.

And in terms of credibility, isn't funny how religious folks didn't even come up with Gosse until science began to pose a challenge to their traditions? Gosse owes its very existence to the necessity created by the scientific method.

No one, not chazzal, not Jesus, Mohammed, Budda, Aquinas, Rambam, or whomever, ever proposed that god made the world old. For that matter, why not believe the world was created 10 minutes before you were born? It is just as absurd, because the evidentiary inquiry would be of the same nature.

Just because an argument "will do" for a blog or a book, doesn't make it valid discourse among people for whom rationality is paramount over conjecture and magical/wishful thinking.

One more point, R.S.- you say Gosse isn't verifiable "scientifically."

What other means do we have of verifying things in the universe? "Science" is not a political party like the democrats or republicans, science is the means of discovery and understanding to the analysis of evidence, using logical/rational means. Nothing more.

Religion, aka, "The God Hypothesis" as Dawkins calls it, puts forth no evidence other than its own holy books and suspect oral traditions. There is no more evidence to support Yahweh's existence than Zeus', which is why religion is only worthy of rational debate in the context of policy or lifestyle.

Don't kid yourself that Rambam would even be religious nowadays. He put a premium on reason, although not evidence, and his blind spots were due to the lack of a rigorous scientific method back then.

I'm quite certain he'd be a scientist today.

1/31/2007 11:40 AM  
Blogger BTA said...

And, for the record, I coined the phrase "Gosselieb" and GH stole it! You can see it in the comments section of one of the first posts he did.

1/31/2007 11:41 AM  
Blogger nschuster said...

I have a few minutes between professional development so I'll post.

(I number my points because I am in the habit of numbering my class notes. It makes it easier for my students to organize and retasin the material)

#1. The article I sited as possible evidence for the flood was from the Science Section of the Nov 14. 2006 New York Times. By the way, don't we all cherry pick what supports our beliefs?
I just came from the Talkorigins web site very interesting. It gives me something to think about. Cahzal already adressed some of the points, such as how all the animals could fit. The point about trees for which there is an unbroken record of ring datin ggoing back 10,000 years is a problem.

#2. The problem I have with Science not being able to explain the origin of the universe, life, or at least to my mind, the development of life, (after all aerobic respiration in the mitochondria involves some dozen or so enzymes the control the Krebs cycle, I'm not sure of the exact number, I don't have the book in front of me, it involves about a dozen enzymes imbedded in the internal membrane that control the electron transport chain, which pumps the hydronium ions into the other side of the internal membrane, that have to line up in sequence, It involves the holes in the membrane that the
the protons have to pass through on the way to binding with the oxygen that makes the enzyme that hooks the Phosphate group to the Adenosine Diphospate, creating Adenosine Triphosphate which bring energy to wherever it is needed in the cell. Can this have come about through a series of accidents? Talk about extraordinary claims)
is that I want to know where the universe came from. Science can't tell me. The only other answer other than maybe science will discover it someday is Hashem. As Sherlock Holmes said "when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever is left, however improbable is the truth." To my mind, at least for now, science has been eliminated. When science can tell where we came from then I'll rethink what I believe. Like I said I like to think I have an open mind.

#3. I just read a posting on the Failed Messiah log that said the Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan quotes seforim written during Talmudical times that says that ther where cycles of creation and destruction going back billion years, so it seems that there are old Torah sources for an old Universe. Works for me. This seems to me at least to be the best explanation for the gaps in the fossil record sited by Eldridge and Gould. (Is it just me, or do my posting have more science than any one elses on your Blog. Just wondering)

#4. As far as all the horrible things that happen to people. That is a problem. I just have one question, how do you know that they are bad? A Hindu might say that Auschwitz was a good thing because the victims had to spend their bad karma. A Muslim might say that it was a good thing because the victims weren't Muslim. What I understand you to be saying is that you are reacting emotionally the the horrors you see. You don't know that Auschwitz was bad, you feel that it was bad. That measn that maybe it wasn't bad, just something you don't like. By the way please be assured that I agree with you wholeheartedly that Auschwitz was a bad thing, maybe for different reasons. So what you are tellin gme is that HaShem doesn't exist not because of bad things, but because things happen the you don't like. That seems to be to be an emotional arguement, not a logical one. Please understand that I am using the follwowing analogy to make a point, I do not mean (Chas Vesholom) belittle anyones suffering. I don't like bananas. I don't like the way they taste or look. Should I say that HaShem doesn't exist because I don't like bananas. Please correect me if I'm wrong.

1/31/2007 1:21 PM  
Blogger satyaman said...

nshuster
>>Cahzal already adressed some of the points, such as how all the animals could fit>>>

This is not what is problematic. I should have mentioned that you should skip the first 4 sections as I anticipated this response. Start with what is below.
5. The Flood Itself
6. Implications of a Flood
7. Producing the Geological Record
8. Species Survival and Post-Flood Ecology
9. Species Distribution and Diversity
10. Historical Aspects
11. Logical, Philosophical, and Theological Points

Please note the import of Section ten when considered in the context of sections 5 through 9. Also note that the information we have on that time period is based on millions of artifacts that we have from Egypt and Mesopotamia. Some key points are

Why is there no mention of the Flood in the records of Egyptian or Mesopotamian civilizations which existed at the time? Biblical dates (I Kings 6:1, Gal 3:17, various generation lengths given in Genesis) place the Flood 1300 years before Solomon began the first temple. We can construct reliable chronologies for near Eastern history, particularly for Egypt, from many kinds of records from the literate cultures in the near East. These records are independent of, but supported by, dating methods such as dendrochronology and carbon-14. The building of the first temple can be dated to 950 B.C. +/- some small delta, placing the Flood around 2250 B.C. Unfortunately, the Egyptians (among others) have written records dating well back before 2250 B.C. (the Great Pyramid, for example dates to the 26th century B.C., 300 years before the Biblical date for the Flood). No sign in Egyptian inscriptions of this global flood around 2250 B.C.


How did the human population rebound so fast? Genealogies in Genesis put the Tower of Babel about 110 to 150 years after the Flood [Gen 10:25, 11:10-19]. How did the world population regrow so fast to make its construction (and the city around it) possible? Similarly, there would have been very few people around to build Stonehenge and the Pyramids, rebuild the Sumerian and Indus Valley civilizations, populate the Americas, etc.

Also read the excerpts, if not the whole email, from Marc Shapiro

1/31/2007 1:38 PM  
Blogger satyaman said...

nschuster
>> The article I sited as possible evidence for the flood was from the Science Section of the Nov 14. 2006 New York Times. By the way, don't we all cherry pick what supports our beliefs?>>
The NY time article is pure speculation. This is not about cherry picking: NO reputable geologist believes there was a flood 4,000 years ago. The level of evidence in this regard is overwhelming and as solid as the observational data that supports an old world. As noted by Marc Shapiro, the evidence that there was NO flood is corroborated independently by every scientific major discipline. They all agree.

Bye the way. Please see http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/CH/CH550.html. I am not sure if this site is on point since I have not read the NY times article and also because I am not a geologist. If it addresses the issue then please consider.

1/31/2007 1:50 PM  
Blogger satyaman said...

nschuster
>>>> Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan quotes seforim written during Talmudical times that says that ther where cycles of creation and destruction going back billion years, so it seems that there are old Torah sources for an old Universe. Works for me.
Notice how he says "If we assume that the seventh cycle..." >>




Please Note
1)Kaplan’s ideas would not be accepted by any of the Gedolim and would in fact be considered pure Kefira

2)Orthoprax’s blog addressed Kaplan’s shortcomings a few years ago in a post linked at http://orthoprax.blogspot.com/2005/01/kaplan-and-ramban.html. I cite his key points below

*…….Notice how he says "If we assume that the seventh cycle..."

Also, 365.25 days is not the length of a Jewish year. Nor is 2.5 billion years close to the amount of time life is thought to be on Earth - that's closer to 3.5 - 3.8 billion years. Big difference. The numbers are wrong, the math itself is practically arbitrary, and the assumptions are without reason. The 15 billion number wasn't calculated by Yitzchak of Acco, but by Aryeh Kaplan. I'm sure that if scientists had found the Universe to be 100 million years old or 2 billion years or 10 billion years or 12 or 20 - Kaplan would have found that same number amazingly in the texts of Rav Yitzchak ofAcco.

There is no classical Jewish source who gives the age of the universe as even close to what we think today. Rabbi Kaplan messed with math and mixed sources until he found a combination that he liked. Whatever happened to intellectual integrity?*

1/31/2007 2:00 PM  
Blogger Rabbi Seinfeld said...

satyaman:
Please read the posts below if you want a full explanation of the philosophical and theological problems with Gosse

Thank you for these. I read them all with much interest. As far as I can tell, the thrust of GHD's problem with Gosse is that by ignoring the scientific data altogether, the alternative is arbitrariness, leaving one with no rational basis for belief in anything. Blind faith. This may be true of Gosse but I don't think it is an accurate understanding of R. Gottlieb's argument. I'll continue this idea below.

bta:

You answered your own question! If something is "unverifiable, unfalsifiable" it is not only not scientific it is an irrational approach.

No, it is not necessarily irrational. But you seem to reverse yourself and concede that it might be rational (see snippet below).

No one, not chazzal, not Jesus, Mohammed, Budda, Aquinas, Rambam, or whomever, ever proposed that god made the world old. For that matter, why not believe the world was created 10 minutes before you were born? It is just as absurd, because the evidentiary inquiry would be of the same nature.

This point seems to be something of an expansion of GHD's critique, which I summarized above but did not address. I will address it here. First of all, you're simply wrong. There are indeed pre-modern that the world was created in six 24-hour days, and that everything was created completely formed (RH 26a I think). I used to ignore these, preferring those minority opinions that, if interpreted right, allow for a world older than 5700 years and evolution etc. (I am scientifically trained and have a bias towards anything scientific.) However, after reading R. Gottlieb's essay, I was swayed - not to rejecting reconciliation with science, but to not needing it.

The reason is - and this addresses your main point, that without science our beliefs are arbitrary - because there is one very good reason not to believe the world was created 10 minutes ago: because the Torah says otherwise. The real question - and IMHO the most pertinent question of our times - is our evaluation of the veracity of the oral tradition. I think that the jury is still out on this one. New archaeological research is bringing more and more evidence to support the Masorah in other areas. For instance, since the Dead Sea Scrolls were finally published in 1996, we have been able to push back the Masoretic text 1,000 years earlier than any scholar had previously allowed. Another example: Kenneth Kitchen's 2001 book, On the Reliability of Genesis - a book not without controversy, but once you read it, impossible to brush aside quickly. He is one of the few scholars who has world-class credentials in both Biblical and Egyptian archeology, and he utilizes that breadth in this book to synthesize an enormous amount of complex data that few others, if any, could muster. Moreover, there is emerging research on the reliability of oral traditions in general that is more and more supportive of reliability.

I am not pretending to make the case here for one belief or another - I am merely attempting to show that the question of Divine authorship has not been adequately addressed by any contributors to this blog, as far as I can tell. If you start from the bias of, "well that's ridiculous" then you are not really doing free inquiry.

And, for the record, I coined the phrase "Gosselieb" and GH stole it! You can see it in the comments section of one of the first posts he did.
I take it you meant it mockingly, which is not something to be proud of in a polite debate, IMHO. Dovid Gottlieb is a scholar and an honest seeker of wisdom and I would hope he deserves our respect at least for those qualities.

2/01/2007 12:04 AM  
Blogger BTA said...

RS:
The world wasn't created 10 minutes before you were born "because the Torah says otherwise."

So, as I said above, the torah is your evidence. Yes, sir, that is blind faith. You cherry pick one archeological finding to support the masoretic text? The torah itself is considered to have been cobbled together by every biblical scholar in the field.

Of course the Koran says other things that Bin laden believes with your convictions, perhaps more. Ditto for Bahai faith and so on.

There isn't much else to discuss. The torah is your proof.

Gottlieb is a fool. And an arrogant one. He is far from a scholar. He overlooks straightforward explanations in favor of those that support his dogmas. His writing is so poor, that it seems he can't even get published.

He may have a PhD, but I doubt he was a full professor at Hopkins, more likely a teaching assistant while doing doctoral studies. But in any event, he bugged out and became a streimel-wearing BT and moved to Har Nof.

I don't think rigorous scholarship is his game- more likely confusing himself and others so as to feel "logically consistent" while remaining frum is more where he's coming from.

2/01/2007 1:32 AM  
Blogger BTA said...

Also, Rabbi S, you claim to have some regard for science, but it is clear that you have no regard for or understanding of, the scientific method.

Just take the Rosh Hashona essay you wrote and linked to above. You plainly misstate facts in research cited just to distort it enough to try to make it fit with torah myths:

"the New York Times reported a remarkable discovery (”Researchers say human brain is still evolving,” September 9, 2005). It seems that there is new scientific evidence that a human genetic change occurred in the middle-East about 5,800 years ago which enhanced higher brain functions. Interesting coincidence."

Where is the "5,800 years ago" reference in that research?
Here:
"With the other gene, ASPM, a new allele emerged some time between 14,100 and 500 years ago, the researchers favoring a mid-way date of 5,800 years."

So you completely overlook the crux of the research and home in on the part where the scientists hedged at the near midpoint in a range of possibility? Now that's being "honest."

In fact, the byline clearly reads:
"Two genes involved in determining the size of the human brain have undergone substantial evolution in the last 60,000 years..."

You didn't like that 60,000 year part, did you?

The NY Times article you really ought to read is about "Magical Thinking."

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/01/23/health/psychology/23magic.html?ex=1327208400&en=980902a5129bebbb&ei=5090&partner=rssuserland&emc=rss

You are so desperate for some kind of physical confirmation of your tenuous belief system that you would rather believe some magical drastic change occured, ostensibly in Sinai. Did you happen to notice that the gene is only present in 50% of middle-eastern and european people presently?

This is all emblematic of what religion does to people. You're probably a bright guy who just drank the kool aid and got so committed to the beard and white shirt life.

That huge blind spot makes it impossible to debate this with you. You'll just hold your Artscroll Chumash aloft like the luchos and claim you are right.

2/01/2007 2:14 AM  
Blogger onionsoupmix said...

Thanks for the magic thinking article.

2/01/2007 3:00 AM  
Blogger nschuster said...

Dear Satyaman,

#1. I was accused of believing in a young earth. I am an agnostic on this issue. Like I said above, I wasn't there at the time the world was created. I cited Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan to show that I could consider the possibility of an older earth, and not be a Kopher. If its good enough for Rabbi Kaplan, its good enough for me, despite the math errors. I seem to recall learning, though it was many years ago, that there are other midrashim that say the same thing, that there where cycles of creation and destruction. One of them says that the word Bereaishis has three Tagin, this means that there whee three worlds before this one. If I'm mistaken, please correct me.

#2. The New York Times article from Nov. 14, states that there where other cultures all over the world that had legends of a world destroying flood. I don't have the article in front of me, so I'm not usre about the number, but I seem to recall the number 130. Ancient Sumeria and Babylonia have the Epic of Gilgamesh, which discusses the world destoying flood.

2/01/2007 10:23 AM  
Blogger Rabbi Seinfeld said...

BTA has mixed a number of unrelated arguments together, including self-righteous-indignation-masquerading-as-intellectual-argument.

The thrust of what I gleaned from his two latest comments are that (1) he assumes that I am blindly committed to a religious ideology and that (2) he has an open, critical mind.

I state (1) because of his comment, You didn't like that 60,000 year part, did you?

In fact, it didn't bother me at all, and in fact doesn't bother me if the universe is billions of years old. I can live with that and it doesn't affect my relationship to Judaism. If I wanted to distort facts, I would not have linked to the NYT article. I (and many others) thought it was a cute coincidence that the scientists on their own, using their best scientific method, came up with 5,800 years as a ballpark for when the genetic change may have occurred. That is my opinion. Your opinion is evidently different.

I, too, appreciate BTA's link to the article on "Magical Thinking." I found it especially helpful in this line:

These habits have little to do with religious faith, which is much more complex because it involves large questions of morality, community and history.

The fact that BTA - despite this distinction stated explicitly in the article - seems to have conflated magical thinking with religious faith, seems to me the crux of much misunderstanding. To many a secularist, all religious belief is in the same category as magical thinking, and is therefore easy to dismiss, often with bitter sarcasm and ad-hominem rhetoric. Notice, for instance, BTA's choice of words in this supposedly polite debate:

You are so desperate for some kind of physical confirmation of your tenuous belief system....
You're probably a bright guy who just drank the kool aid....


Now, even though my Genetics/Rosh Hashana post was only mentioned as a cute speculation that marries two sides of this debate, BTA has cited it as evidence of my allegedly closed religious mind. I will therefore respond to a couple things he said:

that you would rather believe some magical drastic change occurred, ostensibly in Sinai.
Actually, that's not what I suggested in that post at all. The suggestion was that some dramatic change occurred around 5,800 years ago, when according to Jewish tradition the first human with prophetic capacity lived (aka Adam) who may have co-existed with other humanoids (as per Ramban), which, according to our best scientific estimate, is about when a genetic change associated with higher cognition occurred in one population in Western Asia.

Did you happen to notice that the gene is only present in 50% of middle-eastern and European people presently?
Yes, I did - fits the theory perfectly.

That huge blind spot makes it impossible to debate this with you. You'll just hold your Artscroll Chumash aloft like the luchos and claim you are right.

I'm not sure what I said to set you alight like this BTA. You attacked (without much success) an aside I made from my blog and have completely ignored the substance of my arguments, both about the recent scientific research into the veracity of the Oral Tradition and my point about bias. I would hazard to guess that an outside observer would find your comments more laden with I've-made-up-my-mind-don't-bother-me-with-the-facts bias than mine. As I've said many times in public and private: I'm interested in evidence. If you could prove to me that Christianity were true, I'd become a Christian. Etc. One rarely sees such commitment to truth from an avowed secularist, who typically enters these debates with the attitude, "there's nothing you'll ever do to persuade me that your blind dogma is true."

"It is the argument itself I wish to probe, though it may turn out that both I who question and you who answer are equally under scrutiny." - Plato, Protagoras

2/04/2007 12:49 AM  
Blogger BTA said...

"These habits have little to do with religious faith, which is much more complex because it involves large questions of morality, community and history."

Oh, please. They apparently haven't heard of segulos, misheberachs, and tehillim circles.

"The fact that BTA - despite this distinction stated explicitly in the article - seems to have conflated magical thinking with religious faith, seems to me the crux of much misunderstanding."

If you don't see the obvious copout, that's your problem.

Especially if you read the real quote a couple of paragraphs down:

"It is no coincidence, some social scientists believe, that youngsters begin learning about faith around the time they begin to give up on wishing.

“The point at which the culture withdraws support for belief in Santa and the Tooth Fairy is about the same time it introduces children to prayer,” said Jacqueline Woolley, a professor of psychology at the University of Texas. “The mechanism is already there, kids have already spent time believing that wishing can make things come true, and they’re just losing faith in the efficacy of that.”

2/04/2007 1:06 AM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home