Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Irrelevancies - The Proposed Betech-Slifkin Debate

Rabbi Slifkin writes:

Another reason why I refused to debate evolution with Dr. Betech was that such a debate is a charade, since it is a religious issue for him, not a scientific one. In science, one draws conclusions from the evidence, regardless of one's religious beliefs. In response, Dr. Betech was forced to say that he would agree to draw the requisite conclusions. But as I pointed out, of course he has to say that, but the question is whether he is trying to fool other people or himself. Perhaps he is like those people who, for religious reasons, refuse to accept that man landed on the moon, and find a way to wriggle out of any evidence for it.

All this is irrelevant as are most of the following comments by Rabbi Slifkin in his post. Dr. Betech invited Rabbi Slifkin to a protocolized debate, not a personal conversation. In a public debate, neither one of the protagonists is attempting to persuade their opponent. They are attempting to persuade the audience! Rabbi Slifkin refuses to debate Dr. Betech regarding evolutionary theory for one simple reason; he knows he will lose. It’s as simple as that. All this other stuff he writes about "requisite conclusions", "religious reasons" and "moon landings" is nothing but smoke and mirrors. It’s patent misdirection. It’s superfluous wording, meaningless jargon and fancy lingo specifically designed to avert your attention from the simple fact that Rabbi Slifkin cannot support Evolution.

Rabbi Slifkin writes:

So is Dr. Betech like a moon-landing denier, or not? Is he truly willing to draw honest conclusions from the evidence, even if the evidence is in favor of evolution, or will he just wriggle out of it? One way to clarify this is to ask him what those conclusions would actually be.

I just had a brainstorm. In order to clarify whether Dr. Betech is willing to draw honest conclusions from the evidence, why doesn’t Rabbi Slifkin actually debate him and see for himself?

Rabbi Slifkin writes:

...the question is not whether there are unanswered objections to evolution, but rather whether evolution or recent creation better addresses the available evidence. But this would mean developing a theory of recent creation and subjecting it to critical scrutiny (just as a detailed theory of evolution was developed and subjected to critical scrutiny). That's why Dr. Betech is terrified to do it.

This is a silly assertion. I, like Dr Betech, am also a creationist. I believe in a literal interpretation of maaseh bereishis. But I have never felt compelled to develop a "theory of recent creation" and subject it to critical scrutiny any more than I feel the need of developing a theory of, say, the origin of metallurgy and subjecting it to critical analysis. In both cases the Torah tells us precisely what happened (Creation was sudden and rapid via meta-natural processes and metallurgy was developed by one of Kayin’s great grandsons) and in both cases I have no reason to doubt the Torah’s account. Rabbi Slifkin doesn’t possess a theory of the origin of metallurgy or a theory of the origins of the collapsible tent or a theory of the origins of musical instruments. There’s no reason to. The Torah discusses these things openly and there is no reason to doubt them. If Rabbi Slifkin happens to doubt the Torah’s account of maaseh bereishis, he needs to develop the theory, not Dr. Betech.

29 comments:

  1. Gentleman, would you either agree with or entertain the assertion that the sciences other than biology/evolution such as physics, chemistry, and geology have produced evidence that show us that the universe appears to be much older than 6k years?

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  2. It's not an issue of entertaining an assertion. Either there is evidence or there isn't. Personally I know of no physical, chemical or geological counter-evidence to the Torah. If you have anything in mind, feel free to broach the topic…

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  3. Certainly there cannot be evidence to contradict the Torah, chas v'shalom. On the other hand, there can be evidence that makes the universe appear to be older than 6k years.

    One example is the King Clone bush that is estimated to be over 11,000 years old.

    I have heard many Rabbis explain that just as Adam was a fully grown man that would have appeared to us as 20 years old or so, so to everything else in the universe would have appeared to be fully mature, including light from distant galaxies that appears to have been travelling for billions of years.

    As many have pointed out, this demonstrates that the age of the universe is strictly speaking unprovable as the all powerful Creator is certainly capable of making it appear to be any age in an instant.

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  4. I surfed a bit to get an explanation on the age estimate...

    http://www.nps.gov/jotr/naturescience/creosote.htm

    Using radiocarbon dating and known growth rates of creosote, scientists have estimated the age of “King Clone” as 11,700 years.

    Again, the estimates could be mistaken, but it does seem to be an objective observation.

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  5. Generally I do not subscribe to the idea that the universe looks old. It’s true that Adam was fully formed but so was the entire universe. Of course, we are assuming the presence of a Creator who created the universe with a plan and purpose so logically He would have created the entire universe fully functional and fully mature i.e. ready to use. But this doesn’t mean it looks older than the generally accepted date of maaseh bereishis.

    As far as your radiocarbon dating of some of the Creosote Bushes in the Mojave Desert, these types of dating methods are notoriously inaccurate especially when being applied to things with any significant age. Often-times there are contradictory readings of the very same item. Also there are certain foundational assumptions which have to be adopted in order for the dating to work. We assume the initial parent-daughter ratio of the item in question. We assume the decay rates are a constant and were invariable in the distant past. We assume our system is a closed system and does not allow any outside interference in the rates of decay or the artificial deposit of decay materials in the item in question. That’s a lot of things to assume. Any of these assumptions could be erroneous so personally I don’t give much credence to Radio Carbon dating methods with respect to things with any significant age (e.g. thousands of years).

    For a short discussion on dating methods, please see Dr. Ostroff’s post on Toriah at http://www.toriah.com/wiki/index.php?title=Dating_methods

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  6. As far as your radiocarbon dating

    I preface this continuation of our dialogue with a request not to personalize comments. I have no ownership of radiocarbon dating.

    If you look at this paper, however, then we can refer to four scientists that do have (or at least claim) authority on the matter. According to no less an authority than Wikipedia , they assert that the test is reliable up to 58,000 years.

    What about the growth rates?

    It could be that the authors of this paper on carbon-dating have erred and so to with the growth rates, but is it unreasonable to accept the information at face value at least to entertain the notion that the universe appears to be older than it is?

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  7. It’s the comments section Yitz. I am speaking in the colloquial. I didn’t mean “your” carbon dating methods. I didn’t mistake you for a lab technician. I meant your quotes relating to the carbon dating methods.

    As far as your (quotes from the) Radiocarbon Journal, you’ve misrepresented its significance. The scientists there were simply trying to extend the currently accepted rates of carbon decay. Did you see anything in the article, or in Wikipedia, about the age of any particular item using their system? No. Because that’s not what the articles were about. They were about accurately calculating the current decay rates of Carbon. My original questions still stand. For instance, in order to calculate the age of any particular item, the original parent-daughter ratios must be known, right? Scientists do not have an accurate method of determining the original ratios for ancient things and therefore the entire system rests on an assumption. In truth it rests on far more assumptions and is plagued by frequently contradictory readings.

    By the way, Wikipedia is not considered “authoritative” by the academic community.

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  8. Scientists do not have an accurate method of determining the original ratios for ancient things and therefore the entire system rests on an assumption.

    Perhaps it is more precise to say that they don't have any method of determining the original ratios. Rather, then can only measure the current ratios.

    To confirm my understanding, it would then follow that the carbon dating method is only valid back to the earliest point where the parent-daughter ratios have been confirmed to be consistent with the current day measurements?

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  9. Personally I know of no physical, chemical or geological counter-evidence to the Torah.

    Let me assure you the evidence for a world more than 6,000 years is overwhelming.

    Let's take the big bang for example; redshifts tell us the universe is expanding, implying an initial explosion 13.7 billion years ago. This corresponds nicely with the distance of the farthest galaxies we can see, with a lookback time of 13 billion years. The big bang model predicted a cosmic background of microwave radiation; this background was later discovered by accident, and it has the precise blackbody spectrum and temperature anisotropies that we expected from the model.

    There are many other areas of evidence as well: tree ring counting, ice sheet layers, rock layers, the fossil record, radiometric dating, moon craters, etc. Each of these is a strong reason to believe in an ancient Earth; together they are overwhelming.

    I see you are religiously opposed to my conclusion, so I do not expect you to accept it. But please don't consider Jews like me as kofrim for not believing that Hashem wants to trick us. Also, modern science is beautiful; it has greatly enhanced my avodat Hashem.

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  10. Yitz wrote: "To confirm my understanding, it would then follow that the carbon dating method is only valid back to the earliest point where the parent-daughter ratios have been confirmed to be consistent with the current day measurements?"

    Precisely.

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  11. Rafi wrote: Let me assure you the evidence for a world more than 6,000 years is overwhelming.

    Perhaps. But it will take a lot more than assurances to convince me of such.

    Rafi: Let's take the big bang for example;... this background was later discovered by accident, and it has the precise blackbody spectrum and temperature anisotropies that we expected from the model.

    There are way too many problems with BBC to list here. May I suggest the following paper? Please see http://www.toriah.org/science/big-bang/index.htm and let me know if you still think BBC is a clear demonstration for an ancient universe.

    Rafi wrote: There are many other areas of evidence as well: tree ring counting, ice sheet layers, rock layers, the fossil record, radiometric dating, moon craters, etc. Each of these is a strong reason to believe in an ancient Earth; together they are overwhelming.

    Hmm... I would be overwhelmed too had I not studied these disciplines for myself. I'm sorry but NONE of these items constitute reason, strong or otherwise, for an ancient universe. Unfortunately this is not the venue to address these issues at length. I encourage you to visit Torah sites which deal with these issues. You may wish to start with toriah.com. If you require further assitance, I am willing to discuss each and every one of the above-noted items via email. Unfortunately, this Blog is dedicated to Rabbi Slifkin's views so unless he brings up these issues, I can't treat them at length in the Blog section.

    Rafi wrote: I see you are religiously opposed to my conclusion...

    I'm not sure where you "see" this. Yes, I do beleive that our messorah dictates a young earth but my oppostion to your statements above is scientific, not massoretic.

    Rafi wrote: But please don't consider Jews like me as kofrim for not believing that Hashem wants to trick us.

    I'm not sure where that comment is coming from... I don't even know you (I think). I'm sure you are a fine upstanding model of dedication to Torah and mitzvos. However, even good people can be wrong... I think I am a good person and yet my wife thinks I am ALWAYS wrong...

    Rafi wrote: Also, modern science is beautiful; it has greatly enhanced my avodat Hashem.

    Me too! I see we have things in common...

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  12. Yitz said "To confirm my understanding, it would then follow that the carbon dating method is only valid back to the earliest point where the parent-daughter ratios have been confirmed to be consistent with the current day measurements?"

    SC replied: Precisely.

    We see that age test results from current measurements are based on the premise that relevant physical conditions as well as the natural laws of the universe themselves were the same a very long time ago (10k years or 10 billion years).

    Is it fair to say that "old-universe" scientists will accept the premise, while Torah true Jews will not?

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  13. btw, as a suggestion, I find it much easier to follow dialogue if the quoted text is italicized. Just sandwich the text between <i> and </i>.

    <i>This is italicized text, so the reader easily sees that it is a quotation from an earlier post</i>

    Here the blogger is responding to the text quoted above. Isn't this much easier on the eyes than searching for beginning and ending quotation marks?

    Please share this with Dr. Betech as well!

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  14. Rabbi Coffer, we have never met, so I apologize for assuming things.

    Religious bias:

    You do not deny having fundamental religious problems with an ancient Earth. It contradicts our mesora, it encourages atheism, etc. You also apparently have a strong personal connection with Rav Miller, which I would guess also contributes to your opposition. I think you would not oppose mainstream cosmology without this bias. I personally would very much like to believe that the evidence supported what almost all the hakhmei ha-mesora believed. But I just don't see it that way, and I have found great rabbonim who agree with me, and I believe the hakhmei ha-mesora would too if they had the evidence we have.

    Scientific evidence:

    Your response didn't surprise me. Sorry to make you go through the motions again. I would be happy to discuss it with you by email (a google search led me to one that begins rivkyc, is that it?); neither of us will convince the other, but it sure would be interesting. I have seen Toriah.com as well as many Christian creationist sites and I find their scientific arguments patently unconvincing. Science relies on induction, so it isn't difficult to unplug causes from effects when philosophically convenient. The question is if that's reasonable to do.

    Kefira:

    I looked at the "Slifkin-Coffer debate" and I found your opinion on kefira in this case. I'm glad that "your camp" (not to create division, chas ve-shalom) treats "our camp" with respect, but I still find it unpleasant that you view our opinion as assur and that you censor our books.

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  15. Yitz wrote: We see that age test results from current measurements are based on the premise that relevant physical conditions as well as the natural laws of the universe themselves were the same a very long time ago (10k years or 10 billion years).

    Is it fair to say that "old-universe" scientists will accept the premise, while Torah true Jews will not?


    I suppose so. But there are other issues with the dating methods, such as contradictory readings, which call the science into question on its own terms.

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  16. Yitz,

    Thank you for the tip re italicizing.

    I need help with something else. Do you know how to insert a proper hyperlink into the comment section? For instance, take a look at my commet to Rafi. I tried sending him to a paper on toriah but the link came out in regular type instead of in a hyperlink format. The best would be if I could attach a link to a word like "here". I know how to do it in the blog section but the comments section doesn't give you the option. Thank you in advance for your help...Simcha

    P.S I just remebered another question...is there anyway to run a spell check in the comments section?

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  17. Links are done like this:

    <a href="http://www.google.com">Google</a>

    which prints as

    Google

    Spellcheck would be done by your browser, so it depends on your browser.

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  18. Rafi Wrote: You do not deny having fundamental religious problems with an ancient Earth. It contradicts our mesora, it encourages atheism, etc. You also apparently have a strong personal connection with Rav Miller, which I would guess also contributes to your opposition. I think you would not oppose mainstream cosmology without this bias

    I'm sure you are right. I probably wouldn't. I would be like 99.9% of laymen out there that simply accept everything scientists say unquestioningly. But who cares? Without my knowledge of Torah, I would have accepted a whole plethora of false doctrines. So would you. Fortunately, I do know the mesorah and it's opened my eyes. It is my knowledge of the mesorah (what you refer to as "bias") that has brought me to study these disciplines and conclude, based on their own merits, that they are false.

    In general this whole "bias" card the Slifkin camp keeps pulling drives me nuts. Look, everyone is biased! Everyone has subconscious elements of their mind which drives them. The very notion of a debate implies the idea that the two protagonists will do their best to put aside their pre-conceived notions, assess the material at hand in as objective a manner as possible, judge the topic on its own merits, and try and seek out the truth. If you really think I am so biased that I am incapable of accepting rational conclusions regarding the universe, I can’t see why you would waste your precious time bothering to communicate with me…


    Rafi wrote: Your response didn't surprise me. Sorry to make you go through the motions again. I would be happy to discuss it with you by email...Science relies on induction, so it isn't difficult to unplug causes from effects when philosophically convenient. The question is if that's reasonable to do.

    Well put. So how about this. Instead of emailing, why don't you begin posting comments on the Blog I just wrote defending the mesorah? I broached several scientific issues and concluded, based on my observations of the evidence, that it was reasonable to "unplug" evolution as a cause. You are welcome to challenge my conclusions in the comments section and I will gladly respond. FYI, I've broached at least two of the "strong" lines of evidence you originally referred to; fossils, and the records of the rocks. I suggest we start with that.

    As far as your unpleasantness regarding me finding your shita prohibited, it's not me! Don’t shoot the messenger. I am simply quoting the overwhelming consensus of our ba’alei mesorah. They find it assur. You claim that if they were around today they would agree with you but ha’motzee mey’chaveyro alav ha’ri’aya. The burden of proof rests on the Slifkin camp to demonstrate that disciplines such as evolution, geology and dendrochronology etc. possess sufficient evidence to unseat the mesorah. Until then, I consider it obligatory to accept our traditions especially regarding such an important matter.

    Listen Rafi, since it is surely assur to adopt wrong ideas, technically speaking you consider it assur for me to consider it assur for you to believe in an ancient universe, right? Do I care? Nope. As long as the price of cigars hasn’t gone up, I’m good.

    Don’t trouble yourself so much about what other people think. If you think you’re right, keep on arguing your position. Just make sure to try and cling to the koach bakashas ha’emes in you at all times and Hashem will do the rest (Rav Dessler).

    Respectfully…SC

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  19. I see you've tackled the italics!

    Bias:

    Yes, we all have bias. Accusations of bias bother me also, and it's usually the weaker position that resorts to ad hominem attacks. I brought it up because, by examining the evidence, I concluded against my own original bias toward the traditional cosmology. Same for Rabbi Slifkin. I see the evidence as so overwhelming that only a strong religious conviction could lead one to deny it. I don't expect you to accept my position; your strong commitment to Hazal is laudable. My goal in posting here is to present our position as scientifically grounded, which you deny. R. Slifkin can argue for its compatibility with Torah Judaism.

    Having wrong ideas:

    I don't consider your opinion to be assur in a kefira sense. I would never support a BAN on a book arguing the world is less than 6000 years old.

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  20. Well, if your goal is to present your position as scientifically grounded, you're going to have to do a bit more than just claim it. If you are sincere in your attempt to test the validity of your convictions, I enjoin you to begin attempting to refute the material I brought up in my latest Blog. Start with question #2 of Rabbi Slifkin and my answer, and then move on to my subsequent question to him. Let's see where this goes...

    So, are you game?

    BTY, thanks for the info on the link...

    I use IE as a browser and I can't find a Spell Check tool. Can you help?

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  21. More information about anchors from the un-authoritative yet sometimes useful Wikipedia. A little bit of HTML goes a long way and blogspot only permits a few tags in any case.

    I use IE as a browser and I can't find a Spell Check tool. Can you help?

    Sure I can help by recommending that you stop using IE! Chrome and Firefox will both check spelling as you type. Firefox also has a very nice feature, especially for those of us concerned with modesty, that blocks advertising.

    If for whatever reason you can't break the IE habit, then you could try something like this: http://www.iespell.com

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  22. I suppose so. But there are other issues with the dating methods, such as contradictory readings, which call the science into question on its own terms.

    I suggest that this is where Rabbi Coffer and I will have to agree to disagree. I see the issue of the premise to be so large that it overshadows any discussion of technical details.

    In any case, the dialogue has been very helpful for me personally in developing my thoughts on the matter and I thusly thank Rabbi Coffer for that. Clarity is a precious commodity in my value system and while I don't claim to have attained this, perhaps I have made a step in that direction.

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  23. I suggest that this is where Rabbi Coffer and I will have to agree to disagree. I see the issue of the premise to be so large that it overshadows any discussion of technical details.

    I don’t necessarily disagree with you. I was simply presenting the full gamut of objections kineged radiometric dating.

    As it happens, the issue of inherent contradictions in the methods themselves is more problematic from a scientific perspective because it attacks the science on its own terms. If you were trying to convince a scientist, this would be far more effective than claiming to him that he has no right to maintain his premises.

    But I agree with you that the fact that the science is based on unfounded premises and vast extrapolations makes its findings, by definition, inconclusive, at best.

    Incidentally, my colleague YSO would probably agree with you that the unfounded premise issue is even more serious but him and I don’t necessarily agree on everything… :-)

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  24. My thinking is that the premise itself does not lend itself to experimentation and thus it is not a scientific issue. After all, we only have the present day universe to observe.

    In any case, I assert that the premise must be clearly and loudly unbundled from the experimentation at hand if one hopes to achieve any kind of clarity.

    As it happens, the issue of inherent contradictions in the methods themselves is more problematic from a scientific perspective because it attacks the science on its own terms

    Indeed! Nonetheless, I personally can't get involved in that debate as I don't have the tools to independently evaluate scientific reports. Smithsonian magazine stretches the upper limit of my scientific literacy and I frankly don't aspire to go beyond this. I accept that Rabbi Coffer, Dr. Ostroff, and Dr. Betech all have far greater background than I, have independently evaluated the scientific data, and have rejected the conclusions of the scientific community for two reasons. One is that they do no accept the premise and they also have objections to the science that is built on it.

    For my own purposes, I don't feel qualified to make a judgement on either issue. Rather, I can make a judgement on the appropriate authorities to provide guidance. For the premise I select our esteemed Gedolim and for the science, I select the scientists. I make the latter selection simply because the scientific community is the recognized authority on scientific matters.

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  25. SC said: In general this whole "bias" card the Slifkin camp keeps pulling drives me nuts.

    My mission statement: a search for common ground between "old-universers / scientists" and "young-earthers / CT camp" (to boldly go where no man has gone before.)

    I am latching onto the idea that the key here is to detach premise from conclusion. Both sides claim ownership of clear thinking leading to clear conclusions and for essentially the same reason - lack of either "bias" or "unfounded premises." Both terms are pejorative and I suggest that there is little if any difference.

    I propose that we rather adapt the neutral term "premise" without "unfounded". Just say that scientists have a premise that is not shared by the CT camp. I also assert that the reverse is very much true!

    Premise A - the physical laws of the universe have remained constant going back in time indefinitely.

    Premise B - the physical laws of the universe were set in place about 6k years ago. Prior to that they we only know that they were different.

    Now go and argue about which premise is superior if you like.

    Perhaps the CT camp has obtained a clarity of thinking somehow that has eluded the mainstream scientists for whatever reason, and perhaps not!

    Rabbi Coffer suggests that nothing would suggest an old universe even if we entertain premise A. I suggest that nobody accepts this that does not already believe in premise B. For instance, I read this paper that Rabbi Coffer referenced on toriah.com. Does this paper get any feedback from any credible source that holds by Premise A? Is this why the paper has not been published in any journal or mainstream magazine?

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  26. Yitz, I think you're exactly right. It's a choice between A and B. (Although I would revise A to say "back in time to creatio ex nihilo.")

    In fact, this "letter of admonishment" on Toriah explicitly endorses B.

    My opinion is that there are many lines of evidence for A, like ice sheet layers or tree rings or the fact that we can observe many stars at every stage of the multi-billion-year star lifecycle. (I hope this blog will eventually discuss such evidence!) Premise B, to my mind, must rely on some sort of Omphalos approach, which I find rather dissatisfying.

    Thank you for seeking to make peace in Am Yisrael! I personally commit to stop using words like "bias," which I think I only used when I thought someone was confusing the premises dishonestly. In general I have found this blog to be quite accepting of criticism and I think that's great. Just too bad about the heresy thing...

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  27. Good points Rafi, although I am not so naive to pursue "peace" here. Rather, I am trying to better understand the dispute.

    AFAIK, the chareidi kiruv movement (Aish and Ohr Somayoch) has conceded the reliability of the scientific community, and has rather dealt with the conflict with either the "omphalos" approach, or by invoking the law of relativity to explain that 6 days and 13 billion years are one and the same. This is true even after the Slifkin ban.

    Other than toriah.com, I don't see anyone in the Jewish world challenging the scientists' authority on their own terms. Seeing that Aish and Ohr don't give Rabbi Coffer's claims about scientific bungling credibility, why should anyone else?

    It could be that I just haven't looked far enough, so please do correct me on this point as appropriate.

    http://ohr.edu/ask_db/ask_main.php/238/Q1/

    http://ohr.edu/ask_db/ask_main.php/71/Q1/

    *http://audio.ohr.edu/track/id=684

    http://www.aish.com/ci/sam/48951136.html

    * note: in this lecture, while Rabbi Gottleib does challenge the theory of evolution, he concedes that the universe does appear to be quite older than 6k years.

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  28. Other than toriah.com, I don't see anyone in the Jewish world challenging the scientists' authority on their own terms.

    My Rebbe, Rav Avigdor Miller ztz'l, not only challenged evolution on its own terms, he wrote several books detailing his arguments over 40 years ago! Furthermore, there are numerous audio recordings detailing his arguments. These items are all available for purchase. Book titles and tape numbers available upon request.

    Notwithstanding the above, your point is well taken. The Modern Orthodox are satisfied with RNS's approach. The Chareidi world does not even begin to consider it. What's left? A substantial number of middle ground individuals who need guidance.

    Far be it from me to denigrate the efforts of our kiruv institutions. I just wish they would not have gravitated to te apologetic approaches currently popular in the kiruv world.

    Seeing that Aish and Ohr don't give Rabbi Coffer's claims about scientific bungling credibility, why should anyone else?

    Typical Slifinesque comment.

    How about investigating the substantial claims for yourself? Did that ever cross your mind?

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  29. Did that ever cross your mind?

    Rabbi - try to keep in mind that I am actually on your side. I see that many of our esteemed Torah sages have communicated that old-earth belief is unacceptable.

    I very much want someone to shoulder the burden of advocating this cause with clear rational arguments.

    And even if I am an antagonist, there is nothing wrong with being respectful.

    And yes, I did consider this option and we have partially hashed it out. I do hope to further expand on this idea.

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