Friday, October 15, 2010

What's Wrong With Rabbi Slifkin's Theology?

In apparent response to criticism on this blog, Rabbi Slifkin replies with a passionate, vigorous, well-considered theological argument in favor of theistic evolution. And although I think he invokes the "k" word a bit too much for my tastes, his argument seems otherwise compelling, at least ostensibly. So I suppose the question is: What’s wrong with Rabbi Slifkin’s theology?

Rabbi Slifkin writes that he "cannot see any difference - any difference at all" between attributing the hidden Hand of God to "the [apparently] random, unplanned, circumstantial luck of history" and attributing it to "the neo-Darwinian evolutionary mechanism of random genetic mutation plus natural selection, which most scientists see as explaining how life evolved".

But the difference is obvious. It is glaring. And it is inescapable. Nowhere in the Torah are we enjoined to understand the natural phenomena of our universe in meta-natural terms. On the contrary, as Rabbi Slifkin so eloquently puts it, "The entire purpose of Purim is to teach us that even seemingly chance events are seen by their eventual results to have been part of a greater plan, and not as random as they superficially appeared" (Challenge pg. 292-3).

On the other hand, and in diametric opposition, the Biblical account of ma’aseh bereishis is described in purely meta-natural terms. Furthermore, every single pre-evolutionary massoretic source known to us describes it in precisely the same terms! The reason the Torah bothered to describe the particulars of ma’aseh bereishis (as opposed to just stating the fact of Divine Creation, as it does several times later on) is precisely this: to inform us that ma’aseh bereishis is impossible to describe via currently operating, seemingly random chance mechanisms. The story of ma’aseh beresihis is an open testimony to Hashem’s presence, not a hidden one.

Now, there are several possible responses Rabbi Slifkin can avail himself of but none of them are capable of defeating this argument. Let’s explore the possibilities.

1) There are some post-evolutionary Rabbinical sources which entertain the possibility of evolutionary theory as a model for the unfolding of Creation.

At the risk of invoking the wrath of my dear readers, I maintain that a tiny smattering of post-evolutionary sources do not possess the ability to unseat our long-standing mesorah. Especially when their statements can easily be attributed to pedagogy and especially when their real opinions are indeed aligned with the mesorah.

2) There is overwhelming physical evidence proving the evolutionary model of common descent ("my studies of zoology have led me to the conclusion that the evidence for common ancestry is overwhelming") thus justifying a rejection of our 3000 year uncontested mesorah and a reinterpretation of the verses in the Torah.

This is simply false. Rabbi Slifkin himself asserts that the primary lines of evidence for common descent are no stronger than those supporting the mechanisms. Here’s a quote from his book The Science of Torah page 144. (my emphases).

Scientists consider evidence for common ancestry to be very strong indeed. Futuyma even rates common ancestry as fact, relative to explanations of evolutionary mechanisms, which he terms theory. Actually, scientists are often being presumptuous when they give such a status to the evidence for common ancestry, as they generally are not giving serious consideration to explanations for it in light of other possibilities (such as Divine creation, panspermia, or some other unknowable process).

He also admits that primary lines of evidence for common ancestry are sometimes equally consistent with Special Creation and sometimes actually point to Special Creation! Here are the quotes. (my emphases)

Homology

A separate line of objection to the concept of homologous similarities being used as evidence for common ancestry is that it has to be considered in light of alternative possibilities, such as that each species was separately created by God. But with this scenario, homologous similarities also make sense. Since the pentadactyl limb (Rabbi Slifkin is referring to the limb possessing a five-fingered construction found in a variety of vertebrate creatures such as humans, bats, whales, dogs, etc.) is a good component for a bodyplan, why shouldn’t God use it for all sorts of different functions? IRemove Formatting from selectionndeed, homologous similarities were understood well before Darwin, and were explained in precisely this way.

Fossil Evidence

David Raup of the University of Chicago, one of the world’s most respected paleontologists, wrote as follows in a letter to Science magazine: A large number of well-trained scientists outside of evolutionary biology and paleontology have unfortunately gotten the idea that the fossil record is far more Darwinian than it is. This probably comes from the oversimplification inevitable in secondary sources: low level textbooks, semi popular articles, and so on. Also there is probably some wishful thinking involved. In the years after Darwin, his advocates hoped to find predictable progressions… In general these have not been found – yet the optimism dies hard, and some pure fantasy has crept into textbooks… One of the ironies of the evolutioncreation debate is that the creationists have accepted the mistaken notion that the fossil record shows a detailed and orderly progression and they have gone to great lengths to accommodate this "fact" in the Flood geology (Science, vol. 213 p. 289).

On page 150, he writes. (my emphases)

In fact, it was largely the paucity of the fossil record that led to Stephen Jay Gould and Niles Eldredge’s theory of Punctuated Equilibrium. As Gould writes, the fossil record does not show the predicted gradual sequence of transitions:

The history of most fossil species includes two features particularly inconsistent with gradualism:

1. Stasis. Most species exhibit no directional change during their tenure on earth. They appear in the fossil record looking much the same as when they disappear; morphological change is usually limited and directionless.

2. Sudden appearance. In any local area, a species does not arise gradually by the steady transformation of its ancestors; it appears all at once and "fully formed." The Episodic Nature of Evolutionary Change, in The Panda’s Thumb. p. 180

Gould and Eldredge therefore theorized that evolution occurs too fast to leave a trace in the fossil record. (It should be noted that "fast" in their terms does not mean over a few years; it means over a few thousand years rather than over a few million years.)

… Futuyma states that because we know evolution progresses rapidly, it is to be expected that the fossil record will show few transitional forms! Whereas the truth is the reverse: Because there are so few transitional forms, it is therefore theorized that evolution progresses rapidly. Punctuated Equilibrium is an apologetic for the fossil record, not a prediction of it.

Incredible! Rabbi Slifkin openly admits that Punctuated Equilibrium is merely a desperate attempt by evolutionists to avoid the glaring contradiction to evolutionary theory from the rocks.

3) The global community of scientists asserts that common descent is a fact.

This final response is frequently invoked by Rabbi Slifkin and is easily the most maddening response to those with even a modicum of exposure to the Philosophy of Science.

Let’s analyze this claim for a moment.

a) Rabbi Slifkin seems to be aware of the materialistic philosophy which attends the mainstream scientific enterprise and is thus willing to go on record and battle their assertion that science proves evolutionary processes are entirely blind (Blind Watchmaker Thesis). Instead, he asserts that God is somehow behind the whole thing (theistic evolution).

b) He is also willing to question the validity of the scientific mechanisms proposed by evolutionists to accomplish the prodigious feat of speciation although absent the mechanisms the theory is actually incoherent (as any evolutionist will admit to you).

c) Yet, when it comes to questioning their assertions re common ancestry, his brain suddenly turns to mush! What happened? Did the clock suddenly strike twelve?

What principled distinction can Rabbi Slifkin possibly possess which would account for his animated rejection of a) i.e. the scientific assertion that evolution is, per-force, entirely G-dless, and b) i.e. that evolution has valid mechanisms accounting for macro-evolutionary prossesses, while simultaneously accepting c) i.e. common ancestry is unquestionable? Don’t forget, #3 merely states that "the global community of scientists says so", nothing more. There is no attempt to investigate the evidence, no attempt to question the science. Just a blanket acceptance of scientific dogma. Why Rabbi Slifkin, why?

In light of the latter objection, YSO's criticism on this blog is especially poignant: "The blind watchmaker thesis is supposed to account for eyes, wings, the mammalian brain and everything else. What utter nonsense! There is not a single shred of evidence in support of it." Now YSO might be right and he might be wrong. But one thing is for sure; he never gets intimidated enough to turn off his brain. For the life of me, I can’t figure out what "mechanism" was responsible for Rabbi Slifkin’s unilateral submission.

I have much more to say on this topic but we will have to save it for another time.

66 comments:

  1. 1. You're bringing up two completely different points here - whether there must be something unique about maase bereishis, which is a very unusual and novel point that I have never seen anyone make, and whether it is permitted to offer a new interpretation of a topic in the Torah, which is something that R. Slifkin discusses at length in this book. But neither of these have anything to do with the idea that there is something inherently problematic with positing that there are processes which, IN THE PHYSICAL WORLD, appear random, but which are ultimately guided by God - the claim which you had previous made at length, but which is neatly refuted by Purim, lotteries, etc. In the previous discussion with Rafi, you denied that there is any such model as "theistic evolution" - you even called it the "Rafi model." You are apparently evading admitting that you were completely off-base with that.

    2. You missed out the most obvious response that R. Slifkin could make - that your claim that Maase Bereishis MUST be meta-natural has no basis. You claim that Bereishis must be different because the Torah describes it in "meta-natural" terms. Yet the same is true for many things in the Torah which the Rishonim nevertheless interpret as occurring via naturalistic processes. See, for example, Ramban on the miracle of the quail. And see Borchi Nafshi! There are many more such sources. And as for the fact that historically, MB was never explained in naturalistic ways except by recent rabbinic authorities - well, of course the Rishonim didn't, because they had no way of doing so.

    3. Quoting extensively from "The Science of Torah" seems rather odd - it's obvious from reading "The Challenge of Creation" that Rabbi Slifkin's views have "evolved" considerably since then.

    4. In general, you seem desperate to turn any topic into a list of scientific objections to evolution. Can't you stay on the point?

    5. "What principled distinction can Rabbi Slifkin possibly possess which would account for his animated rejection of a) and b) while simultaneously accepting c) unquestioningly? " Rabbi Slifkin made the answer to this clear on his website (and in his book). But this is beside the point.

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  2. Wrath invoked! LOL.

    But for now I just note to Yissacher that it was YSO who called theistic evolution "Rafi-theory," not SC. I don't think SC ever denied the position's existence. I am curious too about what YSO currently thinks about it.

    Otherwise I agree with Yissacher's points.

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  3. Yissacher,

    With all due respect, your comment borders on the incoherent.

    You write:

    the claim which you had previous made at length

    Where? Where did I make this claim?

    You write:

    In the previous discussion with Rafi, you denied that there is any such model as "theistic evolution" - you even called it the "Rafi model."

    What previous discussion? What are you talking about? I think you're confusing me with somebody else my friend.

    You write:

    You are apparently evading admitting that you were completely off-base with that.

    The only thing apparent here is that you have no idea how to play baseball...

    Unfortunately I do not see anything else substantial to respond to in the rest of your comments but I will mention one thing.

    You write:

    You missed out the most obvious response that R. Slifkin could make - that your claim that Maase Bereishis MUST be meta-natural has no basis.

    And,

    You claim that Bereishis must be different because the Torah describes it in "meta-natural" terms.Yet the same is true for many things in the Torah which the Rishonim nevertheless interpret as occurring via naturalistic processes.

    Apparently you didn't bother reading the very next line.

    I wrote:

    Furthermore, every single pre-evolutionary massoretic source known to us describes it in precisely the same terms!

    This includes Chazal, Rishonim and Acharonim! Just click on the hyperlink I provided in the body of the post for a list of 35(!) massoretic sources which indicate a recent meta-natural creation.

    For the record, I am very much interested in comparing ideas and seeking out the truth but I tend to shy away from individuals who regularly evince knee-jerk reactions to my opinions. I hereby request that in the future you take a bit more time to read my posts and carefully consider the issues before posting a comment.

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  4. SC, Yissacher did confuse you with Dr. Ostroff, but I think he also made some substantial points in his comment that you didn't address in your rebuttal. I'll let him defend himself. I hope it stays civil.

    At the moment, I am mostly bothered by three itching questions for Dr. Ostroff:

    1) Please explain your previous denial of the entire concept of theistic evolution, calling it "Rafi-theory"—when it is a position held by prominent evolutionists, the majority of Americans who accept evolution, and compatible with Judaism by R' Slifkin's "ostensibly" "compelling" (says SC) argument.

    2) Please explain why you used the following passage from Aryeh Kaplan to show me that young earth creationism is the only Torah-true opinion:

    There is another issue that must also be dealt with squarely. Many fundamentalist Christian groups have adopted the idea of creationism, a teaching based on the literal interpretation of the Bible. Of course, since gentiles do not take the Oral Torah into consideration, their approach is certain to be very different than ours. Moreover, many of their arguments have been very effectively refuted by some of the best scientific minds. That Orthodox Jews should align themselves with such groups is both dangerous and anti-Torah.

    From Immortality, Resurrection, and the Age of the Universe: a Kabbalistic View, page 5.

    3) You said "I used to believe that evolution was compatible with Torah until I studied it in greater depth." I'm curious to hear more about this odyssey of yours. How exactly did you previously reconcile them? What insight led you to give up on their compatibility?

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  5. SC, Yissacher did confuse you with Dr. Ostroff, but I think he also made some substantial points in his comment that you didn't address in your rebuttal.

    You're welcome to broach any topic you like. Until such time, I still see nothing substantial to respond to.

    I hope it stays civil

    Me too.

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  6. One point Yissacher hit on is that Toriah makes a big deal out of all the authorities who accepted Bereshit literally. I admit that I have yet to read the essay you linked to in detail, I'm sure it will be though-provoking.

    But at a fundamental level, don't you see why we don't find that argument compelling? The options back then were eternal universe or the Torah's word on creation. What could any Rishon do but take the Torah literally? Meanwhile, when confronted with reconcilable conflicts, many Rishonim did not hesitate to justify non-literal readings of Torah.

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  7. A second point:

    What principled distinction can Rabbi Slifkin possibly possess which would account for his animated rejection of a) and b) while simultaneously accepting c) unquestioningly?

    This is a terrible oversimplification of R' Slifkin's position. What "animated rejection"?

    Point a), first of all, isn't rejected, it's embraced. R' Slifkin devotes entire chapters to the concept of God working through natural mechanism!

    Regarding point b), R' Slifkin distinguishes between mechanism and event, even if you don't. He finds the arguments of ID compelling but rejects them anyway for several reasons he makes clear.

    Regarding c), he personally believes in common descent because of the evidence he sees as supporting it. The reason he cites the scientific consensus is to justify reconciling evolution and Torah—independent of his personal beliefs. Also, consensus can (but not always) be a way to quantify the strength of evidence.

    I think you were unfair to describe R' Slifkin's brain as mush. He is certainly thinking critically, he's just not going in the directions you'd like him too.

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  8. I read your essay. I have to give you credit, I was impressed by your fair description of R' Slifkin's position!

    I stand my by first point above, and add two more:

    2) You say that in R' Slifkin's view, God didn't create "directly." But God is not a corporeal being; I'm not sure what "directly" creating could mean. I think the disagreement is better termed "supernatural and instant" vs. "natural and gradual," not "direct" vs. "indirect."

    3) A commentary or meimra will discuss the literal interpretation of Bereshit because its job is to explain the peshat, or give an inspiring derash. That is often compatible with a non-literal interpretation of what historically happened. (See CoC, chapter 14.) In this hashkafa, all of Hazal's statements are infinitely valuable, but for appreciating the text of the Torah, not necessarily for understanding science.

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  9. Rafi - October 15, 2010 12:10 PM

    One point Yissacher hit on is that Toriah makes a big deal out of all the authorities who accepted Bereshit literally.

    I didn't see that. Which comment are you referring to?

    ...Toriah makes a big deal out of all the authorities who accepted Bereshit literally... at a fundamental level, don't you see why we don't find that argument compelling? The options back then were eternal universe or the Torah's word on creation. What could any Rishon do but take the Torah literally?

    Oy vey Rafi! You need a serious lesson in the parameters of mesorah! First of all, my document lists over a dozen sources in Chazal that support the premise of a young-earth rapid, meta-natural creation scenario. Chazal are our link to Har Sinai and to the immutable truths of the Torah.

    Second of all, the Rishonim are an indispensible element of our massoretic link to Sinai. If our nation possesses an unbroken tradition down from Sinai regarding anything at all, that thing is sacrosanct. If one does not relate to it that way, one has undermined the very concept of mesorah. I can’t then see any intellectual reason to believe in Torah m’Sinai…

    Third of all, you’re just plain wrong. The Rishonim could have easily subscribed to an old universe. In fact, Rambam (Moreh 3:50 - Kapach ed. pg 400) claims that the reason the Torah specifies the generations from Adam down to Avraham is specifically to address the view that the world must be old (as opposed to eternal).

    Meanwhile, when confronted with reconcilable conflicts, many Rishonim did not hesitate to justify non-literal readings of Torah.

    Really? Many Rishonim? Readings (plural) of the Torah? Can you list a few Rishonim and a few readings to demonstrate your point? Wait. Better yet. Can you list one Rishon with a few readings or perhaps several Rishonim with one reading? I'll tell you what. Other than anthropomorphism, can you list even ONE Rishon who reinterprets the reading of the Torah in ONE place due to what he personally considered a "reconcilable conflict"?

    Rishonim DO NOT, chs'v, reinterpret the Torah merely because they feel a conflict is reconcilable.

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  10. Rafi - October 15, 2010 12:53 PM

    A second point:

    What principled distinction can Rabbi Slifkin possibly possess which would account for his animated rejection of a) and b) while simultaneously accepting c) unquestioningly?

    This is a terrible oversimplification of R' Slifkin's position. What "animated rejection"?

    Point a), first of all, isn't rejected, it's embraced. R' Slifkin devotes entire chapters to the concept of God working through natural mechanism!


    I think I may have been unclear. What I meant by rejecting a) and b) is his rejection of the scientific notion that evolution must be purely materialistic, mentioned in letter a) and the scientific notion that evolution possesses valid mechanisms, mentioned in letter b). I modified the post in response to your criticism. I hope my meaning is now clear.

    Regarding c), he personally believes in common descent because of the evidence he sees as supporting it.

    This may be. But I already treated his personal conclusions to the evidence for common ancestry in #2. In # 3, I am treating another argument entirely. The argument that common ancestry is a fact on the sole basis that it is supported by the (near) unanimous consensus of the global scientific community. You weren't involved in our original debates Rafi so you wouldn't know this but Rabbi Slifkin did indeed utilize this argument against me. In fact, the term "Global scientific community" is his, not mine. My question is simple; why dos Rabbi Slifkin feel confident in himself to reject the scientific assertions mentioned in a and b but all of a sudden turns to mush (i.e. is machniya his mind) to the scientific assertion in c just because they say so?

    Now, if Rabbi Slifkin wants to recant on this ta'anah, fine, I'll back down. But if not, I want an answer to my question. Why does he feel obliged to be machniya himself to scientists when it comes to c but not to a and b?

    The reason he cites the scientific consensus is to justify reconciling evolution and Torah—independent of his personal beliefs.

    Sorry but this is not a justification. That's my point. Scientific claims must be analyzed to see if they are backed up by evidence and if they are not there is no justification to be misalef the Torah just because the apikorsim of the world happen to run the media and the colleges.

    I think you were unfair to describe R' Slifkin's brain as mush.

    I didn't do that Rafi. In the context of what I wrote, my meaning is obvious as I described earlier in this comment.

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  11. Rafi -

    2) You say that in R' Slifkin's view, God didn't create "directly." But God is not a corporeal being; I'm not sure what "directly" creating could mean. I think the disagreement is better termed "supernatural and instant" vs. "natural and gradual," not "direct" vs. "indirect."

    What I meant by directly and indirectly is through an intemediary, or medium, i.e. nature, as opposed to "directly" doing it himself, i.e. meta-naturally. Basically I copied the Maharal's formula (listed in my paper). However, I see your point. I will either change the wording or add an explanatory note bl'n...

    Hmm... that's two for two so far Rafi. I don't usually give in to my critics so quickly... :-)

    3) A commentary or meimra will discuss the literal interpretation of Bereshit because its job is to explain the peshat, or give an inspiring derash. That is often compatible with a non-literal interpretation of what historically happened.

    Each and every source I quoted was clealry discussing the historical facts rather than just offering a homiletic interpretation.

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  12. So first the objection was that evolution is random and unguided. Then when Rafi and R. Slifkin show that that objection is baseless, the objection changes to being that Bereishis specifically describes creation in meta-natural terms. Then when I showed that that objection is baseless, the objection changes to being that evolution is against the mesorah. Can't you guys make up your mind as to what the problem is? With a moving target such as this, it's no wonder that nobody wants to debate you.

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  13. "the Rishonim are an indispensible element of our massoretic link to Sinai. If our nation possesses an unbroken tradition down from Sinai regarding anything at all, that thing is sacrosanct. If one does not relate to it that way, one has undermined the very concept of mesorah."

    That's odd, because the Rishonim unanimously agree that various Gemaras are literal, which didn't remotely stop the Acharonim from insisting otherwise. And the Rishonim largely agree that Chazal occasionally were mistaken about facts in the natural world, which didn't prevent the Gedolim from saying that we have now "paskened" such a view to be kefirah, based on the revelations of kabbalah which prove such an approach wrong. So apparently the mesorah is not as inviolable as you think.

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  14. OK, a lot to respond to there.

    If one does not relate to it that way, one has undermined the very concept of mesorah.

    Oy vey in return! That's a serious accusation!

    This is clearly a (maybe THE) central issue. I commit, b"n, to think about this more and at some point give a more detailed objection.

    What I meant by rejecting a) and b) is his rejection of the scientific notion that evolution must be purely materialistic, mentioned in letter a) and the scientific notion that evolution possesses valid mechanisms, mentioned in letter b).

    The bottom line here is that you need to read R' Slifkin more carefully to see why his logic is self-consistent. But in an effort to be "substantial":

    a) The notion that "evolution must be purely materialistic" is not scientific. You and YSO both seem to maintain that it is. The scientists who make such statements do not make them in their roles as evolutionary scientists but as superficial philosophers.

    A notion I would consider to be in the spirit of science, and may have confused you because it is often worded imprecisely, would be "we must search for a natural explanation that requires no supernatural intervention," which is quite different from "pure materialism" and need not be rejected by a theist.

    b) Again, R' Slifkin evaluates mechanism and event separately, even if you don't, and even if many scientists don't.

    You weren't involved in our original debates Rafi so you wouldn't know this but Rabbi Slifkin did indeed utilize this argument against me.

    I take it that it was an oral debate? I suspect that R' Slifkin relied on that argument because it is much easier to say verbally. As I said, "consensus" generally (obviously not in all cases, nor obviously in this case in your viewpoint) is an easy way to quantify the strength of evidence. For example, all historians agree that George Washington was America's first president. I don't need to examine the evidence myself.

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  15. Scientific claims must be analyzed to see if they are backed up by evidence and if they are not there is no justification to be misalef the Torah just because the apikorsim of the world happen to run the media and the colleges.

    Speaking of being mesalef Torah, I'm curious what you think about this quote from R' Kaplan zt"l, directed to me by YSO:

    "There is another issue that must also be dealt with squarely. Many fundamentalist Christian groups have adopted the idea of creationism, a teaching based on the literal interpretation of the Bible. Of course, since gentiles do not take the Oral Torah into consideration, their approach is certain to be very different than ours. Moreover, many of their arguments have been very effectively refuted by some of the best scientific minds. That Orthodox Jews should align themselves with such groups is both dangerous and anti-Torah."

    Basically I copied the Maharal's formula (listed in my paper).

    I still don't understand it. What exactly about supernatural intervention is more "direct"? What independent quality does nature have that renders it an "agent"?

    Each and every source I quoted was clealry discussing the historical facts rather than just offering a homiletic interpretation.

    I don't think that's so pashut for many of the ma'amarei Hazal. But even if they intended it historically, I stand by my statement that "all of Hazal's statements are infinitely valuable, but for appreciating the text of the Torah, not necessarily for understanding science."

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  16. Whoops, we forgot to address one issue in the comments.

    Prepare yourself for my wrath! ;-)

    Especially when their statements can easily be attributed to pedagogy and especially when their real opinions are indeed aligned with the mesorah.

    1) Do you have any precedents for rabbinic authorities embracing heretical positions for purposes of pedagogy?

    2) Could pedagogy go in the other direction—i.e. an authority might personally find theistic evolution convincing, but endorse a different view which he judges to be more appropriate for his community?

    3) If an accepted authority endorses a position, even if it is pedagogy and against mesora, doesn't that mean he thinks it is legitimate for bnei Torah to take that position?

    4) How do you judge when an authority's statement is his real opinion or just pedagogy?

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  17. Yissacher -

    So first the objection was that evolution is random and unguided. Then when Rafi and R. Slifkin show that that objection is baseless, the objection changes to being that Bereishis specifically describes creation in meta-natural terms. Then when I showed that that objection is baseless, the objection changes to being that evolution is against the mesorah. Can't you guys make up your mind as to what the problem is? With a moving target such as this, it's no wonder that nobody wants to debate you.

    Well, surely you are not a nobody and you're debating us... :-)

    Look Yissacher, I think you need to get the hang of distinguishing between Blog authors. Although this Blog site has a general mandate, it posseses more than one writer. I am SC. The other auther is YSO. (There are another two authors but they haven't posted yet.) Blog authors are responsible for their own posts, not other people's posts. I will gladly defend my stated postions but when it comes to another author's position, you need to address your comments to him, not to me.

    Now on to your comment. Your "first objection" is not found anywhere in my post. If you have a problem with it, may I suggest you post your comemnt to the proper Blog entry.

    You then go on to claim that you've shown my "second" objection to be baseless. Unfortunately, you've done no such thing. The one proof you do bring from the Ramban is actually a ra'aya listor! The Ramban proves from an analysis of the very words of the pesukim themselves that there was no essential "chidush" regarding the second incident of quail (other than the fact that an inordinate number of them happened to gather in one place at one time). His point is that the words of the Torah themselves prove that there was no miraculous "creation" of quail in this instance. Obviously it is impossible to interpret the words of maaseh bereishis that way and indeed no Rishon does so.

    But in any case, you missed my point. My intention in bringing up the wording of maaseh bereishis was really as a lead up to the very next sentence which was that every massoretic source concurs with the plain meaning of the verses in Bereishis. It's not like I stated the first sentence, you objected, and then I moved the target to the second sentence. They were both said b'vas achas. This answers your issue with me "changing" from the second objection to the third objection. I do concede however that the term "furthermore" connecting the first sentence to the second may have thrown you off.

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  18. Yissacher -


    That's odd, because the Rishonim unanimously agree that various Gemaras are literal, which didn't remotely stop the Acharonim from insisting otherwise. And the Rishonim largely agree that Chazal occasionally were mistaken about facts in the natural world, which didn't prevent the Gedolim from saying that we have now "paskened" such a view to be kefirah, based on the revelations of kabbalah which prove such an approach wrong. So apparently the mesorah is not as inviolable as you think.


    I don't agree with your Slifkinesque attitude regarding the mesorah but that's all I'm going to say on this topic for now. (And I'll be a monkey's uncle - pun intended - if you ever manage to lure me into a discussion re "gedolim", "kefira" and the like.) If Rabbi Slifkin chooses to write a Blog entry regarding this topic, I will consider responding with an opposing opinion and we can hash it out then. As far as your comment itself, it is irrelevant to my post. I wrote: "If our nation possesses an unbroken tradition down from Sinai regarding anything at all, that thing is sacrosanct", operative terms here being "unbroken tradition". The cases you discuss obviously serve to "break up" the tradition.

    BTY, please resist the urge of responding that the tradition has been broken by Rav Kook or Rav Hirsch. I already responded to that right at the beginning of the post.

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  19. "Look Yissacher, I think you need to get the hang of distinguishing between Blog authors. "

    My apologies. I didn't realize that you guys disagree as to what the problem with evolution is. But maybe you should work it out between you and present a united front?

    "If our nation possesses an unbroken tradition down from Sinai regarding anything at all, that thing is sacrosanct"

    Please can you define "sacrosanct"? Does this mean that it is absolutely forbidden to say otherwise?

    And can you define "unbroken tradition"? Does this mean that it is a view that nobody disputes? And until what era must this non-disputed view be held?

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  20. Rafi -

    Oy vey in return! That's a serious accusation!

    Wow! I wish my kids took me as seriously as you seem to do! :-)

    I was very careful to use the pronoun "one" in my response. I never directly accuse anyone of undermining Judaism. It's bad business...

    If, after reading my comments, you come to a personal conclusion that you may have inadvertantly contrmanded something important in Yiddishkeit, that's your business. I'm just calling the shots the way I see them. And BTY, for all my dear readers, please don't take offence at my "direct approach". I never mean to insult anyone... well, maybe almost never...

    This is clearly a (maybe THE) central issue. I commit, b"n, to think about this more and at some point give a more detailed objection.


    Or perhaps, Heaven forfend, agree with me!? (gasp!)

    a) The notion that "evolution must be purely materialistic" is not scientific. You and YSO both seem to maintain that it is... A notion I would consider to be in the spirit of science, and may have confused you because it is often worded imprecisely, would be "we must search for a natural explanation that requires no supernatural intervention," which is quite different from "pure materialism"

    How? You know why scientists limit their searches to "natural" explanations? Becaaue they are materialists. It's as simple as that. But anyway, here's a quote from one of the most famous evolutionists, Dr. Richard Lewontin of Harvard University, on the Philosophy of Science and evolutionary theory.

    "We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and
    institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce
    material explanations, no matter how counterintuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.... (Richard Lewontin, "The Demon-Haunted World," The New York Review of
    Books, January 9, 1997, p. 28.)"

    I hope that clears things up for you. Unfortunately, I am not the one confused about the Philosophy of Science, you are.

    b) Again, R' Slifkin evaluates mechanism and event separately, even if you don't, and even if many scientists don't.

    Yeah, precisely my point. Why does he feel comfortable arguing with the scietists reagrding the mechanisms but feels compelled to agree to them regarding common ancestry? I think you're losing track of the line of argumentation Rafi; halt kop!

    I take it that it was an oral debate?

    No sir. We had a public online debate for a year or so. Actually, it was initiated by him. He was genuinely interested in understanding Rabbi Shlomo Miller's oppostion to his books. I responded, one thing led to another, and we "mixed it up" for a long time. A small part of it (about thirty pages or so) is on Toriah but I got tired of formatting our email debates into Wiki language so I gave up.

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  21. Rafi -

    Speaking of being mesalef Torah, I'm curious what you think about this quote from R' Kaplan zt"l, directed to me by YSO:

    "There is another issue that must also be dealt with squarely. Many fundamentalist Christian groups have adopted the idea of creationism, a teaching based on the literal interpretation of the Bible. Of course, since gentiles do not take the Oral Torah into consideration, their approach is certain to be very different than ours. Moreover, many of their arguments have been very effectively refuted by some of the best scientific minds. That Orthodox Jews should align themselves with such groups is both dangerous and anti-Torah."


    First of all, I think I should mentnion that I do not read the comments posted on YSO's Blog entries. I simply don't have the time. So, I have no idea what he was trying to accomplish by quoting this paragraph to you.

    As far as what I personally think of this paragraph, indeed, Rabbi Kaplan's whole essay, I probably shouldn't respond to this becasue it's only going to cause me grief. Suffice to say I strongly disagree with his entire essay. In fact, I have a paper (unfinished) written on this essay which demonstrates that Rabbi Kaplan grossly misquoted the Torah sources at least 8 times! 'nuff said...

    If you want anymore, you know my email address...

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  22. Rafi -

    I still don't understand it. What exactly about supernatural intervention is more "direct"? What independent quality does nature have that renders it an "agent"?

    This is a deeply philosophical/theological question. Here's the short answer. Meta-natural means "not according with the establsihed, immutable (unless for rare exceptions) laws of nature"

    During maaseh bereishis, Hashem had not yet establsihed the laws of nature. They were still fluid. They were still tractable. There could be, and were, violations of the laws as we know them. For instance, Adam and Chava copulated and in one hour Chava managed to give birth to twins who, at the end of that hour, were fully grown!

    Shabbos marks the end of this period. From then on in, the laws of nature repeat themselves over and over and do not change. See Toriah (or the Critique section of this Blog) for a lengthy discussion on this topic by Rabbi Shlomo Miller.

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  23. Rafi -

    I don't think that's so pashut for many of the ma'amarei Hazal. But even if they intended it historically, I stand by my statement that "all of Hazal's statements are infinitely valuable, but for appreciating the text of the Torah, not necessarily for understanding science."

    The issue here is not whether Chazal were right or wrong in science (as Rabbi Slifkin often tries to misdirect the focus). The issue is your level of dedication to the mesorah of our sages. They weren't making scientific statemetns when they discussed maaseh bereishis; they were making massoretic ones. In my opinion Rafi, you need to think about this very carefully. But that's just my opinion...

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  24. Rafi -

    I almost forgot to respond to your whoops... here's my two cents...

    1) Do you have any precedents for rabbinic authorities embracing heretical positions for purposes of pedagogy?

    dechiya bi'kash (pushing off an opponent with "straw") is a well-known polemical tool used even by Chazal. I've seen it several times in the gemara and Rishonim. No cases come to mind now. My brain is mush. I need some sleep...

    2) Could pedagogy go in the other direction—i.e. an authority might personally find theistic evolution convincing, but endorse a different view which he judges to be more appropriate for his community?

    Yeah, sure. What would be the difference?

    Actually, I just thought of a difference. RSRH was speaking to goyim. Perhaps only then do we have the heter of pedagogy.

    On the other hand, I just thought of a possible semi-heter even to Jews, certain Jews, under certain conditions. My Rebbe tells the following story.

    R' Yisrael Salanter stayed in a a German town called Memel. Reform was rampant and many of the Jews were secularized. He attended the local shul on Shabbos and then announced that he wanted to speak to the baal habatim. He asked "is there a litvaker here?" When the response came in the negative, he said as follows.

    "Look Rabbosai, I understand that it is impossible to keep your stores closed on Shabbos but can we make a deal? Let's all commit to keep our stores closed until chatzos on Shabbos day".

    The baal habatim were very happy. It was a bargain! So they agreed.

    The next week R' Yisrael asked "is there a litvaker present?" and the answer came back in the positive so he sat down.

    The next week the same happened and he inquired re the litvaker. When the answer came back in the negative he said:

    "Look Rabbosai, I know you must keep your stores open on Shabbos but can we all commit not to write on Shabbos"

    Well, it was still a bargain so they agreed. This went on for many months. Each time there was a Lithuanian guest, R' Yisrael didn't speak. But if he was only among the michaliley shabbos, he utilized the facility of pedagogy and eventually managed to transform the entire town into shomrei shabbos!

    3) If an accepted authority endorses a position, even if it is pedagogy and against mesora, doesn't that mean he thinks it is legitimate for bnei Torah to take that position?

    Not sure what you mean by "endorses"? Can you give me an example? RSRH is certainly not a good example. He endorsed the opposite of evolution. And he was speaking to goyim, not Binei Torah. And he didn't publish his interchange. It was published posthumously.

    4) How do you judge when an authority's statement is his real opinion or just pedagogy?

    Common sense I suppose.

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  25. Yissacher,

    My apologies. I didn't realize that you guys disagree as to what the problem with evolution is.

    I didn't say that. Maybe we do, maybe we don't. One thing I can tell you; we agree on all the fundamentals. But as you know, the devil is in the details. So, if you don't like the way he presented something, please, aks him not me. If after repeated attempts you do not get a response, let me know and I'll see what I can do...

    But maybe you should work it out between you and present a united front?

    It's not that kind of venue. The general mandate of the Blog is unified but the contributing authors may have slightly differing opinions. It's up to you, the reader, to accept what you wish.

    Please can you define "sacrosanct"? Does this mean that it is absolutely forbidden to say otherwise?

    Yes, of course. But this is a large field and requires a lot more discussion than just a yes or no answer.

    And can you define "unbroken tradition"? Does this mean that it is a view that nobody disputes? And until what era must this non-disputed view be held?

    Not "nobody". Our mesorah has been contested many times by individuals. I think it was R' Moshe (Feinstein) who wrote that if we took every minority view into consideration over the ages, we could easily justify being conservative Jews...

    Mesorah means "our nation's tradition as understood by the majority consensus of its transmitters". I am very uncomfortable discussing the parameters of mesorah in such an informal manner. Like I said before, it requires a lot more treatment. Furthermore, who am I to explain such a sensitive and complicated issue? The only reason I have spoken about it here is becasue I didn't want you to think I was ignoring you...

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  26. My intention in bringing up the wording of maaseh bereishis was really as a lead up to the very next sentence which was that every massoretic source concurs with the plain meaning of the verses in Bereishis.

    Not exactly. Two counterexamples off the top of my head: the Abarbanel understood the Rambam as seeing all creation as taking place in an instant. The Ibn Ezra interpreted the word bara against "רובי המפרשים" as creation using existing matter, not יש מאין.

    Also, the Rambam writes the following in the Moreh (Friedlander translation from Wikisource), part 2, chapter 25:

    "We do not reject the Eternity of the Universe, because certain passages in Scripture confirm the Creation; for such passages are not more numerous than those in which God is represented as a corporeal being; nor is it impossible or difficult to find for them a suitable interpretation."

    Unless you want to call that pedagogy, it seems that the author of one of the most important works in the history of the Oral Torah (I mean the Yad of course) had no tradition that creation must be six literal days.

    Or perhaps, Heaven forfend, agree with me!? (gasp!)

    I won't because I see the evidence for an old earth as incontrovertible. The best you could possibly do is convince me to take an Omphalos approach out of respect for the Rishonim. But I can think of several ways I think are kosher to justify contradicting the Rishonim on this. I know many talmidei hakhamim who have no problem doing so. But as you say, I need to be careful.

    You know why scientists limit their searches to "natural" explanations? Becaaue they are materialists.

    You can quote as many scientists as you like, but they won't be Orthodox Jews.

    One reason I prefer natural explanation is because I believe God has infinite wisdom and can create however he wants, and furthermore he has left us evidence that he chose to create through natural means.

    I hope that clears things up for you. Unfortunately, I am not the one confused about the Philosophy of Science, you are.

    Ouch, my feelings are really hurt. ;-)

    I have a paper (unfinished) written on this essay which demonstrates that Rabbi Kaplan grossly misquoted the Torah sources at least 8 times!

    IIRC R' Kaplan himself retracted his reading of these sources. I believe his position in Faces and Facets is his approach after he was hadar beih.

    This is a deeply philosophical/theological question. Here's the short answer...

    Still unsatisfied. Why can't God create directly, straight from atzilus or something (I won't pretend to understand kabbala!), in a pattern that conforms to the laws of nature? And even today, what makes nature an agent?

    I am very uncomfortable discussing the parameters of mesorah in such an informal manner. Like I said before, it requires a lot more treatment.

    Me too. And I agree. I hope you find an opportunity to flesh it out.

    Dechiya bi'kash (pushing off an opponent with "straw") is a well-known polemical tool used even by Chazal.

    I'll wait for your examples, but I understood dechiya bi'kash as a kind of leshittatkha approach to turning away heretics, not for justifying reconciliations of herecy with Torah.

    But if he was only among the michaliley shabbos, he utilized the facility of pedagogy and eventually managed to transform the entire town into shomrei shabbos!

    Very different! Do you think Rav Kook et al published a reconciliation of the old age of the world with Torah, supposedly herecy, so that people would eventually embrace young earth creationism!?

    ReplyDelete
  27. Rafi -

    Not exactly. Two counterexamples off the top of my head: the Abarbanel understood the Rambam as seeing all creation as taking place in an instant. The Ibn Ezra interpreted the word bara against "רובי המפרשים" as creation using existing matter, not יש מאין.

    I don't even want to begin guessing what you are talking about until you provide source material, chapter and verse. Please be considerate in this regard Rafi. How can I respond if I can't verify your sources?

    "We do not reject the Eternity of the Universe, because certain passages in Scripture confirm the Creation; for such passages are not more numerous than those in which God is represented as a corporeal being; nor is it impossible or difficult to find for them a suitable interpretation."

    Unless you want to call that pedagogy, it seems that the author of one of the most important works in the history of the Oral Torah (I mean the Yad of course) had no tradition that creation must be six literal days.


    Pedagogy? No. That's not what I would call it. I would call it faulty scholarship engendered by the 21st century habit of Googling things instead of learning them properly...

    You need to keep on reading in the Moreh. Just after that the Rambam responds to his question! He states that anthropomorphism is logically proven as impossible and therefore the pesukim must be reinterpreted whereas an eternal universe is not and therefore it is wrong to reinterpret the pesukim because of something that is not proven!

    I wouldn't be so harsh Rafi but it's practically the very next words in the Moreh!

    I won't because I see the evidence for an old earth as incontrovertible.

    Well, not everyone is perfect you know... we'll just have to work on you...

    One reason I prefer natural explanation is because I believe God has infinite wisdom and can create however he wants

    I too have a personal "preference of explanation" for certain things. Here's one I’d like to share with you. I’d like to explain to you why I can fly. I believe that due to the fact that I share certain morphological similarities to birds (i.e. I have a bird-brain) I should be able to fly. Since God is all capable, I actually believe that - notwithstanding all evidence to the contrary - I can jump out my 20th floor window of my apartment and survive. I believe it! Since my belief is entirely consistent with the idea that God could grant me these powers, this conclusively proves that I can fly, notwithstanding all the evidence to the contrary, and therefore justifies my decision to nose-dive out the balcony.

    How do you like that for a personal preference of explanation? Does it differ in any significant way from your explantion re creation? If so, how?

    IIRC R' Kaplan himself retracted his reading of these sources. I believe his position in Faces and Facets is his approach after he was hadar beih.

    Halivai you would be correct...

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  28. I don't even want to begin guessing what you are talking about until you provide source material, chapter and verse.

    Abarbanel is quoted in CoC, p. 194. R' Slifkin also quotes a meforash Ralbag. Ibn Ezra is in his commentary on Gen 1:1, I'll copy-paste for you:

    ברא: רובי המפרשים אמרו שהבריאה להוציא יש מאין, וכן אם בריאה יברא ד' (במד' טז, ל). והנה שכחו ויברא אלהים את התנינים (ברא' א כא). ושלש בפסוק אחד: ויברא אלהים את האדם (ברא' א כז), ובורא חושך (ישעי' מה, ז), שהוא הפוך האור שהוא יש. וזה דקדוק המלה ברא לשני טעמים. זה האחד. והשני לא ברה אתם לחם (ש"ב יב, יז), וזה השני אל"ף תחת ה"א, כי כמוהו ויבוא כל העם להברות את דוד (ש"ב ג, לה), כי הוא מהבנין הכבד הנוסף. ואם היה באל"ף, היה כמו להבריאכם מראשית כל מנחת ישראל (ש"א ב, כט). ומצאנו מהבנין הכבד, ובראת לך שם (יהושע יז, טו), ואיננו כמו ברו לכם איש (ש"א י"ז, ח), רק כמו וברא אותהן (יחז' כג, מז), וטעמו לגזור, ולשום גבול נגזר, והמשכיל יבין.

    I would call it faulty scholarship engendered by the 21st century habit of Googling things instead of learning them properly...

    As soon as I posted I realized that by just quoting the first line you would think I missed the context. I wish you had given me the benefit of the doubt. I know the context. My point is that the Rambam is not remotely afraid of the hava amina that the chapter is an allegory. And his decision is based on reason, not mesora:

    "As there is no proof sufficient to convince us, this theory need not be taken into consideration, nor the other one: we take the text of the Bible literally, and say that it teaches us a truth which we cannot prove." (same passage)

    Also, the Rambam uses the words משלים וחידות to describe both the Torah's and Hazal's discussions of מעשה בראשית in the Moreh's hakdama. This time I'll make sure to quote the context too. This is the ibn Tibbon translation:

    ודע כי הענינים הטבעיים גם כן אין ראוי לגלותם בלמד קצת התחלותיהם כפי מה שהם עליו בביאור. וכבר ידעת אמרם ז"ל ולא במעשה בראשית בשנים. ואילו באר שום אדם הענינים ההם כלם בספר יהיה כאלו דרשם לאלפים מבני אדם. ולזה הביאו הענינים ההם גם כן בספרי הנבואה במשלים ודברו בהם רז"ל בחידות ומשלים להמשך אחר דרך ספרי הקדש נבעבור שהם ענינים ביניהם ובין החכמה האלהית קורבה גדולה והם ג"כ סודות מסודות החכמה האלהית.

    ולזה שם פתיחת ספרו יתברך במעשה בראשית אשר הוא חכמת הטבע כמו שבארנו. ולעוצם הענין ויקרתו והיות יכולתנו קצרה מהשיג עוצם הענינים כפי מה שהם, הגיד לנו הענינים העמוקים ההם אשר הביא הכרח החכמה האלהית. להגידם לנו במשלים וחידות ובדברים סתומים מאד, כמו שארז"ל להגיד כח מעשה בראשית לבשר ודם אי אפשר, לפיכך סתם לך הכתוב בראשית ברא אלהים וכו'. וכבר העירוך על היות אלו הענינים הנזכרים סודות סתומות, וכבר ידעת מאמר שלמה רחוק מה שהיה ועמוק עמוק מי ימצאנו. ושם הדברים בכל זה בשמות המשתתפים בעבור שיבינם ההמון על ענין כשיעור הבנתם וחולשת ציורם, ויקחם השלם שכבר ידע על ענין אחר.

    Exactly what the משלים וחידות are isn't clear, I admit, but clearly he regards the literal meaning as hiding deeper secrets.

    How do you like that for a personal preference of explanation? Does it differ in any significant way from your explantion re creation? If so, how?

    Yes. Let me say it more clearly. First, we have evidence that God created the world through natural process. Obviously that is a point of disagreement between us. Second, creation through natural process is more impressive than creation through supernatural miracle, because it requires great wisdom.

    Halivai you would be correct...

    Do you know that he was not hadar beih? I'm trying to remember where I read that he was. I'm pretty sure it was in one of his own writings.

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  29. And the bottom line is not R' Kaplan's sources, but his approach. The evidence for billions of years is solid; our Oral Torah contains deeper understandings of the text; young earth creationism is a "dangerous" option. He did not retract any of that for FaF.

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  30. Rafi -

    Abarbanel is quoted in CoC, p. 194.

    Ahh... that Abarbanel. It's on page 190 by the way, not 194.

    Ho hum...

    The Abarbanel changes his mind. The quote Rabbi Slifkin brings is the Abarbanel's original estimation of the Rambam's opinion (on page 10). Later (on page 84), he is chozer from his view of the Rambam.

    Your quote of the Ibn Ezra is irrleelvant. He is discussing the semantic derivation of the word bara. He does not mean to say that beriah yesh may'ayin never happened. Besides, even if he did, it has nothing to do with an ancient universe. He still believes in the episode of maaseh bereishis as told in the Torah, just not yesh may'ayin. But anyway, I don't beleive that. Chs'v that any rishon should subscribe to Aristotelian kadmus.

    My point is that the Rambam is not remotely afraid of the hava amina that the chapter is an allegory.

    Allegory? He doesn't say that the alternative explanation would be allegorical (like anthropomorphism). He says that we could reinterpret the pesukim to be aligned with kadmus. They would still be literal just they wouldn't refer to original creation but rather yesh mey'yesh.

    In general, this whole Rambam is entirely irrelevant to our discussion. Chazal do not openly discuss kadmus and no where in my masseh bereishis presentation did I discuss the concept of kadmus versus chidush. The Rambam here is dealing with a very narrow topic; kadmus. That's it.

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  31. First, technicalities: I don't know which edition of CoC you're using, but in this edition it is on page 193-4. And R' Slifkin responds to your claim in a footnote.

    Regarding Ibn Ezra, I can see how you read him, but I'm not convinced you're right. And I'm sure I've seen secondary sources that attack him for claiming yesh mi-yesh, but I don't recall where at the moment.

    Now, the fundamental point:

    Surely kadmus is a more fundamental point than the timing of creation! Clearly the mefarshim are trying to understand these verses using reason, grammar, etc.! And they speak at length on how the text is hiding deep secrets about the universe!

    I am not an authority on the nature of toshb"p, but I feel pretty safe saying that the Rishonim did not have a clear mesora that the simple, literal interpretation of Bereshit reflects the exact sequence of events as they happened in history. (Especially considering that there are gedolim who have accepted the antiquity of the Earth.) Do you have any evidence from a Rishon that he did? Or do you just assume in general that every word of every Rishon on chumash is based directly on ideas he received from Har Sinai?

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  32. Rafi -

    First, technicalities: I don't know which edition of CoC you're using, but in this edition it is on page 193-4. And R' Slifkin responds to your claim in a footnote.

    Hmm... You're right. I'm working with an earlier version. I see Rabbi Slifkin incorporated parts of our debate in the new edition. It would be impossible for me to convince you that he is wrong in his footnote. The only way you can see this is if you learn the Abarbanel yourself. His argument in the footnote (the one he developed while debating me) is faulty but there's no point discussing it unless you learn the Abarbanel first.

    In general I beleive this requirement should be a pre-condition to any discussion. Both parties need to be fully informed before commencing dialogue. Quoting passages from Rabbi Slifkin's book that you are not prepared to discuss in depth is not helpful...

    Incidentally, I always put my "money" where my mouth is. I am willing to learn the Abarbanel and the Moreh with you on the phone. I can even scan in the pertinent pages and email them to you if you don't have a copy of Abarbanel. You know how to contact me if you ever want to schmooze...

    I am not an authority on the nature of toshb"p, but I feel pretty safe saying that the Rishonim did not have a clear mesora that the simple, literal interpretation of Bereshit reflects the exact sequence of events as they happened in history. (Especially considering that there are gedolim who have accepted the antiquity of the Earth.) Do you have any evidence from a Rishon that he did? Or do you just assume in general that every word of every Rishon on chumash is based directly on ideas he received from Har Sinai?

    There are two elements to mesorah. One is the received tradition from Sinai and the second is the majority consensus of our sages, down through the ages, which then becomes adopted by our nation as Torah. For instance. The sages did not have an unbroken tradition regarding every facet of mashiach. There was a sage in the gemara (Rav Hillel) who opined that mashiach had already come in the personage of Chizkiya. The sages strongly disagreed and even commented that Hashem should forgive Rav Hillel for his erroneous exegesis. However, as long as Rav Hillel was alive, and perhaps his direct talmidim, his drashos constituted a valid shita. But after his death, when Rav Ashi accepted the opinion of the opposing sages and documented it in the Talmud, it now becomes part of our mesorah and is just as incumbent on us as a direct tradition from Sinai.

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  33. Quoting passages from Rabbi Slifkin's book that you are not prepared to discuss in depth is not helpful...

    I just wanted to let you know. I could tell R' Slifkin was responding to someone specific, I figured it's you from your initial reaction :-). And I have no problem discussing anything in depth.

    I can even scan in the pertinent pages and email them to you if you don't have a copy of Abarbanel.

    Wow, you would do that? Thanks, but in this day and age b"H it's not necessary. I'll look at it in more depth b"n.

    There are two elements to mesorah. One is the received tradition from Sinai and the second is the majority consensus of our sages...

    OK, now we're getting somewhere. Another question: do you see a possible hiluk between halakha and hashkafa? I've heard such a hiluk made by several rabbis, such as in this article from R' Carmell, which I don't expect you to agree with :-).

    Also, just some reminders as these comment threads are starting to branch out: you haven't yet responded to my responses to your answers to my questions about pedagogy :-), or my latest comment regarding prehistory in the Q&A thread. Obviously you choose what you respond to and when. I'm still trying to remember where I saw R' Kaplan's retraction. It might be in Facets and Faces, I don't own a copy.

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  34. 1. Technical note that might help others here ... In an effort to keep up with all the comments, I have enlisted the help of "google reader", found here: http://www.google.com/reader. It lists all comments from all blogs in chronological order. To subscribe, hit the "add a subscription" button and drop this text in:
    http://slifkin-opinions.blogspot.com/feeds/7451631115210588736/comments/default

    Other tools such as firefox are also good.

    2. Rabbi Coffer - I see that you are quite busy here. If you have time, I would like to see your responses to this thread.

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  35. Yitz -

    Hmm... I didn't even know there were any more comments on that thread. Thanks for alerting me. As you say, I am indeed busy. Right now my next priority is to respond to all of Ari's comments in the Q & A thread. As soon as I finish, I will try and bounce back to the other threads. Once again, thanks for the alert.

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  36. Rafi -

    Also, just some reminders as these comment threads are starting to branch out: you haven't yet responded to my responses to your answers to my questions about pedagogy :-), or my latest comment regarding prehistory in the Q&A thread. Obviously you choose what you respond to and when.

    Actually, no. I don't choose anything at all. I kind of bungle along and start responding to a thread. Then my wife screams at me to get off the computer and come help with the kids. So I do. I try to explain to her that I am a Rabbi and my mission is to help the world by spreading my profound chiddushim all over the cyber-world but somehow she refuses to accept this! Can you imagine? Well, anyway, I finally sneak back to the computer and forget what email I was up to (I respond to dozens of emails a day) or what Blog I was posting to so I kind of bungle along again and end up three Blogs over on an entirely different thread.

    Just so my chashuva and dear readers should know: There is absolutely no rhyme or reason to the order of my responses! I'm not picking one thing and ignoring something else. I'm just, as they say in Yiddish, tzufloigen. Deal with it! :-)

    SC

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  38. Yet, when it comes to questioning their assertions re common ancestry, his brain suddenly turns to mush!

    (Rafi said) I think you were unfair to describe R' Slifkin's brain as mush.

    I didn't do that Rafi. In the context of what I wrote, my meaning is obvious as I described earlier in this comment


    Without reference to the particular issue at hand, I suggest to Rabbi Coffer to refrain from this approach. I understand this to simply mean that you strongly don't understand the opposition's reasoning, or less likely that you do indeed understand it and are strongly opposed. Either way, you would do much better to just say it. Here's why I suggest this:

    1. The "mushy brain" comment amounts to an ad hominem attack. I see that Rabbi Coffer is otherwise careful not to defile various dialogues with this tactic.

    2. It is not persuasive to anyone that doesn't already agree with the gist of what you are saying. If your intention is to preach to anyone other than the choir, then don't overestimate your personal credibility. Again, simply explain why RNS has erred without the hyperbole. Alternatively, challenge RNS to elaborate on the point. RNS might indeed have erred in both science and theology, but like it or not, he does have too much credibility to claim that his brain is mush.

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  39. when it comes to questioning their assertions re common ancestry

    Now with regard to the issue at hand, I don't agree. He has analyzed the evidence about common ancestry, zoology, DNA trees, etc. You and he simply disagree.



    Perhaps this is a common theme where RNS suggest that the mechanism of evolution and the existence of evolution are independent issues, while Rabbi Coffer bundles the two issues as one.

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  40. just because the apikorsim of the world happen to run the media and the colleges.

    I am understanding this accurately?

    (1) the scientists and media have drawn wrong and/or inappropriate conclusions from the objective evidence.

    (2) They are squashing the free exchange of ideas in both the popular media and the academic community.

    (3) They are doing this because of a hidden agenda (bias) to promote atheism.

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  41. Yitz -

    Hello. Sorry it took so long to respound. I was tied up with another thread.

    You wrote: Now with regard to the issue at hand, I don't agree. He has analyzed the evidence about common ancestry, zoology, DNA trees, etc. You and he simply disagree.

    You are confusing the issues. In my post I offered three possible approaches Rabbi Slifkin might avail himslef of in justifying his patently anti-massoretic view. Approach #2 specifically deals with your assertion that Rabbi Slifkin "has analyzed the evidence about common ancestry, zoology, DNA trees, etc.". Please see my response to this in the body of the Blog entry.

    Please note: Approach #3 has nothing to do with Approach #2. It is a stand alone apporach which Rabbi Slifkin has used on several occasions in the past and is addressed separately by me in the Blog entry.

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  42. Yitz -

    I am understanding this accurately?...hidden agenda (bias) to promote atheism.

    Yes.

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  43. Rafi -

    OK, now we're getting somewhere. Another question: do you see a possible hiluk between halakha and hashkafa? I've heard such a hiluk made by several rabbis, such as in this article from R' Carmell, which I don't expect you to agree with :-).

    Yes there is a chiluk between halacha and hashkafa. It's a long discussion Rafi. Most notably the Rambam in pirush hamishnayos distinguishes between the two regarding the concept of "pesak". But without getting into particulars, this distinction has its limitations and cannot be used when the ma'amarei chazal in question are clearly unambiguous, are unanimous, and refer to historically based facts.

    Also, just some reminders as these comment threads are starting to branch out: you haven't yet responded to my responses to your answers to my questions about pedagogy :-), or my latest comment regarding prehistory in the Q&A thread. Obviously you choose what you respond to and when.

    Been there, done that (I think). Correct me if I'm wrong.

    Good Shabbos

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

    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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  45. Yitz -

    I am latching onto the idea that the key here is to detach premise from conclusion.

    You missed a logically prior step. Where is "here"? In other words, what are you setting out to accomplish "here" by endeavoring to latch onto your idea? I'd like a clear response to this so my future comments can be geared towards a specific goal.

    In general I am beginning to find that much of the conversation in the comments section ends up degenerating to a discussion of banalities, at best. I don't do banal. I'm simply no good at banal. I need substance. And I need a goal. Otherwise, I am totally out of my element and lose interest quickly.

    So, once again Yitz, what are we setting out to do by proposing these two premises? What is our goal? What are we trying to achieve?

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

    Standard Big Bang Cosmology claims that the laws were constant back in time 13.7b years but that's it. They had a specific point of origin. They don't go back 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.

    In theory, the same applies to the Big Bang. The point of origin was an infinitely hot and dense state in which the current laws of nature as we know them did not function. In fact even in the first few fractions of time from the inception of the Big Bang, laws of nature were different.

    I still don't know where you're going with these premises but I think you need to tighten them up a bit in order to avoid ambiguity.

    You wrote: Perhaps the CT camp has obtained a clarity of thinking somehow that has eluded the mainstream scientists for whatever reason,

    You know, it just dawned on me that I am trying so hard to be politically correct I end up compromising my true ideals and opinions. We haven’t attained clarity of thinking for “whatever reason"! It's the Torah which supplies us with our clarity! If it wasn't for the Torah, I probably would have never investigated the claims of the evolutionists; never researched the assertions of the geologists, never analyzed the allegations of the physicists, and never questioned the findings of the scientists. But thank God we do have the Torah. The Torah opens our eyes (if we allow it to) and sets us part from the erring...especially the academicians...

    You wrote: 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?

    Who cares? Are we talking substance or are we talking banalities? Dr. Ostroff doesn’t make a single assertion on his own. Every assertion is supported by an appeal to the published scientific literature! Where is your Jewish backbone Yitz? Where is your stiff neck? Why are you caving in to the global scientific community, like RNS? If Dr. Ostroff’s paper makes sense to you, why is this conversation about the fact that it isn’t published? Or the fact that (supposedly) it doesn’t get any “feedback from any credible source that holds by Premise A?” Why isn’t this conversation about the substance of Dr. Ostroff’s paper? Why isn’t it about his scientific assertions? Why do we keep on getting sidetracked by irrelevancies?

    You need not worry about arguing with the goyim. We’ve been doing it for thousands of years. Our function is to be a light onto the nations, not a mirror.

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  46. I think that we have some progress here...

    Why isn’t this conversation about the substance of Dr. Ostroff’s paper?

    Because I have neither the background nor the aspiration to pursue a scholarly scientific debate. For the good or the better, I need to delegate this to the professionals.

    It could be that the helige Torah has opened your eyes to clear thinking. I have no idea. I could just say that since the Torah says the world is less than 6k years old, then certainly your evaluation of the objective evidence must be correct and the goyim are misguided. Better yet, I can just ignore what both of you say about science and look to the helige Torah for my objective evidence.

    Given that I am not a scientist and will (b'n) never be one, how can I even pretend to evaluate the scientific evidence?

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  47. Yitz -

    I think that we have some progress here...

    ??? Please explain...

    Given that I am not a scientist and will (b'n) never be one, how can I even pretend to evaluate the scientific evidence?

    I've answered this several times already Yitz. You need to read. You need to do research. For instance, take a look at my conversation with Ari on the Q & A thread. It's a sheer pleasure! Ari never resorts to non-substantive issues. He consistently stays on point. Now I ask you; how do you think we can carry on such a conversation? Am I a scientist? Hardly. I never even went to college! You know what I did? I read! I researched. I studied the material at length and then came to my conclusions. I have dozens and dozens of books at home on evolution (I'm not proud of that by the way...evolution is kefira). I have countless papers and per-reviewed journals. I frequently check the internet for new developments. It's not hard. You just have to be committed. If you sincerely want to understand the issues, I am willing to help you. I can give you a crash course in evolutionary theory. Or you can buy a "for Dummies" book explaining the fundamentals. Take a look at Rabbi Slifkin. He also didn't go to college. He is self-taught! Take a look at the sheer volume of information he managed to acquire. He is practically an expert in zoology and has often times used his expertise to (properly) elucidate Torah issues. (We happen to have bumped into each other several years ago at the Royal Ontario Museum. I took my family to check out the dino exhibit and he happened to be there making a presentation. He moved from the Dino’s to a large horn exhibit. Needless to say, I followed the crowd to hear what he would have to say. Of course, I was interested in “shlogging” him up! “Unfortunately”, he gave a very nice shiur on the various species of horns that were permissible for shofar blowing and foiled my designs!) You know what he did? He read! If you are reading this comment, you can do the same.

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  48. The progress here is that I am reaching clarity on where we disagree. More later b'eh!

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  49. I studied the material at length and then came to my conclusions.

    Come on, let's be honest. Your conclusions were reached before you even began. As you said above, the Torah supplies you with your clarity. It's not as though before studying evolution, you weren't sure as to how old the world is, and whether life evolved!

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  50. Come on, let's be honest. Your conclusions were reached before you even began.

    Your assertion is incoherent. How can I possibly reach a conclusion regarding the status of evolutionary claims before studying evolution?

    Perhaps you mean to say that my conclusions are biased? If this is your issue, please make pretend I don't exist. I have no time, nor inclination, to engage you, or anyone for that matter, regarding this issue. If you are incapable (read: unwilling) of taking the time to research the pertinent material and assess the situation objectively, it would, IMHO, behoove you to refrain from commenting.

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  51. Your assertion is incoherent. How can I possibly reach a conclusion regarding the status of evolutionary claims before studying evolution?

    Okay, let me rephrase: Your opinion regarding the status of evolutionary claims was firm and settled before you began studying it. It did not change at any point. I'm not talking about bias; everybody is biased. I am talking about something way beyond bias - being entirely committed to a certain viewpoint. As you said above, the Torah supplies you with your clarity.

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  52. You missed a logically prior step. Where is "here"? In other words, what are you setting out to accomplish "here" by endeavoring to latch onto your idea?...

    Who cares? ... Why do we keep on getting sidetracked by irrelevancies?


    Rabbi - you and I are not going to agree on this, and that is OK.

    Indeed, Rabbi. I concur that we must aspire to a more ambitious agenda. While you endure this track with suffering, I embrace it as the solitary productive intercourse at our disposal and I thusly thank you for your indulgence.

    My agenda is to understand the issues at hand as best I can. These issues are as contentious as they are fundamental to our core beliefs. We have wide disagreement accompanied by antagonism amongst literate and intelligent persons that otherwise share commitment to both Torah and understanding of the physical world. I aspire to understand why this is, and only then to delve into the particulars of the issues and only where there is value in doing so.

    Rabbi Coffer has a different agenda that is indeed simpler and clearer. He subscribes to the clear massoretic Truth about ex-nihilo creation of the universe that occurred about 6000 years ago and this included ex-nihilo creation of all life forms. To deny this is to deny the existence of the Creator and his Torah.

    With this Truth in mind, why would one engage in פוק וחזי in the physical world to determine its age? We are starting with the incontrovertible Truth! Any observations must perforce fit into this reality. Indeed, I deem scientific investigation under this constriction to be without value if not a complete farce. I emphasize that I am not judging the Truth itself. For me that is a separate and certainly important discussion.

    Here Rabbi Coffer and his colleagues fervently disagree. They place supreme value in delving into the minutiae of scientific observations of the physical world in order to independently confirm the Truth. They do not regard this as bias, but rather as being fully and correctly informed. They are evangelists in this endeavor, excited to share their findings with others who they deem less informed. Rabbi Coffer goes as far as to evangelize the very endeavor. This is why he continues to attempt to persuade me to engage him in what he considers “substance”.

    I, on the other hand, am an evangelist on engaging the paradigms that people work from when engaging the issues at hand. Perhaps we can call this the “issue with the issue.” I suggest that this is more important than anything else. Neglect herein causes people to get frustrated and angry with one another. I see it clearly here on this thread:

    let’s be honest – you are trying to deceive me.

    Your assertion is incoherent - insult returned, tit for tat.

    Gentlemen – if you concede that you are working from different paradigms then you will be able judge one another favorably!

    Look at this diagram at decide what you see. More likely than not, you have done this exercise. Perhaps you have even read the 7 habits book. Now is your chance to apply it.

    There is much more to say on this and it will wait for future postings be’h.

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  53. anyone wishing to exchange messages with me privately can do so at this ridiculous but discreet email:

    mialpouhte@garrifulio.mailexpire.com

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  54. Yitz - October 26, 2010 4:43 AM

    Dear Yitz,

    Nicely written post. And you’re right. I don’t agree with you. But it’s not as simple as that. Unfortunately, this website is not the proper venue for an exhaustive discussion of my views on the issues you broach. However, I have chosen certain statements you made which I feel are pertinent to the mandate of this Blog and have responded accordingly.

    You wrote: Rabbi Coffer has a different agenda that is indeed simpler and clearer. He subscribes to the clear massoretic Truth about ex-nihilo creation of the universe that occurred about 6000 years ago and this included ex-nihilo creation of all life forms. To deny this is to deny the existence of the Creator and his Torah.

    Wow! I sound like a red-faced, vein-popping, bible-thumping, lectern-pounding evangelist. I love it! :-)

    In all seriousness, although the thrust of your description is generally accurate, you got several facts wrong.

    First of all, you wrote “creation ex-nihilo”. Personally I can’t recall very many places in Chazal where this topic is discussed openly (Bereishis Rabbah 1:9 is the only place that comes to mind now) although I do agree that it is an indispensible part of our general tradition as revealed openly many times in the various works of the Rishonim. However, I never stated that its denial is tantamount to the denial of the Creator and His Torah, although I personally think it is. The reason I don’t go on record with this personal view though is because, as it happens, the Rambam’s shita (Moreh 2:25) is that it is not. I personally do not go with the Rambam’s shita in this regard but in deference to him, I never state openly that a denial of creation ex-nihilo is in open contradiction to the Torah.

    Second, you wrote “creation ex-nihilo of all life forms”. This for sure I never said. In fact, Chazal say just the opposite. Everything was created on the first day and was established in its proper place during the five subsequent days of Creation (see MR 12:8). There is a shita in the medrash that CEN actually occurred every day of maaseh bereishis but the Rishonim don’t go with that shita when explaining maaseh bereishis and I was mikabel from my Rabbaim that CEN was a one-time event as the medrash is mashma.

    Third of all, I’m generally uncomfortable with your depiction of my beliefs. Here’s the way I would have depicted them. (I copied and pasted your formula and left the parts I would have deleted in parentheses so you can clearly see what it is I am deleting and italicized what I am adding)

    “Rabbi Coffer (has a different agenda that is indeed simpler and clearer. He) subscribes to the clear massoretic (Truth) description regarding the (about) ex-nihilo creation of the universe that occurred about 6000 years ago (and this included ex-nihilo creation of all life forms.) and the meta-natural formation of all life-forms in the subsequent 5 days of Creation. (To deny this is to deny the existence of the Creator and his Torah)

    Notice that I deleted the last line entirely. It has nothing to do with a description of my beliefs regarding maaseh bereishis and was inserted by you only because it is in line with, and helps facilitate your “agenda” of exploring the “the paradigms that people work from when engaging the issues at hand.”

    Gotta run to ma’ariv. More to come bl’n.

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  55. Yitz -

    You wrote: With this Truth in mind, why would one engage in פוק וחזי in the physical world to determine its age? We are starting with the incontrovertible Truth! Any observations must perforce fit into this reality. Indeed, I deem scientific investigation under this constriction to be without value if not a complete farce.

    Nothing could be further from the truth. First of all, Chazal themselves many times indulge in פוק וחזי in order to demonstrate the truths of our traditions. I recently was learning the beginning of perek chelek and the gemara there demonstrates tichiyas hameisim with two puk chazi's, not just one.

    R' Saadya Gaon. Rabbeinu Bachya ibn Pakuda, The Rambam, The Ramban, Rabbi Yehuda haLevi; all of them wrote seforim supporting our Torah from empirical evidence. This was Avraham Avinu's way, this was Dovid haMelech's way, and in fact, Rabbeinu Bachya considers it superior to the Torah way (at least in one respect).

    The reason you have this attitude is because you have not been properly trained to understand the significance of the study of nature. Perhaps the following statement will put the study of nature in proper perspective for you.

    Nature is the Will of Hashem as expressed in the asarah ma'amaros whereas the Torah is the Will of Hashem as expressed in the asseres haDibros.

    When you study nature, you are studying the Will of Hashem. You are studying His Wisdom. You are studying His Might. And you are studying His Kindliness. This is the constant theme of Sefer Tehilim and is reiterated in Tanach countless times. If one does not understand this, pesukey d'zimra is a meaningless exercise every morning. He may as well just sit and learn.

    Furthermore, and most importantly, when one studies nature with the right kavanos, he is able to take the abstract knowledge he has learned about Hahsem and internalize it. He can see Hashem. He can feel his presence. It is palpable. It is real to him. This is what is referred to as emunah chushis. There is no emunah more powerful than that because the reality of Hashem registers in the same part of his mind that all other empirical realities do.

    At this time I would like to take the opportunity to make an official declaration regarding my issue with Rabbi Slifkin's approaches. You, Yissacher, as most people, assume that my oppostion ot Rabbi Slifkin's views arises chiefly from my estimation of their heretical nature. And although I do not necessarily deny this, it is by far not a chief consideration of mine. My primary irritation with his shittos regarding maaseh beresihis is that they are anti-Jewish. They undermine Avraham Avinu's way of studying nature and seeing the hand of Hashem. They eliminate this great facility of emunah and render the hundreds of pesukim in Tanach which discuss the wisdom, might, glory and kindliness of Hashem apparent in nature, entirely meaningless. Rabbi Slifkin – and anyone who preceded or follows him and who promotes such a doctrine, i.e. The Blind Watchmaker Thesis – is doing a tremendous disservice to our nation. We don't need books like that.

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  56. Yitz -

    I wrote: You, Yissacher...

    I meant to write: You, Yitz...

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  57. Rabbi Coffer - do you only see the Hand of Hashem in the creation of nature? You don't see it in our lives today - in historical events, in how nature operates, in your personal life? Surely you must be aware that science explains all these things without recourse to a Creator; just in terms of random, blind processes. And I'm sure that you don't deny these scientific explanations. So if you believe that such scientific explanations deny seeing the hand of Hashem, aren't you ruling God out of the picture? Sounds like you are doing a tremendous disservice to our nation. We don't need websites like yours.

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  58. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  59. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  60. And you’re right. I don’t agree with you.

    Thanks. I don't suppose that I can reasonably expect you to agree with me on anything else. אל תסמוך על הנס.

    On a personal note, I would like to share here that I found that I can write (relatively) more coherently at night when I am off-line. We keep kosher at home - no internet. So I will try to digest Rabbi Coffer's response later and respond if need be. I don't regard this as a debate but rather as an opportunity to try to understand a paradigm that is otherwise gibberish to me. If we expect to prove anything to one another here, then again refer to my comment above.

    Anyway, I can say without further contemplation that what Rabbi Coffer wrote about nature is indeed beautiful. Yet I fear that perhaps he disregarded my main point. I asked why engage in פוק וחזי to determine the age of the universe?

    Again, I hope to expand on this later...

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  61. emphasis above on age of the universe

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  62. Yissacher -

    Rabbi Coffer - do you only see the Hand of Hashem in the creation of nature? You don't see it in our lives today - in historical events, in how nature operates, in your personal life? Surely you must be aware that science explains all these things without recourse to a Creator; just in terms of random, blind processes. And I'm sure that you don't deny these scientific explanations. So if you believe that such scientific explanations deny seeing the hand of Hashem, aren't you ruling God out of the picture?

    This question has been answered many times already. The fact that you choose to ignore the responses doesn't make your repeated question any more valid. But instead of answering your question here, I will bl'n make a Blog entry later today. This way, whenever this question comes up again, I can simply refer people to the entry.

    Sounds like you are doing a tremendous disservice to our nation. We don't need websites like yours.

    No one is forcing you to visit our humble venue. If you think it constitutes a diservice to klal yisrael, you always have the option of leaving(not that I am suggesting this...)

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  63. Yitz -

    Thanks. I don't suppose that I can reasonably expect you to agree with me on anything else.

    I expect that we agree on 99% of the Torah. This website targets a very narrow, albeit important, element of Jewish theology. As it happens, we happen to be on oppostie sides of the fence on this issue, at least for now. I'm working on convincing you. As soon as I do, we can reach the 100% mark! :-)

    Anyway, I can say without further contemplation that what Rabbi Coffer wrote about nature is indeed beautiful. Yet I fear that perhaps he disregarded my main point. I asked why engage in פוק וחזי to determine the age of the universe?

    I responded to this Yitz. Here's a Rambam in the Moreh - cut and pasted from my Maaseh Beresihis article - which will put things in clearer perspective.

    "3. The Rambam states in Moreh Nevuchim that every episode related in the Torah is
    there for one of two purposes. Either it is there to reinforce a hashkafa which relates
    to one of the fundamentals of the Torah, or it appears in the Torah as a form of tikun
    olam, a societal infrastructure which facilitates harmony amongst mankind. If so,
    asks the Rambam, what is the purpose of all the generations listed between Adam
    haRishon and Avraham Avinu? Here’s the Rambam’s response:

    “Since it is a fundamental doctrine of the Torah that the world is newly created and
    that the first [human] creation was Adam and that the time which elapsed from
    Adam to Moshe is approximately 2,500 years…etc.”

    and the Rambam goes on to explain that anyone viewing such a diversified world
    with so many inhabitants belonging to so many different cultures speaking so many
    different languages spread out over such large geographical locations, might doubt
    the recentness of creation and the fact that initially, only one man was created.
    Therefore, the Torah goes out of its way to list the specific generations which
    unfolded from Adam to Moshe, who their leaders were, what occurred to them, and
    that they originally all spoke one language as one would expect from a society which
    descended from one lone man (Moreh 3:50 - Kapach ed. pg 400)

    So, as you can see from the Rambam, there is a big makom lit'os and imagine - as opposed to what the Torah openly informs us - that the universe is ancient.

    One of the reasons for a focused study of nature that I supplied in my original post was:

    "Furthermore, and most importantly, when one studies nature with the right kavanos, he is able to take the abstract knowledge he has learned about Hahsem and internalize it."

    The study of nature helps us to reinforce in our minds the teachings of the Torah.

    I hope this clears up my meaning.

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  64. at least for now. I'm working on convincing you.

    I was working on convincing you to stop trying to convince me, but I hereby give up.

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  65. Yissacher -

    I posted a new Blog Entry as a response to your question.

    Simcha

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  66. Yitz: 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?

    RSC: Who cares? Are we talking substance or are we talking banalities?


    If the paper is credible, then it should withstand critical review even by antagonists. Has it?

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